Archives for posts with tag: markets

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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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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Four days – it’s been four days since I last updated this project.  An eternity elsewhere in the world; a blink of the eye here in Hong Kong.  (Maybe that’s what they mean by “time difference?”)

At any rate, I’m sincerely sorry for the delay.  Academics, lethargy, and other responsibilities (not sure if “lethargy” counts as a responsibility) had hindered any attempt to travel, let alone write.

Until yesterday, that is.  So let’s jump in, hop on the East Rail Line, and head to Tai Po.  But let’s take our time, because Tai Po, as we’ll discover (or maybe you’ve consulted a map already?), is huge.

And once again, we’re heading for the markets.

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Wednesday evening

Britney Spears.

It’s when I hear her voice blasting over a vendor’s radio that I know I need to get out of here.  Past the soulless sellers pawning off their tawdry wares (“Hey! Hey, woman! Hey! Hey! You want Prada?”), past the tourists who watch everything with a mixture of bemusement and intrigue, past the colorful but blandly plastic merchandise heaped in disarray everywhere.  The obscene license plates (bilingual, because it’s Hong Kong, remember), the fake jade necklaces, the multi-themed (and at times barely intelligible – in English or otherwise) T-shirts, the bags, the clothes, the toys…even the low-lying international flags seem disjointed here, and I can’t tell if they actually promote HK’s “Asia’s World City” tagline or if they’re here just to complete the miserable scene.

At any rate, I’ve had enough.  Looking up at the apartment buildings – aged, but still alive, with laundry hanging from open windows – provides respite, but the music does not.  So I turn, leave, and wander off elsewhere.

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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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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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Breakfast in the student canteen: chow mein (炒麵) with a cup of milk tea (奶茶). Not very memorable.

I wake up.  It’s 8:10 – late, compared to the sleeping schedule I’ve set for myself here (7:30 a.m. for weekdays, 8:00 a.m. for weekends.  You read that correctly).  But the ten minutes make no difference, because I have no classes on Thursdays this semester.

I shower, dress, check that I’ve packed everything, and leave.  Up three elevators, and soon I arrive at the student canteen (there are several on campus, but for this post it makes no difference) and order breakfast.  A plate of fried noodles (炒麵) and a cup of milk tea (奶茶) for 10$HKD.  Not the usual breakfast, and unfortunately today it’s not that good.  But the ten dollars make no difference, because it’s Thursday.

I finish the milk tea and set the mug down.  I’ve finished my homework for this week, and I have nothing to turn in until next Tuesday.  All of my friends have classes at different times – it’s 9 a.m. at this point and the campus is buzzing with students heading to class – so I decide to take care of personal errands.  After fifteen minutes, I make up my mind.

I want to go to Sham Shui Po (深水埗).

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