"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


fourteen. Hong Kong.
2.26 evening arrival + some...
vertical city. cascading city. glittery city. topo city. tower city. indoor city. shopping city. spider-web city. multi-modal city. constructed-nature city. platform city. jungle gym city. border city. seamless city. tumbling city. sectional city. stitched city.

post-India culture shock upon arrival at the airport: it was the most seamless airport experience imaginable. every couple hundred feet yields an accurate ‘you are here’ map. soon after leaving immigration the tourist office awaits tucked in a corner on the way to the exit, a hundred glossy pamphlets, 4 or 5 of which alone are dedicated to getting from the airport to the city. backlit displays of the various transport options and their interchange locations within the airport are placed anywhere you must make a decision as to whether to turn left, right, or go straight, and transit information desks sell you your first, of what will be many, Hong Kong purchases: the indispensable Octopus Card. the Card is Hong Kong’s end all-be all to efficient inter-modal public transit, which, 'they' recognize, will also include the quick-stop purchases at 7-11, McDonalds, Starbucks, and elsewhere. the wallet-sized, on-loan Card changes the speed of the city, turning it from stop-go series of queues, ticket machines and ticket counters into a seamless flow of beeping electronic turnstiles. it can even be linked to a credit card, although there is a $1000 max stored value ($128 USD). out of regional train, metro, bus, tram, ferry, and taxi, the only mode for which the card cannot be used is taxi.

the Card epitomizes the blurring of boundaries between shopping and going somewhere, a relationship more formally evident in the downtown financial district where elevated “All Weather Shopping Links” create an above-terranian web of walkways that run between, and then straight through, spotless exorbitant malls. I followed this link the other day, from near the Star Ferry Terminal, and my feet didn’t touch the street/sidewalk level for a full 20 minutes – sans stopping/window shopping.

getting back to arrival in this city…i took an air-conditioned, double-decker, LED-displaying, bilingual bus from the airport to the Chungking Mansion in Kowloon (the southern tip of the New Territories peninsula), where I am staying in a 5x7 ft. room. my sole window opens into a lightwell which provides a constant 6am level of daylight, and just outside and echoing through the shaft I sometimes hear a woman laughing exuberantly, the occasional coo'ing pigeon, and late-night cell-phone conversations in a language I do not recognize. if I’m here around lunchtime I am also privy to a massive waft of pungent wok-fried, garlicky food.

built in the 1960’s and by now a calico shade of dilapidated grey-green, the Mansion is a global village and an institution unto itself, providing the inspiration for Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (which in turn provided the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s career). the ground floor opens onto the neon lights of busy Nathan Rd. and inside is a maze of cell-phone stores, Indian food stalls, money-changers, internet outlets, cheap clothiers, mini-marts & more. above the first two floors, the apparent monolith is divided into 5 separate towers accessed by their respective elevator cores, and filled with guesthouses up to the 16th floor. fancier guesthouses will occupy a full floor or two, while the average guesthouse is small enough to consist of one or two 50 ft corridors. some are empty and cater to the occasional lone backpacker, while others serve as ‘home’ for the multi-nationalitied population that lives here. Lonely Planet gives the whole Mansion a fairly reserved ‘go at your own risk’ kind of review but I’ve found it to be evocative, relatively safe, and one of the cheaper purchases in the entire city (literally: some HK coffee shops charge 60% of my daily room rate for a cappuccino). in the morning, if I feel 'home'sick for Mumbai’s noisy scents I elevator downstairs and grab a chai and samosa for a quarter, sometimes finishing breakfast before I’m back in my room -- the elevator works as well as Wurster’s…

Hong Kong, in general, is compact and multi-faceted, only 15% developable and of that 15%, 250% developed. it is life above ground: Kowloon’s suburban towers rise like zipped-up needles into the often-hazy sky, and commuters meander up-the-hill on Hong Kong island from the flats of the waterside financial district into the vertiginous Mid-Levels via the World’s Longest Escalator (800m). Topographically, Hong Kong makes San Francisco feel like Kansas, and architecture studio like an exercise in conservatism. the city is a sectional puzzle of multi-leveled walkways, used corners, open ground-level facades, staircase-sidewalks, escalator-streets, 30 degree-slope parks, barely discernable ground-level reveals, inhabitable terraces, hovering roads, violated solids and saturated voids. today I saw an elevated highway gouge through a car-park with adjacent library (in same building); yesterday I found the Haiphong market building whose western wall had disappeared and grown into the space under an overpass where fruits, vegetables, decapitated cow-heads, and hungry noodle-slurpers gathered. depending on the width and vehicle traffic between towering buildings street life develops accordingly; at Knutsford Terrace 25 feet allows outdoor patio drinking, on Li Yuen East & West, 20 feet allows cramped clothing stalls and single lane pedestrian traffic, along the Escalator route this means the escalator overpass, two lanes of stairs (one for through traffic, one for adjacent shop-front pools and eddies), etc…many parts of the city strike me as being interior, such is the ratio between building width and street height, coupled with the tangled mass of signs that protrude perpendicularly over the sidewalk and street, between 15 to 35 feet up, and the open storefronts which spill light and sometimes music onto the sidewalk. in multi-leveled institutions such as malls, hotels, or even McD’s, stairs serve as both direct entry and sectional transition from street into building.

in certain areas of the financial district on Hong Kong Island the global corporate population brought in by the banking industry is so palpable and has such ramifications in the service sector it is dislocating. the yoga studios, glossy gyms, organic cafes, and suit n’ tie bars patronized by waifer thin wanna-be-models recreate a Hong Kong life away from Home for those here who can afford the inflated prices of these once-adopted / now-indigenous institutions. many bars & restaurants in Central and elsewhere cater solely to the expat & tourist population; I’ve watched Cantonese couples take intimidated glances at verbose, English-written menus & turn away muttering, perplexed. this division between from here-not from here is a cursory observation & assumption, I realize, but the collective effects of the expat enclaves are powerful enough to warrant initial comment and further examination.

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