There is an undeniably attractive appeal for places and material objects that are newer, bigger, fancier, and brighter. Hong Kong capitalizes on just this- having the reputation for being the city shopping, skyscrapers and good food. And they have done it well. Sailing into central Hong Kong from Lantau island I was utterly speechless at the number, height and variety of skyscrapers that were packed into this small inlet. This city had more concrete and newly polished windows than was visible from my peripheral vision. I was immediately overwhelmed by the how many buildings were squeezed into a small space.
What this looked like on the ground was streets with a shopping mall at every corner, more 7-11s than Starbucks, people staring at their cell phones more than looking where they were walking or more likely which was the next escalator they would go up, and SHOPPING. You can not escape this town without being forced into a shopping mall that is primary American stores. Even the subway, which is such an impressive and clean network of trains, coming every two minutes, had stores selling everything from purses to soda to wedding rings.
This consumerist driven culture was overly at Victoria Peek. The highest point in the city, this peek was where the British stayed to get out of the smog and look over the city. A tram was constructed in the late 1880s to bring residents up to the peek and still runs today. A hardy wooden shuttle that goes directly up this mountain, it offers an amazing view and a tourist trip that is probably worth the hour wait in line.
While expecting to find a line and a horde of tourists from countries all over, I was not expecting to get out of the tram and be forced to walk into a 5 story shopping mall before I could get out and find the best view of the city. What was saddest to me was the inability to find this view, all of the best spots are owned by businesses, hotels, fancy apartments, etc.. I was effectively ‘priced’ out of seeing best view. Strolling around the top of the peak in the sun, it is pleasant to find other foreigners voicing similar grievances and making your way to the gardens which have an appealing and colonial setting with terraces, fountains and canopies.
Another example of this manufactured appeal is the ‘Big Buddha’ on Lantau island. Known as the Big Buddha for a reason, this massive bronze Buddha sits on the top of hill, looking out over a monastery, cable car and shores of Lantau Island. Completed in 1993, the stair climb up to the base of the Buddha emphasized the enormity and impressive size of this structure as it appears large- even at the base of a 400(ish) stair case. As you climb up couple pose for selfies at ever stair- partially to capture the Buddha and partially to take a break from the burn in your thighs.
My favorite part of Lantau was the monastery adjacent to the Buddha. The food was far from superior- mediocre fake chicken meat drenched in a questionable sauce along with dumplings that were more dough than flavor- but the temples were magical. The room of 10,000 Buddhas is exactly that- a room with 10,000s buddhas decorating the walls, floors and open space of this peaceful and overwhelmingly spiritual room. An off white tile floor reflects the buddhas that are represented in tiny tiles along every part of the wall, only emphasizing the magnanimity. With five large golden buddhas in the center of the room, this space reminded me of how powerful and spiritual a constructed place can be. The visitor is instantly reminded of the power in a unified belief system. Only such devote beliefs could instigate the type of unity and vision that is required to make such a magical place.