It’s not fair to compare Bombay and Hong Kong, two bustling Asian cities once under the realm of Britain, but I couldn’t help doing so while on a recent trip.
Hong Kong has been an Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China since the British handover of 1997. India fought for and won its independence from Britain in 1947. As an American, raised on the ideas of freedom and democracy, I am inclined to feel that India’s break from Britain was much nobler. But, if we’re measuring the positive results of the British legacy, I have to say that an extra 50 years did a world of good for Hong Kong.
Or, maybe I’m giving the Brits too much credit?
At any rate, the first thing I noticed when arriving in Hong Kong is the sleek, clean airport, filled with shops, moving walkways, high ceilings, and filtered air. But who cares about the airport? If you’ve seen Bombay’s international airport, or even Delhi’s (Indira Gandhi International, which is much nicer than Bombay’s), you’ll know that the airport is the first impression that a traveler gets. With its antiquated baggage claim facilities, dirty restrooms, and mosquito-infested waiting halls, Bombay’s airport shows you exactly what you can expect from the rest of the city.
Hong Kong’s infrastructure is also top-notch. The MTR underground rail service is fast, incredibly efficient, and connects most areas that you will want to see. The double-decker bus fleet takes up where the MTR leaves off. Did I mention that both of these modes of transportation are equipped with A/C? It’s so nice to visit a place where A/C is a given and not just a luxury for the upper classes.
Then, there is the shopping and dining. Bombay wants to be an international city, but it can’t even field a decent Lebanese restaurant or sneaker store. I applaud Bombay and India for keeping things local, e.g., filling shops with saris, selwars, and home-grown designers and promoting its own products, such as Kingfisher beer or Sula wine. But isn’t it kind of embarrassing that a place that is essentially run by Communists is more willing to allow international products into its marketplace?
I have expressed my love (and frustration) for Bombay many times on this blog for the past 18-19 months, and had become completely accustomed to its laid-back, wait-and-see mentality, unchecked development, and often trashy streets. It’s normal for people to want to talk-up the city where they live and to overlook the negatives. Instead, I gushed about Bombay’s lovely sea breezes, the curvature of Marine Drive, and the fact that, despite its problems, this is a city on the move. But I think I was just trying to make myself feel better.
Then again, I’ll be leaving Bombay for good in less than a month. So perhaps, slagging Bombay will make it easier for me to say goodbye. But at this moment, I feel like I left my heart in Hong Kong and am looking forward to leaving my headaches in Bombay.