There’s a digging machine at a construction site near my workplace in Hong Kong Central. Enormous, cylindrical, and piston-shaped, it prepares the foundation of a new building on Pedder Street by driving a sheer metal shaft at least two feet in diameter into hard, raw concrete. When steel collides with stone, the ground shakes and an ear-splitting clangor pulsates through the air as the threatening piston trembles and rises to strike again. An auditory manifestation of the city’s pace of development, the piston slams into the ground again and again – a metronome beating out the urban tempo.
“It’s like all the Mexicans in New York City just stopped working one day,” said CEO Intern D as I was walking with him in HK Central one Sunday afternoon.
His comparison seems apt, so just suspend your PC-sense for a minute while I run with the analogy. Imagine every Sunday all the Mexicans in NYC with low-skilled jobs (We don’t have to pick on only the Mexicans. Take the Pakistani cabbies, Chinese restaurant owners, insert your favorite ethnic stereotype here) stop working, go to Wall Street or Times Square, and just throw one big street party. Imagine they hawk goods, snack on Mexican food, play cards with friends, sit on picnic blankets on shaded sidewalk areas, and just generally have a rockin’ fun time without giving a shit about the disapproving stares and upturned noses of white passersby.
Living for a month in any one place really lets you discover its little idiosyncracies and oddities. I present to you some of HK’s below.
Ivy Ball is a social extravaganza for Ivy League alumni1 who live in Hong Kong. Every summer, hundreds of men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns enter the Grand Hyatt ballroom2 for professional networking and auditory/gustatory entertainment. Centerpieces of freshly-cut flowers and seven-armed candelabra holding two-foot long candles tower over guests. A chandelier of glass spheres sparkles above a hardwood dance floor. This year’s theme was “Take a Chance.”3
HK’s Central district is the analogue of NYC’s Wall Street. It is here that multi-billion dollar banking giants like Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and Standard Chartered Bank stake out their territories. Garden Road and Cotton Tree Drive are mere slivers of pavement wedged between the towering high-rises of Bank of China and Citibank. Between these two buildings lies the oldest Anglican church in the Far East. Even though St. John’s Cathedral has been here since 1849, it’s dwarfed by the neighboring financial skyscrapers and looks strangely out of place. Its stone frame, rose window, lancet arches, and trifoils contrast jarringly with the surrounding urban jungle made of glass and steel.
A day spent experiencing HK’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is enough to put any urban-dwelling American to shame.
When I left NYC there was no evidence that the Sun exists. When I landed in HK, there was still none. The first ten days of my stay were filled with cumulonimbus clouds and grape-sized rain droplets. Stepping outside is like entering a sauna or breathing with a hot wet rag smothering your face. The CEOs here are taking three to four showers a day to gain short-lived relief from all the humidity-induced stickiness.
Some brief musings about HK:
1. HK (and China for that matter) is not ethnically diverse compared to NYC. The city’s 95% Chinese. 2. There are so many mega-malls that look exactly alike. Armies of cleaning staff ensure they are all freakishly clean.
Columbia University’s Center for Career Education (CCE) will, no doubt, post on its website photos of Columbia Experience Overseas HK interns who look like they’re having way more funthan anyone has a human right to by being treated to free Cantonese food and an open bar at an upscale bar/lounge. (You know Philia Lounge will be a nice place even before you go because of its website. There’s no way a bar that’s not doing well is going to deck out its website with Adobe Flash and eerie techno music.) But here are some additional flattering pictures of the CEO contingent.