Steven Berringer photography METRO SEOUL
Hong Kong

Hong Kong is everything you think it is. Mysterious alleyways full of shops hawking antiquities, ancient magic and herbs to cure anything that ails ya. It’s double decker trams that have been taking people down Kings Road for over a century. It’s the glitter and glam of one of the planet's wealthiest financial centers where Asia manages its money. But most of all it’s the harbor at night. Grab your iPod and a camera, hop on the best subway system in the world and head over to Kowloon and grab a view of Hong Kong Island as the buildings light up the skyline. It is a sight that rivals the Grand Canyon at sunset. You will have plenty of company.

Escalators and people, are the two things that come to mind after spending a month in this densely populated urban wonderland. It has to be the escalator capital of the world. They are everywhere and will often take you into a glamorous, cavernous shopping center that you would have never known existed had you not taken that random escalator into the side of a plain looking, non-descript, building. It's a city of geodes.

Hong Kong Island sits on a steep hill and most people seem to live their lives on a few main streets at the bottom. Streets like Kings Road, Hennessy and Des Voeux Central are always packed. But the people of Hong Kong flow through each other with the grace and ease of a school of fish. It must comes from a lifetime of practice. A lifetime in an urban kingdom.

Seoul

I was nervous heading to Seoul. Not knowing what I would find I had considered other options to fill out the two months before I could go to Japan. That thought quickly vanished. What a glorious wonderful surprise Seoul was. In the two months that I was there I was constantly discovering new things that made me smile and fall in love with one of the truly great cities in the world. I’ve seen articles written about “Seoul not having a soul”. I shake my head in disbelief, someone needs to leave the hotel lobby and head down to the Han River at night or try some of the amazing art museums or have a drink on a rooftop bar in Itaewon as the sun sets. Seoul is alive.

I could list five dozen things and moments in Seoul that still make me smile, but the one that really sticks in my head was from my last trip to the Han River. Not the time when the fireworks were going off near the restaurants that sit on the Hangang Bridge, or the magic of the trains streaking light across the bridges at night or the beautiful paths and walkways with separate running and bike trails that line both sides of the river or the colorful fountains spraying light off the Rainbow bridge at night or the drive in movie theaters at the edge of the river.... not any of those things. My last night, as I walked toward another unexplored area by the river, I saw an island just off the shore with a big grass areas and walking trails and a glorious views of the city skyline. It was on my way so I thought why not. The bridge to the island was covered in flowers. I laughed out loud. Not because they covered a bridge with flowers but because I had been to the river about a dozen times and I kept finding..... joy.

JAPAN

Japan is an enigma. A majestic, breathtaking, reserved, industrious and efficient mystery. I almost need to talk about Japan and Tokyo as if they are separate entities, one country inside of another. Tokyo is like trying to drink from a fire hose, the rest of Japan moves at a more methodical saunter. I think it’s impossible to be bored in Tokyo, there is just too much to see and do and eat and drink. I can’t think of any other place that could pull off the insane robot show in Shinjuku. It’s Japanese anime come to life with laser lights shooting from the heads of robotic dinosaurs while pandas dance to the beat of Japanese drums. Not into that sort of thing? You will be.

Kyoto is about a three hour bullet train ride south of Tokyo. It feels as if it’s also 100 years ago. The Gion neighborhood is full of old wooden buildings, mysterious alleyways, Geshi and one of the biggest annual festivals in Japan, the Gion Matsuri. Even though tourists flood the famous sites they are still worth the effort. Fushimi Inari is a hillside covered in walkways that take you through thousands of the famous orange gates. I went back one evening to shoot the gates in the dark. I had set up my tripod on the hill with a somewhat obstructed view overlooking Kyoto. An elderly Japanese gentleman approached. He told me of a place just up the hill with a much better view. My initial reaction was one of an American who was raised in an environment that requires... diligence. I hesitated. But then I remembered I’m in Japan. I followed him up a dark, isolated part of the hill and walked out onto a stunning, sparkling, expansive view of Kyoto. I wish I could always be in Japan.