Would it be pathetic to throw in the towel on Bangkok after just eight months? Because I have my eye on a new Asian city. It has better weather, feels more like a proper sky-scrapered/center-of-commerce city and has more expats. And those are just some of the highlights that exclude great shopping and dining, great nightlife and a very cool, mountainous terrain. Goodbye Bangkok, hello Hong Kong.
OK, so I’m not actually leaving Thailand despite my threats. But a recent weekend in this former British territory was enough to make me want to give up cheap street food, tuk-tuks and abundant sunshine.
Hong Kong is as close to New York as you can get without actually being there. With seven million people, it is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, but you wouldn’t know it. The city winds up and down hills _ slightly reminiscent of San Francisco _ with a beautiful mountain backdrop looming up behind it. It feels distinctly like a Western city _ with it’s British traffic signals, proliferation of expats and world-class shopping _ but still retains its Chinese flair.
But Hong Kong is like the Prada of international cities; it attracts a monied elite with its pricey restaurants, shops and real estate _ and it knows it. Everywhere you walk, there is an abundance of shops that will kindly and swiftly take your money. Hotels that beckon with its modern boutique charm will silently siphon away your dollars. And trendy restaurants that mimic the most exclusive ones in NYC will subtly appetize and main course the bucks right off of you.
And if you’ve been living … oh say … in Southeast Asia for eight months, you don’t care. “Here, take it!,” you say. “You can have it all.” As long as I can continue to experience this little taste of a more familiar life, I will live like a pauper until my next paycheck. And despite your bank account’s protestations, you might decide to have high tea at the Peninsula Hotel at $60 a person. You might also be so desperate for your overpriced tea and cucumber sandwiches that you persuade the manager that even though your sandals are not “Peninsula-appropriate,” you should be allowed to partake in the mini fruit tarts and fluffy raisin scones. (They were delicious by the way).
Hong Kong, like all cities, is constantly in flux. Real estate has long been a valuable commodity, especially on the island, and it prompted authorities long ago to create more land. The initiative, which has been heavily criticized by many, has whittled the size of Victoria Harbour to half it’s original size, and robbed the Oriental Hotel of it’s once beautiful harbor views. But the land reclamation projects continue, a fascinating process that can be seen from the ferry terminal to Kowloon.
For all of its draws, it’s no wonder that Hong Kong is a popular destination for tourists and expats alike. I have long thought that my tenure in Asia would be limited to two years and to Bangkok. But the longer I stay and the more countries I visit on this fascinating continent, the more Asia seems to burrow into my heart. And if given the chance, I think I could call Hong Kong home.