I arrived in Hong Kong at 5:30 am last Monday, after what was a pretty turbulent flight. Apparently Hong Kong has had some of its worst rain in decades, a Black Storm according to the rating system. I chose the Ritz Carlton firstly because I got a great deal using points and secondly because it is the highest hotel in the world – sounded cool. I think the sun made an appearance once or twice for 2-3 seconds. All I saw what a shroud of white fog.
My room was on the 117th floor, just one floor below the top. Fighting jet lag, I ended up spending a fair bit of time up here with nothing to look at outside. The 118th floor’s “highest bar in the world” was a sad place as I watched sheets of rain pour down the sides of the building’s peak. One time, from my room, I caught a rare glimpse of the spectacular vista of Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong Island. Sometimes, as I whiled away the hours reading on the 116th Club Floor the harsh glare of sunlight’s attempt to penetrate the fog gave me headache. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. However my dreams of a drop-dead view were thwarted by this unfortunate weather.
When I did venture out, I had to forego wearing the cute pink Chanel ballet flats purchased just for this leg of the journey and don the old sneakers. The air was thick with humidity, which made my skin prickly hot.
I took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong and marched over to Hollywood Road. I poked my head into a few shops, dodging the constant construction and climbing hill after hill. Once I’d had enough browsing, I headed up to catch the Peak Tram only to get there when the skies opened to the most incredible monsoon rain. I scurried back to the Star Ferry and went back to Tsim Sha Tsui where I ambled around a bit and ultimately hopped a cab back to the hotel. I was going to head up to the Ladies Market in Kowloon and then over to a tea shop that was recommended to me but, as the day wore on the weather only worsened. The thunderstorms raged well into the night. So, I enjoyed my dinner here at the hotel, which has two Michelin rated restaurants, enjoying tapas and other Cantonese specialties.
This city seems insane. It has a pace like New York, but it lacks the style and flair of New York. I overheard many conversations among locals and expats and was impressed by the nature of the discussions – always a world-view where the US is just made mentioned of, if at all. Sometimes I think Americans forget about the rest of the world. The Ritz was by no means a place to experience anything near the local culture; but I did get a glimpse of the global business that happens here.
One of the books I’m reading is Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and The End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert D. Kaplan. I’m about one-third of the way through and for those of you who know me well, it’s a pretty heavy book for my reading tastes. I always find books like this so much more interesting when I’m actually in the region that is the book’s subject. This one is fascinating and basically addresses the impact China’s rising power is having on the region, at a time when America’s is diminishing (though the US will always play a central role here). The author assures us that war is not imminent because no big moral or humanistic issue is at stake, aside from the last true communist hold-out, N. Korea. He describes China’s patient and quiet build-up of military power (especially Naval) and the less threatening but all too real response by neighboring countries. The fear is that, unless China faces an economic meltdown, the region will destabilize as China vies for its share of the much disputed territorial lines in the South China Sea and rich oil reserves they contain. All of this territorial marking and military build up sheds light on why a coordinated effort in the search for MH370 has been so difficult. I am sure the book’s messages are far more nuanced than I’ve described, but frankly, for me, what I really enjoy is the modern-day view of how these cultures have evolved as they move more toward capitalism and democracy.
I also quite appreciate the geography lesson as I map my journey to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. Now it’s time for me to pack up and fly down to Bali. I actually didn’t love Hong Kong, but I think that’s because my time here was so short, the weather so abominable and my jet lag. I wasn’t really able to give it a chance. Hopefully next time I can spend more time here. Onward ho!