Hong Kong is New York.

It took me a while to figure out what Hong Kong reminded me off.  It is clearly not China.

At first, I could not understand why it felt different.  The similarities are multitudinous:

  • The people are all clearly Chinese.
  • The signs are all in Chinese.
  • Shops feature live and dead animals that you would never see in the states: hung geese, giant fish in tanks,

crabs are wrapped in wicker,

and animal innards are happily displayed.

  • The buildings are impressive and new, not unlike Shanghai.
  • The Chinese flag flies over government buildings.

Yet, it feels different.

I found myself looking for differences.  Here is my initial list:

  • Driving on the left side of the road.  This difference, however, is not obvious as most of the streets are one way.

  • More signs are in English (but not a lot).

  • The parks have a distinctly English element to them – big on roses and order.  The typical Chinese park tends to focus more on trees and elegant rocks.  Here, we have orderly flower displays.

  • There are more Westerners than in the rest of China.
  • The Toyotas are replaced with Lexuses, Mercedes. And BMWs.
  • They respect queues (lines) – this is a big difference from the rest of China.

These are differences, but not huge differences. They seem to suggest England, but that is not quite it.

I kept thinking.  The cities looked the same, but they felt different.

When we returned to our hostel, it all became clear to me.  The man who runs the front desk puts the “hostile” in “hostel”.

I suspect that he does not hate his job – only the idiots that he encounters each day.  Sadly, the list of idiots includes his employees and all the guests (in short, everyone).  His disdain is deep and deliberate.  Every check-in supports his suspicion of human idiocy.  Every encounter with an employee supports his low opinion of humanity.

Clearly, he is an unhappy person.  Yet his attitude rang a bell.  I have seen it before.  I saw it fairly often in New York.

Before you assume that this will become a bash of the Big Apple, I must correct you.  I love New York.  It is the great American city – a great melting pot awash in energy.

But it is also home to a disproportionately share of surly characters.  Niceness is not as valued as worldliness.  Cynicism can seem like sophistication.

That was the difference.  The people of Hong Kong seem mildly indifferent to everything – much like New Yorkers.  No one is asking to take our picture.  People are settled in their lives.

Also, the city has a settled feel to it.  Shanghai is so new that the buildings seem to stand majestically but they are not part of neighborhoods.  They just stand there.  Hong Kong, like New York, has neighborhoods.  The apartment buildings seem lived in.  The city has a sense of place.  Its inhabitants are not seeking a connection to the West – they are the connection to the West.

The city also pulses like New York.  When I walk the streets of the Big Apple, I feel a palpable energy.  Hong Kong has that too.

They both have just enough lights to go beyond gaudy to exciting.

In short, Hong Kong was born out of London, but it seems to have married New York.

Today, we walked around and saw the iconic views of the city from Victoria’s Peak – the highest point on the island.  Here are some images.

Youth Development Sidenote

I wanted to assure you that the youth of Hong Kong struggle with the same challenges that our children do.  They might go to school more, but the are also using mobile phones to disintermediate their lives rather than talk face to face.  Here is a picture of two girls in the same restaurant who are together, yet not together. It depresses me that they made enough time for each other to go out to lunch, but then spent the whole time disconnected.

For those of you who send your kids to camp, I must say that I think that separating from the necessity of the minute-to-minute text culture is a gift that is hard to underestimate.  I LOVE the fact that kids interact face-to-face AND love the separation from the electronic umbilical cord.

Health Challenge

We also dealt with a minor health scare.

Before I go any farther, I must take a moment of full disclosure.  Since we are traveling for 14 weeks, I am assuming that it will not go without health challenges.  As a result, I have decided that I will share them with you.  This is not because I am like the hypochondriac that must tell all his health challenges.  Instead, I have two reasons to share.

First, most of you are parents too and know that life is not like TV commercials with happy, healthy children beaming through every day.  In the modern vernacular, I want to keep this blog real.

Second, writing each day can drain my creative skills.  If we have a tough day with some sickness, I suspect that I will not be able to concoct a happy article about it.  Instead, you will get the truth of the situation.

Sorry about that.

Tonight after the visit to Victoria Peak, Virginia started to suffer from cramps.  She was in clear pain just as we sat at dinner.  Susie had suffered with “stitches” at her age, so she was coaching Virginia in ways to deal with it.  The cramps would seem to improve and then worsen.  We ended our dinner (a lovely Indian meal featuring massively spicy Veal Vindaloo) and went home.  Once home, we started to wonder if she might need some medical help.  She was in obvious pain and was doubled over.  Susie gave her rehydration salts and told her to lay on a pillow.  Just as we were about to call a doctor, she declared that she needed to go to the bathroom.

It is now that we learn that she has not had a bowel movement in 3 days.

I struggle with how to put this delicately.  Let’s just say that 10 minutes later, she was happier and perhaps 5 pounds lighter.

That is when the hostel’s fire alarm went off.  The family (except Terrill and me who were getting money and laundry at the time) raced down 10 flights of stairs only to learn that a smoker had been too close to an alarm.  She and Virginia were now locked out of the room because Terrill and I had the only key.  When she explained to the hostel (hostile) staff her predicament, the topic of the tirade of rapid Chinese among the staff was not hard to guess.  But she managed to convince them to let her back in the room.

Susie, needless to say, is delighted to have this day end.  She is asleep and I am happy that she is happy.

Steve Sir

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