Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong is part of the People's Republic of China, it is considered an autonomous territory with special administrative rights compared to mainland China. Those are quite extensive and include all affairs except diplomatic relations and national defense. The second special administrative region is Macau, which lies east of Hong Kong. The principle of "one country, two systems" was established when the former British (Hong Kong) and Portuguese (Macau) colonies were handed back to China in the late 90s.

The 150 years of British influence is noticeable throughout the city: left-hand traffic, British street names, modern infrastructure, English language, etc. However, the city also preserved a lot of charm of a traditional Chinese city. I think it is this mix of cultures from East and West that makes Hong Kong particularly fascinating. In addition, the British influence also supported the rise to one of the world's leading financial centers. Hong Kong is very much characterized by a free market spirit and low taxation; the dream of every "American conservative".

Hong Kong is called the most vertical city in the world. With 2,354 high-rises, it holds the record in terms of number of buildings taller than 100 m (328 ft). New York City is ranked second with 794 buildings. The lack of space and a growing population (currently about 7 million) makes Hong Kong one of the most expensive cities in the world as well. I saw the impact by looking at the bill for my hostel. The place I stayed was the most expensive so far and had by far the least comfort. I found accommodation at Chunking Mansions; a well-known building in Hong Kong for affordable backpacker housing (as well as a notorious center of drugs, petty criminals, scammers and illegal immigrants). Very fascinating. Check some pictures of the place here.

All in all, I really enjoyed Hong Kong and I think it is a great city providing a high quality of life. On the downside, the financial industry clearly dominates the economy and this is the area where the well-paid jobs are. Hong Kong feels almost like a two-tier society where one works either in finance (alternatively is a well-connected real estate developer) or struggles to make ends meet. Like mentioned in a previous post, I believe the growing disparity between rich and poor is one of the biggest problems, and will lead to upheaval and conflicts if there will be no significant change in the near future. Shanghai and Hong Kong are the best examples for income inequality so far.

I also spent two days in Macau. There is a convenient ferry service between Hong Kong and Macau that takes about one hour and departs every 15 minutes. Macau is China's Las Vegas and people flow into the city to enjoy gambling, shopping and eating. Chinese are known for their passion to gamble and Macau has already surpassed Las Vegas in terms of gaming revenue. Whereas Las Vegas "only" makes about $10 billion from its visitors per year, Macau is generating a staggering $38 billion, and is rapidly growing in contrast to the Sin City in America. However, in my opinion Macau lacks the atmosphere of the original. Therefore, it was just a nice-to-see.

My flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi didn't go as smooth as planned. Typhoon "Utor" (level 8 on a scale of 10) hit the Chinese coast and affected all transportation systems. First, I had to stay an additional night in Macau because the ferry service back to Hong Kong had been interrupted. The next day I made it to the airport, but after several delays of the flight, it had been cancelled as well. So, I stayed one more night in Hong Kong before finally taking off to Hanoi the following day. I learned a lesson through this event: stay calm in whatever situation you are and accept it as is. It was fascinating to see how many people completely lost their patience and manners due to the flight cancellation. It felt good not to be part of this negative energy.

For me, one of the best food experiences are the no-frills food places on the street, which offer local cuisine for a cheap price. The owners put plastic chairs and tables on the street and cook right in front of you. I was never disappointed with my dish, and the missing air-conditioner is offset by a cold beer (or two).

I met Peter who actually grew up in the SF Bay Area (San Jose) but moved to Hong Kong a few years ago. We had drinks together that night, and he showed me other good spots in the city to go to.

It is a little bit hard to see on the picture, but on the left side there is an escalator. The central-mid escalator in Hong Kong is the world's longest outdoor covered escalator system (800 m / 2,600 ft long with a vertical climb of 135 m / 443 ft). The total travel time is about twenty minutes. Pretty cool.

On the way up to Victoria Peak, with 552 m (1,811 ft) the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. The summit provides spectacular day and night views of the city.

Hong Kong is comprised of five districts. Hong Kong island and Kowloon are most famous, because of their skyscrapers, office buildings and shopping malls. However, other districts are also interesting particularly for outdoor activities. I did a day hike on Lantau. The landscape is amazing and a big contrast to the vibrant city.

Hong Kong is famous for its ubiquitous neon lights. They give the city a special character unmatched in the world.