#1 China, January 12, 2002

Dear Everybody,

I arrived Hong Kong on Wednesday morning and have been busy ‘getting my bearings’. Hong Kong (actually Kowloon where I’m staying) is such a bustling place. As you walk down the sidewalk with throngs of people, you hear cell phones going off interminably, Cantonese spoken so musically, and the touts asking you if you want ‘an imitation Rolex’ or some ‘tailor-made clothes’—“Just take a look, take a looooook!.”

I’m staying in a ‘hotel’ that has about six rooms that is on the 13th floor of ‘Mirador Mansions.’  At first I thought I was in a low rent district, but I see that there is a big Hyatt across the street and a Holiday Inn and Sheraton a half a block down Nathan Road.

Thursday morning I bravely tackled the metro to get to the Flower Market, Bird Garden and the street where they sell exotic fish and other pets. People are very willing to assist—in the metro (me looking confused even though I had managed to buy my ticket from a machine) a man approached me to offer help. Help gratefully accepted!  The flower market was gorgeous as expected, especially the myriad of different orchids. If I lived here I’d have lots of them! On the way to the Bird Market I stopped off for breakfast at a little hole-in-the-wall with no English. A young man was eating some noodly things that looked good so when I was ‘ordering’ up at the counter, I pointed across the room to the young man. The lady didn’t understand so I asked the young man if he would mind telling the lady that I wanted what he had. He graciously did so. I had congy, which is rice and bits of pork in a broth with some round green things (quite bland), and fat noodles with chili sauce, peanut sauce, oyster sauce and sesame seeds, and a glass of tea with milk and sugar. The noodle dish was especially good.

This restaurant had several patrons (older men) who had brought their birds in cages with them to later ‘take the air’ with their birds at the Bird Garden. The restaurant had a row of hooks on the side where the men hung the cages while breakfasting.

The Bird garden had many birds for sale along with cages, birdseed and tiny decorated porcelain bowls to hang on the sides of the cage for birdfood. They also sold huge live grasshoppers, for pets, I think. (True!)

From there I went on to a nearby street lined with aquariums selling goldfish as well as other pets. The fish were extraordinary! Beautiful! Vibrant orange and phosphorescent—-with strange shapes and flowing fins. They have really raised ‘goldfish’ to a high art form! They also had lovely live coral for sale—is that legal? The pets were cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, etc. In Hong Kong I believe that there is never ‘a little’ of something. for example, the fish—row upon row, hundreds and thousands, and that’s just one shop. There were dozens of shops!

In the afternoon I walked to the water but unfortunately the lovely view was obscured by thick haze. I visited the Cultural Center where I bought a ticket to the Hong Kong Philharmonic concert for Friday night. It’s standard Chinese—Beethoven’s 9th and a Bach Suite!

Boy, I’m going to have trouble producing a clean shirt. I only have three shirts with me, and I have great difficulty not splashing on my shirt when I eat. Everything is so ‘brothy’ and ‘saucy’ and with chopsticks—well, it happens! The napkins in the low-budget eateries are about the size of a sheet of toilet paper, that’s IF you get a napkin. Trying to tuck that under your chin doesn’t do much. I had two spotted shirts in the first two days. I HAVE to find a solution!

Friday morning I had dim sum street food for breakfast, then took the MTR (metro) to Lantau Island. I finally discovered what a “consessionery” ticket meant (as opposed to “adult”); it is for people over 65 and children under 12, and it’s half price! I had been punching in ‘adult.’ Not only that, I later bought an ‘octopus’ ticket that works on many buses in addition to the MTR—again half price. This ticket really helps as you MUST have the correct change for all buses and MTRs and this is hard to do. This card makes it much easier.

Lantau Island is the site of the new airport, speaking of which, it’s not nearly as exciting as landing between rows of apartment houses as in the old days. It always felt like landing on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The island is quite rural and has a monastery, which is what drew me there. I took the MTR to the island (it also goes to the airport) and then another bus to the Buddhist Monastery. They have a brand new Buddha statue—the largest outdoor bronze one in the world. Of course it is on top of a high hill—very dramatic—which I climbed. The statue itself is 110 feet high and is very nice. The monastery is quite new; something about new grotesque gods doesn’t seem quite right. I think they need the patina of burning incense down through the ages. Anyway as I walked up, I bought a ticket to the exhibition hall, which is ‘inside’ the Buddha, and the lady said that it also entitled me to some dim sum and tea afterwards. Yes, it did, but the dim sum was vegetarian so not outstanding. I did have some good turnip cakes, though.

Back on the bus, back on the MTR, and then to the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It was quite nice, but by then I was too tired to really enjoy it.

The Friday concert was a valiant effort, and everybody likes Beethoven’s 9th, including me, especially in this lovely new concert hall. I chatted with a man from Boston who sat in front of me, telling him that I had tried and failed to get a ticket to the HK Chinese Orchestra for Sat. Night. He said that he was attending, and that I should try again, as I would enjoy hearing the OLD instruments which he said were the forerunners of western instruments (?).


So this morning I did manage to get a ticket at half price (senior discount that the Bostonian told me about) and will take the Star Ferry across to HK and the City Hall concert hall tonight. Again, over-65ers ride free on the ferry, of which the Bostonian informed me! While waiting in line to buy the ticket, I had a lovely chat with a HK lady about my age. She recommended the HK opera, which I will try to catch on my return in March.

I’m now on HK island at the city library using a computer free of charge (!) having come on the (free) Star Ferry!

Tomorrow, into China I go (Guangzhou, the old Canton) and so you’ll hear more from me in a week.


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