We went to visit one of the most talked of places right now- the old gateway to China – Hong Kong.
We wanted to experience one of the most condensed cities in the world and maybe get to understand the ongoing protests a bit better.
The first thing that catches the eye is off course the high rises but also the big artificial island that houses the airport just outside the main island of Hong Kong.
The amount of materials that have been moved around and the incredible volume of concrete that has been used to create the spectacular landscape of houses reaching to the sky like pillars of hardened volcanic magma, are just incomprehensible.
The city is sitting on the edge of a ring of low mountains coming up from the sea separated in the middle by a small strait surrounding the Hong Kong Island.
The streets are running up and down in steep and small patterns and since the traffic is left sited you’re in for more than one surprise when you walk around in the mountains of skyscrapers. The flood of cars, busses, trams and people blend in to a perfect stream of movement were everyone seems to know exactly where to go.
There’s a big network of pavements crisscrossing under and above the streets covered by roofing and creating its own micro climate once you get op in first or second floors height. Hong Kong is a green city due to the climate that has a very high humidity, and the view from the pavements create the image of hanging gardens and secret places as the cars disappear in and out.
At the root of the high rises you discover the traces of the historical Hong Kong in the small shops, restaurants and in the back alleys where old buildings and staircases are covered with street life, bamboo scaffolding and signs telling stories about long forgotten workshops and facilities.
Suddenly you see a little old lady in traditional clothing pushing her wagon with piles of empty cardboards crossing the heavy traffic, walking in the middle of the road. The traffic is chaotic but has its own logic and rules, which you probably have to be a local to recognise.
We take an escalator lifting us several hundred meters up the mountain and into a neighbourhood of small bars and streets dotted with restaurants and apartment houses that rises even higher from the ground. Here we find a hidden cocktail lounge and sit down for a talk with the waitress who also turns out to be the owner of the place.
These are hard times – she tells us. I’m British and have been here for more than ten years. I’ve never before experienced such a silenced and gloomy atmosphere as now. The demonstrations go down every weekend late Saturday into Sunday afternoon. And then life continues again Monday morning, but with much less people in the streets and fever business people and tourists than before.
– People in Hong Kong are so incredibly stubborn and won’t give up expressing their feelings and what they fight for. They don’t fear anyone and this has been going on for five months now. You have to be careful of who you discuss politics with. Even in this bar it has divided old friends and the government has ears and eyes everywhere.
– Now the shop owners put their hope in the Christmas sale, that it will compensate for the poor turnover, but everybody fears the worst and big layoffs after new years – she tells us.
Outside you can hear the noise from the partying going on in the bar district and soon we meet the crowd of mainly young people as we find the way to the next whiskey bar. This time nobody talks politics or anxiety, but merely concentrate on having a good time.
We end our trip next day visiting the Cheung Chau Island a twenty-minutes sailing across the West Lamma Channel just at the brink of Hong Kong itself.
Here you find no cars only bicycles and a complete contrast to the Bladerunner style city we just left behind. We find only small houses and narrow streets buzzing with vibrant life, shops and restaurants. And on the backside, and what we were aiming for- a beautiful beach with wind surfing and beach houses. Almost no other tourists are here and we soon find ourselves in a sun bed with a great view to the skyline of Hong Kong in the distance.
Hong Kong is a city of history, dreams, life and incredible buildings – but also of fear and a reflection of the times we live in where world powers once again are changing side.