During a typical 365-day tour of Vietnam, every GI had the opportunity to take about a one week break from the war. Rest & Recuperation—“R&R”—it was called. Kind of bizarre, when you think on it, especially for the grunts out in the thick. They’d leave the field, shed their weapons and jungle fatigues, head off to a vacation, and then get flown back to the war.
For R&R, a soldier could stay in-country, at a beach “resort” like Vung Tau, down near the Mekong, or China Beach, south of Danang. For the real deal, however, most would head out of Vietnam to spread the American Way throughout The Eastern Hemisphere. Australia, if a guy really really needed to be among white, “round-eyed” English-speaking (sort of) beings. Hawaii, if he needed all that and perhaps a hook up with family, spouse, or bride-to-be, any of whom could easily rendezvous there. Tokyo, Taipei or Hong Kong were for those who wanted to shop for cameras, watches or stereos. Finally, the Philippines, Malaysia and—most of all—Bangkok, for those who really wanted….well, use your imagination.
I didn’t come home from Vietnam with a camera or a stereo or a Rolex. So, this is my virgin trip to Hong Kong. It is still a shopper’s paradise, but so much more so. The brands here now are so far beyond Panasonic, Minolta and Canon and Seiko, compared to 50 odd years ago. Today, it is Bulgari, Versace, Fendi, Tods and so, so many more fashionista icons, literally assaulting the BW and me at every turn. I know that may sound like so many other major metropolitan cities—from Milan to Johannasberg to hometown New York, New York. But no one tops Hong Kong for in-your face brand-blitzing, as far as I can tell.
Hong Kong’s entire central downtown, is one gigantic shopping mall. No, check that. It’s a never-ending labyrinth of interconnected “all weather shopping corridors” embedded in the guts of the cheek-to-jowel skyscrapers that sprout like giant spindles from the land-fill fringe surrounding the island’s monumental rock that is Victoria Peak. This luxury consumer wonderland is punctuated by gleaming marble and stainless atriums, filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, spas and food emporiums to keep shoppers entertained and sustained as they pile up the luxury goods.
The BW and I came here to the Kong, so we could “get our shit together.” That’s military speak for preparing for the coming mission. In our case, we’re adjusting to the the Asian time zones and weather (i.e., it ain’t snowing or freezing), breaking in our walking shoes, learning to slurp our noodles.
We arrived at the tail end of the Lunar New Year. So, even mid week, the Kong had a holiday vibe to it, featuring long lines for everything everywhere, and rambunctious children out far later than good parenting would suggest. Oddly, the holiday is referred to here as Chinese New Year, though I’d have thought “Chinese” as superfluous—as much so as Lobster Cantonese is an over explanation in this part of China. “Just order Lobster”, said my travel expert friend, JB.
Hong Kong has a compact and efficient subway system, speedy and simple airport rail link, an amazing and amusing series of escalators that effortlessly conquer the city’s verticality, and those fascinating interior and exterior pedestrian walkways. So, despite dense crowds, masses of humanity move along as smoothly as bait fish in a steady ocean current. We gladly joined in that procession and over less than 72 hours, we connected with an expat former colleague, saw dueling skylines from bars and restaurants on both sides of the harbor, walked for hours among the city streets and elevated walkway. We even got to a few real life Brooklynesque nabes: Taikoo, which JB calls the Park Slope equivalent, and Wan Chai, which ADC compares to Williamsburg.
ADC, my former editorial colleague from Space.com, had told me before I arrived:”There’s three things to do here in the Kong: eat, drink, and shop.” I knew I would hold up my end on the first two, I was counting on the BW to do us proud on the last. We ate bowls of noodles and dumplings with the working lunch crowds, dined fine with panoramic views and drank heavily in back alleys. My final night, ADC and I woke up old afterwork New York memories by being over-served at his favorite Wan Chai district dive bar: Tai Lung Fung—Big Dragon Phoenix. It’s my favorite now too.
As for the shopping, we merely browsed. After all, our ultimate mission, is to be in-country, humpin’ the boonies. That’s the thing you do after you get your shit together. And our vow is to be traveling light.
Next stop, Vietnam.