Hong Kong Express Pittsburgh

HONG KONG - This city is China, sort of, but more like China's window on the west. Home to some 7 million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely packed cities on earth.

It is also one of the most vibrant, mysterious and nonstop cities. Opportunities to shop are plentiful, and the number and variety of international cuisines are legendary. The culture and people (90 percent Chinese) might be foreign to us, but getting around the city is easy and efficient with inexpensive transportation. A visitor could try them all - double-decker buses, trams, ferries, the underground and fleets of taxis - all with the bonus that they are clean and easy to navigate.

The city is relatively safe, and there are enough green spaces to escape to when the skyscrapers, noise and traffic fumes begin to overwhelm.

Hong Kong receives about 30 million visitors a year. Some come for finance and banking or business. Some come for cutting-edge electronics and high fashion, and many others come to tour museums and temples.

I visited Hong Kong for several weeks over the December holidays to be with son No. 3 and his family. Much of our time was well spent sampling foods in local eateries and wandering malls, street markets and interesting alleys in search of mild adventure, and always with two children, ages 10 and 5, in tow.

I last visited Hong Kong in the early summer of 1997, when said son married his Thai bride. Only a few weeks later, on July 1, the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty as a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China - that, after being a British colony since 1841. Today's Hong Kong is a capitalist city with its laws and rights intact and China has pledged to continue these policies for 50 years. People still drive on the left (so watch your step!) but the Union Jack flags are gone, and the queen's image is no longer on coins. The city has expanded and has built so many skyscrapers, hotels and massive apartment complexes that, from above, it seems built of Lego towers.

But enough background. Let's go to town.

The Hong Kong Airport Express is a high-speed train to the center of the city that is clean and efficient. Announcements are spoken in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, the fare is about $12 and the ride takes less than half an hour. The train whizzes past the shipping container port and offers a good look at the harbor, busy with the work of tugboats, sampans, junks and ferries. Now you are in Central Hong Kong.

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