On the Chinese coast lie two former bastions of imperialism. Hong Kong was controlled by the British. Macau was Colonized by the Portuguese. In most of our lifetimes Hong Kong was returned to China, as a semi-independent state. Macau was similarly handed over to China in 1999, again it was to remain a semi-independent state. These were the last bastions of European colonialism outside of the European continent. Having spent time in places like Taiwan, which has not experienced nearly as much direct European control, it was interesting to experience the lasting touch of western civilization. Hong Kong had grocery stores with everything a westerner wants, down to our dietary trends, like gluten free. Or even, the popular craft beers.
In both Hong Kong and Macau, you can see the remaining architecture of their imperial counter parts. Most prevalent, I would say this occurs in Macau, where the Portuguese architecture contrasts heavily with the traditional Chinese structures, the flashy new casinos, and even the tenement buildings erected ramshackle and in close proximity.
Arriving as the sun set on a Thursday evening, the lights of the buildings and bridges of Hong Kong were stunning from my airplane window. My biggest compliment to the aesthetic of Hong Kong is to its sky line. It’s tall and lit-up with each sky scraper competing with the others for whose full building neon display is superior to the others. This is so different from Taipei, where Taipei 101 clearly dominates, and all others merely occupy space. Our first night in the city, we found another remnant of British influence, a proper pub. Though the bar food was a mix of Chinese and British it did everything right from the polished worn wooden tables to the draft beers.
Day light brings out, what the night and light shows hide about the city. Stacks of leaky A/C units climb up the walls of buildings that are mostly dingy and derelict. You can find a Starbucks’s and a modern shopping center to distract yourself from this, but they are there and clear to see. The sheer number of people, and even diversity, reminded me a bit of New York City back in the states. You can see that all sorts of people have found their way to this city to make something of themselves. I would recommend venturing to the outskirts of the city to enjoy places like Victoria Peak, or the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas. There you can enjoy the city how it is best viewed, as well as a bit of the old culture that can be missed among the towering structures of Hong Kong. The Harbor itself is worth going out on, again, this city is best viewed from a distance.
Macau was a shorter leg of our venture, but was no doubt as fulfilling, if not more so than Hong Kong. Here I got to learn more about a history I knew little about, and to see a remnant of Imperialism that the locals seem to frown less upon than we are taught to in the west. Whether it was the climb to the top of Monte Fort and the trip into the museum that now inhabits its core; a walk through Senado Square and inside of the of old catholic structures; or even a trip down to Coloane on Cotie island to see the old village and to dine a Portuguese restaurant with real crusty bread. It was worth the time spent there. I was left wanting more.
Whatever you are looking for in a trip to Asia, I may recommend both Hong Kong and Macau, especially if you want an authentic taste of the west along your trip, then these two destinations fit the bill. I will give you warning that you should not always expect to be treated warmly, especially on the Hong Kong side of things. No matter your ethnicity you will encounter a sort of coldness to put it kindly. You will be pushed in queues and people will try to slip in front of you. Taxi drivers will likely demand you pay and leave their cab promptly. This is how things are though, and again it reminds me a lot of New York City. People have places to be and things to do, and don’t want to be slowed down by anyone, local or tourist. If you can roll with the punches, then I would recommend Hong Kong and Macau.
by, Tyler W. Golec
For more images from the trip, check out my Instagram @TylerGolec