June 1, 2008

Landing in Hong Kong

Filed under: awesome,travel — mhoye @ 12:45 am

So, I fibbed a little, but only because this picture is just on the verge of being (as far as my memories of Japan go, anyway) iconic.

On Time, Every Time

Pro travelling-in-Japan tip: if your train ticket says 4:00, at 4:02 that train will be literally miles away. Those guys don’t dawdle, no sir. A JapanRail pass will let you get away with that but other, lesser arrangements might not, and that’s why JR passes are a must-have, no question.

The plane ride into Hong Kong isn’t as exciting as it used to be, now that their airport sits entirely out in the ocean on reclaimed land, and isn’t smack in the middle of an everything-is-thirty-stories-tall downtown. I never got a chance to fly in to the old airport which makes me a little bit sad but not, in truth, all that sad.

You may not be aware that air travel doesn’t necessarily need to feel like you’re being held hostage in a third-world movie theatre, but if all you’ve ever travelled is United, you can be forgiven for having that impression. Rest assured, there isn’t some cosmic law saying that air travel requires that you squeeze yourself into dingy little seats so that rude stewardesses can walk by once to feed you slop, should they do even that. The service of Cathay Pacific was outstanding, the most pleasant flight I can remember; better than the short-haul stuff I’ve done with Porter here out of Toronto, and Porter is a totally civilized, pleasant way of getting around.

Customs in Hong Kong is… unusual? On the way out of the secure area, you are presented with two doors: one says “if you have anything to declare, go this way”, and the other says “if you have nothing to declare, go this way.” The second door just opens out onto the concourse, and you’re free to go. We might have had something to declare, you know? But not a single person went through the “something to declare” door that we could see, they all just walked out through the unguarded nothing-to-see-here-move-along door. My wife and I looked at each other, and we both silently decided that whoever was on the other side of the “why yes, we would like to call your official attention to our tourist selves” door would be surprised and excited to have guests, that surprised, excitable customs officials were not the right start to our stay, so we should just smile and walk through the other door. Which we did, unmolested, and off we went.

Every airport should work like that. Do you want the cavity-search line, or the no-cavity-search line. No, officer, I would prefer the no-cavity-search option. Very good, have a nice day.

Hong Kong Sprawl

A friend of mine refers to Hong Kong as Bizzaro Tokyo, explaining that it’s another vast, sprawling city, except it it’s polluted, dirty, haphazard and people everyone’s rude to you. I didn’t get much of that last bit, but the first three, totally. We were there for a humid couple of days, and on bad days the air in Hong Kong is like swimming in diesel muffler soup. I had a bit of a cough going in, and by the end of it I was on an inhaler. Hardly the end of the world but one more reason that having been in Tokyo days before, it was hard to see Hong Kong on its own merits and not as some weird compare-and-contrast homework assignment writ absurdly large. Worn narrow streets wind up and down the hillsides built to the standards I recognize from my time in the Caribbean, the wide gutters and patchwork roads that say “it only rains two months of the year here, but those two months are the Great Flood.”

Hong Kong Building

More Hong Kong Buildings

As a result the city looks like a sprawling shrine to the idea that there’s nothing as permanent as something temporary that works. There’s nowhere to build in Hong Kong that isn’t straight up, and the cost of doing so is so expensive that only the megacorporate downtown can afford to do it more than once. So all the buildings that were built without central climate control forty years ago aren’t going anywhere, looking like they cost too much to maintain and way, way too much to rebuild.

Hong Kong At Night

They do look pretty in the evening, though, so more on the subject later.

The Temple Of Eternal Perfection

Fairly early in the trip, we visited the “Temple of Eternal Perfection”. It’s about as well maintained as you’d expect a place named the Temple of Eternal Perfection to be, pretty but very nearly plastic in it’s immaculateness. Colorful and pretty, but somehow static? Unlike the temples in Kyoto, you got the sense that this temple was meant to be looked at but not touched. That it wasn’t so much a place of worship as a thing to be worshipped, and that preferably from afar, as though they invited the vinegar tasters to decide how this should all be organized but Lao Tzu never showed up.

The Temple Of Eternal Perfection, Again

It turns out that the rest of Hong Kong feels very differently about that, though, and the Temple of Eternal Perfection is being steadily encroached by the relentless march of the city’s slow giants. I like these shots for their dramatic angle, and because they facilitate my using melodramatic imagery like the previous sentence, but I couldn’t shake the feeling while I was there that this must have been a miraculous place when it was hidden at the end of a long day’s travel, but now that there’s a subway station and a mall a kilometer away and towering old apartment buildings on all sides, the lustre has worn off a bit.

Thankfully, it was not the most interesting part of the trip, not by a wide margin. Don’t touch that dial.


  1. You should come fly with me soon this summer. This is how I land all the time. . . .

    Comment by Quotation — June 1, 2008 @ 7:29 am

  2. Or, better put, this is how I land.

    Comment by Quotation — June 1, 2008 @ 7:30 am

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