Entering the Death Star…
For me, the only downside of a life spent on the road is the infrequency with which I see my family and closest friends. Therefore, when my dad very generously offered to pay for me to spend 3 days in Hong Kong with him, I jumped at the chance. I turned down his offer of Premium Class, however, I’m well used to cattle class by now.
And so, having spent over 8 months in the same country, an achievement that I’m not proud of, I broke out of the Byron Bay bubble, drove up to Brisbane in my temperamental old car, and boarded an overnight flight to Hong Kong. On a side-note, Hong Kong – part of China – is the 50th country that I’ve visited, an achievement that I am proud of.
The plane journey itself was an eye-opening introduction to the conflicting, and changing aspects of the next global superpower, and the row in front of me demonstrated the old and the new aspects perfectly.
In front and to the left sat two relatively old (possibly in their sixties), Western men who had evidently just met on that flight. They were discussing their respective wives, which is not an abnormal conversation, except for the subject matter, One of the men was explaining how his Chinese wife couldn’t speak any English and was currently at English School in Brisbane, whereas the other man was explaining how his wife hadn’t yet been granted an Australian visa. Hopefully he was on his way to see her rather than going window-shopping for a new bride. The conversation provided my first insight into the emotive subject of richer, Western men heading to Asia to claim younger Asian wives, and both parties’ reasons for participating in this type of arrangement.
In front and to the right was a young Chinese family, presumably on their way back from a family holiday to Australia (I hoped for their sake’s that they hadn’t spent it in Brisbane). Between 3 people, I don’t think I’d ever seen a larger collection of expensive, branded products – an impressive feat considering that the child can’t have been older than 3 years old. Judging by the amount of Louis Vitton, Ralph Lauren, Nike Air Maxes and iPhone 5s, I guessed that this family belonged to their new breed of Chinese that we hear so much about, the type that will eventually take over the world. Apparently the kid still wasn’t satisfied, as he continued to scream about his discontentment, which only ceased when my Valiums kicked in and I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up in the freezing cold temperatures which seem to be all the rage in aeroplanes these days. As the Prince of China had stopped screaming, and to take my mind off the Arctic temperatures, I put a film on. Given the early hour and the fact that my brain hadn’t reached body temperature yet, I chose the Lego Movie and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Mr Business is the corporate Caesar in the film, controlling and driving all of the inhabitants of the Lego worlds to achieve the maximum profit possible, to the detriment of individual personality. In the end, a rag-tag collection of unwilling heroes enter his Death Star-esque kingdom and ultimately make him see the error of his capitalist ways. The film was to set the tone for my trip to Hong Kong.
Flying into Hong Kong airport, the hugely complex, multi-million dollar aircraft that had carried hundreds of passengers thousands of miles, felt no bigger than a matchbox car. The feeling of entering the all-encompassing Death Star didn’t alter when inside the airport. I found myself being swept along by a tide of solemn yet purposeful Chinese, seemingly feeling the same gravitational pull towards the centre of this industrial and financial powerhouse.
Despite feeling like I was entering Mr Business’s ominous kingdom, I did rediscover a very welcome feeling; the thrill of exploration. The intoxicating sensation of entering a country for the first time, a combination of daunting unfamiliarity and limitless freedom, began to flood my body. After spending so long in a safe, straightforward country like Australia, even the challenge of catching the cheap local bus, rather than the expensive and easy Airport Express, was a welcome one.
Once on the bus, the feeling of getting closer to the nucleus was palpable once again. I passed huge shipping ports, where the shipping containers were so numerous and stacked so high that they resembled Lego bricks, and even the cemetaries were multi-storey affairs. Having crossed over one of the monumental bridges that span many of the 234 islands which make up the Hong Kong region, I finally got my glimpse of what the region I most famous for, its skyline. I’d been to larger cities, but none as imposing.
After I’d checked into the hotel – yes I said hotel rather than hostel, used the swimming pool to combat the 80% humidity and met up with my dad, we began exploring the city.
Everything in Hong Kong seemed to be about generating and then flaunting wealth, happily destroying the old to make way for the new. Unlike Singapore, where there is a melting pot of cultures, languages and customs, everyone in Hong Kong is one collective, moving forward to advance themselves and their empire, ruled by Mr Business.
However, it was refreshing how, as you walked away from the main chamber of enormous shopping malls, marble hotels and lofty skyscrapers – all surrounded by worker ants in their thousands, it was actually possible to experience a more traditional, authentic Asia. The bird market, the colonial tram up to ‘The Peak’, and the old Star ferries were all worth a visit, and all offered tantilising glimpses of a Hong Kong before the dollar sign was king. I even found lunch for $4 in one of the backstreets right in the centre.
These glimpses definitely whet my appetite for exploring mainland China, because it’s easy to forget that Hong Kong is simply one of the out-lying gateposts of the all-conquering empire that China is fast becoming. Thinking back to my inbound plane journey, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be until super-rich Chinese men will be visiting Europe, Australia or America and claiming the young, attractive, possibly fake-breasted, Western women looking for a life of luxury.