Returning to Hong Kong – the Ultimate Playground!

Written by admin on January 22, 2007 – 3:07 pm -

Before I started Bonjour Paris, I was a trailing spouse who was easily bored and needed permission to ask “none-of-my-business” questions. I lucked out and snagged writing some “Expat Abroad” columns for the international edition of USA Today.

The joke was that while my husband was hauled up in an office (he could have been in Newark), I was out exploring and having the time of my life. He’d set off for his day of back-to-back meetings and each evening, we’d compare notes. We’d both agree that I was having a better time!

We’d been to Hong Kong numerous times in the mid-90s. Hong Kong is now even sleeker, more aggressively modern and well managed than it was then. The idea of living there was appealing at that time. It’s even more so now. During our recent stay, I began looking at real estate ads checking out apartment rentals.  For Expat-suitable apartments, rents are comparable to those in New York City.  But I’m told that other services and stables cost substantially less than comparable items in the Big Apple.

We returned to “our” old hotel, the Hong Kong Conrad (in the upscale group of the Hilton chain) that’s attached to Pacific Place, a mega-shopping center of elegant, chi-chi boutiques.

Driving up to the Conrad was a bit like going home again. Some floors have been remodeled and all will have been redone in the coming year. The hotel prides itself on excellent service and does not let its guest down. We settled in, enjoyed a sumptuous tea in the lobby and then took a walk on Hollywood Road, famous for antiques – real and probably faux. Whichever, we were sorry we hadn’t purchased more when Victor’s consulting work had us spending a lot of time in Her Majesty’s Hong Kong. Prices have since sky-rocketed and everything we lusted for was well beyond our means.

The US has nothing quite like Hong Kong: smooth-running, super-efficient (not to mention, well marked) subways, pedestrian overpasses to avoid traffic jams, covered moving sidewalks and escalators everywhere, cars zipping along via in-town highways and clover leaves – an amazing sense of being in the city of tomorrow. And oh yes, great food, so much nightlife, shopping, glitzy hotels, etc.

Heavy traffic and increased demand for office and retail space is prompting the government to embark on an extensive reclamation project to meet the demand.  Even the Star Ferry terminal, built in 1955, will be a casualty and will be replaced by a new landing on the end of a landfill.

HK is and isn’t China. It was an English territory until 1997, when it was turned over to China. The UK honored its promise to cast HK loose, much as it did for India 50 years earlier. In HK’s case it was absorbed by China, but with semi-independent status – at least for now. Democracy is flourishing in HK, as does business and tourism.

Talk about small world. I had sent   Born to Shop Suzy Gershman, a Bonjour Paris contributor and dear friend an email mentioning where we were. We’d compared our schedules but missed that we were going to be in Hong Kong at the same time.

Within seconds, there was a return email. Thirty minutes later; Suzy and I were having coffee at the Peninsula, the most elegant hotel in the Kowloon section of Hong Kong. The Peninsula is a legend in itself. Built 75 years ago, it’s the most historic hotel in city. The Peninsula’s extensive renovations a few years ago managed to update its facilities and furnishings, while preserving the Colonial elegance that has made it a favorite with discerning people coming to Hong Kong for business or pleasure.

While Suzy and I went and shopped until we dropped, Victor attended a dim sum class. He’s always loved Chinese food and frequently pulls out a wok and cleaver. Suzy and I ran all over the city unearthing bargains (and some NOT). The two of us bought unlimited one-day subway passes (approximately $5 each) and navigated the city as fast as we could. Boy – were there bargains. I literally had to pry Suzy away from buying more than six dog outfits – one for every holiday.

Hong Kong is a more than small world. It turns out other friends from Provence were there. George and Johanne own Al Forno, a much-admired restaurant in Providence, RI. The four of us had a fantastic seafood dinner at the Victoria City Seafood in Wah Chai (852) 2827-9938, and staggered out into the night, convinced that Hong Kong is the ideal Asian playground. People speak enough English to make Anglophones feel at home and there’s so much to see and do.

For those who want to see what Hong Kong used to look like, climb onto the Outlying Islands ferry that will transport you to Cheung Chau – a traditional Chinese community that has 18th century temples and is car-free.

For stellar views of the city, don’t miss tasking the Peak Tram. On a clear day, you can see forever and there are lovely nature walks.

Asia is changing so quickly ….. What’s here today will not necessarily be here tomorrow. If people consider Asia a “difficult or trying” destination, take my word, many cities cater to travelers who aren’t the rough-and-tumble type. For that matter, Asian hospitality is some of the best in the world.
Bonjour Paris

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