Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hong Kong

I got lost in the airport. There, I've said it. Go ahead, laugh! It's not like I need navigation skills for my job or anything. Anyway, I finally found Jennifer, and we took the fancy train 2046-style along a glowing blue line to Kowloon station. She pointed me toward the taxi stand; she had schoolwork to do, so we arranged to meet later. The system for getting a cab from the station is the only orderly queue in all of China. (Everywhere else, there are big, colorful, universally ignored signs saying "please don't push each other," "be considerate in crowds," etc.) People are funneled into a single-file line, and there's a guy at the end who lets you out one at a time through large sliding-glass doors as each cab approaches. Incredibly efficient, and no fighting. ALL the cabs are red.

They drive on the left. There are British-style double-decker buses careening around everywhere.

Everything in Hong Kong is crammed together, mountains and skyscrapers, filthy slums and glittery architectural trophies. It's half grimescape, half futuristic airport city.

My rented room was teeny but plush compared to the Beijing hostel – not to mention 50 degrees warmer. Its bathroom featured an "exhausted fan" and a stockholm shower (ie drain in the floor, nozzle over the toilet, careful where you put your towel). Free tea and coffee!

I spent my first night in HK just wandering the neon wilderness in a daze. For dinner I had deep-fried papaya shrimp at a Thai place and tried to eat them with chopsticks, but they had these ungraspable clawlike bits sticking out all over and kept squirming away. At least the waitstaff got a good laugh out of it.

I had fun exploring the goldfish market in Mongkok...they hang the fish from wire grids in little plastic bags. The non-fish critters go in large tubs.

One night I met Jennifer for dinner at a little diner called Restaurant Macau, where we ate roasted pigeon. It's a delicacy there – and damned tasty. Like everywhere else in HK, the restaurant is always packed, so they cram you into any empty seats in other people's booths – we ate with a couple on a date – the dude totally ate the head of their pigeon. (We saved ours for, um, later.)

Afterwards we went to the fabulous aqua bar and drank $85 drinks while floating in a glass-and-steel cloud above the spectacular HK skyline. But Tony Leung was not there.

He also, surprisingly, was not hanging out at the HK Film Archive – no one was. It would be an awesome place to do research (ie totally geek out) – huge film library and a great reference library.

On the way back from that, I fell permanently in love with Hong Kong egg tarts. Sigh.

Went to Causeway Bay – but all that commerce without the grime made it less fun than the seedy Mongkok markets. Retreated to the Temple Street night market: cheap clothes, fake watches, neat faces, appalling smells, wriggling food.

A lot of this stuff is a blur, sort of kaleidoscopic, just because the city is so chaotic. Points of refuge I found included the history museum, the art museum, the Star Ferry – all really cheap. The closest I got to Tony Leung was stumbling across his handprints on the waterfront Avenue of Stars. Riding the tram up Victoria Peak was great, if terrifying – you really feel certain the angle can't work and the whole thing's just going to plunge backward right off the hill. I stayed up there long enough to see the sunset – and not just because I was scared to tram back down.

Then I met Jennifer for a drink at the Peninsula Hotel – the bathroom alone is an intensely luxurious experience. With her friend Dorothea we went to a Korean bbq place – fun and incredibly yummy – and then sat outdoors (this was early Jan and it was plenty warm) at some terrace bar drinking pitchers of "Around the World."

We tackled our hangovers early the next day with a trip to Lantau to see the Giant Buddha. The train ride out there was a piece of cake, but then we got on a bus that rattled through all these narrow, bouncy, stomach-twisting roads...I nearly lost it. Had an ice-cream at the top and felt a lot better. The Buddha was huge. Gorgeous day, amazing landscape. The monastery at the bottom smelled of incense and oranges. Not a bad way to finish off a visit to wild HK.

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