Walking into an HSBC Commercial then Walking Out in Central, Hong Kong

The last time I went to Hong Kong was three or four years ago with my cousins Karen and Melody for a weekend shopping trip. We ended up window shopping a lot without buying much, mostly because even with “steep” discounts, most of the stores were high end and still out of reach. The stores that we could afford were often so jam packed that it didn’t seem like we would find anything. In the end, we walked around in awe of all the apartment towers and each spent a considerable amount of our budgets having our palms read at a famous temple, the name of which I have now forgotten. Oh yes, we also tried not to lose each other in the sea of people that swept over us like a head-on wave at every street corner. What I remember most vividly from that trip was the sheer number of malls that Hong Kong seemed to have. Taiwan, back then, had a good number of major shopping destinations, but still seemed far behind Hong Kong in density. And while my current return to Taipei has revealed that Taiwan has closed the gap somewhat, the few hours I spent in Hong Kong have showed me that an even smaller island still rules the Malls per Square Kilometer competition.

Two women lunch on the rooftop of the IFC, the watering hole for bankers and deal makers.

It seemed to me that every subway stop had an exit or two that led to a mall. Granted, I only got out of three, but each one had escalators that took me from the dim underbelly of the city into a vast and glittering sub-city built of polished marble, glass and merchandise. At one mall especially, the IFC or International Finance Center, seemed to be the new queen bee of them all. Located at the heart of Central, the IFC is, if you’re a banker or luxury conglomerate CEO, the place to be. I followed the herd of well-dressed folks rushing towards the IFC subway exit and found myself, as I’ve already said, intruding on an HSBC commercial featuring thousands of very well-dressed young men and women who no doubt keep Hong Kong’s economy robust by working during the day and partying during the night. The complex was decidedly “international,” meaning, I heard English spoken in many different accents (though British English dominated), and what’s more, saw small groups of schoolgirls in navy blue pleated skirts, knee socks, and loafers chatting in perfect English and walking about looking for a place to lunch. “International school kids,” I thought, and I was right.

It was an interesting place to suddenly find myself but given my budget and general fatigue of malls (I have Taipei to thank for that), I decided to leave the IFC (no easy feat, as it is labyrinthine and monstrous) and search for a different Hong Kong.

A typical street around Central. On the ground floors, most of the old shops have long been replaced by foreign boutiques, but one need only to look up at some of Hong Kong’s old signs to get a taste of the old.

And sometimes old buildings refuse to leave, like this jeweler tucked in between two glass high rises.
These men too, needed respite from the IFC and emerged to have their shoes shined the old fashioned way. Each person belongs to a different Hong Kong.
The red urban taxis and three double decker trams, which I love. New York should invest in these.

Wandering about without a map and no destination in mind can be good and bad. Bad because well, you don’t know where you’re going. Good because you can come across a narrow alley filled with delights you otherwise would not have if you had an itinerary in mind. That day was good in terms of pleasant surprises. My aimless wandering paid off in terms of what I saw and what I ate.

A sudden small incline appeared on my right, filled with the works of local artists.
At the head of the street, a young man tunes the city out and draws.
Not too far away, someone had a bigger canvas to work with.

All this walking made me hungry and I started to look for an authentic, smallish noodle shop. Apparently I didn’t know where to look and walked around for forty five more minutes before seeing this:

But the dishes looked enormous and out of my price range. I turned around and saw this shop, directly across the street:

An old lady walked in and a young woman walked out. Seemed the be a restaurant for parties of one. I went there and ordered what everyone else was eating.

Pork chop noodles with a plate of Chinese broccoli.

Satiated, I came back out and walked around some more. Didn’t buy or eat anything at these places, but got a good laugh out of their names:

Sure beats “Victoria’s Secret.”
Hamburger place.

Pretty soon it was nearing evening and I had to return to the airport to pick up my visa and catch a flight to Shanghai. But not before entering through one more mall…

The lobby at Elements, another ritzy mall in Kowloon.

On the subway ride back, a cemetery at the water’s edge. Literally.

And a schoolgirl, doing precisely what I had wanted to do all along since waking up at 3:45 that morning, but am glad I did not, for I would have missed out on too much.

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