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HONG KONG – from the Middle to the Far East - By Rebecca Wicks

I’m in Hong Kong! You’ll have to excuse my excitement but I’m having such a great time and even though it’s 8.45am and I staggered into bed just over four hours ago having consumed a McRib and a gallon of water, I still feel remarkably perky. I’m lucky enough to have a friend living here, so she’s showing us the true Hong Kong – from another expat’s point of view, of course – but being an expat myself and having played host to all manner of inquisitive souls keen to see a new place, she’s doing an excellent job of entertaining us. I normally get quite lazy and just deposit everyone in the mall of Emirates after day one.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this place. My parents came to Hong Kong a few years back and painted quite a ghastly picture – one of smelly streets, smog and fog and rude, pushy people. The latter is true. The people are pushy. But that was mainly whilst trying to clamber aboard the tram to Victoria Peak yesterday afternoon. In a flash it was like being back on the platform at Chancery Lane, during rush hour in London. Ever heard of a queue... oh sorry, clearly not... oi, that’s my foot you fat... Ugh, never mind.

The view from the top was kind of clouded but it put the city in perspective and we had a nice beer in the caf� round the corner, trying to make out the shapes of various boats, swaying on the water below. It was a world away from the streets beneath.

I think my friends are getting quite annoyed with my all-new photography habit. I never used to be this bad, but I just bought a brand new Nikon D60 camera from Jackies (a big profession digital SLR that’s way out of my league) so I’m sneaking off ahead, or lagging behind every two minutes to snap another photo. I even got lost yesterday as my friends took a different turn, leaving me squatting on the road side trying to zoom in on a neon sign. Thank goodness for Etisalat’s international roaming – albeit a temperamental service over here. I’ve been playing around with aperture, depth of field, shutter speeds – all that malarkey. I half don’t understand it all myself, but the streets of Hong Kong are proving the perfect playing field for experimentation.

Unless you’ve been here, you can’t quite understand it, but the last time I felt this exhilarated and alive, and captivated by colours, sights and smells was back in February, when I went to Jaipur. The buzz there was different, draped in povery and tarnished by unfriendliness, but here each street is a melting pot of multiculturalism waiting to inspire even the most uncreative soul. It’s definitely inspired. It inspires me. The smells of the food as you’re hustled past are intoxicating – each blending into the next; sweet, sour, spicy and savoury... the beckoning arms of the little old women who’re dying for you to try their fried chicken feet. The winking eye of the handbag man who knows just what you need, the ominous glare of the tarot card reader who can’t wait to tell you your future, and the alluring whiff of the incense waved around outside each temple, reminding you that amongst the market chaos, the bustling bars, the Toyota Comfort cars that make up the local taxi fleet, is a glowing history that’s very much a part of the present and is continuously shaping the future. My senses – that have lately been dulled by the drone of construction – are sharp in this city. I want to capture everything on film because I miss feeling this way. I want to be reminded when I leave, of how different you can feel and act, depending on the place you call your home. My friend looks different here too. She shines like the city. I think the buzz is infectious and after a while, it runs through you. You give as much as you get.

It’s a bit like New York here too, in that everything’s open into the small hours – we’ve rarely been home before 2am, failing to realise the time in another city that doesn’t seem to sleep. The streets wind and curve along hidden alleyways that take a local to show you. The music blares from every tiny, individual venue and the people might eye you up and down but it’s rarely in a disapproving fashion.

Today, I’m testing my camera skills on the Big Buddha in the Sichuan Province, which means an hour and 20 minute journey by taxi and train from my friend’s City Centre apartment. I don’t mind the travelling part. It’s nice not to sit in traffic for once and everywhere you look here, there’s greenery. Oh, I think Dubai should take the tip when it comes to the moving escalator, too. It’s plonked right in the middle of the city, eliminating the need to climb hundreds of steps in either direction – something we don’t exactly need in flat Dubai, but it’s still fun and feels incredibly futuristic.

I’ll write a better report on my return, there is still so much to see and do. We’ve already had the Peking Duck by the way, in a tiny local restaurant in a sneaky side step off the main drag of Nathan Road in Kowloon. If it had a name I would tell you – well it probably does in Chinese – but like Arabic the words just looked a pretty picture to this Brit. I’ve bought a stash of tat from Temple Street market; there’s a strange infatuation developing for small box sets of plastic toys with large heads (don’t ask). I haven’t had my destiny spelled out to me yet but as soon as I find a psychic below the age of 100 who doesn’t look like he’ll fall asleep on his crystal ball I’ll check that out. I haven’t been to the goldfish market yet either – which is exactly that. A market just for the sale of goldfish. I’m as intrigued as you are!

Till next week, travellers. I’ll bid you farewell in Chinese. I’m saying it now, out loud, honest. You just can’t hear me.

Posted: 05 October 2008

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