Hong Kong, taxis are a microcosm of its only technological climate. It has the outer shell of something flailing and obsolete, yet at its heart, teeming with ideas, bristling with enterprise, buzzing with the sound of over worked amps and hot fuse wire. The Hong Kong taxi is a Toyota Comfort, which uses a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain and reduces maintenance costs by employing mechanical designs such as a live axle rear suspension. Some versions can be licensed to carry five passengers, excluding the driver.
The cars are over 20 years old, with a clunky aesthetic, but inside has been completely bastardised to aesthetically replicate a teenage cyber criminals’ workstation. The front cabin has all the vents gutted, replaced with DB Radio comms, Sat Nav, docking cradles, stereos and god knows what else. I counted four phones all deftly positioned for the driver’s convenience.
“You really need four phones in here?” I ask the driver. “Five.” He says stoically, pulling a Samsung from his hip pocket, “The DB Radio is down.” All this archaic contraption lacked were time circuits and a flux capacitor.
Head north from the airport to the Kowloon Peninsula and you’ll find tall skinny brick-a-brack buildings. No city has this level of density per capita outside of New York. The buildings are newish, yet like the taxis have had the technology retrofitted. The walls are paved with air-conditioning units; the rooms too small to house kitchens which explains the thriving eating-out culture in the mainland.
This is a city with a pulse, palpable and visceral. The island west of Kowloon is Lantau which is home to Tai-O, famously coined the Venice of Hong Kong for its theme park feel isolation. Otherwise known as the village on stilts. Realistically it’s a slum. No Bridge of Sighs, instead the main bridge used to be a single rope bridge until the tourists came and something more sturdy had to be incorporated. No Doge Palaces or St Marks Clock tower, instead a plethora of dilapidated squatter huts on stilts known as Pang Uks, patrolled by ownerless street dogs, adorned with signs instructing tourists not to take photos.
However, the huts are open at the back for ventilation needs and inside you can see flat screen TV’s in every one. Much like the Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, only this place doesn’t have the violent history or the need to be pacified. Still, once again a demonstration of how the technology is here, wrapped in rust on its last legs, or stilts, but here.
Hong Kong might be trailing the field behind China and Japan in terms of manufacturing. Speaking to some of the locals here Japan has better innovations, better investment and are more entrepreneurial when delivering to the end consumer. China for example are more focused on disruptive technology, forward-thinking focusing heavily on FinTech engineering (an industry composed of companies that use new technology and innovation to compete in the marketplace of traditional financial institutions).
A homeless Chinese man uses an App on his phone to take donations from the person on the street. Uber is still an apocryphal fairytale in China, with apps only legible in Mandarin unless you know the ‘cheats’. Whilst still banned in Hong Kong, hence the ubiquity of the Toyota Comfort in Kowloon, it’s temporarily not illegal to use whilst Uber’s lawyers appeal the decision. We got an Uber back to the airport, seeing the construction of the bridge currently underway. Not supported by bamboo scaffolds I might add. Once complete it will be the largest bridge in history, where you can drive all the way from the airport to Macau. The 29-km span would make it one of the world’s longest bridges and is expected to reduce travelling times between Hong Kong and Zhuhai or Macau to approximately 40 minutes; down from 4.5 hours (by road) at present. Advocates suggest Hong Kong will benefit from this project in the long term, through the enhanced flow of labour and goods between China and the rest of the world.
Hong Kong may be the Toyota Comfort of the Asian premiere league (although China and Japan also use the Toyota) but it’s aspirational. It has a good looking reflection across the harbour, Hong Kong island is a beehive of thriving commerce and industry. After this was an island built on volcanic lava, perhaps a metaphor for the state of its tech industry, it’s there, it’s waiting, it could blow any moment.
This article was originally commissioned and ultimately declined by The Essential Journal. Any aspiring or established writers should be mindful of submitting content to this publication.