City life returns

Hong KongI came here 15 years ago and for only 36 hours so my previous impressions of the city are barely a memory. My new first impression—Chinatown has overtaken Manhattan.

I’ve done some vigorous sightseeing since arriving on Tuesday. From Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, and within Hong Kong Island from the west to east side, this city occupies a small land mass but there’s much diversity within. The density of people and buildings are in such stark contrast from where I just came from, but it’s incredibly easy to escape to greener pastures on the outskirts of the metropolis.

My memories of Hong Kong will stick this time around.

This city is built on an incline that makes walking physically exhausting. Each street seems to be built on top of another, but thankfully(?) endless stairs are tucked in between for pedestrians to sneak through. In the most congested parts of the city, escalators and elevated walkways are prevalent; perhaps the city thought it would be kind to its residents and not make walking to work a test of physical endurance.

The streets themselves are impossibly indirect. It is as if the buildings were built first and pedestrians were an afterthought. One street never quite leads into another and you’re forced to shortcut through alleys and stairwells that Google Maps has not yet been able to identify. And crosswalks are never where you want them to be. They’re either in the middle of the street or cut into different sections of the road so that you can never walk in a straight line. Being forced to meander is not as fun as when it happens spontaneously. But I choose to believe that by the end of the month, I’ll be able to navigate these streets with more confidence and patience.

Hong Kong is also one of the most orderly and sanitized cities I’ve been to. Unlike Manhattan, people queue for public buses, even stretching down a full city block during rush hour. And in many public spaces such as subway stations, parks and museums, the rails, doorknobs and handles are sanitized multiple times a day.

After my involuntary spending moratorium in Bali because things were so cheap, Hong Kong has jolted my bank account awake. After living in New York City, I thought I would’ve been accustomed to a shopping mecca, but the malls and stores here have much more flare than I’ve seen since visiting Tokyo. Not that I’m going on a shopping spree…buying one item at Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Miu Miu or Louis Vuitton would cut my trip short in an instant.

Language-wise, it hasn’t been difficult. I thought I would have to rely on my limited Mandarin to get by, even though it sounds nothing like Cantonese, but English has become such a prominent language here that I haven’t had much trouble.

All in all, it’s not bad being in a metropolitan city again. I’ve already eaten amazing food and I haven’t had dim sum yet. Like New York City, I can find anything I need at any time. And the mix of cultures, which I’m always fond of, doesn’t seem to faze anyone because it’s built into their history, unlike other East Asian cities.

Eager to start at Aberdeen Street Social tomorrow. Like my adjustment back into a city, I’ll have to adjust back into a fast-paced kitchen. The restaurant is located in the newly-renovated PMQ building in Central which used to be an old police barrack. Now with government backing, it’s been morphed into an impressive architectural space hosting events, and cells of the barrack are occupied by vendors such as artists, fashion designers and jewellers that are promoting Hong Kong’s local and independently-minded community. A nice home to work in for the next four weeks.

– C


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