I miss the simple pleasures of Bratislava, the low-key capital of Slovakia, where I’ve lived with my family the past three years.
Not only the wider, less-populated sidewalks – at half-a-million souls, Bratislava is one of Europe’s tiniest capitals – which enable me to stretch my long legs and slalom around pedestrians. Compare that with Hong Kong, which is 14 times larger (and more populous than all of Slovakia combined). The narrow sidewalks are jam-packed, crawling like the cars: you’re condemned to stop-and-go traffic.
Instead, what I really miss is the café culture of Central Europe, romanticized by the literary salons of centuries past. As a freelancer whose laptop is a permanent appendage to my back, this is the lifestyle for me. Whether in Slovakia, Czech Republic or Hungary, I can always find a kaviareň or kávéház around the next corner, order a double espresso in the local tongue, then work for an hour or two or three.
While it’s still rare in Central Europe to see someone open a laptop, plug in and mooch free wireless, I do my part in Bratislava, visiting two or three cafés a day, greasing the wheels with tips well beyond the leave-the-coins norm.
Hong Kong, though, is dominated by eateries. The steady flow of customers deters a loiterer like me. Yesterday, in my favorite HK neighborhood so far, Yau Ma Tei, I was pleased to find a cozy, Parisian-themed spot with a long list of coffees, plus light meals. I settled in to read a few pages, but the customers kept a-comin’, even in mid-afternoon. I couldn’t stand the pressure, so got up and left.
Hoping for authentic, mom-and-pop places to sit and work, it seems I’m left with three options: yes, Starbucks (the McDonald’s of cafés); its HK imitation, “Pacific Coffee Company”; or the American-style mega-mall, “Festival Walk.”
Wait a minute … don’t they have teahouses around here?