Friday, January 18, 2008

Finally, Hong Kong

Vertiginous: having or causing a whirling sensation; liable to falling. Synonyms: dizzy, giddy, woozy.

At the end it should add, "See Hong Kong."

First, a history lesson: Hong Kong consists of both islands and mainland territory just off the South China Sea. In 1841, after China tried to stamp out the opium trade which had prospered in Hong Kong with British traders, the U.K. took control of the island of Hong Kong proper, and in the Treaty of Nanking, China ceded control "in perpetuity." 20 years later, at the end of what was called the Second Opium War, Britian took control of the Kowloon Peninsula, across the bay (Victoria Bay) from Hong Kong. A July 1898 treaty gave the U.K. control of this property for 99 years.

In 1984, this arrangement was renegotiated, such that Britian agreed to give up not only the peninsula but the island of Hong Kong, with the proviso that China agreed not to change Hong Kong's economic, legal or social systems for 50 years following the 1997 reunification. Today, China calls this model "One country, two systems," and offers its success as an indication of the liberties the Republic of China (Taiwan) could have if it would return to full communion (as it were) with the mainland.

Hong Kong today: fast-paced, energetic, crowded, and dazzling. A financial center of Asia, trade center of Asia. Everywhere, street signs, streetlife, spectacle. A Chinese Manhattan.

One such street, 7pm on a Wednesday night (click on it for a larger view):

The nighttime skyline to be found on the northern side of Hong Kong island is equally remarkable -- many colors, and so vast that standing on the other side of Victoria Bay, there's still no way to photograph the whole of it. A couple sections:

Eastern part.

Farther to the west.

A close up of one section.

But what truly makes Hong Kong vertiginous, at least for me, is the heights. Hong Kong is a city enthralled by heights. Not only skyscrapers but residential buildings tower all around, 40, 50, 60 stories in the air. A view from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island (again, I recommend clicking for the bigger view).

The building where I stayed had a street running right by the building. Yet look to the back of the building, and you find this whole street is far above ground level, probably 15 stories.

Even in the malls, Hong Kong loves its heights. The shot below was taken from the top floor of one mall, reached via two massive sets of escalators.

Again, easily 150 feet up.

That experience of staggering height was so frequent in the two days that I was in Hong Kong, at the end of my second day there, as I lay down to bed, I actually found the room spinning. Nothing too extreme, mind you, just the quiet sensation that the world around you may in fact have been upside down all these years and be preparing to right itself. The fasten your seatbelt sign, in your stomach.

The same thing briefly happened when I awoke. And once again later that day. And about two hours after I landed in Sydney. And when I first began to write about it.

And right now. Time to lay down.

Hong Kong, though -- it's a keeper.

PS You'll note the picture at the start of this blog is a little blurry. You'd think that this happened because I moved while taking of the picture. Think again. Hong Kong moves so fast, it's very tough to get a good shot.

The people of Hong Kong have asked me to finish by saying: That's what I'm talking about, New York!

There you have it.