Monday, February 15, 2010

An American Werewolf in Hong Kong

I spent this past week in Hong Kong. In some ways the city is just how I imagined it. The central area of Hong Kong Island is a commercial and mercantile oasis filled with modern skyscrapers that soar to nose-bleeding height. The rest of the surrounding city is a dense jungle of buildings from another era, sweaty with water-damage, and decorated with ubiquitous neon signs, external plumbing, and residents' clothes hanging out to dry.

Perhaps I've watched too many Kung Fu movies, but the stereotypes I brought with me were confirmed soon after I arrived. Directly before my eyes, I witnessed the very canvas that inspired the great visionary directors of Hong Kong cinema. I could see the urban break-neck action sequences of John Woo and the steamy romance and noir of Wong Kar Wai.

I immediately felt inundated by the boisterous atmosphere. As opposed to the social propriety of Tokyo, the Chinese descendant residents of Hong Kong are loud and animated, letting their cell phones ring and yelling at each other in the streets. The average crowds of popular shopping areas like Mong Kok rival Tokyo's Shibuya and Harajuku on their busiest days. The claustrophobia in the sea of people is only accentuated by a canopy of shop signs suspended by steal cables from almost every building.

One way to catch the essence of the city is to stroll through the Temple Street Night Market after dusk. Rows of street stalls dealing in all kinds of merchandise are lined by buildings with eclectic stores and aromatic Chinese eateries. Shops and stalls selling all kinds of contraband and sleaze are plentiful. One can find knock off fashion labels and watches, pirated DVD's and CD's, and even second-hand pornographic literature.

I saw one stall selling imitation LEGOS of exactly the same look and design of the popular toy series, but instead manufactured by the bootleg brand "Enlighten". I'm fairly sure this would be illegal in the States, but I would be more concerned over the lead tainted paint...

By day, Hong Kong is equally as impressive. The skyline viewed from Victoria Peak is world famous, but unfortunately on the day I took the cable car to the top, most of the tallest buildings were shrouded in clouds. The view wasn't much to brag about.

The fog was thick, but it did offer an alternate perspective. I was able to witness the famous Giant Buddha of the Po Lin Monastery, veiled in mystery, riding on a cloud to Nirvana.

And of course, if you are a true werewolf, you'd better find a few locals to show you around. A few of my Hong Konese friends took me out to the bars and clubs of Lan Kwai Fong. The area was reminiscent of Tokyo's Roppongi, complete with mini-skirts and over-eager and ambiguously sketchy foreign guys out for tail. We bounced around to a few different spots and hug out till the first trains at 6AM. I hit the sack for a quick two hours and was on my flight home by 12:30 the next afternoon.

I've been back in Tokyo for a few days now, but I can't get the trip off of my mind. Personally, the best part was being reminded about what it felt like when I first came to Asia. Many of the mysteries of Japan have slowly unravelled for me, but Hong Kong presented a fascinating new world with a mysterious culture. I could feel that same sensation in my gut that I first experienced when I witnessed Japan with fresh eyes. I was a foreigner in a land filled to the brim with people each with their own individual story.

The sensation followed me home. I was only gone for 5 days, but it must have been much longer. The sites, smells, and atmosphere of Tokyo all felt new, as if I were re-experiencing them all over again.


Mike said...

That first photo of the ship is sweet!

Anne said...

Hi Ethan, great photos. It sounds like an amazing place! I've been to South America, seems like Asia is a completely different world. I must visit.

Tokyo Trawler said...

Awesome little review. I've been toying with the idea of hitting HK for a while, and you might have just convinced me.