The Hong Kong returned Sindhi

I am sprawled on a fabulous yacht sailing away from Victoria Harbour. Christina Dean has hosted a little boat party on the afternoon that I have flown into Hong Kong. Cruising across Repulse Bay with a champagne flute in hand and the sun shining gently overhead, we decide that life is most agreeable.

Christina has transitioned from being a practising dentist in London to Hong Kong’s cutting edge eco-entrepreneur with ease. Her charity Green2greener promotes sustainable living in Asia and Europe, and she has spent the past few years in establishing EcoChic as a touring event that promotes sustainability within the fashion industry and also in other fields such as organic food, organic wine and eco-travel. There have been EcoChics held in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Jakarta and Geneva and this year will see the first-ever EcoChic Mumbai. Christina’s work put her on a list of UK’s top 100 inspirational women in 2009 but right now on the boat, she’s simply a yummy mummy, cannon-balling off the boat’s edge while holding hands with her two adorable sons.

As we sail back into the Aberdeen docking port at dusk, Hong Kong’s fabled neon lights come on, one by one. “How can you be a Sindhi and not have been to Hong Kong?” Fed up with the constant harassment, I have flown in to see what the fuss is all about. I’m glad to have finally made it. This is a city that constantly redefines luxury. Being a big believer in the “when in Rome” school of thought, I have established base camp within a suite at the legendary Peninsula Hotel. The soft purr emanating from the bottle-green Rolls Royce Phantom that speeds me to the hotel has me nodding off and I eventually do fall asleep on the spa table in the midst of a soothing massage after checking in, but not for long. There is far too much to do, starting with the boat ride with Christina.

I get over the shopping craze pretty quickly. The luxury malls are literally bursting at the seams in this city with long lines outside Chanel and LV boutiques just to get in. When I find that even the Tom Ford store has elbow-room only, I decide that horizontal movement is pointless. Time to get vertical. And a good thing too because Hong Kong is really all about height and the power of upward mobility.

Consider the glass bottom cable car that takes me high up into the mountains to see the Giant Buddha at Lantau that I, in turn, have to huff and puff up several levels of stairs to reach. Or the mile-long Central to the Midlevel escalator (the longest outdoor escalator system in the world) that takes me up 443 feet in about 20 minutes. Or Victoria Peak itself, from where I can see the shimmering skyscrapers that symbolise the continuously soaring ambition of this historic city of dreams.

I skip places like the China Club (it’s only on the 15th floor, too low!) or the famous afternoon tea service at the Peninsula lobby (Long waiting lines of tourists are not my thing and I can stare at the soaring columns and gargoyles over breakfast too, when it’s much quieter). Instead I take the private elevator up to the Peninsula’s rooftop restaurant Felix to practise a very local tradition. Phillipe Stark’s décor is surreal with funky touches like hotel staff photographs printed upon the chairs to sit on, and chef Ashton Hall’s food is amazing, especially his innovative vegan creations. However, what I’m really here for is the men’s loo! The Felix men’s urinals are legendary among HK’s glitterati; they’re humorously placed right in front of a curtain of glass that overlooks the bright rooftops of the city. Peeing here is a sign that you’ve arrived. As I said, when in Rome…..

I climb even higher for an exquisite lunch at the Michelin two-star restaurant, Petrus, on the 56th floor of Island Shangri La. Petrus is decorated like a French castle, with thick drapes, ornate chandeliers and impressionist murals upon its dome-shaped ceilings. It has exquisite French cuisine, one of the world’s best wine lists, and by far, the best view of Hong Kong Harbour. I groan my way through a delicious confit of goose liver.

In between decadent meals like these, I manage to glimpse the other Hong Kong through friends like Gauri Lakhanpal and Sidharth Jaggi. Gauri is doing some great work with the Asia Society in Hong Kong while Sidharth is a professor and the founder of Life Unlimited, a non-profit that enables college kids in India to live out their dreams by funding their non-academic related projects, such as travelling through India to study indigenous horses. Guided by my friends, I visit intimate specialty restaurants in SoHo, walk through night street markets, attend unicycle hockey games at a Kowloon YMCA, and take in the breathtaking art from the Hong Kong Biennale at the local Museum of Art. If I come back, it will be for this quieter local version, throbbing beneath the neon lit glitz.

 * This post is a modified version of my column Parmesh’s Viewfinder which appears in Verve magazine each month.