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

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Having fulfilled a large chunk of my goals in just a few minutes, I set about trying to grasp the rest of the place. Hong Kong consists of mainly three parts: The Hong Kong Island, where most skyscrapers are, Kowloon, which is the part of the mainland closest to Hong Kong Island to the north, and the New Territories further north, by which the British expanded their colony back in the day as Hong Kong grew larger and its economy boomed.

What strikes you about Hong Kong Island are two things. First, how enormously crowded the island is, or at least seems. The population in the whole former colony is estimated to just over 7 million. And though less than 20 percent of these people live on the actual Hong Kong Island itself, those who do have to crowd together in the rather small parts, mostly to the north, of the island that are reasonably flat and suitable for housing. Slightly larger than Manhattan, most of the inland parts are made up by steep hills, covered in lush green. This is a fact that constitutes the next stunning realization about this place, as soon as you have time to get around: Hey, it isn’t that crowded at all! There are forests, parks! And a beach, too!

My search for adventure and a long lost era of Brits in khaki uniforms brings me to Aberdeen on the southwestern side of the island. Reached by a short bus ride, this small town plays a central part in James Clavell’s book –  it was here, some might recall, that the run on the Ho-Pak bank began. And it was on one of the sampans – an old traditional Chinese cargo and fishing vessel (or, in Clavell’s writing, an opium smuggling vessel) – in Aberdeen’s harbor that one of the mightiest characters of the story lived, Four Finger Wu. These days, though, what strikes you are the residential buildings of Aberdeen. Reaching for the sky with endless rows of small windows, the houses look depressingly cramped.

Downtown Hong Kong Island. Photo:

Downtown Hong Kong Island. Photo:


Another must-see is The Peak, which is what it sounds like, Hong Kong Island’s highest peak. Part of the experience is the Peak Tram, a hazardous-looking rail construction that climbs at around 45 degrees up the mountainside. A huge visitor’s complex looms at the top. But if you plan to enjoy the view in the evening, going up to the complex is virtually pointless. Instead, save some money and post yourself down at the viewing area just below the visitor’s center – the smog of Hong Kong is often so thick that visibility would only decrease anyway if you ventured any higher. It can be recommended to hit The Peak just before the sun sets. You’ll see the skyscrapers gradually descend in the dark, and then – boom! – they’ll all flash up by a million bright lights, showing off their contours against the night.

TV View from Hong Kong’s The Peak


Next: Being scammed in Kowloon

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