Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's a City... From the FUTURE!

In 1989, my family visited Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, as must be required by law of every Brazilian in their first visit to the United States. I was ten at the time, and some would call me slightly gullible. But can you blame me? While at Epcot Center, my dad took full advantage of my youth by convincing me that even the bathrooms of the futuristic park were of the latest technology, complete with self-flushing toilets and a robotic hand that would extend out from the urinal to shake off the last drops. “There’s no need to do it yourself,” he told me. “But be careful because if it malfunctions the hand doesn’t let go.”

Of course, the hyperactive, Calvin-esque child that I was thought this was the coolest thing I’d ever heard, and immediately proceeded to the bathroom, patiently waiting with my fly open for five or ten minutes after the deed for a robot to molest me. Disappointed that nothing happened, I walked back out to meet my laughing parents, probably wondering if I had enough evidence to get them arrested.

Fast forward to 2005. Why do I mention such humiliating moment of my youth?

Because we’re in Hong Kong, a city which seems like it was made in 2025. Everywhere you look, you feel like you’re decades ahead of anywhere else in the world. If someone had skated past me on a hoverboard, I wouldn’t have been surprised. If the urinals had a robotic arm that “took care of business”, I wouldn’t be shocked. It is certainly the trendiest city I’ve ever visited, with brand new buildings constantly being built on man-made islands reclaimed in the Victoria Harbour. The city is clean, safe, easy to get around, and reminds me a lot of a mixture of New York and San Francisco (an extra-large China town, complete with the Bay, if you will). Gone are the days when the harbor was filled with the romantic junks sailing into the sunset, once synonymous with the city.

The ships literally drops you off in a mall, and immediately you realize that the city is a shopper’s paradise. There is mall after mall after store after store after mall. This is quite jarring after the stretch from Chennai to Ho Chi Minh, especially since prices jump exponentially from the pennies we’ve gotten used to spending. I remember thinking in 1997, when Hong Kong was “returned” to China after British rule, that the claim that Hong Kong would operate in a separate political and economic system from the rest of the communist mainland wouldn’t last two long. Eight years later, the system seems to be working just fine, and if anything, mainland China is moving more and more towards a model of an open capitalist market.

(Speaking of the handover, we ran into Lord Patten, the last British governor of the island, who was promoting his new book. I “recognized” him because I noticed he was holding a book with a big picture of himself on the cover.)

Hong Kong is easy. I feel like I know the city very well after only some three days here (two of our days we spent in Kunming). You don’t realize how stressful it is to see constant poverty and suffering until you visit to a prosperous, rich place like Hong Kong. So we sail away at night from one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and from my favorite port so far in this journey (if that was possible after the rest of southeast Asia). This is my view as I type this. Just for kicks – these are my five favorite cities in the world in alphabetical order (I haven’t visited Paris and Sydney and many other towns in the world):

Cape Town
Hong Kong
New York
Rio de Janeiro
San Francisco

We’ll be in Kobe, Japan in three days, and I have no plan of action. I have to write about Vietnam, Cambodia, and Fresn… err… Kunming, and hopefully I can get it done before then. I might need the help of some guest bloggers.


Anonymous said...

I hate to admit that I have an addiction. As I get up in the morning I try to sneak in my addiction, as I come home from work I watch that no one is looking before going to my addiction. Today, though, I was "caught" as I read your blog and laughed till I cried at you waiting for the robot to molest you. I am so addicted to your writing. I will have to go on a 12 step program when you stop.

Nicolle said...

Rico: you're the only one who doesn't seem tired of updating their blog. Everyone else is slowing down.

Also, you have made me want to take a side trip to Fresno in December.

I have a vote for guest blogger....

Sam said...

Thanks for reminding me how beautiful Hong Kong is.... I love this city.