Sunday Herald:The Highest Order

Sunday Herald:The Highest Order

In Hong Kong, all things manifest as superlatives, Preeti Verma Lal writes

Hong Kong's key feature is its skyline
In Hong Kong, the escalator is not the only way to gawk around. There’s Ngong Ping, a 25-minute cable ride often called one of the longest bi-cable rides in Asia.

For the dishy Clark Gable I could climb Mt Everest. Maybe not. That’s too lofty, too daunting. Perhaps I could climb a mountain. No. With a duff pair of lungs, no. I will lower the mountain - and the Gable exaggeration - to the Peak. The 1,300-ft- high Peak in Hong Kong. The Peak where the mighty and the monied were carried on varnished sedan chair by uniformed bearers. I’d curl up in awkwardness, being lugged up by beefy bearers. I’ll hop into Asia’s first ever and the world’s steepest funicular and whoosh up in seven minutes. That’s what Clark Gable did in Soldier of Fortune (1955) film. 

Before the moustachioed Gable, there was the strapping Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell for whom the funicular’s first two seats were reserved. Between 1908 and 1949, a brass plaque read, ‘This seat is reserved for His Excellency, the Governor’. Until two minutes before departure time, no one could plonk on these seats — what if the Governor decided to travel unannounced! 

The Governor must have paid 30 cents for a ride in the first class; I paid 45HK$ (roughly Rs 400). I did not have to wait for the two-minutes-until-departure decree. I sat on the chair on which the Governor had rested his derriere more than a century ago. As the tram hurried up, the Hong Kong skyline started changing its angles — buildings bent from 4 to 27 degrees. A sight so eerie that even apocalypse would seem like a beautiful, calm day. Every angle straightens up the moment the tram reaches the Sky Peak. A spectacular view of Hong Kong unfolds, the blue of the water thrashing against tall buildings scraping the sky’s face. I could not count 1,303 skyscrapers that take Hong Kong to the top of the list of cities with most skyscrapers.  

Back on earth (read: ground level Hong Kong), I set the stopwatch to 20 minutes, tied my shoelaces, took a deep breath to walk the world’s longest outdoor-covered escalator, a series of 18 escalators with three inclined moving walkways, dozen of entry/exit points and a few rest areas in between long walkways. I thought the escalator that Guinness Book of World Records tags as the ‘longest’ and CNN calls one of the ‘coolest commutes’ would be long enough to wrap around the Equator. The longest outdoor escalator is not even a mile long. It is 800 metres with a 135-metre vertical climb. The one-way escalators run downhill between 6 and 10 am and downhill from 10 am until midnight.  

Do not think of 800 metres as cakewalk. Not when you have 85,000 people walking in and out every day. Most to work. Others laden with shopping bags. Some burdened with angst and nowhere to go. As I stood on the escalator, peeping through the glass at bustling alleys ribboned with red lanterns, goods spilling on to sidewalks, dogs on leash and men/women with hastened steps, the escalator turned into a slice of everyday Hong Kong life. Vignettes of the real world flickering by as the escalator paces silently. 

In Hong Kong, the escalator is not the only way to gawk around. There’s Ngong Ping, a 25-minute cable ride often called one of the longest bi-cable rides in Asia. Covering a distance of 3.5 miles, the cable car’s glass bottom offers stunning views of the blue seas and the Big Buddha. Or, I could make use of 1,60,000 kilometres of wire that are gnarled together to make Tsing Ma Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge with both road and rail traffic.  

Enter their den

Bruce Lee needed no four wheels. He would have glided over the bridge. Hong Kong was his home. Jackie Chan sure somersaults through the traffic. Hong Kong is his home. In one of the world’s most densely populated cities, I was looking for a non-resident. Not even a human. An anthropomorphic white Japanese bobtail cat, instead. The one that wears a pink hair-bow. The cat, whose real name is Kitty White, weighs three apples and is five-apples tall. Hello Kitty is the nickname. 

Hello Kitty is everywhere. In Hong Kong, I wanted to eat the cat. Put the cat between chopsticks and gobble it in one go. I knew where to go - to Hello Kitty restaurant, the world’s first Hello Kitty-themed Chinese cuisine eatery. Call it cuteness overload. The cat is everywhere in the restaurant. On the exterior wall. On teapots. On chopsticks. On a wine bottle. Painted on the wall. Floating as red gelatine inside a soup bowl. Steamed as hot dim sums. Arranged tidily as a rice dish. The cat is super cute and super delicious. And absolutely organic. The pink bow is coloured with beetroot, the eyes of squid ink, the skin with the finest flour, the whiskers with eggplant skin. Making the cat is a tedious process, twice back-breaking than an everyday dim sum. But, if all the occupied chairs in the restaurant bear any testimony, this first Hello Kitty Chinese restaurant can purr with delight. 

Walking around Hong Kong looking for firsts, biggest, longest, tallest, I bumped into a morbid first: Ah Hung was the first plague patient (1894) and Ah Num, the first homicide (1842). The first ice-making machine was imported in 1872; the first photo studio opened in 1845 with ‘$3 for a single miniature and $2 for each additional head in a group’.

I will return in search of the superlatives in Hong Kong.