Busy Hong Kong and quiet Wales - a traveller contemplates a wild contrast
Toronto Star Vancouver bureau chief Petti Fong is on the road, indulging her passion for travel and helping fill the pages of the Star's Travel section, bless her heart. Here's a thoughtful posting from her trip to Hong Kong and Wales this week.
HONG KONG — I cannot think of two countries more different than Hong Kong and Wales and in the past week, I’ve been in both places, a jarring transition from ancient countrysides to gleaming skyscrapers.
Here, now, in Hong Kong, I feel my mind is still in the sedate state of Wales. There’s no mistaking that the reality today is not green pastures and hills in the distance, but concrete, glass and people in your face.
The one thing I cannot see from 53rd floor of the Shangri-La Island Hotel are any sheep.
Here are the numbers: Hong Kong is 1,100 square kilometres; Wales is 20,000 square kilometres.
The horizon in Hong Kong is all about height. The tallest building here is the International Commerce Building at 484 metres high and 118 storeys.
In Wales, the highest point in many horizons remains ancient castles from a thousand years ago where the Normans could survey the land below.
Much of Wales' history and legacy today remains what was underground. On my last day in Wales, we visited Big Pit in Blaenavon, Torfaen where coal miners and 72 horses worked 100 metres below.
Residents in Hong Kong: 7 million.
The population of Wales: 3 million.
That’s about how many locals here in Hong Kong I've ticked off by walking too slow and looking for sheep.
Thanks, Petti. Back to Jim....
I've been to both places, and loved each for different reasons. My trip to Wales was a couple years ago and was mostly about golf. I played courses along the sea in St. David's and at Royal Porthcawl (a huge treat) and up at Nefyn, which might be the most beautiful and intriguing (if not necessarily fair) course in the world (see photo).
I didn't spend a lot of time in the cities, but I was surprised at how good the food was. Even in small villages, I was taken to remarkable restaurants with fresh, inventive cuisine done up in fine style. Just tremendous.
The people were great and friendly and the scenery was spectacular.
My first introduction to Hong Kong was five or six years ago, also on a golf trip (to the crazy Mission Hills courses near Shenzen; a group of a dozen mostly terrific courses in one enormous complex). I was prepared to dislike Hong Kong, given my advancing age and general desire for peace and quiet.
Instead, I was blown away by what I think of as the quiet energy. It's loud, but not New York or Delhi loud. It's busy, but in a restrained kind of way. It's got crazy and wild scenes, but there's a veneer of civility that you won't find in some other cities of the world.
I tell folks who've never been to Asia that it's the perfect introduction; similar enough to the west to be familiar but exotic enough to provide a frisson of excitement.
There also are a surprising number of very quiet and remote parts of Hong Kong, where hikers can be lost for hours without seeing another soul. Most of the action is crammed into the central district on Hong Kong island and in Kowloon. But there are vast sections of hills and valleys with great hiking and walking trails, not to mention fine, lonely beaches on nearby and outlying islands. Even on the main island, you can take the crowded tram to the top of Victoria Peak and five minutes later find yourself wandering through a deep, wooded valley thick with trees and vines and darn few people; most of whom turned left and went into the shopping centre...