Hong Kong. Lovingly, it has been called the Vancouver of the East, although it would be just as accurate to call Canada’s left-coast jewel the Hong Kong of the West. Both cities treat their inhabitants to a mesmerizing combination of mountains and water, slopes speckled with flashes of greenery, skies that sparkle in the sun or whisper secrets in the mist.
Riding across the imposing span bridge from the airport on Lantau Island, I see Victoria Harbour, resplendent with ships: barges stacked with containers, busy tugs, laden freighters waiting to enter the port to unload, even the occasional sampan. Again, memories of Vancouver’s Coal Harbour run through my mind. The endless skyscrapers climbing the hills do nothing to dispel the notion that I’ve slipped into an alternate universe where British Columbia’s biggest city is reflected back to me, larger than life.
The streets, however, are more reminiscent of New York. People everywhere, intent on their destinations, hurrying along. Shops, shops and more shops of all kinds: the elegant, the affordable, the modest. Sleek indoor malls in office towers compete with family businesses scratching out a living at street level. Commerce rules the day, as I am reminded by the massive bank towers that dominate the skyline of Central, the island’s downtown core.
Hong Kong is also a crossroads for those commercial endeavours, it seems. People from all over Asia and the world are here to do business or make their livings. In the hotel today, I chatted with a businessman from Bangkok here to market small aircraft and a businesswoman from Shanghai here for a few days of meetings. Then, there are those like me who are combining work with the opportunity for adventure. At breakfast, I visited with a young couple from Ohio, recent graduates who are here to teach English. They were giddy with the excitement of achieving their dream of working abroad in their field, keen to move into their newly rented apartment and get settled. Soon, I’ll be following suit.
I had wondered how much of the British influence would remain here 15 years after the handover – banners marking the anniversary decorate the streets of Central and an exhibition of China’s Xian warrior statues will also mark the occasion – and the jury is still out. Today, as I had lunch at a small restaurant of the kind that abound along the streets -- unpretentious, bare bones, good food – I found pointing and gesturing to be the language I had in common with the wait staff. Immigration from the mainland combined with a renewed emphasis on Chinese language since the handover makes English less prominent, I’ve been told. Time to add a bit of Cantonese to my vocabulary!