Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Five Cities and What They Taught Me About Life

By Siddhi: 

Throughout my travels, every place I’ve visited has touched me in some way, making my explorations a constant transformation of who I am and how I perceive the incredible world that surrounds me. This is a list of five cities and what they taught me about life. Although some of my descriptions may seem like generalizations, and honestly may be so, what I’ve written is an attempt to put into words the life lessons I’ve taken away from these unforgettable places.

So, in no particular order, here we go!

1.  New York City

Having completed my freshman year of college in the city with some time to reflect upon the experience, I can say that New York has made an indelible mark on who I am as a person.  Moving into the city, the single song that was played endlessly at welcome week events was “Empire State Of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Of course, the world knows the Great Apple to be the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothin’ you can’t do.” And yet, I was skeptical. Because beneath every supposed silver lining is a much less appealing truth. Initially, adjusting to life in the city was a bit difficult. I knew coming in that this wasn’t going to be the traditional college experience with expansive lawns (well, except for the greatest one ever in Central Park) and a true sense of “community”. I was quickly hit with the harsh reality that in the city that houses over eight million people, life goes goes on. At first, I approached this realization with a fearfully negative mindset. I was only eighteen years old and needed a support blanket to cushion my growth over the next four years. But with time, the apprehension of a city that wouldn’t wait for me to grip my bearings transformed into something incredible. In New York, you don’t march to the metronome of the majority. You live and dream at your own pace because nobody is dictating what you do and how you do it. The one thing this city has taught me more than anything else is that if you have dreams, there’s a way here to make them come true. Because when you’re dancing to your own beat in life, it doesn’t matter how fast the world around you moves because. If anything, it’s tremendously empowering.

2. Rio de Janeiro

If there is one place that has completely altered the way I perceive life on a day-to-day basis, it is Rio. I learned here that no matter how one-dimensional something may appear, there is always a hidden soul beneath is surface. The luxury beach lifestyle that defines the city to most of the world is exactly what a tourist experiences when they step foot onto Brazilian soil. There is little reason to venture outside this bubble of beauty and pleasure. But a spontaneous decision to do a tour of Rio’s favelas completely shattered my previous acceptance of surface level understandings. Rio had a troubling, difficult life that roared beneath its deceptive exterior. A life subdued to the public by the utopia the city is often marketed as. After witnessing the poverty that plagued millions in the City of God, I could never see the beaches, luxury, and beauty of the place in the same light. Yes, they undoubtedly existed. But they were also misleading illusions that tried to trap a city of emotional and historic depth into superficial characterizations. Rio de Janeiro taught me that there is always another meaning. One that we can find if we just make a conscious effort to look just a little more.

3. Tokyo

Tokyo taught me that serenity can exist in chaos. Even on a weekday morning in a crowded subway station, the commuters on their way to work weren’t rushing. Or maybe they were, but their faces seemed at ease. The stark contrast between the way the Japanese approached life in the city compared to New Yorkers was jarring (this is in no way to condemn the New York lifestyle, which I absolutely love. It’s simple to notice how two cultures in similar environments can approach life so differently). Although clichéd, thisphrase best describes what Tokyo embodies: life is made in the journey, not in the destination. The effort made to savor life in between Point A and B means more to people than getting to wherever they have to be. The ultimate destination is subsidiary to everything there is to cherish on the way there. We hear that this is the way to live life all the time. But it’s easy to ignore until we see enough people following that philosophy. Tokyo made me feel at peace while still embracing its identity as one of the biggest metropolitan zones on the planet. And for any city to do that is just an incredible statement on the humanity that inhabits it.

3 & 4.  Amsterdam and Rome

European lifestyle in general has been a very compelling testament for the need to love life. From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, so much of what I’ve encountered in Europe has been framed by a willingness to just be happy. But this ethos was especially captured in my visits to Amsterdam and Rome. The former city is probably the most powerful attestation of the tried but true philosophy “carpe diem”.  There was this universal need to juice every moment of life to its ultimate capacity, and when that had been done, to find more. It was one of the only trips I’ve been on where I felt the same leaving and coming back to my hotel everyday: content and smiling because the people around me just loved life so much. I experienced a very similar approach to living in Rome. On our daily strolls through the streets of the marvelous Italian capital, I saw business executives taking lunchtime naps at roadside cafés after a cappuccino or gelato. I saw people searching for love and people living the love they had found. I saw more people laughing than I had seen in any other city I’d visited (alongside Amsterdam). Both Amsterdam and Rome to me epitomize that you’ve only got one life and there’s no point in putting off living it.

5.  Hong Kong 

To this day, Hong Kong ends up battling with a changing set of others for the number one spot on my list of favorite cities. Why? Because Hong Kong represents how commercialization doesn’t have to entail a loss of beauty in humanity. Despite the massive corporate presence that makes the city one of the most densely populated places in the world, walking through the streets of Hong Kong is a wholly different experience than walking through New York or any other city that acts as a significant commercial hub. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hong Kong multiple times, and each time my plane scrapes the runway and I walk into the city streets, I feel a tremendous sense of belonging. There is a natural beauty and spiritual thread that unites all of Hong Kong in an almost inconceivable sense considering the financial and social stratification of the city.  Yet, no matter where you are in Hong Kong, there is this inspiring kinship that seems to bind together the people and landmarks of the Fragrant Harbor (the meaning of Hong Kong). We are able to see the fascinating spirit of life trump over the dollar sign. Something I will never forget is driving down from the Victoria Peak in a light drizzle as all of the New Year’s Eve lights came twinkling on in the city. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of “togetherness”, one that is foreign to many city-going experiences.

We Love to Shop – Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong

By Lakshmi:

Shopping – the very mention of that term gets a lot of women very excited.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that shopping is a much loved activity during our sojourns in Hong Kong.  While we span the gamut of stores from the huge shopping malls such as the Harbor City Mall, to chains such as Bossini, Giordanos, etc, the Temple Street Night Market is just one of those special brand “Hong Kong” shopping experiences.

As the name suggests, the Temple Street Night Market comes alive each night at Temple Street.  Time Magazine describes the market as, “looks like every B-movie director’s dream of Chinatown”.  Small stalls overflow with merchandise ranging from suitcases, handbags, trinkets, electronics, knock off CD’s/DVD’s, paintings, artwork and gimmicky home fixtures such as a giant toothpaste shaped toilet paper dispenser.

We usually go after sunset, starting at Jordan Road, finishing many hours later…the ritual always the same; take a walk down to see what is available, bargain, walk away and then come back to scoop up our purchases.   Here are some of our collective favorite experiences:

  • People watching as locals and tourists converge to have noodles and beer in small roadside stands/restuarants with outdoor seating.
  • Going to the same backpack vendor each year to buy really rugged khaki backpacks.  We sure have a collection going!
  • Buying a suitcase after much haggling to bring home our finds.
  • Buying some absolutely gorgeous oil paintings signed by an unknown artist, including one of TinTin.
  • Drooling over all the bags, realizing that I am going to have to restrict myself to three at most.
  • Getting funky tshirts that seem to last forever no matter how much you abuse them at home.
  • Buying the funkiest slippers, including ones that resembled mushrooms from Super Mario Brothers.
  • Bringing home gag gifts of toilet roll dispensers that take on the look of everyday objects…toothpaste, toilets, soaps, etc.

Most of all, beyond our finds, it is the feeling with which we leave the market that is priceless.  Coming back to a favorite place, finding comfort in knowing it and yet discovering new things, fulfilling a favorite pastime called shopping and of course feeling like we can’t wait till we are back next year.

Going Up to the Peak in Hong Kong – Takes our Breath Away Every Time

The Peak, Hong Kong

By Lakshmi:

Ask any visitor to Hong Kong what he/she must do before they leave the city and two attractions are bound to feature on the list – The Star Ferry and The Peak.  The Peak is the highest mountain on HongKong Island.  Many a travel article have waxed eloquencies on the entire Peak experience and it is featured on the famous list of 1,000 places to see before you die.

Our first foray to The Peak was over a decade ago when we did the must-do tram ride from Central.  This funicular railway has been in place for over a century and transports passengers from the base of Central to the top of the mountain.  As we went up, we marveled at the skyscrapers that appeared to lean as we zipped by.  And when we got to the top on a clear day, we were taken aback by the absolutely breathtaking 360 degree vistas from the top.  While there are many places in the world that offer beautiful views from a high point, Hong Kong sure had the jewel in the crown.

Like many a tourist, we crossed it off our bucket list and went back down.  The next time I was in Hong Kong, we celebrated a very successful business trip by cabbing to the peak close to midnight for dinner.  The night time views of a city that never sleeps coupled with the superb food made for a moment of tremendous joy and gratitude.

For many years now, Hong Kong has become an annual pilgrimage for the Paupers.  And The Peak is a must do on our list, now elevated to the status of a half day or day long excursion.  We take the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Central and then take front seats on the upper deck of the 15c bus that slowly transports us to the top.  We look at the store fronts in Central, survey the new additions or restaurants we must add to our list, smile as we pass the now familiar Gurudwara as the bus takes hair pin turns weaving its way to the top.  We  absorb the locals boarding the bus, the nannies and chauffers taking kids to school, children playing outside and of course the apartment complexes and homes that house Hong Kong’s wealthiest in some of the toniest, most expensive real estate in the world.  All this happens while we admire the absolutely gorgeous collage created by the ascending peak, the harbor, the skyscrapers, and the people.

Once at The Peak, our first order of business is always to pay obeyance to the views from the top.  The next several hours are spent eating and shopping!  We fuel ourselves with a good cup of capuccino and then invariably end up at the same stores every year that we simply know as our favorites.  Baleno for t-shirts and sweatshirts, a small store with the quirkiest tech accessories, a handbag store run by a woman who knows we will walk away with at least a couple of collage handbags of beautiful places and people, and of course the home decor store for one more piece to add to our collection.

Several hours later, as we walk out debating whether to bus or cab it down, the song “You Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun plays in my head.  Yes, without a doubt, The Peak does this to me each year.

To learn more about The Peak, click here: