Sunday, 28 December 2008

Thoughts on Hong Kong

Five weeks is quite a while to spend anywhere as a transit point on your travels. It feels a bit different, making a run at setting up a life in a city and seeing how settled you can get. It's been exciting, and has helped me get ready for what's coming up - at least 22 flights, 10 countries and three months before I can think about going home.

What's struck me the most - and Soleil has picked up on it too in the week she's been here with me - is the pureness of the city in terms of function. Everything's thought through perfectly in terms of A to B. Covered walkways for the rain, which pass through shopping malls on the way to your destination. Escalators for the hills. An elaborate one way system. A lot of your paths feel very set, so much so that even when we tried to get lost, we found ourselves back on the way home before we had time to wonder where we were. In terms of logical thought, this is a marvel. I can see why this place is conducive to business, and the palpable workhard-playhard ethic seeps out of the streets.

The flip side of this is that it's a hard city to feel creative in. Early on I went to a arts networking event. There was a lot of talk there about how amazing it was to find something like this in Hong Kong, which I largely took for slightly childish backslapping at the time. I see something in it now. I'm finding it harder to express myself in writing here, harder to think emotionally rather than logically and harder to go beyond the functional. If Shanghai as a city felt characterised by aggression and anger, Hong Kong feels steeped in cool logic and dollar signs, exciting, dynamic but (I worry) soulless. The effort to set up an artistic, collaborative movement here may have seemed unimpressive at the time, judged by London standards (or even possibly Cambridge standards), but in hindsight I can see how difficult a challenge it must have been.

This is probably my last chance to say this, since I'm going to Thailand tomorrow, but I've never been in a place where prostitution is such an obvious and accepted occurrence. Local women go to check out the prostitute bars out of curiosity, there are accepted nights of the week when they can enter posh Lan Kwai Fon, while the area of Wan Chai is synonymous with them. It's barely even shrugged off, it's just a fact of the city. In Beijing and Shanghai you may be offered a girl by a dodgy leather-coat wearing pimp on the street, but you rarely ever saw a working girl. It's a shift I'm not entirely sure how to contextualise.

Finally, this city is a lot of fun. With so many people passing through, so many hardworking bankers blowing their cash in the evenings, so much energy, money and music crammed into so small a space, you're rarely at a loss for things to do. I've mostly gone out on my own, and the mix of people is unbeatable. For a traveller who hates backpackers - the kind of people who sit around in hostels drinking with other backpackers until it's time to switch cities - every night has brought something new, and usually refreshing.

No comments: