Hong Kong is a vertical city.  Since it’s wedged between mountains and the sea, there isn’t much room to build outward, so developers have to build upward.  Since I’ve come to Hong Kong, I feel like I’ve spent most of my time doing one of three things: riding on elevators, riding on the MTR, and riding on escalators.  Riding on escalators almost counts as riding on the MTR, since stations have escalators to get passengers up from and down to the platforms.

One of the more peculiar phenomena about living in a vertical city is that it’s very hard to walk anywhere.  Central, where all the huge bank buildings are, is criss-crossed with overpasses and underpasses, some of which connect to MTR stations, all of which lead you into and out of the mezzanine levels of buildings that were designed and built to show off the power of banks like HSBC, Bank of China, and Standard Chartered.  It’s a little hard to navigate by foot, let alone bike.  I think that’s one of the reasons I could never live here.  It may be one of the least bike-friendly cities I’ve ever been to.  It’s up there with London.  All this verticality is none too friendly for the physically disabled, either.  Many overpasses don’t even have escalators.

footbridge staircases

I can recognize a lot of the buildings of Hong Kong’s skyline, especially those in Central.  I would dare to say that the skyline has become recognizable as Hong Kong to me, but the weird thing about all these skyscrapers is that they are, by and large, less than 30 years old.

banking district

In Hong Kong, if properties stop making money, the developers generally build their buildings higher.  For structural reasons, this usually involves wrecking the old and building from scratch — sometimes digging a deeper foundation, putting in more wind-resistant truss structures, installing faster and more modern elevators.  The higher you go, the more tenants you can have, and hopefully you can recoup the money you lost building the thing higher with all these new tenants — and charging the old ones that choose to stay more because they’ve got better facilities.

The other alternative is to fill in the inlets and bays.  The Star Ferry operates four ferry lines between three different piers in the city, all situated on Victoria Harbour.  The other night we rode from Hong Kong Central — the banking district I photographed from the mountain above — straight across the the Kowloon Peninsula pier.  We weren’t on the boat any more than ten minutes, which surprised my dad.  He told me that the last time he took the Star Ferry, ten years ago, the ride took much longer.  The cranes on the Hong Kong Island side, sitting near construction of new pier facilities, were surrounded by dumptrucks filled with earth and rocks.  Hong Kong Island is expanding.

Thinking of a city where no building is more than thirty years old, and a downtown where in another thirty years the buildings will be different, is entirely mindboggling to me.  How does anybody navigate the city, for example?  I rely largely on cardinal directions and landmarks, and with landmarks that change so rapidly, and really without warning, I think I’d get lost all the time.  This is the other major reason I could never move to Hong Kong.  This city confuses me in so many ways.

(P.S.: since my dad armed me with a Sony DSC-W80 that we bought for half the price at the Beijing electronics market, I’ve started flooding Flickr with my pictures.  Add me as a contact and check out other pictures of Hong Kong, Guilin, and Shenzhen.)

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