11 Dazed Hours in Hong Kong

If ever there was a place to wander around in a jet-lagged, head-cold haze with nothing more than a tourist bureau map, Hong Kong is it.

The 11-hour lay-over is actually what made me choose this flight to Hanoi (aside from the fact that it was the cheapest). I love long layovers; it’s like a two-for, a bonus. You get to extend the half-here-ness of transit onto a place—walk through its streets like it were a video game, or bumpy camcorder images from someone else’s vacation, or someone else’s dream, exuding a kind of impermenance that makes you impervious, imperceptible, a kind of illusion, a walking ghost in a half-here city.

Or it could just be the jet-lag talking.

Either way, Hong Kong is a trippy city to spend 11 hours sleepwalking through. Everything is clean, clear and predetermined: signs telling you where to go, signs reminding you to hold the handrailings, signs designating exactly where you should walk and where you should stand and which direction you should look for traffic and when you should be mindful of bicyclists.

It’s a subdued city, a city on Vicodin. Everyone talks in a low, pleasant voice; they smile slightly when they exchange words with you. Skyscrapers rise up to be swallowed in a white fog. Municipal workers sweep sidewalks, trim hedges, wear blue face masks and walk with their hands clasped behind their backs, or piously under their bellies. People walk with the self-possessed composure of business people on their lunch breaks. Shoes click, crosswalk signs hum, the gentle clatter of endless construction (what more could they be building?) echoes. Nothing is loud or jarring or overwhelming. Yes, it’s crowded, but there’s an order to everything—an organized insanity, a colonized chaos.

You could almost begin to suspect that you were in some George-Orwell-esque alternate reality, where everything seems real, resembles real, but really isn’t—just some placated approximation of a real place. Rolex, Prada, Couch, Ralph Lauren, Espirit, Starbucks, 711, Pret A Manger, Citibank, Geox—buildings that stack as neatly as Leggos and fish markets that don’t reek of fish, don’t reek of anything. The thinnest layer of soot covers the awnings, as if to remind you that it’s real—the slightest twinge of exhaust tickles your nose.

It doesn’t feel theme-parky or like a tourist charade, but rather like the city has in fact become this—a large, outdoor office park.

None of which is to say I didn’t enjoy my time wandering around Hong Kong—just that it felt more like one of the alternative realities from Inception than a real place. Which could have been the cocktail of jet lag and DayQuil and caffiene and bad airplane food swimming around inside me. It could have been the pork dumplings and Ramen noodles that tasted like childhood.

4 Responses to “11 Dazed Hours in Hong Kong”

  1. 1 Ekua February 12, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Sounds about right 🙂 When I was visiting SE Asia, I chose a flight with an almost 24 hour layover in HK because it was significantly cheaper and I thought, “Why not?” The post I wrote about that strange time in HK was entitled “Dazed and Confused in Hong Kong”!

    I thought that since you were going there before SE Asia, you might have a different take, but it seems that going there jet lagged is about the same as going there after spending a chunk of time in the chillaxed environments of SE Asia. Looking forward to more posts about your trip.

  2. 2 MikeC February 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I stopped over in HK twice, both times on the way to NZ, but sadly the layover was only a couple hours. Would love to explore the city but also the surrounding islands.

  3. 3 Abbie February 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    I plan my layovers the same way 🙂

  4. 4 Grant March 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Actually that sounds about right for Hong Kong. It’s very large, overly constructed due to a lack of land, and really laid back and polite. It’s similar enough to an English-speaking city to feel remarkably comfortable, but Chinese enough to constantly strike you with all of its surreal little differences. I love the place.

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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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