USA vs HK #3: The Mental Environment

At first, I had planned to make this competition about “the environment.”  But I’m finding that issue too complex, so I’m breaking it down.  I’ll tackle sustainability in a later post, but this match will be determined strictly by how the environment makes me feel.

If you read my last post, you may think this is going to be an easy win for the USA.  But it’s not that simple.  To make things extra tough on HK, I’m going to compare it to the city I lived in before I left: Boulder, Colorado.  If I were to compare HK to some sprawling suburb, it would be a blowout.  To make this match-up competitive, I’ll exclude the parts of the US that make me want to stick a fork in my eye (and a good bit of the country falls into that category, unfortunately).

Boulder is bright and beautiful, but a bit boring.  I don’t have a whole lot of negative things to say about the place, in terms of the environment.  It has nice bike paths, which I miss using.  It has the Flatirons to the West (not the most dramatic mountain view on the Colorado front range, but picturesque nonetheless).  It has fairly clean air, beautiful little creeks coming down from the mountains into the city, and trees on every street.  Best of all, billboards are banned within the city limits, so you aren’t bombarded by advertising.  The Pearl Street Mall is lovely, particularly in the winter, with the snow and the Christmas lights.  It’s like Switzerland with more sunshine…too much like Switzerland in my opinion.  It’s all just a little too nice for me.  I recognize that reasonable people with disagree with me on this.  Part of this is my personality: I’d rather alternate between elation and misery than just feel ok all the time.  But it’s my blog, so I’m the judge and jury.

I have a lot of complaints about HK.  It’s smoggy and loud.  I can’t escape the constant advertisements.  And I’m a big fan of adbusters, if that gives you any idea how much I hate marketing.  But I’m not going to get into why I think advertising sucks so much.  That’s not the point of this post.  Just know that I can’t get away from it here, and it bothers me quite a bit.

So how could this be a close competition?  In a word, complexity.  I’ve always loved New York and Chicago.  The energy, the richness, the density and the vitality of those cities is unparalleled in the US.  HK has all the gritty urban beauty of NY but virtually none of the crime.  I can walk down dark alleys with my headphones on at 2am in HK, something that would be super stupid in Chicago.  The energy in HK is infectious.  Much of the energy Boulder has is drunken frat boy energy, otherwise it’s just a little too nice and laid back for me.  I left because I was bored.  I’m not having that problem anymore.

Many of the things that used to give me gas bladder isssues are the things I’m most in love with today.  Now that my brain has adapted to the initial shock of the visual bombardment that is HK, I’m really appreciating the urban beauty.  It took me a while to really “get it” here; I recognized it in NY and Chicago immediately.  But now that I can see it, it’s so much more beautiful, so much more dense and complex than what NY or Chicago have to offer.   I can’t really explain it, so I’m hoping my pictures can augment my words here.  Problem is, I’m visually challenged (maybe that’s why I had so much trouble adjusting) and I have no talent for taking photos.  And all these pictures were taken with a 5 MP camera-phone.  I’m hoping they can do some justice to what I love about the look and feel of HK.  But I know they can’t, and neither can my words.  Hopefully the combination can convey my feelings to some extent, but you really have to experience it yourself, for a couple months at least, to really understand what I’m talking about.

Now I realize that most people don’t prefer urban grime to mountain majesty .  But here’s the kicker: HK has both.  80% of HK is actually green space.  It has mountains, forests and ocean views.  And that’s what really seals the deal.  HK can actually compete with Boulder on Boulder’s home turf.  On HK’s home turf, Boulder has nothing to offer.  Discovery Bay is a town on Lantau Island, HK’s largest island.  Lantau is sparsely populated and heavily forested.  It’s quiet, except for the birdsong.  Discovery Bay actually reminds me of Boulder, which is probably why it’s so popular with the gweilo.  By American standards, Boulder has great transportation.  Public transportation is efficient, and the bike lanes make getting around without a car pleasant and easy.  But Discovery Bay beats Boulder here; there are no cars allowed in the town (just golf carts and bikes).  The lack of cars makes it a great place for kids to run around with dogs, and creates a vibe more laid back than a vegan co-op in North Boulder.

The winner, in a colossal upset, is HK.  The score so far, USA 1, HK 2.  This was a competition between two winners, but somebody had to come out on top.  Sustainability is next, and there the USA and HK are both losers, but somebody has to win that one too.

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5 responses to “USA vs HK #3: The Mental Environment

  1. I know Denver isn’t New York or Chicago, but you did live here for a while IIRC. How would you compare it to Boulder on this score? I mean, Denver is kind of crap for bike transportation but if you live relatively near downtown the mass transit is pretty usable and it isn’t exactly boring.

    • Denver compared to Boulder? I always liked Denver better than Boulder. Denver, like HK, has a nice mix of urban and natural beauty. It’s a nice sized city, and it has excellent Mexican and Vietnamese food. But if you compare Denver to NY, Chicago, or HK, it’s a bit limited in terms of cultural opportunities. I do miss the music though, I haven’t seen a good live rock or hip hop show since I left, and Denver/Boulder is great for concerts, since everybody stops there on their way from Chicago or Minneapolis to California. Transportation in Denver is pretty much a joke, I’d say. It’s true that it works well for certain commutes, but it’s totally inflexible. To get from where I used to live (Capitol Hill) to where I used to work (Southeast Denver), I would have had to ride three different buses for a total commuting time of an hour and a half. Driving that same distance at non-peak times took 20 minutes. Driving that distance at rush hour could take up to 2 hours. Whenever I get frustrated with HK, I think about being stuck on I-25. I hated that so much. I would just sit in my car, steaming mad, thinking “Really? This is what we do? The richest country on Earth, and this is our solution to transportation?” I seriously get angry just thinking about it. There’s a great PBS special on transportation in the US, and it singles out Denver as having one of the most asinine transportation systems in the country (and therefore the planet).

      • Denver transportation is certainly a work in progress. If they can find a way to pass the small sales tax increase to finish building out the light rail it will do a lot. But I guess the thing with Denver transit is it works well for particular types of trips and since transit options weigh heavy in my rental decisions it works out well. It might not work for the average Denverite though.

  2. a teacher who has been in asia for ten years

    Am curious where Madison would come out on your scale? It still remains my favorite spot. my top spot in all my world travels from mainland US to Asia to Australia, NZ, South Africa, Europe, England remains Hawaii above all else for a relaxed mental environment, temperature and beauty. But I sure wouldnt want to work there. Out of all the asian cities I do love HK the best and the benefit of many HK people being native english speakers should be part of the package since that at least leaves out one of the biggest frustrations out of the equation.

  3. You should put up some of the pictures we took from Tai O and Dragon’s Back.

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