On the second evening of my visit to Hong Kong, the group from my company all piled into a bus and took a ride through a tunnel, taking us over from Kowloon to the Hong Kong city side of the islands.
I was chatting with a colleague who lived in the city and he dropped clues as to what was ahead for us. A few minutes later, we queued up for a ride up to the top of Hong Kong, known locally as The Peak. My friend told me the best experience would come from sitting in the back of the transport vehicle, which consisted of a circa 1890 cable car, complete with wooden benches, which would be hauled up to the top of The Peak.
We were tilted at an angle of about 40 degrees when we began and continued ascending at a similar angle. My ears popped several times just in the first couple of minutes and the city's buildings beside us looked liked they'd been punched into the soil at angles that threatened to let them topple at any moment. Rather to my surprise, this cable car still serves as a general public mode of transport and we stopped about one quarter of the way up the mountain to pick up another passenger, before the creaky sounds of the car being pulled uphill by a chain began again. Looking back, we could see the dense configuration of buildings that made up downtown Hong Kong and we were steadily rose until we were above all of them.
During the ride, my friend entertained me with tales of the local history of the place. Until 1999, this peak was where the Governor and various luminaries of the English staff had their luxurious mansions, looking down on all of the rest of Hong Kong in more ways than one. Since the turnover of HK in 1999 to the Chinese, the Peak has been opened for more general use and we would see a variety of large single family residences, as well as condominiums, which offered superior views both looking down to the city and also gazing back toward the other, forested side of the island.
The trolley drops everybody off at a landing which is adjacent to a highly commercialized set of shops and restaurants. Our group went to a place which offered Asian fusion cuisine coupled with excellent views of the city below us. The thick glass partially obstructed our views, but we could still see the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, lit up by light strands of white, blue, green, yellow and other colors. Across the harbor, another cornucopia of light festooned the Kowloon side.
Dinner was festive and we enjoyed copious portions of food and wine in the aftermath of a very busy day. Later, I joined a colleague and we took an escalator up onto the observation deck to get a better view. The skyscrapers huddled in the mists below us and a mosaic of light painted the peaks of the tallest buildings. My cell camera could not do justice to the scenes, but here is an example of the tallest building in the city, as we looked across to it.
I stayed on The Peak for about another hour, but these early views had been the essence of the experience for me. We ascended yet another observation deck, this one affording views of both the front view I'd seen before and of the heavily forested hills on the other side of the island. Another American who'd lived in Hong Kong for several years pointed out sights in both Hong Kong and Kowloon, adding to my understanding of this city.
My main insight from this night is that Hong Kong is still the sum of its history. The Brits are officially gone, but their influences are still felt, in subtle ways like escalators that lead in from the left and in the more laissez faire brand of capitalism which drives Hong Kong's remarkable economic engines. Hong Kong, a blend of the old school British style and the latest high tech trends, all progressing at a rapid pace forward. It truly struck me as a fine example of a 21st century city.