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Crowded streets, dense smog — and a half-raw chicken

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There sometimes are books that make you want to travel places. One such story – having been filmed in part starring Pierce Brosnan, no less – is James Clavell’s epic saga about Hong Kong, more specifically his two novels Tai-Pan and Noble House, featuring Hong Kong in 1841 and 1963, respectively. These are true masterpieces, although somewhat old-fashioned, in the sense of storytelling – the intrigue builds up step by step, always taking unpredictable twists and turns, and showing off an astounding gallery of wicked characters along the way. That’s good enough. But if you have the slightest general interest in China and, more to the point, Hong Kong, Clavell, who passed away in 1994, will inevitably have you wanting to visit the place.

Noble House, by James Clavell.

Noble House, by James Clavell.

Having read Noble House, I arrived in Hong Kong in part to find out what traces of the British, if any, were still left in this former crown colony that was handed back by the Queen to the Chinese in 1997. And let it be said once and for all, Hong Kong is a fantastic place. And absolutely awful, too.


It doesn’t begin well, though. My first problem, arising as soon as I’ve landed, is to figure out how to get away. I’ve arrived at Easter, meaning, I quickly learn, that there are almost no flights out of Hong Kong for the upcoming week. Most are fully booked, and those that exist are pricey. However, by quickly rethinking my travel plan I manage to secure a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The lesson here: Hong Kong may be one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean great access to transport.

This is one of the fine points with visiting Hong Kong, though, that this city-state never quiets down, never stops rotating. An Asian copy of New York, there is always something going on.

I’ve booked a small room close to Victoria Harbour on the Hong Kong Island. The room is not the cheapest around, but then, Hong Kong isn’t cheap at all. It’s easy to spend a fortune here, but getting by on a narrow budget is a challenge. Victoria Harbour, though, is really as close to downtown as I can get without getting ruined, and is precisely where I want to be on this trip.


I venture out in the streets on my quest to find the long-forgotten characters of Clavell’s masterpiece, or at least – perhaps easier when you think of it – whatever signs are left of the British, as they ruled Hong Kong for 99 years. It turns out those traces aren’t hard to spot. Take the police. While mostly Chinese, the officers still wear the distinctly British police caps and uniforms. After all, the force was formed and shaped under the empire of the Queen, commanded from London, and apparently Beijing thinks there’s no need to change what’s still working reasonably well. Another sign sits on every Hong Kong car — the tags. British, too, as well as the fact that traffic runs on the left side of the road.

Residential buildings in Aberdeen, Hong Kong. Photo:

Residential buildings in Aberdeen, Hong Kong. Photo:


Next: My venture into Hong Kong’s outskirts

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