Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Hong Kong Phooey

Day 2-
One of the things that interested my mother and I, from reading the guidebooks, was the bird & flower markets. Most Chinese cities have them, since birds are popular pets in China. Crowded in massive apartment buildings (ghettos, by western standards) Chinese people actually pay additional taxes for having pets larger than a small dog, and there aren't a lot of cat-people in China. A popular outing for little old Chinese men is to take the bird for a walk to the park, where they will meet other little old Chinese men and their birds. The men will have a chat, maybe buy a bag of crickets or a new waterbowl, while the birds in their cages hang in the branches of the trees singing to each other. Figuring this was an early morning event we took the MTR up to the north side of town to Yuen Po Street (link is to someone else's pictures), a pedestrian market full of birds in the trees as well as many vendors of birds, cages, and accessories. Canaries and finches are most popular, along with some other species I didn't recognize, but I enjoyed watching the wild sparrows swoop in trying to get a free lunch from the bags of crickets for sale.

Another attraction we had read about online was Song Dynasty Town, a recreation of a "typical" Chinese village from, obviously, the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 C.E.). We expected demonstrations of daily life, prayers, warfare, and entertainment. Think Renaissance Festival. (or the Fukugawa Edo Museum, for my Japanese friends) Our hotel concierge informed us that it had closed a couple months ago, probably stemming from criticism that there wasn't enough cholera and typhus for it to be authentic, so we missed it.

Instead, Mom and I ditched Dad again to take the train to Po Lin Monastery. Site of the world's largest outdoor buddha, Po Lin is about 50 minutes by train followed by a pretty scary 45 minute bus ride up and down the steep switchbacks of Lantau Island. (Alternatively, there's a 45 minute ferry, followed by a 50 minute bus ride. Do the math & decide for yourself.) We could see from the bus several beaches that looked very nice, but guidebook descriptions of sharks and riptides dissuaded us. As you can see in my photos, the mountain mists gave this place an eerie other-worldly feel. There's not much of a view, even from the buddha (which you can't really enter), but on a clear day you can probably see Macau. One of the highlights was watching an old monk give a bus driver an impromptu tai chi lesson. It was not part of any tour or demonstration, so the photo I took was totally candid. Part of the popularity of Po Lin is the cafeteria, where you can enjoy a vegetarian lunch with and by the monks. Sorry, I had taro & tofu yesterday. (Not really, but eww.) A couple of guilty quarter pounders back at the train station and we're good to go.

Yes, we ate at McDonald's. Just as with McDonald's at home, they have games and game pieces in China. The promotion was a free sundae if you could fold this origami-like gamecard into the correct shape. I figured it out for both Mom & I, but since the free sundae was on your NEXT visit, we gave them to the locals, thus assuaging our guilt at having been McConsumers from the land of McCapitalism. Actually, I only mention this because on the flip-side of the game card, and on every billboard and sign, is Yao Ming, center for the Houston Rockets and Shanghai native. On the occasions where we found ourselves communicating with locals who didn't speak a lot of English, we could pantomime basketball and mention Yao Ming. Houston is the 4th largest city in America, but we're famous for our 7'-6" (228 cm) Chinaman.

We spent the rest of the day walking Hollywood Road, the antiques center of Hong Kong and we rode the world's longest escalator. (Not as exciting as it sounds.) You can buy authentic artifacts from the dawn of mankind here...in fact, that's about ALL you can buy here, and you better bring wads of cash. We also accidentally stumbled across Man Mo Temple dedicated to the city god of Hong Kong. The place is PACKED with spiral incense coils all burning simultaneously. The effect is a little nauseating and I think I still reek of the stuff. We met back up with Dad, then hopped a taxi for Aberdeen on the far side of Hong Kong Island. It used to be that you had to go around the island, but they've tunneled through it, so it's 15 minutes by taxi now. Aberdeen used to be the site of the sampan city, with floating junks (Chinese boats) and barges serving as residence to several thousand natives. It's mostly cleaned up now, and since it was night we didn't see much of anything. We dined at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant and I'm afraid I have to agree with the guidebook that this place is overrated. It was nearly empty, a testament to the probability that everyone else had believed it.

I took the nighttime photos of the Bank of China Tower and the surrounding streets upon returning to the hotel. This particular building is world famous and was designed by the equally famous (at least in the world of architecture) I.M. Pei, a Chinese-born, Harvard/MIT-educated master architect.

Day 3-
With no particular itinerary, we headed into Kowloon to have dim sum lunch at the Penninsula Hotel, one of the mainstays from the heydays of British colonialism. To be honest, I've had better dim sum here in Houston, but it's not always about the food. As you can see in the photo, Mom envied the teapot collection. We walked Nathan Road, the main shopping area in Kowloon. It's another great place to buy that faux-lex you've always wanted, but the real stuff, along with diamonds, boutique fashion, and of course pearls are also to be haggled-for in the shops here. Of special note is the Jade Market, which is a 1-block, by 2-block lot covered with a corrugated tin-roof. If you don't know anything about jade, you might as well buy it here. There's a better than average chance you're buying green glass no matter where you go, but at the jade market it won't cost you more than a dollar, or two for a dollar if you're a keen negotiator. Dad pooped out again, so the Hong Kong Museum of History occupied the rest of the afternoon for Mom & me. Another gi-normous collection from dinosaurs to modern day, we were a bit pooped too and didn't give this museum the attention it deserved. A very nice Vietnamese meal at an upscale Central district restaurant was a great end to our vacation.

Coming Home-
Day 4 was back to the airport for the marathon flights home, this time in reverse: Hong Kong to Seoul, Seoul to Los Angeles, and finally Los Angeles to Houston. A minor delay in LA was the only excitement, other than running into a couple from my parent's church on their way home from Vladivostok, Russia to adopt a child.

[Tomorrow: Final thoughts or denouement if you're uppity]


At 2:42 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I understand your mother's teapot envy. The Man took me to a teapot shop in KL Chinatown, and made very sure to take me there AFTER IT CLOSED, ON OUR LAST DAY (the rat). That is why our house is not full of teapots. I stood there with my nose pressed up against the window for a good twenty minutes.

(Are you posting from the Other Side? Just wondering.)

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Inanna said...

Wow, the incredible journey!

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

I love teapots too. I would collect them if I had the money to waste.

Sounds like the trip of a lifetime. I liked the part about the old men and the birds.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Tasty said...

I liked it all; thank you so much for doing it. Last Thursday, I was in Epcot in the China area, and thought of you. Aside from the actual park itself, we met some really great Chinese gentlemen who laughed at my pronunciation of xie xie, (I'm sure I was saying 'eat my shoe' or something) and we had a good chat. The China 360 movie was by far the coolest thing in Epcot!

Also, how in the HELL did you give me the Hanta Virus from HOUSTON?!!?!

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Leese said...

hi tinyhands!

it's been a while since i've been to hong kong. the last time i went it was 1996, the year they were turned over to the chinese.

i barely remember it now, but your blog refreshed my memory. i agree, the floating restaurant is overrated.

thank you so much for the mp3 file...that really made my morning.


At 12:49 PM, Blogger se7en said...

great story!

hope your feelin better!

At 5:14 PM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

tell the story again please!! again!!

also, ew...mcdonald's...don't you have better standards than that?

At 5:24 PM, Blogger April said...

Glad to see you're back, I hope that means you're feeling better! Beautiful photos too.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Theic/Z- Mom brought home 3 teapots, but I think the important thing was that she learned something about them as well. How to distinguish quality, different purposes, etc. Should make it easy to buy her gifts for the next few years. *whew*

Stacey- I licked the mouse. Sorry.

Leese- You're welcome, of course. My dad was there the year I was born (1971). He said it was like a whole different place. No surprise, but I bet a lot has changed since 1996 too.

Seven/April- Yep, feeling better thanks. The holidays are over, so everyone get back to blogging!

Adrianne- I've implemented special code that changes the page every time you refresh it. Sometimes it's very subtle, so look carefully to spot the differences. Just keep hitting refresh.


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