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March 26, 2011

A LOVE AFFAIR WITH HONG KONG

THE Skyline (Photo by: Jason Schwary)

Apparently I never got the "office memo" that there was a city out there waiting for my discovery that would redefine my definition of what it meant to be one of the best cities in the world...

Over the last fifteen years, the city of Hong Kong converted itself from an outpost on the outer fringes of the Untied Kingdom to the unique and exotic status of "Special Administrative Region (SAR), of the Peoples Republic of China".  The transition, in conjunction with a booming economy that grew at a lightning pace of 18% annually, catapulted this once mid-sized city into a megapolis, positioned smack dab on the frontier of Asia and it's "new era" of Capitalism.  Its citizenry grew ten fold, from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of millions. It's real estate multiplied in value as fast as the city grew and today, it is a, if not the symbol of the new China.

The day I arrived in Hong Kong I boarded the famous Star Ferry that transported me from the epicenter of the island to its neighboring island, Kowloon, something I enjoyed with regularity during my stay. While on the ferry, I leaned over to hear a conversation that took place between two businessmen, one noticeably Caucasian  and the other of Asian decent, a fact worth noting in this city where that's the norm, not the exception. Anyway, as they conversed about the beautiful skyline they were observing, the Asian businessman pointed out to his colleague one building in particular and with a raised voice said, "That's it! That white building over there with the cubed windows next to the big blue building has fifty stories and was the tallest building in all of Hong Kong in 1998!" What shocked me most about his claim was that the building he was referring to appeared to be the smallest building amongst blocks and blocks of buildings, like a sapling being engulfed by giant neighboring oak trees. Seriously, I thought to myself, every building around it looked so much taller, what that businessman said had to be incorrect.  I mean, I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that the building over there that looked so small was actually fifty stories tall. If it was, I thought, then every other building around it must have been at least seventy, eighty or even ninety stories! In my opinion it couldn't have been more than thirty stories, tops. But, Jason being Jason, there had to be a challenge.  I hollered to him, "I bet you that white building you're talking about isn't more than 30 stories!"  Even prior to waiting for his response I began counting out the floors, from top to bottom, with measured caution. After getting nearly half way down I sighed out of a growing sense of disbelief, exclaiming, "Wow, I can't believe it, this thing really is going to be as tall as you said!". Soon after, I finished at exactly fifty stories. I was impressed, very impressed, not only for my miscalculation but for a deeper appreciation of the density and enormity of the skyline that was Hong Kong. 

Later that evening, still entranced by the impressive aspect of the city's skyline, I googled the phrase, "tallest building in the world", and learned that Hong Kong held the distinction of having two out of the top seven tallest building in the world, and China, as a whole, held five out of the top twelve. A statistic like that was something that fascinated me more than I can afford to spend the time here expressing. What's more, the sheer beauty and grandiosity of the buildings render me feeling inspired yet humbled at the same time. And to top it off, at the doorstep of those glorious edifices of modern allegiance to a superior capitalist economy existed a city of energy and vibrance more akin to that of New York City than any other of its kind.

From the "street level" of Hong Kong, where ten million people scour about a city utilizing myriad forms of transportation, eating at restaurants from soup on the sidewalks to internationally renowned cuisine, boasting more Michelin Star chefs than Paris, selling everything from the most sophisticated technology to the most genuine of Gucci knock-offs, expansive green parks and recreational areas where the choice of sporting activities include grass-boiling, basketball, tennis, swimming, and where fashion and the dynamism of people, both Asian and European, are dressed to express and exude a sense of individuality more palpable than the trendiest street corners of Hollywood; this is where the "real" Hong Kong is most colorfully expressed, right at the ground floor.

Similar to a dance club, or casino, both are designed with the intention of obscuring the whereabouts of the exit doors. Maintaing the party on the dance floor or at the blackjack tables is a highly prioritized goal, and, as a conscious victim of such design, I felt entrapped. I wanted to see what laid beyond the city walls but for a very good reason I couldn't. There was too much to do, too much to see, too much, too many, too much, and way too many's - except with one small exception. The magnetic draw of riding on my first hydrofoil jet boat at forty-five miles per hour through Victoria Bay in direction of yet another "Special Administrative Region" that most recently joining the process of reunification with its former sovereign owners, China, was something I couldn't resist.  And thank God I couldn't! Having the chance to use yet another foreign currency, eat Portuguese food in the middle of Asia, walk along a tile-paved public square that made me feel like I was back in Lisbon, see the oldest standing church in Asia, and most of all, marvel at casinos that arguably rival those only found in Las Vegas, was something that couldn't have been missed.  Best of all, from the "casino strip" of Macau, looking back onto the even bigger lights of Hong Kong, it hit me that this city was going to be one of my top five favorite cities of all time. I was flabbergasted, I had not one iota that this city would hit me like it did and that I would fall so hard for it.  I mean, after all that I had seen in the world and especially all the wonderful affairs I had with so many a Southeast Asian cities, I felt awkward, almost nefarious for once again having a new favorite, only to leave the others behind.

It wasn't until about half way through my fast and furious seven-day affair that I confessed to the other cities from around the world that my new lover was a sleek and sexy city, named, Hong Kong. However, on the final day of my visit things escalated dramatically the moment she set her mind on making me her one-and-only monogamous lover. Hong Kong grabbed me by the hand and forcefully showed me her final, and possibly most attractive attribute of all, one that would keep any lover such as myself crawling back for more. No, she didn't expose a private section of her pristine, porcelain white skin. Better yet, she gave me a glimpse of her large mountains, well kemp beaches, and lush green jungles that laid everywhere around her city limits. For it was through such an impressive array of attributes, from A to Z, my lust had morphed into a genuine love and from that instant forward a new relationship of epic proportions had been borne.

Perhaps similar to a corny ending to a cheesy romance novel…Jason and Hong Kong lived happily ever after (until he and his real love, Marie, had to fly off to the tropical islands of the Philippines for twelve days)! 

Please enjoy the photos of my new urban lover, a city unlike any other, a place that's practically out of this world…Hong Kong!

Photos of Hong Kong & Macau
















































All photos taken and presented by: Jason Schwary


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