When I was growing up, it was difficult for me to understand how people lived in cities unlike Hong Kong. Of course, I knew not all places had the efficient public transportation, mass concentration of high-rises or ridiculously beautiful skyline I grew up with; yet, I couldn’t understand it on an experiential level.
That was, until I left home just a few months shy of my 18th birthday. I packed my life into a couple of suitcases and headed to Los Angeles – a place I only knew from seeing it on tv.
I used to visit Hong Kong frequently; more recently, though, my trips back have been fewer and farther between. Last December, I returned for a vacation for the first time in three years. Whereas it used to feel like I was returning home as soon as I deplaned, on that occasion, I felt more like a tourist. That new perspective brought new observations, though; ones that I think are valuable for anyone visiting my beloved city:
1. Hong Kong is crowded.
6,620 persons per square kilometer doesn’t immediately sound like much, but the moment you try to step into a train car during rush hour, you’ll realize that you’re in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. More than seven million people live within 426 square miles (1,104km2). To compare, nearly half that number of people (3.7 million) live in the city of Los Angeles, which is of comparative size to Hong Kong.
2. The city is developing rapidly.
There are so many new establishments in Hong Kong that didn’t exist just three years ago – restaurants, boutiques, malls, high-rise buildings. It is common to see construction sites and new developments on city streets; it has become part of the city’s ever-changing landscape. To facilitate travel within its ever-expanding boundaries, a modern and efficient public transportation system has been developed. The public transport traveling rate now exceeds 90%, the highest in the world.
3. The diversity is astounding.
Visit Tsim Sha Tsui, a major urban area, to hear countless languages, shop in stores with goods imported from all over the world, and smell the scents of varied cuisines. The fusion of cultures in such a small geographic space is invigorating. As a former British colony, Hong Kong’s diversity has always been robust, drawing people in from around the world. Since its return to China in 1997, the city has remained a global hub and its international community continues to grow.
“Hong Kong is vibrant, colorful and busy, and the city’s energy resonates from day into night. Restaurants are open late and it is not uncommon to see people gathering for a meal after their work day ends.”
4. The city’s energy is palpable.
Hong Kong is vibrant, colorful and busy, and the city’s energy resonates from day into night. Restaurants are open late and it is common to see people gathering for a meal after their work day ends. Great shopping can be found throughout the city, from the high-end designer stores at Times Square, Pacific Place and Harbour City to the street vendors in Mong Kok or at the Temple Street Night Market. A great place to marvel at Hong Kong’s vitality is Causeway Bay. It features countless shopping plazas (some open past midnight!), incredible restaurants and the city’s main Central Library. It is also home to Victoria Park, a wonderful green oasis right in the middle of the area’s bustle.
5. Despite the urban density, there’s still a lot of green space.
Hong Kong ranks first in the world in skyscraper and high-rise count; yet, despite the population density and the abundance of buildings, nature can be found everywhere. In fact, public parks make up 40% of the city. The government contributes a lot of resources toward the preservation of these spaces. The infamous Hong Kong Park was built at a cost of HK$398 million and sprawls over an area of 80,000m². It is a great example of how the city works to balance nature with modern, urban development.
It was so refreshing to rediscover these aspects of my hometown. It made for a very special vacation and I can’t wait to see how things change – and what new adventures await me – on my next trip back!
Words and photos: Tina Khiatani