Day 10 – 10/24/2011

Hong Kong

There is no doubt that the Audi Q3 Trans China Tour has seen some impressive cities over the last few days. Hong Kong, however, is in a league of its own. This city is an unbelievable spectacle of extremes. The Trans China Tour is taking a one day break here. The time is being used for the arrival of a new group of drivers and to make the final preparations for the next stages. This marks the halfway point; eight further driving days remain left on the Tour for the group of Samoa orange Audi Q3s.

Pictures day 10

The 20 Audi Q3s are not permitted to drive into Hong Kong on their own four wheels. For one thing, the new SUVs are registered for China only and, for another, the steering wheel is on the wrong side. In China, as in the vast majority of countries, traffic drives on the right. However, in the former Crown Colony of Hong Kong, they stick to the British tradition of driving on the left.

And one thing should not be underestimated – although the former colony was handed back to China in 1997, since when it has been an official part of Chinese sovereign territory as a special administrative zone, in day-to-day life these are still two separate countries. This starts with detailed passport control on entering and leaving and ends not least with the fact that many internet sites that are blocked in China (such as Facebook) can easily be accessed in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong consistently overwhelms visitors with its sheer scale. Entire walls of densely packed apartment blocks stand 30 or 40 stories high. In some places, you literally cannot see the sky. Modern skyscrapers define the imagery, with the skyline changing every few months, adding yet another superlative to its list. The International Commerce Center at the tip of Kowloon is one example. Floors 102 to 118 are home to the world’s highest hotel – spectacular views are guaranteed.

From a geographical standpoint, Hong Kong, the “fragrant harbor”, is a fragmented city. Situated in the South China Sea on the Pearl River estuary, the metropolitan area of seven million people consists of the New Territories peninsula with Kowloon – cultural center and most densely populated part of the city – at its tip, the main Hong Kong Island and more than 200 further islands. The precise number is constantly changing due to a massive land reclamation program.

Steep hills and rocky coastline dominate the visual. Despite the enormous population density of 6,396 inhabitants per square kilometer, only around 30 percent of the terrain is developed. Even more unusual – 40 percent of the city area is a nature conservation area; between tightly packed city quarters are untouched stretches of land. No other Asian city has this much green space. The downside is that the space available for construction is more limited than virtually anywhere else on earth.

When the British arrived in South China in the early 18th century, Hong Kong was an insignificant settlement of 7,000 fishers, traders, farmers and small-scale pirates. The British East India Company established a trading post there in 1711 in order to ship silk, tea, porcelain and spices to Europe. In return, opium from the Indian colonies became a big sales hit in South China, which was cause for great concern for the Imperial Court. A petition to the British King was unsuccessful and led to the first Opium War in 1839, which resulted in defeat for the Chinese and the occupation of Hong Kong Island by the British. The territory was declared Great Britain “for good and for always”. The peninsula of Kowloon was added during the second Opium War. In 1898, the New Territories were leased for 99 years in order to ensure natural drinking water springs. When the lease ended in 1997, Hong Kong returned to Chinese control, albeit as a special economic zone. China called this solution “one land, two systems.”

The outcome of the fluid history of Hong Kong is a unique mix of everyday Chinese culture and pulsating trade. The city acts as a “gate to China” and is, alongside Tokyo, Asia’s number one center of banking and finance. You can experience this up close on Kowloon’s main artery, Nathan Road, where there is shopping mall after shopping mall. Toward the north, however, the road leads directly into old China – in the narrow alleyways of the Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok districts between street kitchens and street traders, there is not much left of the western flair of the banking district known as Central.

The Star Ferry leaves for Hong Kong from the southern tip of Kowloon. Although the subway, too, now connects the two parts of the city, the view of Victoria Harbour and the skyline from the dock and during the crossing is unparalleled. Once on the main island, the 554-meter Victoria Peak is a must for every visitor to Hong Kong; especially in the evening, when a sea of a million lights spills over the city’s best known mountain. The participants in the third group enjoy here a fantastic introduction to their Asiatic adventure.

The mechanics on the Audi Q3 Trans China Tour have remained for the time being in Shenzhen with the vehicles. However, they don’t have a great deal to do today. Aside from a paltry two damaged tires, the cars have suffered absolutely no damage or breakdowns. Wash, refuel and program the navigation systems with the routes for the next eight stages – so reads the relatively modest schedule of work.

Tomorrow sees the start of the third wave of the Trans China Tour. It heads from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, right through the middle of one of China’s main economic and industrial centers. A short, but surely another fascinating drive…

Day 10

Day 1