During my first fifteen hour nonstop flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong I felt as though I was a child again. A child that has been cooped up in a confined space for too long. Had I been able to converse with the pilot, he would have found some place to stopover. I am certain he would have found a place to drop me off. "Are we there yet?" was the line that continuously rang in my head after the first nine hours. Finally, after two or three airline meals, two or three snacks, some restless naps, drinking about a half gallon of water, visiting all the various bathrooms for a change in scenery and additional exercise, thinking through the redesigning of those bathrooms, redesigning the seat I was sitting in, reading the magazines I brought for myself, reading the magazines I brought with me for Tim, and watching bits and pieces of four movies, I caught my first breathtaking glimpse of Hong Kong through the fog and mist. It was about six in the evening and early evening light gave it the perfect ‘first time to the orient’, mysterious, exotic feel. The landscape felt very large and peaceful, although now in retrospect this may have just been in contrast to my state of mind and body.
The mountains around Hong Kong are lush and dense with tropical trees and plants, and free of buildings. The city is nestled at the base of these beautiful lush green steep slopes on the South China Sea. The city is dense with buildings, but you can also see a lot of green throughout the city. From the air it doesn't have the look of the large city that it is with all this green and also Hong Kong is not as highly illuminated as most big US cities. This gives it a very fairy-like feeling. The airport is vast with some of the largest indoor spaces I have ever seen. I was in awe as I contemplated the large groups of people that move through this space.
Bleary eyed and wobbly legged, I reconnected with my body during a good ten minute walk. I ended up in a large basement area where guards directed me onto a subway car that, in my opinion, looked packed. I hesitated, but as people saw me everyone shifted this way and that, and within a couple seconds there was just enough room for my suitcase and me. The doors closed behind me brushing the seat of my pants and this was my gentle initiation into travel in Hong Kong.
The many narrow streets and sidewalks give Hong Kong a small town and more intimate feel. Parts of it are similar to Chinatown in San Francisco. A lot of the shops are small and crowded right up next to the walkway. Sometimes pedestrians have to step around their wares that spill out onto the sidewalk area. Some shops are just little cubbies that are only eight or twelve feet wide and the variety of shops is mind boggling. That first night I felt like I was a visual sponge. I instantly went into a pleasant sensory overload while Tim held my hand and navigated through the crowds. A shop of teas in beautiful rows of jars all labeled in Chinese characters was next to the 7-11 Convenient store, which was next to a shoe store, which had GREAT shoes but the salespeople just looked at my size ten feet and could only say "whaahh" under their breath. Next to that was a restaurant with its roasted meats of the day hanging in the windows, which was next to a beautiful produce stand. It went on and on and on. People seemed to mill about not in any real organized fashion, so we just walked along where we could -- sometimes on the left side, sometimes on the right side, and sometimes down the middle.
Their sense of space is very different from ours and to brush against others is no big deal. I enjoyed watching these friendly people walking along holding hands or with arms around each other’s shoulders. The clothing for the most part is quite chic and 90% of the woman wear platform shoes that elevate them at least 4". Even with these shoes, most of the women didn't reach my shoulder. Tim and I look like giants among the crowd and when we got separated it was easy to locate each other as we towered above the rest of the crowd. Inside our hotel the feeling was more intimate than in most US hotels. Ti pointed out that the scale was just a bit smaller than American standards. The ceilings were 8-10" lower and the rooms were smaller. There is a nice amount of attention given to details though and we both appreciated the overall result. Wood was used for trim but ceramic tile and granite was used for much of the wall and floor area which is a good choice in a moist tropical area. I was thrilled to be in a large city with mountains and the sea.
The next morning we saw a bit more of this beautiful city and then boarded a ferry to go to the mainland. The boat took us by many interesting looking islands with traditional and contemporary structures on them and finally under an enormous suspension bridge that connects parts of the mainland with each other across the Pearl River estuary. After a fifteen minute taxi ride, we arrived in Dong Chong Village and I found myself speechless. Mainland China was completely different from Hong Kong.
Dong Chong Village is on a delta that is for the most part, as flat as a board. There are many canals that connect to the sea and provide water for irrigation and travel for the many local fishing boats. There are many little restaurants, open air markets, and thousands of people on bicycles. There is a wealth of agricultural activity here. Being in the tropics they have three crops of rice a year and every vegetable and fruit you can imagine is grown here. The small gardens are beautifully laid out. Many interesting lattice patterns are used to train vine crops up off the ground. My sense is that the land is still being worked in much the same way it has been for many years. There is also a growing wealth of manufacturing in the area and people from all over China come here to work. Most live in large dormitory type buildings to save money that they send home to family. It is a developing country in a true sense of the word. It has an active, hopeful feeling that is inspiring. As we dropped off our bags at home, I met two Chinese women that help out with cooking and laundry. Their bright faces, laughter and bits of English were a warm welcome. Then Tim and I went to the factory and person after person greeted me as if I was a good friend and I began to feel more and more at home. I began to see the real wealth of China -- the Chinese people.