Hong Kong! October 2015
This was the view from our hotel room, greeting us as we came in the first night. James planned for us royally. This was the JW Marriott on Queensway at Pacific Place in Central, right by the Admiralty metro station. Just after we snapped these photos and turned the lights on, there was a knock at the door, and the hotel fairies brought a pot of green tea and a dish of fruit. We unpacked, snacked and tried to fathom that we were back in HONG KONG.
From the airport, we took a red cab (color-coded for toward HK). The airport was full of ads for high-end watches and apparel. As we waited at the taxi-stand, the cabbie ahead of us got out to throw luggage in the trunk. He was wearing a black shirt that said in white letters, "I'm fucking awesome." As we cruised toward the city, we saw a lot of very densely-packed, monolithic high-rises (photo at the end of this gallery). Also, the trunks of nearly all of the red cabs (i.e., airport toward city) were held closed with bungee cords around the bulging luggage. We read a lot of maps and a couple of travel books, and re-familiarized ourselves with the lay of the land. The subway was fantastic! The double-deckers lurch drunkenly around HK, same as ever. We had bilingual maps for the cabbies (who still operate only on cash). And our reloadable Octopus cards were good for bus or subway.
This seemed so characteristic of Hong Kong. At this storefront temple, there are devotions going on, and these are fine and good, and meanwhile plumbing has to happen. Oo! By the way, there were no signs at all of water rationing. There were some ominous clouds, but only light rain, and lots of smog.
It seemed that every store had its shrine, inside or out. One porcelain place (all modern stuff for the kitchen) had a shrine with a life-size red deity raging in front of small blue tiles. This furniture place had a small, active shrine on the sidewalk, the joss still fragrant and ash-wands trembling over the remains of the day's devotions.
As we walked through the subway station and underpass around the Admiralty, there were some really neat posters. One was for Angelique Kidjo, a queen of African rhythm. Several touted Chow Yun Fat's latest movie, called OFFICE, showing him looking stern and handsome and incorruptible :-), and there were others showing a young siren and a more average-looking guy who was probably the sympathetic villain. I'm looking forward to seeing it!
The walk into Stanley looks a lot the same from this angle. The lady plucking chickens is gone (!), and all the stalls are clothing, jewelry and souvenirs. But a couple of the linen vendors are the same. There is some plastic roofing over the footpaths. The whole thing is definitely cleaner and quieter... feels odd and a bit stifled. I realized i was instinctively stepping around noisome puddles that weren't there. No more washing of the mahjong tiles, bootleg albums or general bellowing in Cantonese. Missing its old hard-bitten vitality. Still felt like Stanley overall tho. A whole bunch of cafés have sprung up along the seawall.
These gorgeous trees (Indian almonds) were way back behind the market. Remember how you'd come down the hill, past the steps up to the little supermarket, then straight to the T of the alley between stalls. Then you'd turn left past Patrick Ng's. Keep going and you'd be able to go up left for a different way home, or go right. So we went right and the alley led to this. Fish was drying on a line, an old man with a long grey pigtail was lecturing several people on "faddah, san and hoh-lee SPIR-IT!!" There was a tiny pinoy eatery, some fish drying on a clothesline, and a row of half-a-dozen apartments with old folks out on their verandahs. Each had red luck decorations by the doorway. If you kept going you'd get to Mong Kok Road.
The Moon Festival was very different from the past. We went to Victoria Park, which was totally thronged. The crowd itself was the main attraction - what you'd expect - buoyant, polyglot and all different ages. One trim elderly man was standing near two kids, both on their dads' shoulders, one Chinese toddler and one blonde-ringleted girl. The old guy was making faces, beaming at them both and reaching out his hands to them, delightedly watching their expressions. I saw another elderly couple, both white-haired and still lithe, strolling together, faces glowing blue and red under the lights, clearly loving watching the crowd. They were the only couple i saw holding hands. All the young folks were on their phones and taking group selfies. Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi and Japanese (heard one tourist saying in a bemused tone: "...wakaranai."). The government-erected lights were truly splendid... But there were almost no personal lanterns anywhere, and none for sale, which was just bizarre. No fireworks at all! There were some state-approved vendors, doing some dejected crafts, and one disconsolate table showed a dozen state-chosen examples of schoolchildren's lanterns. No more hawking (in either sense!) in HK. There was a big screen showing a meek little man trotting out slogans. The moon emerged from behind the clouds, took one disgusted look at the sanitized festivities, and took off for her big eclipse gig over the Americas.
From the Mandarin, we came out onto Chater Street to find it closed down for the holiday, and thousands of Filipinas making the most of the day off. Most were sitting on spread-out cardboard on the street, at the Statues Garden fountain and on the ramp down into the MTR. They were picnicking, leaning companionably on each other, listening to music and braiding hair. This group had a Pinoy karaoke going, and they were having a ball. You know how when someone's singing, you can hear it in their voice if they're smiling? Even before we saw them, you could hear the hysterical laughter infusing the song. Twice in other areas today, we saw Pinay groups practicing dance moves for tonight. And here they were, dancing and singing tagalog hit songs, communing on cardboard on the street... in front of Cartier, Bulgari and the Mandarin Oriental.
Different landscape in this part of the city - urban canyons, cascades of traffic, swirling eddies of pedestrians, and long lazy slow trickles of downhill alleys. Explored Cat Street, Hollywood Road, the Man Mo temple, fusion dim sum and low-key haggling. Later we conquered the MTR and fell into Mong Kok. It was great!