While chatting with a local, one wry comment we heard was "Japan doesn't like to be called Asian, it likes to be called Japanese." This sentiment was no clearer than once we left Osaka for Hong Kong. While Japan is a cultural marvel all its own, Hong Kong became our true gateway to South East Asia.
Hong Kong was unlike any place we had ever seen. We arrived on the island side and were stunned at the civil engineering feats enveloping us. Skyscrapers spring up on steep hillsides like perfectly balanced dominos. The island was a playground full of nooks to explore with alleys, staircases, and even outdoor escalators that weave between the stacked buildings. At moments it seemed like Hong Kong had a creedo to just build up as high and as fast as possible.
In our few days there we saw a culture that mixed international comforts with a rich heritage. We quickly found streets full of restaurants that made even the trendiest Manhattan restaurants seem slightly dated, and overheard countless hip expats speaking perfect English—a laungauge that was much harder to come by during our time in Japan.
Then there were the telltale signs of South East Asia emerging: street food abound, malls spanning city blocks, chaos in traffic, and the slow disappearance of queues. We joined locals on the Star Ferry to reach the mainland, and navigated the crowded shopping streets devoted to selling things like exotic fish in plastic bags, or every sneaker (and knockoff) imaginable.
The two sides of Hong Kong were equally fascinating, but the part that got us hooked was the perfect introduction to an Asia we were ready to immerse ourselves in.