When my wanderlust flares up and it’s time to answer the call, a plane flight from Seoul-to-Hong Kong is 3.5 hours, and a 90-day visa for the former British Crown colony is free.
For an American to visit Beijing or Shanghai - even the island of Hainan, China’s version of Hawaii, a 30-day visa is $140.
What’s not to love about Hong Kong?
Besides, English and Cantonese are co-official languages of the city, so it’s easy to get around.
If one lives in Seoul, it’s no problem to hitch a ride with a cut-rate tour group and make it to Hong Kong on a whirlwind two-day tour for $300 …which includes airfare, hotel, all meals and a tour guide and a driver in a private van.
For reasons too lengthy to explain, I have a tourist status in Korea that’s good for 90-days. Then it’s time to leave - yet Korean immigration does not care if you leave the country in the morning and return later in the day. You just have to leave the country.
How far can one go beyond Korea, and make it back in a day? Tokyo is one answer, which is what General Douglas MacArthur did every day during the Korean War - before that former hat salesman from Missouri fired him for being insubordinate.
The answer is to hop over to Fukuoka on Kyushu Island near Hiroshima. A plane ticket for the 1.5 hour flight goes for anywhere between $200-to-$250. I’ve gone out the door at 9 a.m. for the trip to Japan, and been back in Seoul by 9 p.m. It’s way crazy.
The truth is Fukuoka is a cure for insomnia. It’s not Tokyo - with the buzzing energy of Shinjuku and Harajuku.
This time I threw in my lot with the Korean Tour of Hong Kong. Do I speak Korean? I’m lucky to muddle through English. It so happens that I live with my favorite Korean translator, and she speaks reasonable English. Thankfully, this eliminates most language problems for me. I’ve lived in Europe, the Middle East and the Orient - and the best I can do with foreign languages involves basic salutations, menu items and useful obscenities.
As someone with a street photography habit - an addiction it seems, Hong Kong fits the bill perfectly. While regarded as the world’s most cramped city with 7,280,000 people, Hong Kong rings in at #6 as the most densely populated city on the planet - with an average 66,200 people per square mile.
What is considered the most densely populated city in the world? Try Dhaka, Bangladesh - with a comfortable 114,300 people per square mile. Everyone interested in a vacation to Dhaka, please raise your hand. That’s what I thought … no one.
Like New York City as a collection of five boroughs, or cities - Hong Kong is comprised of numerous cities and small towns, with Kowloon being the most prominent, much like Manhattan is to New York City.
As a street photographer, Hong Kong is a visual feast and Nathan Road in the heart of Kowloon near the harbor is a good place to start. The sidewalks are choked with tourists from all over the world, and about every six feet is a hustler from Pakistan ready to make your wallet lighter with enticements to see “my friend the tailor,” or “my friend the jeweler,” … “he make you good deal.” Further into Nathan Road are the Kowloon hustlers ready to provide the debauched Western man with a young Chinese woman as “a companion.” These hustlers also give quick directions to the nearby massage shops populated by faded hookers on the downslide who offer a happy ending for the right price.
The appeal of Hong Kong as a street photographer is the constant movement of people, and people from everywhere. I’ve been to Hong Kong three times in the past six years, and each time I work with less and less camera equipment. A Nikon DSLR even with a scaled back 18mm-55mm wide-angle zoom is almost too much.
For this trip I used only a Ricoh GR II - with an ample supply of batteries. Sometimes I will stand in one place, stake out my territory and essentially advertise that I’m taking photographs. In Hong Kong this is asking to be trampled, so I just moved along, using my camera in almost a brazen fashion. With such a glut of people and so many tourists, if anyone is offended - by the time they react, I’m already a block away.
Soho is another Kowloon neighborhood ideal for street photography. This trendy place is known as an upscale entertainment district with swank malls everywhere. As always, the streets are filled with locals and tourists alike. Food is priced for every wallet, from places for the nouveau riche-to-tourists on a budget-to-locals interested in authentic street food.
The late, great Anthony Bourdain opened the eyes of Americans to the glorious adventure of experiencing the world and other cultures through food - especially street food. Bourdain was spot on about his appreciation for this aspect of life, and his recent death is still a shock. Yet to honor his zest for life is to mingle with people everywhere and become acquainted with them through their food. Bourdain could have easily rested on the strength of his memoir, Kitchen Confidential - yet he continued on as long as he could.
A good street camera and good street food in the Soho District of Kowloon in Hong Kong makes for unforgettable memories. Buy the ticket, take the ride.