Occidental Tourists


 They call Paris the "City of Light," but that sobriquet applies even more to the central districts of Hong Kong.

Victoria Harbour lights up the night as buildings on Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula face each other, competing to be the brightest, most colorful and most dynamic, their glowing neon reflected in the water.

"Symphony of Lights" — a nightly choreographed laser light show with musical accompaniment — shoots across the Harbour. Named the "World's Largest Light and Sound Show" by The Guinness Book of Records, it offers a great view for those aboard the Aqua Luna.

Despite its modern newness, there is something ineffably Oriental about this city, a stubborn nuance too strong to be overcome by more than a century of British rule or today's Western influence. Hong Kong is at once modern and traditional; dynamic and calm; foreign and familiar, especially to anyone who has been to Chinatown in San Francisco or New York.

You can go native at the Yee Shun Milk Company, famous for its flavored, steamed milk that you eat like custard with a spoon, or sate homesickness at McDonalds or KFC.

This thriving metropolis of 7 million people is a major financial and shipping center, and a shopping mecca for international goods. You'll find shops from every major designer in multi-story shopping malls, or you can explore the Temple Market after dark and bargain for designer knock-offs (or are they the real thing?): silk scarves, toys and more.

It's also a very easy place to get around in. Thanks to a century of British rule, signs are in English as well as Chinese, and most people in the urban areas speak some English and try to be helpful.

The MTR (their subway) is fast and clean, if often crowded, and connects Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and Lantau. You can also take the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong, a 15-minute ride that lets you see the sights and enjoy the fresh air.

There are also plenty of buses to get you where you need to be, and if all else fails, taxis are plentiful and cheap.

Over on Lantau, things are quieter as you step into another world. A winding drive over high mountains brings you to the fishing village of Tai O. The people here open their homes to visitors as part of Hong Kong's ecotourism program.

The houses in Tai O are built on stilts set into the water, and bridges let you traverse the canals. It's like the Hong Kong version of Venice, without the ornate house fronts, and a stark contrast to the ultra-urbanism of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

These houses are simple, with spaces between the floorboards letting you see the water below, and open spaces for windows and outer doors. You would think these people were impoverished, but look closer. Everyone is well-fed and well-dressed, and television antennas are a common sight.

Back up the mountain, you'll find the Po Lin Monastery, site of the largest seated bronze Buddha in the world. You climb 272 steps to reach it, and you can have lunch in the restaurant now housed in its platform. It's worth the climb just for the view.

Down below, the monastery also offers a vegetarian lunch and a chance to walk the Wisdom Path. There is something very timeless about this place, although modern conveniences, like public bathrooms, have been added. (Be sure to pick a stall with a commode, rather than a hole in the floor.)

Meanwhile, the tram to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island goes up the mountain at such an extreme angle that you're pressed into the back of your seat as the entire car seems to stand on end. The view from the windows on the right side is spectacular, and whets your appetite for what you'll see when you reach the top.

Disembark and find yourself in a shopping mall. For another 20 Hong Kong dollars (about $2.50), you can take the escalators up to a viewing deck on the roof of the mall, or you can find your way out of the mall, turn to your right, and walk the trail around the outside of the mountain.

Hong Kong spreads itself below you, and if you're up there as night falls and the lights come on, the view is especially spectacular. The path is lit, so it's safe to walk after dark.

And the city has quite a Jewish history. Indeed, Jews established a presence in Hong Kong in 1842 when the Kadoori and Sassoon families, two Sephardic dynasties, moved their businesses here.

Jews played a quiet but important part in the area's growth as a mercantile and financial center, and the Kadoori Farm, now a botanical garden, and bustling Nathan Road are just two of the many reminders of Jewish contributions to Hong Kong.

The Ohel Leah Synagogue, on Hong Kong Island, opened in 1901. This small but beautiful building survived the Japanese occupation during World War II (when it was used as a stable) and continues to serve the Orthodox Jewish community.

There are also temples for Reform and Conservative congregations elsewhere, and the adjacent Jewish Community Center offers a kosher market, a pool and gym, a kindergarten, a kosher restaurant and a milk bar, and many events for members and visitors. Just come, tell them you're Jewish, and you'll be welcomed.

If you're planning a visit, note that the equestrian events for the summer Olympics will be held in Hong Kong, attracting visitors from around the world.

For more information, visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board online at: www.HKTB.com.

For information on synagogues, kosher restaurants and Jewish events, see: www. haruth.com/AsianHongKong. html or the Jewish Community Center at: www.jcc.org.hk.



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