Don’t snort out your coffee in disbelief, before noting that I live in Hong Kong’s relatively rural New Territories.
I haven’t felt so free behind the wheel of a car since I left Utah, USA and its wide, open freeways 15 years ago. As a new driver there, I adored driving my ancient, yellow beetle up and down I-15 with my window rolled down, waiting for good songs to pop up on X96 FM. My left arm was tanned all summer.
Then I left Utah and forgot that driving can actually be a pleasure.
I drive in Hong Kong and I love it. Music playing, sunroof open, kids in the backseat, we curve up and down Route 9 and enjoy the freedom of getting places quickly on open, off-peak-hour roads.
Do I feel like a former bike-riding, environmentalist hypocrite? Only a wee bit and mainly because I don’t really drive that much here. But when I do, really, really like it. I barely dare to admit this.
But I said it. Under the right conditions, driving feels good. Like a drug.
So how have I gotten around the last 15 years with minimal (and really only un-fun driving)? The break-down:
Seattle: I lived in-town and took the bus downtown to work. I learned to avoid the 358 (too many drunks and/or unstable people at any time of day) in favor of the 5 Express (mostly others like me with headphones on, ignoring each other). Driving, when I did it, was mainly within the city, with lots of stopping and starting, searching for parking, traffic jams, etc. Even when we left the city for the weekend, we almost always got stuck in a massive Sunday evening traffic jam as all the other hikers, skiers and campers tried to get back home too.
Zhuhai, China: I never bothered to get a license, never drove, and took insane taxi rides everywhere.
Cambridge, UK: Rode my beloved Dutch “bakfiets” bike and loved it. Flat, open and free, but on a bike. My range was limited, but I built my life around that. I did have a UK driving license, but there was absolutely no joy in driving there, as I was alternately terrified of side-swiping cars on tiny streets or stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway.
Here in Hong Kong: Yes, I can take the neighborhood mini-bus to the MTR station and take the train. It’s a schlep and takes 45 minutes to make a journey that takes 10 in the car. I do it when I’m going to Kowloon or Central sans kids when I can listen to my i-Pod and people-watch.
But if I need to dash someplace, I drive. And like the red-blooded, Western-state American I am, I love it.
There I said it. Driving in Hong Kong is my dirty vice.
My favorite stretch of road: The slopping curve of highway that passes through Ma On Shan if you’re driving back from an afternoon in Sai Kung at sunset. Steep, green mountains on one side and tall apartment blocks on the other with a view of the water.