When I read that Paul Theroux—a seasoned travel writer—admitted to being flummoxed by Hong Kong, I was relieved. He once remarked that he felt lost in the city. “I don’t know how you’d write about it; it’s impenetrable,” he told a South
China Morning Post writer. “There’s so much of it…I don’t mean writing about the restaurants and hotels; I mean about the city itself. You’d have to live here to do that.” I see his point. I spent a little over three days in this city of 7.4 million, and I’m grappling with how to capture that experience in a way that even remotely reflects what it’s like to be instantly absorbed into this mesmerizing, cosmiclike black hole. This is a city with a gravitational pull that lures you in with its neon-animated architecture, its unexpected pockets of natural beauty and its relentless hum. Oh, and its food.
It’s just shy of noon, and I’m in the lineup to get into Little Bao, a street-food-inspired resto on Staunton Street in SoHo, the entertainment area in Old Town Central. Since its owner— Canadian-born chef May Chow—was named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2017 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, it has become a comfort-food haven. I’m famished, so the idea of diving into a fluffy white bao bun stuffed with Szechuan fried chicken has me salivating. Earlier this morning I climbed a gazillion steps in this charmingly gritty and hilly neighbourhood, and when I stopped for a cold drink, I was offered sake with a live little fish as a chaser. (#nothanks #maybelater #howaboutnever) Let’s just say that Chow’s bao meets burger, paired with her smoked eggplant salad and sinfully good truffle fries, is more in my meal wheelhouse. “This is one of my favourite spots,” says Gloria Yu, a Vancouver-born designer/blogger who joins me for lunch. “In Hong Kong, eating is a social experience; it’s how we connect with our friends and family. It’s also how we express our creativity.” Yu, who studied fashion at Parsons The New School in New York and Central Saint Martins in London, is known for her extravagant headpieces and headbands. Her first collection debuted at Lane Crawford, one of the city’s toniest department stores, but last year she switched career tracks: She is now a fashion-sustainability strategist and an advocate for pre-owned clothing. “It’s an uncomfortable idea for some Chinese to wear second-hand clothes,” she says. “Some people think that bad luck is passed on from the previous wearer. For me, I think ‘What about the good luck?’” Yu points out that she’s wearing a preowned/pre-loved DVF wrap dress she bought from the online consignment shop Hula. “It’s this amazing shop that sells luxury clothes at discount prices,” she tells me. “I love beautiful clothes, but by wearing second-hand, I’m helping to reduce waste and energy and water consumption that would have otherwise come from the purchase and production of a new garment.”
Yu also tries to support local designers, but in a town that is known more for its luxury shopping, the local talent isn’t widely recognized or celebrated. At the Police Married Quarters (PMQ)—a multi-use space across from Little Bao—you can find independent design studios and small shops and cafés. “We’re trying to nurture our own creative scene in Hong Kong,” explains Yu. “We’ve always been heavily influenced by international labels, but PMQ is a start. One of my favourite shops is Obellery. They create beautiful one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces. I also love the bar Sake Central.” I ask whether they also offer live fish chasers. “Oh I don’t think so!” Yu laughs. “At least, that’s not my cup of sake.”