Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ain't no mountain high enough...

... but this one will do for now. Victoria Peak, or just "The Peak," towering over the middle of Hong Kong Island  - the central fact that the island's urban planners, architects, real estate developers, etc., must contend with. I went up three times over my two weeks there, at daylight, sunset and night. This is the first time - the weather wasn't very cooperative - it was mostly cloudy, and rained off and on. But that could only make a dent in the seismic awesomeness. Below is my own take on the classic picture-postcard view. Do an image search for "Hong Kong" and at least half of what comes up will be variations on this shot.

But let's start at the bottom, where there's nowhere to go but up. I went up on the Peak Tram, the favorite transportation mode of tourists. And I was, as I had to admit, a tourist. 

Below: the decorators at the tram station enjoyed tweaking my white liberal guilt by putting up kitschy reminders of the days when only white colonials could live on the Peak, and the only Chinese allowed up were servants.

The Tram is a 123-year-old "funicular railway," hauled up the side of the mountain by a cable (yes, the cable is periodically replaced, and no, there's never been an accident). The ride takes about eight minutes.

I'm not a skillful-enough photographer to convey the sensation of going up the slope at this steep angle, with the buildings towering over at disorienting angles. Besides, I was too busy looking to take many pictures.

The Tram spits you out into another of the numbing shopping malls that Hong Kongers seem to love. A branch of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum provides some momentary amusement as you pass through trying to find your way out. As with his statue on the Tsimshatsui waterfront, everyone wants to pose with Bruce.

Bruce Lee gets an action pose, but Michelle Yeoh, despite being a towering action star in her own right, gets a flower vase pose. Of course. Unless you're a HK movie geek, you probably know her best as the older of the female leads from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and as a heroine du jour opposite Pierce Brosnan in the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies.

I couldn't get over being tickled to see Jackie Chan and his colleagues portrayed right alongside Hollywood's biggest big shots.

Outside at last! This is a view over the southern, less heavily built-up side of the island. Unfortunately, I never got down there. Maybe next time.

North over Central:

Kowloon - lost off in the smog is mainland China, which you can supposedly see on the rare clear days:

I would feel rather odd living in this house - tourists looking down onto my roof deck and into my windows all day, every day, til late at night. Still, can't complain about the view.

Any guesses on how much those homes in the distance cost? Me neither.

We're not actually at the Peak per se here, but in "Victoria Gap" just below it. That's the peak of the Peak up above in the picture below. Oh, and the regrettable if perversely fascinating Peak Tower with its mall and rooftop viewing platform sitting smack in the middle. They charge for the platform - not that much - but I decided to stick to the free views, which are nothing to sneeze at.

The area is thronged with photographer-hawkers, of course:

Many slopes all over the mountainside portions of the island are encased in protective concrete, presumably against erosion and landslides, and have these signs with official slope registration numbers:

I took refuge for a bit in yet another little mall across from the Peak Tower when the weather took a turn. They had an exhibit on a charity sedan race that raises money for a hospital ("sedan" as in the old-school transport where you sit in a chair carried on poles by two bearers in front and behind). It included this sedan modeled on the yellow submarine from the Beatles' animated movie:

This mall has its own halfway decent rooftop viewing platform, mostly looking over the south side...

... and over the Peak Tower.

The deck also included a small organic garden. If I ever open a singles bar, this is what I'll call it:

Back outside, an old-fashioned British colonial mailbox:

  This is getting long. I'll save pictures of my hike around the Peak for the next post.

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