October 20, 2014

The Peak is the pits

One of the must-see attractions in Hong Kong is The Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island. Basically you scoot up the mountain in a tram and admire the view of the city below - which travel writers have waxed absolutely lyrical about (this, for example, from Time: "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").

On Friday after work I decided I would congratulate myself on surviving a second week in Hong Kong by spending a lovely evening up at The Peak. I pictured myself sitting in a sophisticated bar on the mountain top, cutting a lone silhouette against the skyline. I would sip red wine (I don't actually like red wine) and write meaningful vignettes into my journal, pausing every so often to gaze broodingly out the window. 

The first moment this fantasy was destroyed was arriving at the tram terminus and realising that about 300 mainland tourists had the exact same idea as me (well, maybe not the tortured writer part). It took about half an hour waiting in line to get tickets for the tram. Then another 30 minutes as the tram went back and forth, ferrying tourists crammed like tinned sardines up and down the mountain.

When my turn came, unfortunately I was one of the sardines who didn't get a seat, and had to stand in the aisle. So I gripped on for dear life as the rickety old tram charged up the mountain, at one point, apparently, at a gradient of 27 degrees. The man in front of me was for reasons unknown doing a leisurely set of squats as we travelled. I caught a glimpse of this in the window reflection and, to my horror, with the angle we were at, I realised it looked as though I was the unwitting participant in a standing sexual act. Two girls sitting next to me clearly noticed this, too, and burst into giggles. I glared at them.

After making it up the mountain (having left dignity at the bottom), we emerged at what is known as the Peak Tower, a godawful conglomerate of overpriced souvenir shops (I love Hong Kong tshirts), international fashion brands (Crocs), restaurants (Bubba Gump Shrimp) and, worst of all, Madame Tussauds wax museum. There was also a counter selling tickets for the Sky Terrace 428, a viewing platform purporting to offer a 360 degree view (the 428 refers to the fact it is 428 metres above sea level).

Everyone else seemed to be coughing up the HK $40 (about NZ $7) for this Sky Terrace, so even though I thought it seemed a bit shit to have to pay for the view, I did too. I joined the throng snaking its way up the escalators to the top of the tower.

It was hell on earth up there. Every possible inch of balcony space was taken up by a crowd about four-deep. Selfie sticks were criss-crossed against the skyline, camera flashes went off at random, bouncing off the smog. I felt like I was at war. Blinded, dazed and disoriented, I backed away, promptly tripping up on someone's tripod. I turned in the other direction, and narrowly avoided a selfie stick to the face. I watched as tourists descended into selfie-taking monsters, pulling victory signs and duck faces and bunny ears. Amid the Cantonese and Mandarin, I suddenly heard a more familiar language - Japanese. "Jidori shiyo ka?" Let's do a... jidori... what does jidori mean... self... take... oh. There is now a Japanese word for selfie.

Finally a glittering opening appeared through the masses. I jumped in, pulled out my camera and aimed it at the scene below. Snap. I lowered my camera and considered the view. Yep. Quite nice.

Job done, I hoofed it out of there. I needed to find a bar - I no longer cared about writing meaningful vignettes into my journal, but I did care very much about a drink. Once I managed to escape from the Tower, I found myself at a ritzy shopping mall, the Peak Galleria. I looked wildly for the dining directory. There was just one very expensive looking bar and restaurant. I decided to go to a juice bar instead and settle for the cheap but unsatisfying option of lychee flavoured bubble tea.

Then it was time to get off the damn mountain, but that was also easier said than done. In the time it had taken for me to unsuccessfully search for a bar and slurp my bubble tea, all the other tourists had taken their billion selfies, dined at Bubba Gump Shrimp and marked the occasion with a brand new pair of Crocs. A massive line had formed for the return tram. I waited another 30 minutes. I crammed in like a sardine. And when I finally got out, I marched away from that mountain without looking back.

Postscript - I did actually look back, figuratively speaking. When I got home I googled variations of "The Peak sucks" to see if I was the only tourist in the history of the world to have not enjoyed the experience. But it turns out, I actually did the whole thing wrong and could have saved myself a lot of trauma. First, I went at peak (hah) time, 8pm on a Friday night. That's a no-no. Second, there is actually a less known and completely free viewing platform on top of the Peak Galleria. Third, there is also a 7-11 convenience store in the Peak Galleria and I could have bought booze from there and had my own wee sneaky BYO outside. And finally, instead of the tram, I should have gotten a bus back down the mountain.

I guess I peaked too soon.

The line for the tram.
The line for Bubba Gump Shrimp.
The line to take selfies.
The view (I mean, yeah, it is quite good)
Another, very slightly different view
The Peak Galleria
The line for the tram back down

2 comments:

  1. The bus ride up to the peak is actually quite terrifying, in a good way. Narrow, winding road in a large bus on the side of a very steep hill.

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