By Brandon Ellis


After weeks of mental preparation, planning, paperwork and packing it was finally time to leave for Hong Kong. I had already experienced a fair amount of air travel within the United States but this, this was on another level. Prior to this trip, my longest plane ride must have been roughly four hours — which paled in comparison to this fourteen and a half  hour journey.

 It’s hard to describe just how surreal this truly is. After the window shades have been down for the past few hours, you never really know what you’re going to get when you lift them up. I’d wake up in a haze after a spell of unsatisfying sleep and slowly open the shade to reveal everything from vast snowy wastelands to the odd mountainous geography of Russia. On top of this, there was no hope for avoiding the impending jet lag. Given that Hong Kong is functioning on a twelve-hour time difference, you’re only option is to sit there and face the warped reality.

When at last we arrived, it was around  5 a.m. and felt nothing of the sort. Adrenaline swept over me as we boarded a shuttle bus to our hotel.

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While driving from the airport on Lantau Island,                                                                              we received our first scenic taste of Hong Kong

The cityscape was composed of some of tallest and most densely configured skyscrapers and housing complexes I had ever seen.

Awestruck and disoriented, we arrived at the hotel to briefly gather ourselves. You must realize that I had been traveling on the road since noon the day prior (or was it the day before that?) and between driving, the airport, and the plane ride, I had been in perpetual motion for close to 30 hours with very limited sleep. Strangely, I didn’t feel the slightest bit tired — rather, I felt incredibly eager to take on the city. Our first stop was right next door at the former Marine Police Headquarters.

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The building resembled that of British style architecture — with archways and pillars as well as an outdoor foyer-esque hallway, that worked as a sun deterrent.

Next, we took a stroll around the immediate area and picked up on the local history surrounding the clock tower and Victoria Harbour.

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Clock tower in Tsim Sha Tsui

In terms of transportation, we took advantage of the many affordable forms of public transit.

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View from the local ferry that brought us between the two bodies of land that make up the city; Kowloon and Hong Kong.

We also traveled on the bus, subway, and rail car which all proved to be impressively clean and efficient.

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British rail cars

Yes, the ferry and rail car seemed mostly a novelty, but they’re definitely an essential part of Hong Kong’s character.

Most remarkably though, the MTR subway system has manifested an unparalleled standard. Even after traveling well beyond this trip, I have yet to seat myself in a more space-aged creation. In coming from a society where our focus lies more on self-reliance (owning a car), it was refreshing to witness the other side of the spectrum and how surprisingly cheap it can be — each ride costing well under a dollar.

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The Golden Bauhinia Blakeana in Golden Bauhinia Square, which signifies the transfer of Hong Kong back to China.

 From Golden Bauhinia Square (left), we caught a glimpse of the major banks that had been formatted to a large extent by the standards of Feng Shui. And Feng Shui, in my opinion, is one of the most fascinating nuances of the traditional Chinese culture. Given Hong Kong’s formidable history as a leader in banking and finance, the buildings in turn have been structured to reflect their high prestige. How do they achieve this? By following the guiding principles of harmony and architectural polarity. The placement, angle, and appearance all play a factor. So, as we trekked on I began to look for the underlying and unspoken harmony that was riddled throughout the city. And it was everywhere to be found. 

On the top of my bucket list was to have the experience of walking through dense marketplaces and to see first hand the localized foods, clothes, and trinkets that made up the daily life of a merchant in Hong Kong. Surely we had walked through indoor and outdoor markets that were trafficked by locals and tourists alike. For me, it was refreshing to witness a place with such a strong sense of urban community. Though each shop was specialized, a person could stroll down the marketplace, buy anything they need,  and chat with friends who also frequent the area. Not so easy to achieve this in our faceless megastores back at home.

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Veggies

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Indoor fish market

The finale to our first day was at last a chance to try genuine, local food. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I had been waiting to immerse myself in traditional Chinese food and at last make a distinction between our China Wok, and the real deal. The meal consisted of chicken, pork, cabbage, noodles, and lots of rice. Certainly this was on the more mild side of my food experiences, but it scratched the itch I had been aiming for. And it definitely left an impression. It became obvious that what we experience at home is far more genteel. To get authentic Chinese food, is to get an unrefined preparation; anything from bones in your mouth, questionable sanitation, odd smells, and maybe even the occasional “chew this thing as fast as you can and swallow it down.” You learn to not ask questions. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those that understand its greatness, there’s almost no way of going back to the Americanized version.

So here’s what I took away from my first day’s experience:

Throughout the trip I wanted to allow myself to discover and enforce the idea that many things are not universal. The different degrees of expectation that you form in the U.S do not hold truth around the world. It’s important to give credence to cultural norms, and seek out a new lens for viewing the world. Especially Feng Shui. Love Feng Shui…

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4 thoughts on “An Exercise in Reflection: Hong Kong

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