Sunday, August 22, 2004

Goodbye Tokyo, hello Hong Kong

Aside from a bumpy ride, my flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong was just how I like it: short (compared to the flight to get to Tokyo in the first place). I watched The Ladykillers, which was hysterical, and had whatever Asian cuisine that Cathay Pacific put in front of me. At the airport, my hotel ran a car service, so I didn't have to mess around with a bus or train. I'm used to being met outside Customs by a driver with a sign, and while things in Asia don't work quite like that at least where my firm is concerned, having my own car to get to the hotel was an improvement over Tokyo's hotel bus system.

After I settled into my room, I decided that the weather wasn't too bad to prevent me from checking out the neighborhood. My first stop was the Pacific Place Mall, which is directly below my hotel. I got some Hong Kong dollars from a Citibank ATM and browsed through some of the shops. It's an upscale mall, with European stores like Hermes, Marks & Spencer, and Bang & Olafson, as well as Asian department stores and curio shops. There are also familiar American restaurants like McDonald's, Dan Ryan's, and Starbucks. The layout of the mall and stores remind me of Georgetown Park in Washington, DC, though it doesn't look anything like that mall on the inside -- more like one of the gallerias in Tysons Corner.

I walked from the hotel to the Bank of China tower, where my firm's local office is located, then up the hill to the Victoria Peak Tram. I hadn't planned on riding the tram to the peak just after I arrived, but since the weather was clearing I figured it made sense to see Hong Kong's primary tourist attraction while I knew I had the time. The tram resembles the inclined planes I'm used to from Johnstown and Pittsburgh, but it's really more of a cable car system. Since the route that the tram traverses isn't an even grade the entire way, parts of the ride feel like a roller coaster. At one point the tram ascends a 40 degree incline, so I got the sense that the rest of the world was leaning as we passed apartment buildings and bridges on the way up.

The views from the top of the Peak are beyond breathtaking. Imagine if you could climb to 1300 feet above the skyline of Manhattan, only the skyscrapers of midtown and downtown are all compressed into one small area. That's just an idea of what Hong Kong looks like from above. It was partly cloudy, so the view across the harbor to Kowloon was partially obscured, but I could still pick out landmarks and get some decent pictures. Since it's a tourist destination, the Peak is also home to hawkers of the same kinds of junk you find being peddled on the streets of Manhattan. There's another mall at the Peak as well, selling more tourist trinkets. There's also a grocery store and preschool in the mall, reminding me that people actually live on Victoria Peak near the top, and have much better views from their houses and apartments than their neighbors further down.

I got back to my room around 9 PM and collapsed into bed at 11, early for me. But after two days of walking around and traveling, I had no energy left and my legs felt like jelly. Even after a few hours' sleep, I still don't feel back to normal. I'm actually looking forward to a semi-normal week at work, albeit as normal as things can be when I'm halfway around the world from home and living out of a suitcase.

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