Winding up the Hong Kong experience with ever-escalating sights
“See my new boots! How are they?” asked Rinku, my fellow Indian traveller in Hong Kong.
“Awesome!” I said. I had to say that. She had spent 2,500 Hong Kong dollars to buy four pairs and was wearing one of them now.
And so we set off for Lan Kwai Fong to party. We had had a long day – and what a day.
The morning had begun on the island of Hong Kong. It was this island that the British had first taken in 1841 before they went on to expand their control to the Kowloon peninsula, and finally more areas north of the peninsula and also some islands, which they chose to call the New Territories. Collectively they came to be called Hong Kong. The island is, therefore, home to the city's colonial heritage and our host, the Hong Kong Tourism Board, put us on an open-top bus for a heritage tour of the city.
But when your eyes are blinded by the dazzle of the high-rises, how can you look out for humble heritage, which would probably be too embarrassed to show its face? So I sat back on my seat on the roof of the buses and enjoyed the carnival of the high-rises, each eager to kiss the sky first, as the bus snaked through the all-important roads of Hong Kong. If the dictionary doesn't define the word ‘opulence' for you, Hong Kong will. And I also realised: a concrete jungle may not look beautiful, but it can certainly look elegant.
We alighted at Peak Tram terminus on Garden Road. We were to take the tram right up to the Victoria Peak, now called just The Peak, which became the summer getaway for the colonial rulers ever since Governor Richard MacDonnell built a residence there, in the late 1860s. After tram service to the Peak began in 1888, the hill became an exclusive residential area for Europeans and remained out of bounds for locals for a number of years. Even today, the hill is home to the last of the fast-disappearing colonial bungalows in Hong Kong. The tram we take is new, but the route is 123 years old – a steep vertical climb right up the hill.
The moment we alighted we got sucked into a massive multi-storied steel-concrete-glass structure. We were on the Touristy Peak and not the Victorian Peak – but it was The Peak nevertheless. Souvenir shops, shopping malls, eateries, even Madame Tussauds gallery – the building contained it all. But it was the roof that mattered most: from there you could see all of Hong Kong, and even Kowloon. A sight to die for. A concrete jungle can also look beautiful.
After lunch at The Peak we drove to Ocean Park. The entertainment park, spread across 870,000 sq m of land, has a mountain standing in between and to get to the summit you have to take the cable car. As the cable car trundled high above the South China Sea, one could see the sun bowing out for the day, disappearing slowly into the sea. Against the fading sun was the silhouette of the roller-coaster which was to soon scare the life out of us. It was at Ocean Park that Rinku and I hatched the plan for Lan Kwai Fong.
The idea was to have a drink and stroll around the Soho of Hong Kong. But it turned out to be the night of Halloween, and, emerging out of Central station, we found that the whole of Hong Kong had descended on Lan Kwai Fong. To get to Lan Kwai Fong from the station, otherwise a two-minute walk, took us nearly two hours. Once she realised that Lan Kwai Fong was so near and yet so far, Rinku took off her Hong Kong boots. “They pinch,” she said and put them into her bag. Out came the humble Indian chappals.
Once in Lan Kwai Fong, we broke off from the unending procession and squeezed ourselves into the little space that was available on the pavement outside Hard Rock Café. There, clutching cans of Guinness, we watched the young of Hong Kong go past, thousands and thousands of them – it was the wedding of Grotesque and Grace. It's a night I am not easily going to forget – energy meeting imagination and the two of them saying hello to the no-holds-barred spirit.
The people of Hong Kong are a happy lot. According to Rosanna, our Chinese guide, the city-state made a net profit of 2,000 billion Hong Kong dollars from the stock exchange in 2010. The benefits were passed on to the people: every citizen over the age of 18 received 6,000 Hong Kong dollars from the government as ‘lucky money', and those above 65 got 3,000 dollars extra.
The next morning, we were at 1881 Heritage, one of the most expensive hotels in Hong Kong which, once upon a time, was the headquarters of the marine police. Such is the hotel's heritage and snob value that couples getting married and youngsters who've acquired a prestigious degree come to pose against the handsome colonial building. As if a degree or a marriage certificate is not valid until the photograph outside the hotel has been taken.
On the final day, in the island of Lantau, we took a stunning 5.7 km cable-car ride to the village of Ngong Ping, where a 34m Buddha sits on a hill. The spectacular 25-minute journey provides a panoramic view of the Buddha statue, the flora and fauna of the North Lantau Country Park, Tung Chung Bay and the airport. The Ngong Ping Piazza, opened last year, is lined with statues of the Twelve Divine Generals. And from there, it is a 268-step climb to nirvana. What a peaceful way to end a journey.