I was born and have lived most of my life in Hong Kong, and whenever I travel to the other two members of the Nylonkong triumvirate I see immediate connections. But if you really want to compare the soul of Hong Kong to that of another Western place, it’s not New York or London. It’s Sicily, of all places. Like us, Sicilians are islanders — tough and maritime. They have known colonization, revolution and emigration. They have their cosa nostra, we have our triads. Both the Sicilians and the Cantonese are obsessed with seafood, smuggling, secrecy and saving money. O.K., Hong Kong isn’t The Godfather, but pay attention as you work through our list below: There’s a hint of Palermo in the hilly, narrow alleyways of old Central and in the shirtless, tattooed men lounging in Kowloon doorways. The city of Hong Kong may rub shoulders with New York and London, but its feet still dangle in the brackish water of a sultry, southern port.
If a single image could encapsulate Hong Kong, it would be the panorama from Victoria Peak. Looking down at the city from this famous vantage point, you’ll see one of the finest harbors on Earth and a skyline so improbable, audacious and lofty that Manhattan’s looks provincial by comparison.
2. Lin Heung Tea House
Proletarian clientele vie for shabby seats at shared tables as ceiling fans whir and an ancient wall clock keeps time — rather pointlessly, given that it’s forever 1962 at the Lin Heung (“Fragrant Lotus”) Tea House.
3. Charter a Junk
Everyone thinks of Hong Kong as a city, but in fact it is a sprawling archipelago of 260 islands. If you never see their rugged coastlines or deserted coves, and if you are never buffeted by the salty sea wind as it blows full pelt across a surging prow, then you will not know very much of Hong Kong at all.
4. The Intercontinental’s Infinity Pools
Having a soak at the Intercontinental on Kowloon, is not a cheap proposition, since you will either need to be a hotel guest (about $350 and up per night) or a day client of the spa (which costs about the same).
5. Temple Street Night Market
This rowdy thoroughfare in central Kowloon starts at Temple Street’s junction with Jordan Road, terminates five blocks north on Kansu Street and looks like every B-movie director’s dream of Chinatown.
6. Heli-Tour of Hong Kong
Although a graceless 28-story extension has ruined the once elegant and low-rise contours of the 80-year-old Peninsula Hotel on Salisbury Road, one can be marginally forgiving because the said carbuncle houses the China Clipper — a swanky lounge that recalls the pioneering days of Asian flight.
7. Cha Chan Teng
In the boom years of the 1960s and 1970s, Hong Kong people demanded increasingly sophisticated dining options to match their swelling pocketbooks, and what they got was the cha chan teng. Under names like “The Gloucester” and “The Cherikoff,” these neighborhood restaurants attempted to present a reasonable simulacrum of Western-style cuisine but in practice served heavily syncretic fare.
8. Star Ferry
Reclamation has reduced the journey length of Hong Kong’s iconic cross-harbor ferry to a mere seven or eight minutes these days.
9. Chungking Mansions
When the local tourism board refers to Hong Kong as “Asia’s World City” it’s referencing the well-ordered worldliness of big banks, fine hotels and a philharmonic — not the worldliness of Bangladeshi hash dealers and Nigerian men trading used PCs by the container load. But this other Hong Kong can be found on the Kowloon peninsula, in the great sleepless citadel known as Chungking Mansions.
10. Roof of the IFC Mall
The landscaped rooftop of Central’s waterfront mall, the glitzy IFC, is ringed with posh bars and restaurants. However, the resort-style sofas, tables and armchairs placed right outside those establishments are for the use of the public, and the restaurant operators have no jurisdiction over them.