Vertical Living in Hong Kong

1999 > Hong Kong

You want lights? You want action? You want Hong Kong!

Did someone say metropolis?
The view from the top
More Asians than you can shake a stick at!
The view from the bottom
Do you have to sleep standing up?
Vertical living at its best
Bright Lights, Big City
Beauty in Chaos
Yep, a European flair!
The Portuguese do know color
More Hong Kong
As Jennifer and I climbed into the back seat of a taxi outside Hong Kong’s
train station, I immediately knew I was no longer in China-proper. First,
the taxi was a full sized car. Yes, these Toyotas, while being steering
column-mounted stick shifts, had legroom! No backseat, knee-to-chin
claustrophobia for me! The slick leather had me sliding from window to
window as we maneuvered down Hong Kong’s narrow streets.

When we finally stopped, I was sad to leave such a roomy and safe
enclave, for a speeding double-decker bus almost immediately ran me down!
Whoops, the British had been here before. Like in Merry Old England,
everybody drove on the wrong side of the street and the imposing
double-decker buses drove the fastest. Jennifer quickly dragged my shocked
psyche into the nearest Cantonese restaurant, so I could recover while
consuming tasty dim sum.

When I’d fully recovered, and was brave enough to venture outside
again, I promptly hurt my neck looking up so much. No, I wasn’t bird
watching, I do that at pubs, I was contemplating Hong Kong’s vertical

Do you remember playing with Lego’s when you were a kid? Stacking
bricks on top of each other until they became unstable and fell over?
Well, I think Hong Kong’s architects play with apartments exactly the same
way. Four apartments will be joined together by a common elevator and
stairs, then stacked one on top of the next, to dizzying heights. One of
my fellow dorm-mates (Hong Kong’s hotels are way out of my price range!)
figured that the apartment prices would fall as you go higher cuz the fear
factor would increase.

Knowing better, I happily accepted a dinner invite by Jennifer’s mom.
In her three room apartment (two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and
bathroom), I was amazed at the compact innovations such vertical living
inspires. First, the bathroom is the same shower/toilet combo from my
first apartment in Beijing, but unlike anywhere is freezes, in Hong Kong
all the plumbing is external, snaking down pipes on the outside of the
building. Then, the rooms themselves were tiny. Her mom and I joked that
American homes were bigger cuz us Americans are twice as tall as Southern
Chinese, so require twice as much space. Finally, anything and everything
that can be stored outside, is. Hanging from every window (not of Jen’s
mom’s apartment though) were drying clothes, bicycles, and junk of all

As I descended from the slightly fear-inducing heights, I noticed that
outside each door were little Buddhist shrines. Totally absent on the
mainland, these little religious offerings were one of the little
reminders that China’s ‘one country, two systems’ program is
working so far. Of course, the big reminder was the awesome skyline across
the bay from Kowloon. Hong Kong Island is packed with banking towers,
slamming home to me that this is Asia’s financial capital. Under the
British, with a stern injection of stiff upper lip discipline, lax
controls and yet the backing of the Crown, money was Hong Kong’s largest
import and export.

Oddly enough, when I was first given Hong Kong dollars, I laughed,
handed it back to the Forex dealer, and asked for real cash. He assured
me, that although it looked like funny money, and was only backed by the
Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, not a central bank of some
sort, it was the real deal. I examined a pre and post-handover note, and
noticed there was a change in leadership at the bank, the signature
changed, but past that, all seemed to be in order in the Chinese Hong Kong
financial world.

The street life was another matter. Order is the last word I’d ever use
to explain the chaos at the bottom of the man-made canyons. The photo at
left is the best description I can offer you for how I felt about my Hong
Kong experience. The lights, the motion, the backdrop of vertical cash all
combines to express the speed at which Hong Kong moves. After sleepy
Beijing, where riding your bike faster than a slow walk brings out shouts
of fear, I was so relived to find a city where people would actually pass
me on the street, that I entertained the idea of staying in Hong Kong
permanently. Only my lack of clean clothes prevented me from emailing a
resignation back to Beijing. Ok, that and my present precarious cash flow

I was poor there but not poor enough to pass up the opportunity to see
a European colony in the before-handover stage, so I took a hydrofoil to
Macau. Stepping of the boat, I felt the difference between British and
Portuguese colonization instantly. While the British instituted
discipline, organization, and business in her lands (think USA, Canada,
Australia), the Portuguese were definitely more relaxed (think Brazil,
Angola). Macau was no exception, with derelict buildings and slow-paced
people defining the older yet poorer sister to Hong Kong.

I did relax on one of Macau’s beaches, a nice change from urban Hong
Kong, and I wandered through a casino or two in the evening. No, Mom, I
didn’t spend any money in ’em, though I did have fun chatting with the
Russian ‘working girls.’ They seemed to be enjoying themselves,
happy to be making good money while escaping the cold winter that’s
already descended on their homeland. Needless to say, I didn’t inquire
too deeply about finer aspects of their ‘profession.’

Once back in Hong Kong, I did inquire about housing prices with
Jennifer’s boyfriend. He shocked me when he revealed that like Russia and
mainland China, the Hong Kong government owned all the land in the
territory. Remembering all the stories about astronomical housing prices,
I though it was due to private ownership of the land, exactly opposite of
reality. When it allocated land, the British used the best estimates at
the time, the 1950’s, which didn’t take into account the modern building
techniques of today, so relatively little area was released for
construction. Little supply, great demand. I think you can figure out what
happened next.

Yes, I grabbed my new work visa, the reason for my trip down south, and
headed back to Beijing’s smog, where the adventure continues!