Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Eternal Hong Kong

The Eternal Hong Kong

by rick olivares

In my first ever trip to Hong Kong, my mother told me to look out from the window at the lights that lit up Victoria Harbour. That exact moment was significant for two things: 1) ever since then, I always asked for a window seat whenever I ride an airplane, and 2) I fell in love with Hong Kong.

Like a moth to a flame, she calls out to me.

It is the one true place where east meets west. A unique melting pot and a hub for ideas, culture, and commerce. And there’s more… there’s the governing dichotomous principle of “one country; two systems” in relation to mother China.

Even with the emergence of China as a global economic power, Hong Kong has retained its vibrancy and importance. Their dollar is the world’s ninth most traded currency and it still is a financial pillar. And they have the most number of millionaires per square foot.

When I say the east meets the west, the latter is the British and European influence. I grew up watching F-4 Phantoms, A-10 Warthogs, and C-130 Hercules aircraft rumbling into the Pampanga sky when my grandfather would take me to the former Clark Air Base. My mother worked for a time with the US government and I would oft see US Marines detailed at the building’s lobby as security. So seeing British servicemen and the Union Jack in Hong Kong was a different experience.

Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore are all beautiful yet they still somewhat resemble being on home soil. Hong Kong… has a certain shimmer and sheen to it. It glistens in its temperate climes. The name in Cantonese means “fragrant harbour” and in the Old World sense, the harbor was the gateway to a new country. And the island is still one. Commerce, culture, everything passes through here. Even those imported goods that find their way into our stores.

I’ve always advised first-time travelers that if ever, their first trip abroad should be Hong Kong. That’s not because it’s the closest but because it offers a striking difference from ours whereas Thailand and Singapore still somewhat resemble being on home soil. Hong Kong is a truly a first world country in Southeast Asia.

Find me a place that is more fashionable here in Asia? Find me a place that is equated with shopping? Bangkok? Yes, it is a lovely place, but Hong Kong – the island is one shopping mall. And they were the first to have a Toys ‘R Us that is always a favorite. Here in Hong Kong, for those not used to going to Divisoria or tiangges in Greenhills, this is where you first learned to haggle for lower prices. For price-conscious Filipinos, haggling is a must if not an art form. And unlike on the home front where sales are faux sales, here prices truly drop.

Only you don’t need to shop ‘til you drop. Why wait when there’s a smorgasbord of culinary delights from the trendy (Lan Kwai Fong, Knutsford Terrace, and SoHo) to the street variety (Aberdeen, Causeway Bay, and Stanley Market).

Whenever I go to Ocean Park (at least once a year), I make sure to volunteer for the dolphin and sea lion show. I sit in the lower seats of the grand stand and raise my hand and jump like crazy so when the hosts ask for volunteers, they notice me. The jellyfish and shark exhibits are worth the price of entrance! As for the cable car rides – I’m going to have to admit that I suffer from extreme acrophobia. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. I sit inside those cars and close my eyes and pray a hundred novenas until I can set my two feet on good old terra firma. Somehow after every ride, my heart rate goes fast and I feel older. It’s a good thing there are rides, attractions, and games because they make me feel young again.

Maybe it’s the mystique of China. Maybe it’s a touch of Europe in Asia. I think of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, night markets, all these tourists that you will not see in Manila, sales at HMV, buying clothes at Giordano, eating at Vietnamese restaurants, the nightlife, walking along Nathan Road, going up to Victoria Peak and dreaming of buying a house somewheres when I become a billionaire – I can dream, can’t I? I enjoy the Double Decker buses, ferry rides along the river, the sense of fashion, Chinese mysticism, and enjoy the fact that what I’m looking for can be found here. I wonder at the cleanliness, the quiet efficiency of a place that steps out of a postcard.

I gaze at Hong Kong with a wonder of a first-time tourist every time I’m there.

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