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Experiencing a Hong Kong High-Rise

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Well, as expected,  here I am at 2am wide awake on the island of Hong Kong. After a somewhat frenetic 3 weeks with Bob and I taking up Doug’s kitchen and entire dining room table in Salem Oregon, Bob has returned to his home in Thailand and I am now ensconced in Josh’s 800 square foot flat in a 70 floor high rise…one of hundreds and hundreds that line the horizon.  I have only admiration for Amy who arrived here by herself after almost 2 years living in Beijing to find a flat prior to Josh’s arrival!

There was visible health monitoring upon arrival at the airport…a system left over from the SARS and Bird Flu days.  Had to fill out a form reporting any symptoms of illness and coming out of immigration the arrival crowds are “scanned” by some sort of technology for temperature readings and any person showing a high reading is pulled to the side. I don’t know what they do with you from there and I didn’t wait around to find out! :))

Hong Kong is often mistakenly thought of as a city or a country. Actually it comprises a small peninsula bordering mainland China called the New Territories, Kowloon, on the southern tip of the peninsula, plus a group of islands, including Hong Kong Island across Victoria Bay from Kowloon, and covers about 1,100 square kilometers. Although Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories came under the rule of the British as a result of the Opium Wars between Britain and China (1939-1942), the area is now a part of China since the hand-over of the lease by the British in 1997 and has maintained it’s status as a Special Administrative Region. Each stage of Hong Kong’s economic development can be linked to events in China and the two economies continue to become interconnected as Hong Kong “looks over it’s shoulder.”  But as far as I am concerned, culturally it is another country distinct from mainland China thanks to the British.   Also, along with southern China that used to be called Canton, the everyday language is Cantonese although English is widely understood and spoken especially by the business community. On the other hand, the various dialects of mainland China, based on the Beijing dialect, have melded and have become known in the west as Mandarin. Cantonese and Mandarin speakers do not much understand each other.

Only 20% of the land mass is urban. Typically, Asians don’t mind high-density living so “city” planners left the bulk of the island to itself and built “up.”  Josh says Hong Kong Island has the highest population density of any urban area in the world.  And I might add…the most expensive. It has surpassed Tokyo! It’s clean and efficient. A high-speed train (runs on time almost to the second every 10 minutes) brought me 30 minutes from the airport right onto Hong Kong Island for $10. Contrast this with the $60 taxi ride from the airport in Las Vegas Nevada to Greg’s house!

When I was here twice before, I stayed in Kowloon. It was just a short ferry ride across the bay to Hong Kong and I only explored the terminal area…not imagining where/how people actually live here…although Kowloon, which used to have a small town look, now looks much like Hong Kong Island with it’s own wall of high-rises.  For a couple thousand dollars a month, you can imagine how small an 800 square foot flat is compared to my apartment in Oaxaca which is 3 times the size for $300!  Tidy by necessity. Josh’s one bedroom has a double mattress on the floor…the corner of which has to be lifted up to get the door closed! It took a bit of juggling to find a place for my 2 small pieces of luggage and computer bag. Josh gave me his bed and he took the big comfy leather couch in the small living room…but I think tomorrow we will switch so I can roam around in the middle of the night without waking him…if  “roaming around” is what you would call it given the amount of space. :))  But I can also go out on the veranda with a straight-ahead view of the bay and Kowloon beyond in between 2 walls of high-rises.  But lest I give you the wrong impression, behind his tower is about a 3-block by 1 block area of free space with swimming pool, gym, a children’s play area and a restaurant you would never know was there looking from the street.

So Josh has already given me an access lesson to his flat.  The tower has about 6 doormen, (actually I think more for security,) but you have to know which tower entrance to use…a magnetic card letting you in the door.  Then an elevator takes you up to level 6 (car park) where you get another elevator that takes you up one more floor to his flat. So no just stepping out into the city like it is for me in Oaxaca.  I hope I can remember all this when Josh goes to work tomorrow!  He says he will take me for a tour of The American Club where he is a chef. But first things first.  I MUST NOT lose the card or the key at this stage of the game because my iPhone still has “no service” for some reason (I haven’t mastered it’s secrets yet) and I don’t yet know were I can find an internet cafe!  Hence no contact with Josh if I get locked out.

Incidently, I’ve never seen this before but in all those apartments very few have their curtains drawn on their windows at night so you can see clearly what everyone is doing in their living rooms.  Josh says they just don’t think about it…they just see what is in front of them.

Amid jet-lag my psyche is swirling…on the road since retirement in 2002. Since 2005, after 4 months in a sublet in Brooklyn, there were several more months in China and SE Asia.  Then after a couple months in Salem and Las Vegas, a year and a half in Oaxaca Mexico 2006-7.  Then several more months in China and SE Asia again.  Then back to Oaxaca November 2008.  Now Hong Kong and Thailand and wherever else. So I guess you could say, like many famous people do, that I “divide my time” between Mexico and Asia with “vacation time” in the U.S in-between. And I do mean vacation time. It sounds romantic.  It is…only in retrospect! :))  But I’m not complaining.  I am very lucky.  I feel like a 35 year-old. I could be sitting in a plaid barco-lounger in front of the TV…feeling my third-age…65 years.