Counting first impressions in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong raises your heartbeat. It may be the heat, the humidity, or the sheer volume of people. It may also be the strong scent of unbridled capitalism. After all, this is the city that elects a ‘Chief Executive‘ as its ruler every five years and has an electoral system designed to ensure the influence of professional groups and business. Whatever it is, the tempo of this city is faster than any we visited in South America.

It’s a cliche to say that Hong Kong is a seamless meeting of East and West. But that’s not really our experience so far. The seams are clear, and they seem to fall somewhere between subway stations.

We’re staying near Mong Kok station in an area widely described as the most densely populated in the world. It feels very Chinese here. The sounds of the language are starkly foreign given the Spanish we’re used to. At a restaurant the waiter took our order in English, but probably couldn’t explain what was in our dumplings. Pork, shrimp and either mushroom or seaweed, we hope. Another waitress nodded vigorously when we pointed to items on the menu, but she didn’t speak a word of English.

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The massive apartment towers are grimy. If our rented room is anything to go by their shoe box size makes them feel like berths on a ship. They’ve functionality in spades, but no space. The endless rows of aging air conditioners create a special kind of Chinese water torture with erratic drips on to the pedestrians below. Men labour with bare tops hacking corrugated iron or roast duck. Or they sleep, heads back and mouths open, on the park benches on the sidewalk.

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Four stations away down the subway line you emerge into a sparkling Western mall on Hong Kong Island with familiar brands everywhere, all screaming wealth. We sat down to coffee surrounded by expats. I couldn’t hear everything the two well dressed businessmen were saying, but the cadence of their conversation was stomach turningly familiar. I suspect they were consultants, or bankers, or consultants to bankers. I did catch one recountable snippet of their meeting: “It’s rich in functionality, but not very user friendly,” one said. Ah yes, the universal experience of the tech project overrun by the tech people.

The skyline that towers above is all steel, glass and modernity. Office workers dart in and out of the glorious atriums to breath in the thick tropical air. Ice cream vendors peddle their wares to unsuspecting tourists. Beware: green does not always signal mint flavour, and we’ve still no idea what that “pink” flavour” was meant to taste like.

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