Friday, August 05, 2005

Hong Kong

So that's it! This year of travelling around the World following the trails of essential oils, this year I have dreamed of and thought so much about has finally started. On July 31st, I hopped on the plane to Hong Kong and arrived in this bustling city 12 hours later.Hong Kong is divided into 4 main areas, the New Territories from which you can access China by land, the Kowloon peninsula south of the New Territories, Hong Kong Island, the island south of Kowloon and the Outlying Islands including Lantau Island where the new International airport is located. On my way from the airport to the city center, I was able to admire the islands covered in a lush vegetation which was replaced by clusters of tall and thin buildings as I got closer to the center.I got off the bus in Mong Kok, the most densely populated neighborhood (120,000 inhabitants per square km) of Kowloon. I was overwhelmed by the never-ending flow of people, the incessant sounds of the red lights telling the people when to cross the streets, by the numerous shops packed with cell phones, digital cameras or with beauty products.

My first impression was similar to the one I had when I first arrived in New York, oppressed by the tall buildings around preventing me from seeing any bit of the horizon. But here in Hong Kong this feeling of entrapment is enhanced by the neon signs in Chinese characters, which crowd the potential free space above the streets and which make Mong Kok at night seem as bright as during the day. The hot and humid weather that makes breathing difficult doesn't help either.

After this rather unpleasant first encounter with Hong Kong, I reconciled with the city as I ventured to the Central district (the financial district) on Hong Kong Island. It's not that I prefer streets lined with expensive shops, filled with men in suits and topped by 30-40 storeys glass buildings, but it gave me some perspective and made Hong Kong seem so much more interesting than simply a city of outrageous consumerism (I have never seen such a high density of malls in a given city before).

Hong Kong is a city of contrasts, a city where different worlds evolve parallel to each other. These worlds are materialized by the subway stations, cleaner than some of the buildings where I've visited a few hostels; by the busy businessman on Hong Kong Island not far away from Aberdeen where a few fisherman families have settled their homes on boats; or by the teenager feeverishly seeking the latest Nokia or Motorola model in one of the many malls entirely devoted to cell phones in Mong Kok, not far away from Kowloon park where some people regularly practice Tai Chi. I was told that in the New Territories, the city doesn't seem to be as much of a "consumers' heaven." It supposedly hides some beaches and many hiking trails. I'm sure Hong Kong still has many secrets to unveil, but for this, I will have to stay a much longer period of time.

This stay in Hong Kong has been a good transition between home and China because the culture here is Chinese, but with a heavy influence from the West. Also, many people speak English as many only speak Cantonese, which gives me a first taste of what I will be faced with in China where almost no one speaks English. Also, I've met quite a few travellers who gave me a number of tips for travelling in China.

I am leaving tomorrow for Zhuhai in China where I will meet with one of the leading producers of essential oils in China, but I will be back to Hong Kong when I leave for India.


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