Archives for the month of: March, 2012

Sunday afternoon

I thought, at first, that it was a local monastery, a temple.  All you can see from the Light Rail between Tuen Mun (屯門) and Yuen Long (元朗) are the green-red roofs and orange-yellow brickwork, set amidst a local hospital and apartment complexes.  But the crowd on Sunday was large and two-directional – masses of visitors moved in and out.

This is nothing new, I thought.  Weekends (and certainly sunny weekends) are a natural time for worship of any faith in Hong Kong, and on such a beautiful day like this it all made sense.  So I exited the Light Rail myself – I didn’t really plan on going all the way to Tuen Mun at that point; I just wanted to see the local scenery – and followed them.

Just beyond the main entrance, hordes of families, children, visitors, and the elderly were purchasing paper; eating lunch; ascending and descending staircases.  The grounds themselves were even more brightly colored than they looked from afar.

But it wasn’t long after arriving here that I discovered – with genuine internal shock – that this was not just a local monastery.  Nor was it just a temple.

This was a burial ground.

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Sunday morning

Dear reader,

I want to tell you something about the market town/city of Yuen Long (元朗).  I really do.  This is a wonderful place – a magical place – that I can’t believe I’d overlooked before.

But it’s difficult to do anything like that if I’m not sitting next to or across from you, maybe with a cup of milk tea (奶茶) in one hand.  The milk tea isn’t really necessary, in truth (unless we’re having breakfast), but the contact (or potential for contact) is.  Because I would much rather tell this story using hand gestures; visual cues; call-and-response; scents – anything but words, either in English or in Chinese.

This is how it seems to work in Yuen Long, too – how it has always worked here, everywhere in Hong Kong (and elsewhere) since the beginning, as I’ve realized.  Histories and cultures are codified not only in words and images but also in tone and pitch, in gruffs and laughter, in aromas and sounds and tastes and textures.

That’s the ideal story I would like to tell.  No, scratch that – this is the ideal conversation I want to share with you.  A conversation that lets both of us discover what makes this place so remarkable, so compelling, so beautiful.

But since I am here and you are there, and because these screens cannot reconcile the distance between us…well, could I ask you to use your imagination a bit?  To take the skeins of text and imagery I’ve compiled and to put them together?

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Friday afternoon

First and foremost: credit where credit is due.  This excursion owes itself entirely to the exploits of the HK-China-South Korea food blogs TomEatsJenCooks and e*ting the world, whose respective authors – who, as I understand it, have paid their own homage to other HK food blogs, in particular Life as a Bon Vivant – took a trip to Sham Shui Po (深水埗) nine months ago in search of…well, food.  Good, honest, local food.

As such, this isn’t going to be as original a post as others have been, nor will it claim to be as informative – let alone authoritative – as, or maybe even different from, the others.  (You’ll even notice addresses here that have been conspicuously absent from previous posts, so savor this opportunity!) The most obvious reason is that the other journeys – even my own, in a way – have been well-documented (OpenRice in particular will attest to that), and their writers are very, very experienced when it comes to HK food – something for which I applaud them wholeheartedly.  But another reason (and one that I’m less proud of) is that…well, I haven’t eaten enough food lately.  Enough good food, that is.

All of that was enough for me to take the trip myself, to try and understand what makes something good…good.

And good lord, I think I found that out today.

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You may have noticed it from the staggered frequency at which I’ve recently posted entries here, but midterms are underway at HKUST and it’s been difficult to find opportunities to travel and explore.  Which is the way it should be, in all honesty, and yet –

Well, let’s be honest.  Does any student enjoy taking midterms?

At any rate, I’ve taken to writing some fiction lately, and this morning I just finished a story, so I’d like to share it with you here.  It has more to do with HKUST than it does with traveling, but I hope it’ll be enjoyable all the same.

Until I manage to return to explorer mode (which should happen within the next two days), this will have to serve as a stopgap.  

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Three attempts.

It took me three tries, three trips, three turnarounds to finally find this place.  I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to visited this area, at once a part of and yet so far away from Hong Kong and what the territory spans.  The first attempt to get from there to here (here to there?) was a casual reconnaissance-turned-retreat mission; the second, a logistical disaster with respect to transportation and circumstances.

But on the third attempt…well, even the success story isn’t a perfect one.  But I think it’s worth telling all the same.

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Written at the request of friends late on an evening at the Seafront café at HKUST.  (To said friends: this version is pretty edited, so it may not sound as familiar as it did when I first wrote it…)

A couple in the corner at Seafront. They could be anyone – friends? Certainly possible. Siblings? Not as likely. Two lovers? Probable.

It’s tough to determine who they are, though, given the language they speak. A language not your own; the cadences are irregular, the grammar unrecognizable, the vocabulary foreign. it could be the language of love, of daily life, of visions on the horizon.

“What does it mean?” you wonder…. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Grandfather (爺爺),

First and foremost, please forgive me – this is not the sort of message that I can express in Chinese, certainly not at my elementary level, and thus I must use English to communicate it.  I do not know if you will be able to read or understand it, but I hope you can understand that, perhaps of all the people in my life and travels, the person to whom I want to tell the most about my progress and development is you.

It has been too long since I last wrote to you for me to fully describe what I have done in the month that has now passed, so instead – or maybe as a consequence of this – I want to write about a single moment.  An exceptional moment that only now am I beginning to realize has captured an image, a cross-section, an inkling, but still an entity, not only of Hong Kong but of where I now stand in relation.

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I can’t remember what drew me here first.

The sight – low-hanging awnings; stone steps along a steep slope; light and shadow; older women; plastic chairs; fake wooden tables.  The sound – impatient yelling; raucous laughter; roaring flames; clattering porcelain.  The smell – garlic; oil; scallions; oyster sauce.

“What do you want, kid?”  The woman’s voice is one-half angry, one-third exhausted, one-sixth indifferent.

I smile, pull up a seat, and step into the darkness.  This – whatever it is – is going to be good.

It’s a dai pai dong (大牌檔).  Right in the middle of everything and nothing.  Right in the middle of Sheung Wan (上環).

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Chai Wan (柴灣).  Chai Wan.  Chai Wan.

I am, in my head, trying to pronounce the name as properly as I can.  It’s the first character, “chai (柴),” that has me confused – I can’t recognize or remember any of its Cantonese homophones, which leaves me confused as to the consonance (is it really a “ch” or more like a “ts?”) and the tone (is it low, or does it rise?). Every encounter with the MTR’s Island Line (港島綫) has included the female announcer’s voice saying the station name: 往柴灣列車即將到達,請先讓車上乘客落車……The train to Chai Wan is arriving.  Please let passengers exit first.  And somehow, every time I hear it, I forget the name.

Until today, when I suggest to Jordan (Melody, unfortunately, isn’t able to join us on this trip) that we take the train to its end.  Having consulted the MTR “tourist attractions” map, we decide it’s a good idea – the map doesn’t explicitly show it, but the legend indicates there’s at least one “arts/culture” attraction available here.

Pronunciation complete.  It really is “ch,” and the tone starts low before rising slightly.  Or something like that.

But that’s only a small discovery, only the tiniest of insights into what lies on this side of the Island – because if you look closely enough, you can see so much more.

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Saturday afternoon

Another signpost.  Another village.  Another path.  The options are now binary, clear-cut, definitive: move on, or turn back.

There is, in my mind, only one option.

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