If you really want to feel small and insignificant, leave a place with just five people per square mile and go visit a place that has 45,000 people per square mile.
Hong Kong is such a place.
Nancy and I just returned from a place 9,000 miles away and perhaps a few years into our future.
If gigantic buildings are signs of the future, then we saw them. If millions of people dashing here and there are a sign, we saw that too. And if getting to know Chinese people who’re stressing out as they try to get their solitary child the best education possible, well, we saw that too.
The biggest shock was the lack of a need for a foreign language phrase book, which is always the first thing I did when visiting France or Germany or Italy.
We visited four areas: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Macau and Shenzhen. English signage was everywhere we needed to go.
As fast as the Hong Kong/Kowloon area is growing, it has surpassed by Macau’s 50,000 people per square mile, the most densely populated place on earth. Nearby Shenzhen is considered perhaps the fastest growing industrial area on the planet with 10 million hard-working folks.
We got sidetracked in Shenzhen by protests involving thousands of flag-waving Chinese angry at Japan over some barren islands.
In the past the Chinese have often been passive during such events, but no more. They have a very positive attitude about their country’s world status and they were itching to stuff it down their old adversary Japan’s throat.
You could see this pride everywhere. While we were there, the country launched its first aircraft carrier. They consider it another giant step in becoming a preeminent world power.
We made some friends and learned about how their lives work. They seem to work hard. Rush hour was 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. because the workday usually ran that late for them.
They live in massive 40-story-high apartment complexes. Often they’ll maintain an apartment in one place and a tiny rental space in another so their child can go to the best school.
Education appears to be all about merit. If you go to the best schools, you get the best education. If you get the best education, you get to go to the next level’s best schools. The biggest concern of my friend was if his 11-year-old son could get into the best school.
With all these resources being focused on just one child in a family compared to our 2.5 kids per USA family, well, it gives you some pause when you think of worldwide education dynamics as it affects our next generation.
Here are some touristy highlights:
• The 118-story International Commerce Center has the highest hotel in the world in its top 15 floors, the Ritz-Carlton. Having a drink on the 118th floor at Ozone or having dinner on the 103rd floor at Tosca, you had the feeling you were in a jet plane flying above the city.
• In Macau, we found ourselves in the largest casino in the world at the Venetian, which contains 10.5 million square feet.
• Two restaurants in the Venetian, a Chinese place called Canton and an Italian place called Portofino, served some of the best food that we’ve ever enjoyed.
• With my sore back, the spa on the 116th floor of the Ritz-Carlton provided an amazingly restorative feeling.
• We climbed the stairs to the biggest Buddha in the world in Tung Chung. Wonderful experience.
• I had to visit Hong Kong Disneyland to get homesick at their huge (and accurate) recreation of Yellowstone geysers.
• To my journalist friends, the Foreign Correspondents Club was the best bar I’ve been in for a long time.
• The House of Dancing Water in Macau was one of the best Las Vegas–type shows we’ve ever seen.
(Visit Bill Sniffin at www.billsniffin.com.)