Which way would we go, I wondered? Hong Kong is on the other side of the earth from New York.
We didn't go west or east. We went north.
I've heard of great circle routes, but I've never done anything like the route from the past 24 hours. After crossing Montreal, Hudson Bay, Resolute, and the last musk ox playground in the Canadian archipelago, we flew on over the Arctic Ocean itself, coming very near to the North Pole while at 34,000 feet. It's a bit more nerve-wracking, I must say, than any flight I've been on - the prospect of a potential crash in the Arctic Ocean is not exactly what I had in mind. When over 15 hours lay behind us, we had traced a bit of the Lena River while crossing Siberia, made our way over Mongolia on a path near Beijing, and finally proceeded on over China to Hong Kong.
I couldn't help but think of the allegory of Plato's Cave as we flew. The 777 remained darkened for almost the entire flight - only during two brief meals were the lights raised. The windows were shut the entire time. Everyone sat watching movies, like the flickering images on the cave wall. I wanted to see outside. And so, twice, I crept to the emergency exit, slipped the window cover up, and was wholly blinded by the brightness exploding up off of the white cloud masses below.
I just watched the tiny plane proceed across the globe on my monitor, finishing up Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power (a good read - I don't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions about U.S. foreign policy, but some of his stinging critiques land right on the mark) and nearly finishing 1/3 of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo (which I may comment on at some point down the road). In this time of pandemic H1N1 swine flu, even if limited, all of the staff wore face masks, and about 20 percent of the passengers did, too. Hong Kong suffered from both SARS and Avian Flu, and it's apparent that the bouts of infectious disease impacted locals.
Traveling into Hong Kong itself, I was simply stunned. I have never seen so many port facilities in one place, stretching off as far as the eye can see. The skyline of Hong Kong Island shimmered across the water like some CGI creation climbing up the green, mist-shrouded peaks like a million-towered Minas Tirith.
One of the first things that hit my co-worker and me was the presence of so many old, decrepit skyscraper apartment buildings in amongst all the shiny, sleek, post-modern corporate skyscrapers. The former get drowned out in photos by the latter. Clothes hung from window washlines in some, walls look worn. On both old AND new buildings, however, we saw bamboo poles employed for scaffolding - just as I recall seeing in Nepal. When wrapped around a modern glass and steel structure in progress, it looks rather comical...and a little unsafe.
We wandered down through Happy Valley and its storied horse racing track, past the Zoroastrian cemetery, past the ex-pat bars, past the Hindu and the Sikh temples, through markets and narrow streets to a restaurant for supper. The squid and noodles dish was tasty, so was the delicate Chinese pear.
We sweated on in the tropic heat and humidity until we found our office tower just as dusk fell, turning back from the pier overlooking the harbor to take in the awe-inspiring city, the shore strip of raw verticality we're calling home for three weeks.
I have no idea what time it "is" - we're 12 hours ahead of New York here - so it's time to get some sleep.