The philosophy of Yin and Yang speaks of opposite forces complementing each other, granted the great philosophical minds probably didn’t have a blog post about culture clash in mind. Regardless, it’s a grey and dull day today but no amount of drizzle will hide the worlds that collide in Hong Kong.
It is a city of contrasts; the skyline is dominated by shining towers -that confirm its place among the modern metropolises of the world. Flaking walls of traditional Chinese buildings nestled between the monstrous new builds. Dior sharing a pavement with a fruit stall. Ornate temples poking out behind those famous golden arches – Mc Donald’s is near enough a dietary requirement here.
Often you can walk down one road and go from the winding alleyways of old China to a towering world city. For me, the charm of Hong Kong is that it’s kept a grip on it’s past and although the western influences are in abundance, there’s pockets of the traditional alive and thriving.
The iconic streets of Mong Kok are a sensory overload; you could walk for hours – in circles, through the same intricate streets and never get bored of looking up. Thousands of people passing through the same chaos: dazed and slightly cross-eyed.
The blinding shop lights jutting out above the pavements are almost hypnotic, herbal medicine dispensaries and street food hole-in-the-wall’s everywhere you look. Anywhere else the mass of flamboyant neon lights could be tacky but here in the pulsating Kowloon district they’ve become part of the character, the epitome of the Hong Kong people travel to see.
Then there’s the glitz of the designer clad streets in Causeway Bay or Central, the presence of high-end shops is overwhelming. Always empty, bar the obsessively well-groomed staff. Still, there’s a sense of glamour to it, one that couldn’t seem further away from the bustle of Mong Kok.
Just two MTR stops away are the impossibly steep stairs that guide you through Soho. A culmination of antique streets, independent cafés and bars, and market stalls. Soho embodies the different sides of Hong Kong culture, and highlights (as with so many popular cities) that gentrification is swarming in; you can get your gluten free-organic-nothing-slightly-fat-related-brunch in too many places. Places that neighbour the wall-to-ceiling tiled dim sum houses, where what you order probably isn’t what you’re going to get. Generally the more clinical and depressing they look, and the more amused the locals are at you trying to figure out a Chinese only menu, the better the food will be.
Yes there’s much more to Hong Kong than architecture, culinary adventures and blinding lights. I’m almost four months in and getting lost is still a regular occurrence, Google has never been such a trusted companion and every time I head out I’m bound to stumble across something new to wonder about…but the contrasts in this city create an unbeatable feeling and that’s definitely a good place to start.
For now the duality works – a Hong Kong Yin and Yang.