A necessary visa run gave me the chance to escape the mainland for a few days and get a taste of Hong Kong for the first time. Leading up to this adventure, I’ve heard a lot about Hong Kong; varying levels of enthusiasm, awe, and even some disappointment. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
My 48 hours there certainly weren’t enough to draw any conclusions about this thriving metropolis, so close yet so far from the China I’ve experienced for the past year. There are definitely similarities to the mainland, but it is – on first impression- a different world. There are foreigners everywhere. I ate veal meatballs and fresh mozzarella. I found fresh-baked lemon poppyseed muffins and green olive and crushed almond tapenade. I marveled at the immaculate public bathrooms. The cashier at Pret A Manger gave me a free latte because I was just so grateful for the warm carrot muffin he sold me. Starbucks made me the iced soy chai latte I haven’t had in a year (hasn’t made it to the mainland quite yet). The woman across the table from me openly said a prayer before eating her sausage roll. It was a trip.
Poppyseed muffins and prosciutto aside, I also attribute my positive impressions of HK to my hosts – family friends who live and work in Hong Kong. They were amazing and I was very lucky to stay in their gorgeous apartment at mid-level rather than spending an arm and a leg on a shoebox of a hotel room. They also gave me great HK advice, delicious meals, and adorable kids to hang out with, which was a nice bonus.
Finally, HK rocked because I had the privilege of attending the first annual China Wine Awards, where I spent my Thursday tasting glass after glass of entrants from across the world. The Awards were organized by Kelly England of Kelly England publishing, the leading independent publishing house in HK and a generally gorgeous / super sweet person. The Awards are the first of their kind – catering specifically to the Chinese palate, focusing on what the Chinese consumer and major wine buyers across China actually want in a bottle. I’ve also gotten used to attending events in Chengdu for which my expectations are high, and misguided. This was not the case for the CWA, which I think speaks to the way things work in HK, and also to the organizers of this particular event. The entire day was meticulously planned and everything was considered. I drank well, ate well, and met a lot of interesting people.
It’s strange returning to Chengdu with the acquired awareness of all that Hong Kong is. The city, it’s inhabitants and lifestyle, blend Eastern culture with Westernized notions of time, manners, openness, efficiency, not to mention Hong Kong exudes a genuinely globalized, cosmopolitan feel that I haven’t found elsewhere in China. It’s pretty ideal transition point between life in the West and the East; a place to dip your toes before jumping into the deep end. Unprepared and unaware, we did a cannonball into the frontier of mainland China a year ago, which doesn’t stop sounding crazy whenever I answer that frequently-asked-question “What are you doing here? Why Chengdu?”
For the record – still figuring out the right answer to that question :)