Hong Kong: A mesmerizing city

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Hong Kong makes New York City look like child’s play. The high rises’ bright lights mesmerize as far as the eye can see in the most beautiful cosmopolitan display. It’s almost midnight and from street level, the light-up signs and advertisements make it seem like daytime. Shoppers fill the streets and partygoers are only just getting started before stumbling out of bars and clubs when the sun rises. Hong Kong is not only a city that never sleeps, but also one that thrives at night.

Hong Kong's famous skyline lights up the sky at night.
Hong Kong’s famous skyline from the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour.

Known as a city where east meets west, it’s the perfect combination of old and new. Foreigners can blend in in the bustling international city, but the unique Chinese culture is inescapable. British rule influenced Hong Kong from small things like afternoon tea to a larger sense of independence under its colonial control. It was then handed back over to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle. Basically this means that Hong Kong has its own political system and a high level of autonomy except when it comes to foreign and military affairs. An American friend of mine who has lived there for three years told me that Hong Kongese actually harness a certain prejudice towards “mainlanders,” or people from Mainland China, which he has started to pick up himself. The almost four days I spent there was nowhere near enough time to penetrate the surface of Hong Kong’s rich culture.

I was surprised to find that while Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the concrete jungle is only a small part of the region. Just outside the city, there are pristine beaches, secluded islands and coastal villages. Macau, China’s other special administrative region, is a less than an hour ferry ride away. Once you get there, you feel like you’re in an entirely different country — and you need a passport to get there. A former Portuguese colony, Macau still retains a European charm. It’s strange to see street names in Portuguese and yet almost none of the residents speak Portuguese. Also known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient,” Macau’s gambling revenues surpass those of Las Vegas. No, really. The small region is scattered with sparkling casinos and tourists flock there year round. They recently rose the gambling age from 18 to 21 for foreigners but they’re not very strict about it…

Old military ruins in Macau, just an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong.

I could definitely see myself living in Hong Kong. A city that is a little rough around the edges compared to Singapore’s rule-based system, and constantly something new to discover. So now the question is: who wants to go back with me?

Traveling around Asia, it’s interesting to see not only each country’s distinct differences, but also the similarities that bind them. My next stop is Bali, so stay tuned! Or something a little less lame than that.