A Vertical Tour of Hong Kong

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  04.20.09 | 10:14 AM ET

Photo by travlinman43 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I read the current New Yorker profile of urban climber Alain Robert—aka “Spiderman”—expecting to learn the whys and wherefores of the Frenchman’s quirky obsession with scaling the world’s skyscrapers. There was plenty of that, but what surprised me was the extensive description of Hong Kong’s built environment, a kind of vertical canvas for Robert’s peculiar talent.

Writer Lauren Collins does a wonderful job describing how Hong Kong’s residents interact with their surroundings:

Apartment buildings commonly reach sixty stories, and their inhabitants are as intimate with the city’s architectural physical features as their forbears were with its peaks and inlets. Many of the buildings have pet names or back stories: the Convention and Exhibition Center (the Ski Jump), the Far East Finance Center (the Amah’s Tooth), the Australian-designed Lippo Building (the Koala Tree), the portholed Jardine House (the House of a Thousand A**holes).

I love this. It’s like an extended family of misfit cousins, but one you wouldn’t trade for anything. And it’s a big part of what makes Hong Kong special. For my money, one of the most exhilarating views in the world can be had standing atop Victoria Peak, looking down into the bowl of the city as the lights blink on in many of these buildings.

I’m a big fan of Asia’s skyscrapers, in part because my hometown—Washington, D.C.—lacks them; a building height limit imposed here in 1910 is still considered sacrosanct. So I’m always on the lookout for architectural tours and skyscrapers that are open to the public. Interestingly, the website Robert uses to scope out his conquests—emporis.com—is also useful for travelers. Type in Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong, and you’ll get a complete history of the building, information on its sky deck (on the 42nd floor, open to the public) and a link to a BBC interview about the skyscraper.

When I finished the New Yorker piece, I looked up from my building’s roof deck to ponder the Washington Monument, standing oh-so-reservedly in the distance. I sighed. It’s not Victoria Peak, but it’s home.

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

1 Comment for A Vertical Tour of Hong Kong

nyc tours 05.18.09 | 3:03 AM ET

Julia, please post more photos :)  I like skyscrapers too.

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