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 theircosa 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. Beyond the mountains to the north of the city, the rest of China simmers and strains. Everything you've heard about Hong Kong's restlessness and energy is dramatically reaffirmed by the view from the Peak. Even the most cynical locals never tire of visiting. It reminds us why we live here.
You can reach the peak via the Peak Tram, the 120-year-old funicular railway that departs from its terminus on Garden Road (nearest MTR: Central). Plan to arrive a half-hour before sundown and watch as the city lights come on in their varicolored brilliance.
126 Peak Road, Hong Kong, China thepeak.com.hk
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. But if you're going to have dim sum only once during your stay in Hong Kong, this is the place. A decades-old parlor in Hong Kong's Central District, Lin Heung makes no concessions to modernity or to English speakers, so be prepared for pantomime or go with a Cantonese-speaking friend. But what Lin Heung does offer is a tasty and unmediated slice of Old Hong Kong. (Don't leave without trying the lotus paste buns or the glutinous rice dumplings.) The city's culinary and cultural authenticity are potently concentrated in a few surviving places like this. (Nearest MTR: Central)
1. Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong; 852-2544-4556
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. To see the place as it must have appeared to generations of fishermen and pirates, hire a "junk" (the term formerly applied to traditional Chinese fishing boats now refers to any motorized pleasure vessel). Load a picnic and a cool-box of beer and wine, and set off through the scattered islets. Drop anchor somewhere remote and dive off the deck for a swim.
Eight-hour charters start at around at $490 from Traway; the website is in Chinese only, but staff speak English (852-2527-2513). Companies like Jaspas (852-2792-6001) and Saffron (852-2857-1311) charge considerably more, but provide better-looking craft and, in Jaspas' case, cold beverages, onboard lunch and waiter service. Get a group of friends and local colleagues together to share the cost. Junks will collect you from Central's Pier 9 (nearest MTR: Central) or Kowloon Public Pier (nearest MTR: Tsim Sha Tsui).
1. Central Pier 9
2. Kowloon Public Pier