Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China – and was a part of the British empire up until as recently as 1997. Interestingly, as I found out, the Cantonese meaning of Hong Kong is a splendid harbor with fragrances from the native Hong Kong Camellia.
Ever since my childhood, Hong Kong has been an attraction for Indian diaspora. The cultivated image of its skyscrapers right next to the ocean, mountainous terrain, neon lights, high end shopping, and the trademark British etiquette has provided an alluring escape. I have a connecting flight to New Delhi, but the layover is almost 12 hours – so I decide to venture into the city.
Hong Kong is just one of the few ports where Indian nationals do not require a visa. It is a quick exit through the immigration process and there is a train waiting to take you to the city as you step out of the terminals. By all accounts, these are the cleanest and the most comfortable mode of public transport that I have ever used. Kudos!
The weather is certainly sultry, its only 9 AM and I am sweating – but I am told that the afternoons will bring some respite in case it rains. I am heavily jet-lagged, but still want to venture into the city. I start off with the ferry area – it is nice to just sit by the ocean and relax. I have a good continental breakfast at a local eatery – it has views of the hills and the bay. I pick up a Chinese newspaper to catch up on the headlines in the world. It is almost surprising that I do not spot any news of local crime. Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world, but it should not be mistaken for the absence of other organized crime. Smuggling and counterfeit goods are still prevalent and the perpetrators keep an extremely low profile and do not get in the way of the authorities. I take a walk around the famous bazaars in the bylanes of Hong Kong – these are no different from the neighborhood farmers markets in the west, rather much smaller in size and along congested bylanes. Counterfeit labels are displayed like war medals – and sold at bargain prices. I am looking for a wide angle lens for my Sony, but it is hard to find a good deal here. Plus, I am not sure whether I am getting an original lens for the $150 asking price. I do not venture to bargain either.
The roadside scene above reminds people to be careful with their heads – i think there is a lot of pun intended here.
Since the bazaar has failed to excite me, I walk towards the peak tram – as the name suggests, the tram ferries people up the peak of Hong Kong and has been in existence for about 120 years now. It is remarkable that the tram was operated by coal fired steam engines in the good old days. The incline is very steep – with almost 27 degrees in the steepest parts of the track and it takes a good 7-10 minutes for a one way trip. The views from the top are spectacular.