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SYED NAZAKAT in Hong Kong 

We travel for new experiences, and this was my first trip to Hong Kong. As the plane touched down at the Hong Kong International Airport, also known as Chek Lap Kok, I saw glinting skyscrapers rushed past the window. The airport is well organised and fast, with clear English signage. This is one of the busiest airports in the world, connected to over 150 cities through 800 flights a day. The easiest way to get from the airport to the centre of the city is by Airport Express train which is linked directly to the arrivals hall. There is a train every three minutes and the journey is 20-25 minutes, which costs around HK$100 (US$12.90). 

From my hotel window in Grand Hyatt, an elegant structure towering over the famous Victoria Harbour, I can see the stumps of the central skyscrapers. At night they are illuminated by moving lights and neon colours, and on brilliantly lit office floors where executives, mostly foreigners work extra hours. The city is designed and run by entrepreneurs, architects, economists and adventurers from the four corners of the world. 

It was not surprising that the first person I met in Hong Kong was an Indian, a Punjabi, who works as a travel agent at the airport. The second was from mainland China who works at a money exchange and the third was from Europe who works at a hotel reception. 

But Hong Kong, as one friend later said, is becoming less appealing as a base for Westerners. Among the factors blamed are air pollution and the sky-high price of accommodation. But the growing role of China in the local economy, generating more jobs that can be filled by local people, may also have something to do with it. “The former British colony throbs with boundless energy and excitement during the day and night”. 

The Star Ferry, beloved of Victorian globetrotters, still chugs faithfully to and fro across the harbour. I took it to Kowloon, a main attraction in Hong Kong. Kowloon gives an idea why Hong Kong, despite having no natural resources, is one the world’s wealthiest cities, a place where people own more Roll Royce cars than anywhere else in the world. There is ceaseless energy in the town, along the coast and over the waters of its archipelago. They say in Hong Kong, work is not just a necessity of life, it is a passion. No other city is quite like this. It is perpetually on the go, deafeningly energetic, full of life.

Later in the day I met my friend, Simone, an Australian, who teaches in a local school here. The caf? where we had coffee has free Internet terminals for clients. The Chinese have a general dislike for the number four. Some buildings do not have a fourth floor. And in a city that thrives on commerce, exchanging business cards is an important formality. But remember to offer your business card with both hands and also accept someone else’s card with both hands. 

Down by the waterfront on the Kowloon side of the harbour, I heard some strange music—tinny, wheezy, reedy music. I walked around the corner to find a combo of a dozen Chinese ladies performing to a raptly appreciative audience. I was entranced by them, and very soon found myself tapping my feet to their esoteric melodies. So, I noticed, did most of the audience. 

As evening approached we took a cab, and headed for Wanchai — asking for Lockhart Road. Clambering out of the taxi, we were in a different world. The road was lined with bars with names like San Francisco, Romance, the Panda Club and Hawaii. There were Irish, British and American pubs. Many of them have live bands and good local jocks. There were scantly clad girls dancing on small stages and flirting with the male customers. If you’re a party animal, you might want to check out one of these bars—but unless you’re feeling flush, take care if you’re asked to buy a girl drinks so she’ll sit with you, as bills can balloon rapidly. The discos are mostly at the end of street. Like the girlie bars, they hail from an era when Hong Kong was a major stopover for the US soldiers fighting in Viet Nam. 

Many discos close by 4am. But some just keep on going. We strolled down the lane up to the famous Galaxy dance bar. We found ourselves staying so long that we stumbled out into daylight. You can head there if you wish. 

As for me—I’ve got other plans; I know where I’m headed. 

I’m going to bed. 

(Asia News Network, Nov 19, 2007)

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