A multi-dimemsional city
The ups and downs of living in Hong Kong
We left a fantastic life in Shanghai, when we moved to Hong Kong. Our lovely 5000sqft home in Shanghai was comfortable, spacious and cheery. Every weekend it was full of an eclectic mix of people from all corners of the planet. We had incredible neighbours, a fantastic circle of friends, and had made a fulfilling and fun-filled life for ourselves. Anvita’s job was challenging and interesting; the kids were settled and discovering themselves as young people in a healthy environment do; and I, between volunteering at the Parent Support Group in the kids’ school, and taking on the odd photography and design project, had found my groove.
In Hong Kong, we moved into a handkerchief-sized, 900sqft apartment, with barely enough room to breathe. There was no space for an office. How I missed my wood-lined, man-cave in Shanghai! I had music, my photography on the walls, a place to work, think, hang-out and do my own thing, when I wanted to. All I had to call my own in Hong Kong, was a tiny desk in a walk-in closet. It was so small, you couldn’t even shut the door, because the edge of the desk was in the way.
It had been a family decision, to move, and it was the right decision, I knew that. But I just preferred Shanghai.
A few months after we moved, I turned 50. The family had set up what has —by far— been my best birthday party. Friends from all over the world turned up, including a very dear friend from Lebanon, who I hadn’t seen for 25 years! We picked up exactly from where we left off, and he remains one of my closest friends. I love how that works. Old, time-tested friendships are a real gift, something to treasure.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I need the occasional prod, to get out of a rut. I’ve wrestled with inertia all my life, and sometimes need an intervention, an external force as Newton said, to course correct. At my birthday, our German neighbour (from Shanghai) asked me how the move had been thus far, and what I liked about Hong Kong. I was hard-pressed to think of anything. I knew it would grow on me, I’ve travelled around and moved far too many times (and to some odd places), to think otherwise, but I just couldn’t think of anything, at the time.
“How is the Internet, Andy?” Frank asked.
I felt a slow smile spread across my face. Not from the fact that the Internet in Hong Kong is way better than in China, but because, in his insightful, gentle manner, he’d reminded me to get my head out of my ass.
“The Internet is incredible!” I smiled at him, “Thanks Frank!”
Two years later, it has grown on me, and let me tell you, Hong Kong is incredible!
I’ve never lived in a city where there is this much diversity in the physical environment. The common impression of Hong Kong is that it is a jungle of skyscrapers. It is that, definitely. But that concrete jungle has been built on and around a mountainous island, and interspersed between the clusters of skyscrapers, are mountains, covered with forests, and home to hiking trails ranging from easy Sunday afternoon strolls, to the type where you need mountaineering gear.
There are, as I said, skyscrapers. Hong Kong has the highest density of skyscrapers in the world. It is a very three dimensional city. I’ll come back to that. But it also has a lot of parks and open spaces. The parks, some are small and quaint, others vast and full of a myriad of fauna and foliage. Many migratory birds pass through Hong Kong, and I often find fellow photographers sitting quietly and unobtrusively, waiting patiently for the right bird, the right angle, and the right light.
You can walk down the street in Central, and be surrounded by the hubbub and frenzy of a busy megapolis. Catch a tram, and in 20 minutes, you will be on a secluded beach, nary a person in sight, and the sight of a golden red sun, disappearing behind the horizon.
There are glitzy malls, full of the latest gizmos and fashion trends, all over town. Cross the street, and you’ll find a seamstress making dresses on an ancient sewing machine, that she sells for $20, or a carpenter making furniture on a street side, using tools and techniques that go back a hundred years. Around the corner from a trendy coffee bar where you would spend a few hundred dollars on a slice of cake and a cappuccino, you can get a square meal from a roadside vendor for $15.
Go to a supermarket, and buy Norwegian salmon, packed, labelled and transported thousands of kilometres. Or go down to Sai Kung pier, and buy the day’s catch, right off the boat, from the fisherman who caught it.
In no other city in the world, do you live as three-dimensionally as you do in Hong Kong.
I wake up in my apartment on the 19th floor. I have a cup of tea, and go for a swim at the clubhouse on the 3rd floor. My daughter waves at me, from her bedroom you can see the pool. After breakfast and getting ready, I go down to the ground level to catch a bus. My wife waves at me. On the 20th floor, is the sky garden, where she does yoga every morning, and you can see the bus stop from there.
I get on the upper floor of the bus (I like the view), and on my way to my client on Hong Kong island, I’ll go over several elevated roads (with 5 levels of roads below me), under the Victoria Harbor (one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world), and get off the bus, at the terminus on the 4th floor of a skyscraper.
I’ll then walk for 15 minutes, taking the escalator where possible, up the side of a mountain, till I reach my client’s building. I’ll head up to the 32nd floor where their office is, and have a cup of coffee and talk about the shoot. Then we go to the 55th floor, where their sky garden is, and we do the shoot there.
We have lunch at the food court on the 17th floor. I then reverse my steps and head home. Maybe if the weather is nice, I’ll take the ferry across the harbor, I might get some nice shots, and get a bus from the Kowloon side.
Later that evening, some friends come over, we have a few drinks and an early dinner at home, then go out to the bar on the 100th floor of the Hyatt, where we party till the wee hours of the morning.
It’s not big, Hong Kong. It’s a tiny island that offers, in many ways, a multi-dimensional life. And it is an incredible city.