If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll know that this is a weird time to be in Hong Kong. Tens of thousands people are in the streets, protesting for universal sufferage in the upcoming elections rather than choosing between Beijing-approved candidates. The protests are polite and generally safe. They consist of young adults sitting in the streets, occasionally breaking out into chants. It’s easy to walk around them and not get involved. It feels calm and peaceful, except for one night of police violence. I’m not sure where these protests will lead, but I can be sure of one thing: Hong Kong is still an amazing place to travel, with or without protests.
The first thing that stood out to me upon arrival was the subway. It’s so clean and easy to use, but best of all, there’s a familiar voice saying “mind the gap” at every stop. Am I back in London? Not quite, but close. Hong Kong feels incredibly western, down to the style of dress and the attitude of the people. Most people speak some form of English, and they are exposed to the same Western media as Americans are. As a result, the overall “vibe” of the city is closer to a European city than a Chinese one.
That being said, there’s still plenty of Chinese cultural influence. Delicious dim sum is everywhere, and the Big Buddha, Hong Kong’s version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, is a powerful reminder of the area’s Buddhist heritage. While exploring the night markets around Mong Kok in the shadow of pulsating fluorescent lights it’s impossible to be anywhere else.
Ultimately, Hong Kong is uniquely Hong Kong. Whether it be enjoying the view, day or night, from Victoria Peak or Star Ferry, or looking down at the lush forests and pristine beaches from the cable cars on Lantau Island, Hong Kong is like nowhere else in Asia.
This entry would feel empty if I didn’t reflect a bit on the protests themselves. It’s beautiful to see people standing up for democracy in the face of a monolithic entity like Beijing. Although it’s unlikely to lead to any sort of liberalized democracy, the bravery of students and other activists, who are well aware of what happened in 1989, is very moving to witness. I hope that Hong Kong is eventually able to achieve full liberal democracy, although I concede that it is very unlikely, at least in the near future. In the meantime, Hong Kong activists have their umbrellas.
If you’re visiting Hong Kong soon, make sure you don’t miss some of these experiences:
-Victoria Peak: Stunning views of the city at its best, from all angles
-Star Ferry: Take it to Kowloon at night for a fantastic view of the city skyline
-Dim Sum: A classic Cantonese meal, made of up of several small dishes
-Mong Kok: Home to a vibrant night market full of street stalls and merchants hawking their wares.