When I hear the word City I inevitably think of San Francisco, “The City,” to those who grew up in it’s shadows and light, beauty and hard urbanity. Now I am in another city. Sort of. I live on one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands and so I go to the city everyday for work. I have the outsider/insider view that I always had of San Francisco all the way across the Pacific. While I haven’t come around to calling it home, I have definitely gained an appreciation for Hong Kong, from inside and out. Like San Francisco, and so many of the cities around the world, what I love about Hong Kong is the contrast… light/dark, old/new, happy/sad, urbane/profane, green/grey…
So, what do I love about Hong Kong? I love the texture, the diversity, the food, the convenience, the variety, the absolute disregard for accepted rules of fashion, the convenience, the clear pragmaticism of the Chinese, the markets, the convenience (did I mention that already?), the public transportation, pirated movies, the fact that at any moment you can decide to go anywhere in Asia and it is not only possible-it is cheap, the photo opportunities, the abundance of 7-11s…..
And what could I do without? The ex-pat scene (yes, I see the hypocrisy here- but picture hordes of post-backpacker aged people, believing they are the intellectual elite, spewing forth snippits of information disguised as knowledge, intermixed with alcohol spittle and you will feel my pain), the air pollution, Coke Light, the humidity, the rampant racism (not to do with the ex-pats surprisingly), the stinky tofu (it is really a food stuff), the environmental degradation, the freaking bugs, the lack of good Mexican food, the miles between me and my family and friends at home.
A typical day for me in Hong Kong goes something like this:
- I wake up because my cats are hungry and the stray cockatoo that lives in the lychee tree in my garden is awake, squawking.
- I make coffee (Jamaica Blue Mountain today, I love the gourmet markets) and check email, wishing I could open the windows to my garden, but sit under the a/c instead because it is 89 degrees already (7:30 am) and the humidity is around 85%.
- I take a cold shower, or as cold as I can get it, and dress for work – hopefully in dark colors that are less likely to show sweat…
- I walk down the path from my house to the ferry, about two minutes downhill, thankfully, and jump on the ferry to Aberdeen on the south side of Hong Kong island, about 15 minutes. This ferry ride costs US$1.60.
- Once in Aberdeen I cross the promenade and the road to the bus terminus and board the bus to Causeway Bay (US$0.60) and head to the office putting on a bit of make-up in the air-conditioned bus.
- Within 10 minutes I am in one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong (40 minutes time from leaving my home on Lamma Island where there are no cars and no buildings over three-stories) and heading into my office on the 5th floor of the American International Assurance Building (not my employer).
- I teach a variety of international students for the next seven hours or so…. kids from India, China, Japan, the UK, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, America, Canada… we talk about history (the British curriculum seems to have a right fetish with Hitler and fascism), fluvial geomorphology, classical literature, what universities in Southern California offer the best pharmacology programs, mythology, current events, the Russian Revolution, the Vietnam War… time passes quickly.
- I have lunch somewhere in the neighborhood, could be food from anywhere… dahl and nan bread, wonton noodles, brioche, Caesar salad, Paul Newman’s microwave popcorn.
- I finish my afternoon and the head back out to the streets. Maybe I will shop, the stationery stores are fantastic, maybe I have some prints to pick up or photos to be framed (so cheap!) I will stop in a market or two and get some food for dinner and then make my way back to Aberdeen using the MTR (most efficient subway ever) and the buses… where I will get on the 7:15 ferry and head back to LaLa Island, the home of Chow Yun Fat and mosqitoes the size of small birds, while I watch the sun set over the South China Sea (and Hong Kong Disneyland.)
- The evenings could be a walk into the main village on Lamma to see friends or music, maybe a quiet one at home watching pirated copies of all the latest movies… we’ve got the Bourne whatever, and The Simpsons already. If there is a night out in the city, then perhaps things will wind down with a sampan ride home.
- It it sometimes too hot to sleep, but sometimes this is okay…
Life is easy here and that is nice. It is exotic and regular, strange and familiar. Hong Kong has a bit of everything. Some people say it is a 24-hour city, but I find it strangely quiet at times. Some people say it is like New York City, but I find it much easier than New York and with far less personal pressure. Some people say it is Asia’s World City, and I am not sure if it is the only one, but it certainly offers a lot of possibilities.
In the end, what I love about Hong Kong is it’s perfectly bi-polar nature.