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The Hong Kong Hangover

To Hong Kong! The border crossing from China, at Lo Wu.
To Hong Kong! The border crossing from China, at Lo Wu.
Get the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour. Worth every penny.
Get the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour. Worth every penny.
This is me with Franki and Japes, who let me commandeer their spare room for a few nights. The bloody legends.
This is me with Franki and Japes, who let me commandeer their spare room for a few nights. The bloody legends.
The view from the top of Victoria Peak. Decent on a misty day. Probs better when its clear...
The view from the top of Victoria Peak. Decent on a misty day. Probs better when its clear…
The back lanes of Mongkok, with the Ladie's Market selling blag bags and shoes.
The back lanes of Mongkok, with the Ladie’s Market selling blag bags and shoes.

I’m going to hazard a guess here: turning 30 isn’t necessarily something most people relish. Am I right? Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I? I think I’m right.

I’ll admit, I haven’t exactly spent the last year saying ‘Bloody hell, I can’t wait until I’m 30. That’s going to be such a great day for me. Who wants to be in their 20s anyway? Your 20s are so 1994.’

Well, last weekend, the inevitable finally happened. I went to bed one night in my 20s, and woke up the next morning in my 30s. I guess it’ll happen to us all at some point or other. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As it happened I was in Hong Kong when the ball finally dropped (no jokes please, I said ‘ball’, singular), staying with two wonderful friends of mine, Franki and her chap Japes. They live in Hong Kong, working as English teachers. As well as helping me negotiate that quite amazing city (not to mention letting me kip in their spare room for the weekend), they went so far as to throw a tremendously enjoyable flat party to “celebrate” this inauspicious day. I really can’t thank them enough, and only hope I can return the favour some day soon (and thanks also to their friend Jiyeon, who made me a blisteringly good birthday tiramisu).

Hong Kong itself is a stunning city. The differences between Hong Kong and China are palpable the moment you step foot over the border, the former having been governed by the British from 1842 until 1997, thus escaping the legacies of Maoist Communism that continue to reflect in the psyche of the mainland. This is a more easy going place. Its more cosmopolitan. I’m feeling around here for the right word to describe it… More liberal, perhaps? Less controlled? More open? Take your pick, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong, the chaos and the crowds remain, if anything becoming increasingly concentrated the further you venture into Hong Kong’s jungle metropolis. But the atmosphere is very subtly different from that of China, and in a refreshingly good way. Its also a more diverse place. The Hong Kong ex-pat community is thriving. You don’t feel like you stick out quite so much here.

It all makes this an easy place to travel. English is widely spoken. English signs are everywhere. The names of the streets echo the British occupation (for that is essentially what it was) – Queen’s Road, Connaught Road, Bonham Road. Locals are used to seeing Westerners knocking about. The stares that accompany travelling in China disappear in Hong Kong, making the whole experience more relaxing.

I enjoyed simply knocking around with Franki and Japes much of the time, eating Dim Sum and relaxing at home. But if you’re looking for tourist tips, my top one would be to go to the Hong Kong Museum of History. I’m often critical of museums (many of us History graduates are) as places which dumb down history, skate over controversies and present much of history as fact indomitable. And, yep, this museum had its own biases, as any museum does. It was also pretty weak on history before the 1800s, spending a bizarre amount of time focusing on the (entirely uninteresting) development of pre-historic rock formations before casually breezing over a few thousand years more history and arriving at the 1800’s opium wars.

But from here, I have to say, it gets pretty strong. If you want to learn about modern Hong Kong, to understand how the region has developed its dramatic city scape and its unique psychology, the History Museum works as a useful bite size introduction. I came away feeling like I’d actually learned something, and I’d highly recommend it.

As for other things to do that won’t break the bank (and getting into the museum costs less than a quid). A trip across Victoria Harbour too (or from) Kowloon costs just 20p, and at night will give you some of the most spectacular views on earth as the sky scrapers light up. Also worth a bash is the peak tram, which carts hoards of visitors up to Victoria Peak for a dramatic vista back across the city, harbor and beyond. I didn’t have such a clear day, alas, with a mist drifting in obscuring much of the view, but on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with some stunning scenery.

But, as with so many other places I’ve visited these last few weeks, the best way to soak up Hong Kong is to simply go and have a wander. Go for a walk, and see what you can find. Explore the back lanes of Mongkok; the night markets of Kowloon; and dodge the fellers trying to sell you anything from fake Rolexs to (supposedly less than fake) hash along the never ending bustle of Nathan Road. I’d say (because this is how I did it) that the best way to appreciate Hong Kong is to travel a few weeks in China first, to give you some real perspective on things and an appreciation of its unique qualities, but this is an eminently travelable place in its own right.

And if you’re looking for somewhere to finally leave behind your roaring twenties – well, Hong Kong is a pretty good bet, I think. You’ll be so engrossed in the city’s heady atmosphere, you won’t even notice the final onset of your wilting middle age…