A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
Hong Kong was a very different story from the lawless roads, freewheeling nature and frank beauty of southern Vietnam. In fact, it felt a lot like home. You know, if New York was built on a giant hill on an island off the coast of China.
Really, though, it was amazing how quickly we felt right at home in the city, and that’s not just because we were staying with friends. There was some initial discombobulation from being in an area which looks a bit like an Escher drawing with its down-and-up-and-down-again staircases, street bridges, and automatic travelators and escalators. But once you realize that all navigation can be sorted out according to whether you’re hauling up or down the hill, you can never really get lost. And depending on what little neighborhood you stumble into, you can feel like you’re smack in the middle of the Financial District, mainland China, a Pacific island, a London pub crawl, or the Time Warner Center.
We walked through countless connected luxury malls to get to ferries to take us to quiet fishing villages on a tiny island. In the same day, we drank wine at a beach cafe, ate brunch at a place that could have been in the East Village, visited a 100-year-old temple, had drinks at the top of a giant skyscraper overlooking more giant skyscrapers, and wandered through a crowded, busy market where little, elderly Chinese women sold giant Abalone in plastic containers and chased us away with brooms and vicious muttering when we dumbly tried to take a few photographs. Another day, we ate dim sum (life alteringly good dim sum, I might add), went bowling, and battled through the Mongkok goldfish market where throngs of people crush against one another in no particular direction, mysterious-smelling things grill on sticks, and stall after stall sells bags of colorful pet fish and tiny turtles.
We saw places with names like “Hair Cute” and “Italian Tomato Cafe Jr.,” alongside no fewer than twenty individual outposts of Cartier, Chanel, and Ferragamo. We went to the highest bar in the world, located on the 118th floor of an office building/hotel/mall on Kowloon, where we saw nothing but the inside of a cloud. We watched an old white guy dance with a hot young Malaysian prostitute (it’s legal there) at a subterranean bar in an old Colonial-style hotel decorated with faux taxidermied lions and real fashion relics, where a Philippino cover band played lackluster renditions of top 40 hits.
Then we moved on to a rowdy club where an awesome Philippino cover band played amazing renditions of every song you’d want to hear in a club and danced among the old white guys and their ladies of the night. It was freeing, as my friend Nickles pointed out, being on a dance floor in a bar where you knew that every single guy was on the lookout for a Southeast Asian prostitute. Sort of like being a woman in a gay bar. I have to say, I recommend it.
Before we went to Vietnam, I was pleased to get to know another city but eager to get out of the urban swell—any urban swell—and into a different scene. By the time we got back, happy but sweaty, sunburned, insect-beleaguered and with somewhat roiling tummies, Hong Kong suddenly felt like home.
For home, as I now know it, is where the dim sum is.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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