Below is a piece I wrote for strangers to read on my university’s study abroad blog. I choose to describe Hong Kong as a city, contrasting some of it’s Eastern and Western cultural aspects to attempt to form an understanding of the place. Rather than describe my personal experiences in great depth or talk about the university in which I am studying, I instead chose to share parts of the place which where accessible to everyone on an equal basis and as such could hopefully go some way towards that understanding.
Hong Kong is home to 7.2 million people and weighs in at 1,104km2, known for its high rises it’s ¾ countryside. Norfolk is 5,371km2 and doesn’t break a million people. Five months ago on the airport commute between lush green hills and glass or dirty skyscrapers I was questioning what the hell I had done. Second semester round everything was bigger than I remembered, the sidewalks more crowded but this time I felt only excitement at returning back to my sea view, friends and countless travel opportunities (amongst a multitude of other things of course).
Most people only pass through, using the metropolis as a stopover destination and so it’s easy to see why people are impressed with the sights. But the reality of living here offers an understanding of the place and its people that can’t be gained after a night out in LKF and a trip up the peak. A city of contrast there is the expense, it’s the least affordable city to live in the world with a minimum wage of £2.24 an hour and then the affordability, its public transport system is (officially unofficial) the best in the world and is dirt cheap. With more Gucci stores than Milan there is designer shopping mall upon designer shopping mall. And then there are the street markets for the tourists and then the real street markets with tarpaulins spread on the floor late at night and spread with whatever can be scavenged.
World famous for hiking the business buildings along the harbour give way to houses which give way to green hills, which act as a home to boars, monkeys and poisonous snakes, and in turn give way to fishing towns and sandy beaches. Rooftops and high bars offer amazing views whilst the night life is a plateau of street drinking and venue upon venue of all night dancing and of course, karaoke. It’s unusual to own a car and so most of the anti-taxis are pretty flash. Living conditions mean pets are few and far between but are treated like royalty and most commonly found in the wealthier seaside towns – dogs and cats are not on the menus, but duck tongues and pig ears are. In ‘Asia’s World City’ the marks of past colonialism are evident, particularly in the more Central areas but it’s just as easy to escape to the authentic back streets for cheap Michelin dim sum or roasted goose and rice in a tiled eatery with a flooded kitchen and squat toilet.
When travelling (flights around Asia are incredibly cheap) I have found myself physically recoiling in surprise as I glance above a third floor and am greeted with blue stretches of sky. The pollution from China means that stars are rare but busy streets and neon lights are not. On a night flight I found myself marvelling at the stars, having completely forgotten about them – our re-acquaintance induced a brief confusion as I wondered how the hell there could be so many planes in the sky.
I could of course go on but in truth Hong Kong or as any affectionate resident may refer to it as, Home Kong, is a city to discover and learn to love in your own way.