Hong Kong to me was like a jump in the water. A water I knew wouldn't be too foreign, as it is easy to get by with English, but that would still have its stingy surprises from time to time.
The trip was decided on a whim because it wasn't far from where I was studying in Japan, it was pretty cheap, and above all, why not. So that was it, I booked a ticket and I left with my backpack and a friend willing to accompany me in November.
The excitement started from the airplane when upon arrival, a dense forest of buildings started to appear. In Europe, areas, where tall buildings have taken over, are pretty rare and New York is a pale comparison to Hong Kong's urban forestation.
It was even more impressing in Kowloon where pedestrians had to walk from building to building in aerial structure and it got us to get lost in some kind of private property garden in between skyscrapers. The constant anthill feeling of Kowloon didn't help with all the constructions barring much of the South-West side of Victoria harbour at the time.
In contrast, the Hong Kong Island on the south was a nest of treasures to my eyes, where you could leave the luxurious areas and suddenly enter a sort of city jungle with lianas and enormous trees. This vegetation making one with its gray surroundings gave you the impression of a cocoon, quieter than the city center. Among the less enormous buildings, you could find tiny shopkeepers and this is when Hong Kong felt more foreign and exciting.
The divide felt harsh between the Chinese 'side' and the Westernized one. All the luxury shops cohabited with, not far from them, traditional Chinese stores where life seemed to live at its own pace. It's like if Hong Kong had two clocks running differently, with very few minutes matching with the other.
Even in more touristic areas where "traditional" big Buddhas (as old as 1993) that the world came to see, there were two rhythms.
A hike in the nearby peaks gave you the same sensation. Hopping out of a bus (with interesting driving skills) to admire the coast, the beach, the golf course and the paragliding activities and even the high-standard mall with locals passing through it.
I came to Hong Kong thinking that it was an example of a successful mixture, a cohabitation of both Western and Asian standard. After experiencing life in a shabby building of the Southern island, with its hole for entrance but its steel bars for the actual apartment and its friendly cockroach welcoming you on the steps, I left with a serious doubt about this dual-rhythm Hong Kong was living.
Even though the excesses of Kwoloon and the parties of Lan Kway Fong can be hard to swallow next to the never asleep Chinese businesses, Hong Kong was a welcome getaway. The food, the kindness of people and the laugh exchanged in those tiny restaurants where everything is in Chinese characters and you just end up pointing at writings because you recognized that there was 鳥 in it (so that's a good sign right?) made it into some days I hold onto with warm memories.