Archives for the month of: February, 2012

Wednesday afternoon/evening

We slowly wander through an exhibit on newspapers and print media in early-modern Hong Kong when, out of nowhere, solemn bells toll – to the tune of Westminster Quarters – over the loudspeaker.  One by one, we check the time.

“It’s 5:45?!?  Have we really been here that long?”

Jordan and Melody can’t quite believe it either, even though we remember that we entered the museum an hour and a half earlier.  Suddenly, the trilingual announcement declares that the museum will close in fifteen minutes.

We step up our pace (which has been little more than a comfortable stroll) and make our way to the exit.  “What should we do next?”

“Is anyone hungry?”

No, not at the moment.  It’s Wednesday, though, which means that we have another alternative to eating right away or (gasp) heading back to campus early.

We make our way to the science museum just across the open courtyard.

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This is a post, as you can see, about Tsuen Wan (荃灣) – another locale in the New Territories, just northwest of the outer reaches of Kowloon. And once again, it was an (individual) excursion, motivated by map-gazing and curiosity, that revealed a fascinating glimpse into another corner of Hong Kong.

But as I start to write this, I’m beginning to hesitate as to how to best describe Tsuen Wan; or, taking another step backward, I’m struggling to figure out what to say at all. I’ve already been here for a month, and while Tsuen Wan is a place I’ve just visited for the first time, I am finding it increasingly difficult to capture its aspects with the freshness of a visitor who has, spontaneously or otherwise, arrived here.

So as I begin to provide the usual apparatus – descriptions, images, the occasional thought – I know that what I say will simultaneously be deprived of verve and be insufficient to give the area any justice. For someone who has grown increasingly fond of writing, it’s not a trait to be proud of.

But on the other hand, does that, at last, make me…a local? Or am I, once again, getting a bit too ahead of myself?

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The interior of the "New Town Plaza" in Sha Tin (沙田).

Bright colors – it’s the colors that nearly grab your attention first before anything else.  Gray skies; green tarpaulin over a building under construction; red-brick gates; blue and pink street signs; yellow lights; neon- and fluorescent-hued letters advertising stores.

Or is it the sounds?  Of traffic in the distance; of the wind clearing the air of its recent humidity; of children playing in the park; of elders chatting and joking with each other; of shoppers dodging one another (in vain) at a mall?

We – Jordan, Melody, Nigel, Jean, and I – could, at this point, be anywhere in Hong Kong.  But as things have turned out today, we find ourselves in Sha Tin (沙田).

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“Unbeatable views!”

It’s the one sentence I recall from the list of activities I received last week as we climb the mountain. The trail is fairly straightforward – essentially a series of staircases and ramps – but exhausting nonetheless. The humidity is not helping things; the surrounding forest is as subtropical as I’ve yet to see in Hong Kong, and I feel like I’ve illicitly crossed the border into the mainland. Everyone’s pace gradually fades to stop-and-go. Heavy breathing becomes audible to and from all of us.

Eventually, however, we reach the very top. It’s chilly here, which is a relief to all of us even despite the faint mist in the air. And, at last, I can get a full view of where we are…

Somewhere out there, Hong Kong is still kicking.

…well, sort of.

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For the first time in a long time, I have an address to find – “40 Lyndhurst Terrace.”  Easy enough to locate, at least after having consulted the MTR street map.

Except, when I actually get to number 40, there’s nothing there.  I’m baffled.  Until I walk back a little bit and find a handwritten sign: “[We’ve] moved to 29 Hollywood Rd., 7/F.  Go up the stairs and turn right at the corner.”

Very well then – I follow the sign, and sure enough, a small sign points to the inside of an old building.  A single elevator and a staircase stand just beyond the front door.

I’ve played this game before.  I step into the elevator and ride to the seventh floor.

A quick (slightly creaky) stop, I exit the doors and enter the store and –

Good Lord, what is this place?!?

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A long escalator ride, one of the longest I’ve had here.  The stairs creep slowly upward, though the ones going down seem to be moving faster.  It’s as though they no longer want people coming up.

In one sense, I’m correct.  It’s evening in the very middle of the week – 7 p.m. – and the market is bustling.  People budge past each other in narrow aisles to buy groceries.  Discarded produce is strewn across the floor against the wall.  Fish stall owners begin to hose down the floor, enough so that even the main areas become slippery rinks.

Otherwise, the evening crowd simply enters and exits.  Up one escalator and down another.

I have no need to buy groceries, though.  It’s the second (third, in the context of this post) escalator I’m after, and I ride this one to the very top of the building.  A quick turn of the corner, and I’ve arrived.

First overriding sensual impression: this is hell.

Second nuanced acclimatized impression: this is home.

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A quiet Tuesday;
Traveled to no place of note.
So haiku it is.

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The man smiles as he waits for my answer.  The group behind him is preparing to take off again.

Do I dare?

I mull it over quickly.  I am nowhere near prepared for a serious hike – I’m wearing a winter jacket in late-spring-like weather and I have no water bottle(s) on me – and I don’t even know who these people are.  Some of them glance at me but return to their own attentions.

And yet, I know that I honestly have nothing better to do today.  As beautiful as the day is, I’m committed to staying out of the city proper, and the hike sounds like a good enough retreat.  (Plus, I’m not exactly happy about hiking all the way back up toward the bus stop.)

“If you do want to go, it’ll cost $20HKD.”  I snap out of my reverie and glance up.  He has silvering hair underneath his sun hat, tied back in a short ponytail.  Behind the small glasses, his eyes reflect the wisdom of a man who’s clearly experienced, who has seen far more of Hong Kong than I probably have of home.  The walking stick in his right hand is delicately poised atop a jagged rock.

I think a little more.  And then I make my decision.

I pull out a 20$HKD bill from my pocket, which he takes and stows away.  Then he begins to move, and I follow.

What a day this is turning out to be.

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Early Sunday afternoon

It’s 1:00 p.m., or sometime around then.  The sun is out in full force, but the sea breeze tempers the heat enough for me to put my jacket back on.  There are quite a few people on campus – most of them families – for a Sunday afternoon.  But with this weather, it’s perfectly understandable.

I am compelled to go somewhere quiet – some place where I can read a book (Frankenstein, no less) in peace.  The spot I’ve found (for selfish reasons I won’t describe it here) is still too ‘lively,’ as students and visitors alike pass by too frequently for me to concentrate on the novel.

After ten minutes I just barely finish the introduction to Frankenstein.  I’ve actually read it before (and ended up disliking the experience), but I need to read it again for one of my classes.  The weather and the presence of people make me anxious to move.  So I stop reading, leave my spot, and start walking.

I decide quickly that I don’t want to go back into the city.  Sunny Sunday afternoons here translate to massive crowds, and my wallet and I are looking to take things easy today.  These two options essentially rule out bus (and by extension, MTR) rides, leaving me to either explore campus or walk off of it.

I choose the latter.

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The "walled city" (foreground, center-left) of Aberdeen (香港仔). But what is it...?

We stand along the promenade and take pictures of the skyline across the harbor.  This is Ap Lei Chau (鴨脷洲), an island south of Hong Kong Island’s southwest corner, and we are facing Aberdeen (香港仔), the main point of interest on our little weekend tour.

Between several apartment buildings across the water, however, I notice something unusually old on a hill.  It looks like a walled city, with tiers upon tiers of stone buildings.  Several signs are plastered along the slope of the hill.

Jordan takes out his monocular, and he and Melody take turns describing what they see.  “An ad for a recycling company…long railings…dirt and lots of stone structures…a lookout point…”

None of it makes sense to us.  But seeing as we’ve already been here for the past few hours, we decide to head back and take a look.

Thus begins – yet again – an adventure that none of us anticipated.

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