I'm not stealing from Emily Hahn in this title; I'm paying homage. She was the one to first introduce me to Hong Kong in her splendid book, China to Me. When I first went to that city, I walked with Emily through Wanchai, looking for buildings that were of her vintage, loving the ridiculously crowded streets that she would have walked through too.
Then I went to Kowloon, which was a whole other world to Emily. It was to me too. While Hong Kong Island seemed familiar to me, a mixture of Manhattan and San Francisco with Chinese characteristics, Kowloon was like Bangkok on steroids. Everything I loved about Thailand's capital was multiplied here, along with the rampant mall culture which I didn't love at all.
However there were parts of Kowloon that were as chaotic and as fascinatingly ugly as anyplace in Bangkok, and its diversity of population delighted me.
And it was connected to the Mainland. Soon I began to ride the MTR into the New Territories, where different facets of Hong Kong awaited. For me, this is the most interesting part of the former Crown Colony, although some of it made me sad.
This is a residential area developed by the MTR, Lohas Park. It was still being built when I went there. Across the highway were hills with farmhouses and groves of trees. Where I stood, the buildings gave me honest-to-god vertigo when I tried to see their tops.
They formed their own forest that threatened to blot out the sky.
When I traveled on to a completed residential area, Po Lam, the sky was hard to find and pedestrians moved under this landscape. It was a cloudy day but the sky was even darker in this place. Within a few minutes I had to escape in search of light.
And I found it, in an older city that is built around a river. Shatin is my favorite part of Hong Kong because it has been planned for people to enjoy.
And then there are the islands--small communities that retain as much tradition and history as this sentimental traveler could ever wish for.
But as much as I love them, insularity isn't an abstract term. These islands let outsiders come, but they love to see them go.
Unlike Shatin, where people dancing in the riverside often invite me to join the party. Someday I hope I can, for more than an afternoon.