|(The entry hall of the new Chengdu airport. Part of it.)|
You gotta love it when a plan comes together. Especially when that plan unfolds 7,500 miles away from home.
Today was one of those rare days spent doing work-related stuff that was all new: a commercial flight between two totally unfamiliar Chinese cities, followed by a ground shuttle across a foreign border. I've been catching commercial commuting flights for years, and I've even caught a couple of Chinese domestic flights before, so I didn't expect any trouble. But always there is the awareness that my ability to solve any problems that arise is seriously compromised. If there are questions about my passport or my visa or if there's a delay or cancellation, I'm seriously out of my element to be able to fix things. And the lack of English--perhaps I should say MY lack of even a single word of Chinese--makes the world an opaque place.
Anyway. Thankfully, everything went off like clockwork, which is a testament to my company's excellent planning. Everyone was where they were supposed to be, arrangements were made to anticipate any difficulties I might have had, and the day couldn't have gone better. On any international commercial flight segment we are automatically booked into business or first class so that our hands are held to the maximal degree.
I hated to rush out of Chengdu so soon; I could easily have spent several days there exploring the place. But I was headed to Hong Kong, a place I never get enough of, and I was looking forward to my first glimpse of Shenzhen (where my flight from Chengdu would take me) from the car window as we drove the 50 miles or so from there to Hong Kong. I've made the 25-mile drive into downtown Hong Kong from the airport several times, and it's spectacular in the extreme, with eye-popping bridges and craggy mountains and astounding cargo ship port facilities and an extraordinary proliferation of densely-packed high-rise residences. I expected the drive from Shenzhen to be just an extended version of this, and it turned out to be exactly that. In fact, the proliferation of stuff was so dense that it was difficult to get pictures. Noteworthy stuff came fast and furious for the whole 90 minute drive, and we were often too close to stuff to get a very good shot through the car windows. And it all culminates by entering the frenzied crowd of downtown Kowloon.
I'd have to pick Hong Kong as my favorite single destination in all my foreign travels (only New York City nudges it out in the overall ratings.) There are a couple of key planetary alignments that give it this status. First, I am addicted to the density of cities, and Hong Kong is about the densest place I've visited (I mention this because many people would hate the crowding and the chaos, so it's not a place for everyone). It has the crowding that one sees in every large Chinese city, but the crowding here is super-sized. The ubiquitous high-rise architecture means that there's more and more of everything in any given space. Second, beyond the fact of density, there is the matter of what is densely concentrated. The magic is in this combination: people--residents and visitors alike; transportation infrastructure--roads and tunnels and bridges and trains and trams and buses; water, both for its intrinsic beauty and for THAT attendant infrastructure--boats and ferries and barges, etc. Third, it's maybe the most aggressively international place I've seen (New York City is as well, though the prevalence of white Americans there perhaps takes the edge off; I wonder if Chinese folks feel the same way about Hong Kong, that it's highly international but still predominantly native?), a fact reflected in the faces and the modes of dress and the languages and the food.
One's sense is that it would take years to really get to know the place, and some seminal part of me is dying to do that every time I set foot here. Unfortunately, I had only 17 hours this time, and I had to get as much sleep during that time as possible. I arrived at the hotel--a new hotel since my last visit here six or eight months ago--about 5:PM, and I needed to catch my ride out to the airport at 9:AM the next morning. So not much time to explore.
I dropped my stuff off at the hotel and immediately set out for a computer / technology market I had visited the last time I was here, a few subway stops from the hotel in a section of town called Mong Kok. Not finding what I expected there, I explored a really fantastic outdoor market in Mong Kok that extended along a blocked-off street for a mile or more. Hundreds of stalls selling clothing and purses and electronic gadgetry, all of it so dense with people that it was difficult to walk. Nothing there I couldn't live without, and I walked South the couple miles along Nathan Road back to some dinner and bed. As the sun sets here the neon lighting comes on, giving the entire city a weird, artificial glow. Like New York, so much of the place doesn't really go to sleep, so this nighttime lighting is kind of a half-time reality for this place.
The next morning there was time for a good 90 minute walk before riding in a bus--I'm the sole occupant of a 40-passenger bus!--out to the airport and off to Dubai.
|(Driving into Hong Kong.)|
|(One of a zillion amazing bridges.)|
|(A tiny part of Hong Kong's massive port facilities.)|
|(Construction everywhere. Infrastructure and more high-rises.)|
|(My fantastic hotel room view. Looking South from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.)|
|(An inflatable flying pig!)|
|(Emerging from the subway at Mong Kok.)|
|(Street market at Mong Kok.)|
|(By the hotel, the tangled streets off Nathan Rd.)|
|(Hotel view at night.)|
|(The next morning, heading to the airport.)|
|(Concession to Westerners: note the pictogram for Disney Hong Kong. Mickey is Mickey in any language!)|