24 January 2009

First Stop...Hong Kong

You might not have noticed it but there is a global recession occurring at the minute. In my home town, London, and most cities around the world people are doing extra hours and pretending to work much harder than normal just to hold on to their jobs. Not so in Hong Kong.

Asia's self styled 'Global City' appears to be the capital city of pointless jobs. While the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline prove that many people, both Chinese and international, are making much money here, there are also a number of jobs that really are unnecessary. I have lost count of the amount of traffic controllers I have seen directing cars along one-way streets, an old man is employed to hold a gate open at the Star Ferry terminal all day (I did the trip twice just to make sure) and divers meander in the water in case a passenger on the world famous ferry falls in. Admittedly, I got a little carried away and made one of those up. In essence it is place where money continues to be made.

Due to the relatively small area of this ex-British owned country, the buildings are made extremely high. As I sit here in a 50 storey high waterside apartment (oh, how the other half live) I can make out at least 11 equally high buildings next to me, mostly designed for the thousands of businessmen you see around the place in their flash new cars, complete with personalised number plates. This is clearly a place where status is important.

But far from being an eyesore and ripping the soul out of the place, this sign of wealth and success is what makes Hong Kong, well, Hong Kong. Glimpses of the traditional Chinese way of life are dotted around, but essentially it is place where Western values dominate. The fact that Nick and I managed to navigate our way around the underground system without ending up at the Chinese border is testament to that. Although it didn't come without it's problems, a simple Devonian boy that is unable to understand the tickets are generally needed to get through ticket barriers can be a bit frustrating.

The old-fashioned yet impressive tram taking you to the city's highest mountain, Victoria Peak, is another example of Western, and in particular, British influence. Hong Kong's famous peak- or not so famous, depending on whether you have heard of it or now I guess- gives a different view to the buildings that cause such neck-ache down on the ground. A clear day allows for spectacular views across the city with more mountains in the background, and being the culture vultures we are, Nick and I topped off our sightseeing day with a visit to the authentically Chinese restaurant of Bubba Gumps shrimp restaurant, the diner themed on the fantastic movie, Forrest Gump.

Back on flat and you are quite literally shipped back to China's past on the rickety old Star Ferry. The landmark takes you across from the much more traditional Kowloon island to the mostly modern and skyscraper-dominated Hong Kong Island. The further outside of the city you travel the closer you get to the religious heart of the place. The 10,000 Buddhas is an impressive, if taxing, climb where the Buddhist way of life is celebrated as well as Diamond Hill which boasts an impressive nunnery as well as one of those most stunning parks I have ever visited. Unfortunately, as stunning as the place is it does not allow for coffee to be drunk outside, but obviously I am not bitter about this so will leave it there.

The tired old cliche that has been said a million times- a million and one now- that Hong Kong is a real blend of East and West culture is, in my opinion, slightly off the mark. While old-style China is recognisable in certain aspects, it is the dream of rags-to-riches that dominates here. Or as I like to call it, the New China.