Notes from Hong Kong: Monday Evening I
After doing the requisite work yesterday morning I headed out for a quick exploration of Nathan Road and its environs, picking up some cash at a street ATM as well as batteries for my MP3 recorder at a 7-11. This would prove wise, later; and also allowed me my first view of a Hong Kong convenience mart.
They’re tiny, as so much here is – the scales are in extremes, with massive buildings towering over the skyline and wrestling one another for dominance, view and desirability, but the street-level stores require a great deal of economy once you’re within them due, no doubt, to the staggering rents required to live here. We’re on mainland Kowloon rather than any of the islands, but it’s still a remarkably expensive place to exist according to all I’ve heard and seen.
The group as a whole headed toward the harbor where we boarded the Night Star ferry and took the surprisingly rough channel waters across to Hong Kong Island proper. We decided that walking would be more fun than the bus, and so thirty minutes of more or less zigzag travel up the crowded streets brought us to the base of Victoria Peak.
The Peak was the height of desirability in terms of location during the British administration, largely because the top of the mountain was constantly cooler than the low-lying areas around. It took rickshaws a full three hours to pull beefy, florid Englishmen and their luggage-intensive families up the incline which can reach a grade of over 15 degrees. That was in times both less enlightened and less mechanical, and since the 1930s a tram has existed to pull residents and visitors alike up the mountain.
At the top, a slight attack of vertigo followed by sightseeing. The deck is not large, but it’s big enough to afford views all across the island, the harbor, and well into ocean and mainland alike. A pair of eagles soared over our heads by mere feet, huge birds with earth-colored bands across great black wings. The buildings which sprout from the riotous green seem offensive, somehow; garish pink or corpse-grey, the cracks in their walls and foundations are visible even without the pay-per-view telescopes.
Lunch was Peking duck and a few pints of Tsingtao before heading to the street markets. Bit of a letdown here at first, as we never reached the real Chinese markets and found ourselves surrounded by cheap children’s costumes and bangles for the dead-of-mind before calling it a draw and moving back to the ferry.
Still, I’m smiling as we cross the choppy waters, and a one-dollar piece goes into the brave and briny as a promise to return sometime when there’s less work to do and more time to spin the prayer-wheels of the tongue and heart.
I called the group around to lay out options – I have one big thing I want to do on this trip, but it doesn’t require coconspirators, and I’m not going to force anyone; while Norb has another venue in mind in the opposite direction. We agree to follow Norb tonight and those who wish can join me in a few days on my own trip out, but we’re take the scenic route home along the Avenue of Stars, looking for Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee along the endless parade of names that mean so little to our deaf ears and blind eyes. For myself, my sights are on the harbor, the shipping boats and ferries, the walls of concrete, steel and glass which dominate the skyline.
The flags flown by the boats are shoeshine rags, the bright red of the Revolution reduced to anarchic black by the leveling powers of time and air pollution. It’s a surprise, really. In a nation as symbol-obsessed as my own such things wouldn’t be tolerated, preferring to burn the things the moment they’re touched by the hands of entropy. Perhaps it’s a thumbing of the nose at the unspeakable reality of how bad the air can get, more likely, I suspect, it’s that nobody on board those ships has a spare moment to spend on laundering their national pride.
Once at the hotel, however, plans change. Everyone’s been walking more than they’re used to and one by one they make their excuses and drop out, leaving only Norb and I to walk the gauntlet of faux watch sellers and Bangladeshi tailors to find Temple Street Night Market.
I’ll be honest; I don’t have time to continue about the Market. If Hong Kong is a tornado then the Market’s the apocalypse, and there’s just too much to tell. I surrendered photography duties to Norb’s multiple lenses and sense of visuals while I chattered endlessly into the MP3 recorder all the sights, sounds and wonders that exist in a place open from seven to midnight every day of the week, wrapped in more chaos and confusion than I ever thought possible, eyes wide and wondering while we were pulled along by the Kowloon night.
I’m going to write it down – all the confusion and beauty – but this has been the better part of an hour and I’ll need to get ready for the coffin-horse they call a job before I can keep dancing. It should be a quiet day, followed by a requisite dinner with our Chinese hosts; so I’ll plan to come back tonight and present you with the pearls of the previous evening.
I appreciate all the comments everyone’s sending, by the way. I wanted to bring everyone I knew to the city I adore, and it’s nice to know that it’s working after a fashion.
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