One of the greatest things about traveling the world is that you never experience the same thing twice. A city might have the same name, the same culture, or the same food, but there are no two locations on earth exactly the same. And that's where my love for Hong Kong begins.
Hong Kong is part London, part Beijing and very much not part Tokyo. The culture is both proudly Chinese, proudly British and proudly not Japanese, with multicultural street names like Nathan Street and Shan Tung Street crisscrossing the city. The markets are dotted with both traditional fish ball kiosks and MacDonald Big Macs. The streets are full of bicycles and Fords, and the waterways are full of junk ships and recreational powerboats. Using chopsticks in Hong Kong is applauded equally as much as English. Hong Kong isn't just a city: it's a city between two very different worlds. Hong Kong is the gateway to the East.
Being said, I had no idea what Hong Kong would be like when I first arrived. Would it be like Kyoto and it's temples, or like London and it's Gothic architecture? Or would it be like New York, a finely oiled machine? With my mind open to possibilities, I was in awe when my train first came above ground on the island of Tsing Yi. I have seen skyscrapers before, but these were different. Hong Kong is a forest of skyscrapers! Their apartment complexes dwarf the tallest buildings in my home town! Built between the ocean and the mountains, this concrete jungle spanned the entire city, creating a beautiful canopy of brown, grey, black and green.
But the incredible architecture isn't the reason I fell in love with the city. Like a romantic fling that develops into a life long relationship, the first glance is often what steals your eye, but it's the personal experience that really captures your heart.
The first thing I discovered about Hong Kong was the kindness of the people. Canadians are kind, but often shy and will only help when they see somebody in need. The Japanese are similar: polite but private. But the Hongkongers will run up to you and offer their help, even if you don't need it. I was so floored by this that when my bell boy offered to take my suitcase, I was suspicious of his true intentions. I experienced this same kindness several times around the city, usually from teens wanting to take pictures of me. I would be too shy to ask to take a picture with a foreigner back home, but I was asked four times to have my pictures taken!
The next thing I loved about the city was it's appreciation for nature. Cities around the world have a bad habit of destroying nature in the name of progress. Hong Kong is different. They build around nature, and let the trees become part of the architecture. Massive parks, zoos and gardens can be found throughout the city. Even Hong Kong's most iconic location, the Peak, offers a pedestrian path up the mountain to reach the final destination. While this path is old and moss covered, it would nevertheless be a beautiful hike through the heart of the city.
Not only is the city full of greenery, but so are the nearby islands. In fact, over 70% of the Hong Kong area is undeveloped. This means massive forests and uninhabited islands dot the harbor. Separated villages, while all controlled by the Hong Kong government, can develop and grow independently, which leads to a vast diversity of architecture, commerce, transportation and hygiene unlike anywhere else in the world.
It is this diversity of cultures, languages and lifestyles that make Hong Kong the incredible place it is. Every night the city celebrates this by putting on "A Symphony of Lights", the world's largest light and sound show. Thousands gather on the shores of Victoria Harbour to watch the show, and many have their picture professionally taken in front of it.
While this show is interesting, I found the real show was walking through Hong Kong at night. Depending on where you are, you'll see a variety of different things: you might find "authentic" merchants that will sell you a cheap, custom made suite, or you might see exhausted, sweating shop keepers playing cards outside their store. You'll also see people rushing around the city, aglow in neon moonlight. Hong Kong, like New York, never sleeps, and if anything, it comes alive at night.
The Hongkongers are also very resilient. In the past 100 years, they have been under the control of three very different countries. They have seen their city at war several time, and even in smoldering ruins. They have had their culture stolen from them, trampled and spat upon. They have had the iron fist of Communism crush down upon their freedoms, and they have used umbrellas to fight back against the oppression. While the city as a whole has grown, some parts like the Kowloon Walled City grew too fast and became a carcinogen, needing to be destroyed. Other parts like Tai O were unable to grow, and crumbled into poverty.
Hong Kong isn't just a city. It's a testament to mankind's progress, and through coming together by their differences, not just their similarities, they were able to create something beautiful. In a world constantly torn apart between cultures, politics and religion, Hong Kong shows it is possible to live in peace. Asia's World City is just this: a symbol of multiculturalism and the benefits that we can all acquire from them, with the promise of a world where all people can live in peace.
This is why I love Hong Kong.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Although the hot summer days of July are long behind us, 2017 is still Canada's 150th year. In honour of Canada's sesquicentennial birthday, I decided to put together a list of 150 things about Canada. This list talks about our quirkiness, our strengths, our weakness, and our legacy, for better and for worse. There are some sad facts, some odd facts and some facts that will probably make you open another tab to look into for yourself.
Hope you enjoy this list, and I hope you all had a great 2017!
1. Canada's two official languages are French and English, but only 20.6% of Canadians speak French.