Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hong Kong First Day

My first written comment on Hong Kong was sent in an e-mail to a friend who has provided much-valued advice on touring the city last night on the way in from the airport. Wow!

We arrived here late Monday afternoon/evening after what may have been the longest flight of my life, 15 hours

Only today, nearly 24 hours later, after a day of desultory touring (thanks Gray Line), was I able to synthesize my response to the city. Imagine, if you will, London and Los Angeles and New York compressed into a dense ball with accents from London’s and San Francisco’s Chinatowns. You may get an idea.

Generally Sharon’s and my approach to a new city is a tour, usually a hop-on, hop-off. They don’t seem to do those here, so we ended up with a Gray Line tour. It was a new experience. Back in the day, my parents used to travel a lot and they invariably toured with groups, returning with all sorts of stories of this one and that one and those whom they liked and those whom they disliked. Today we got a bit of that as we were loaded onto a bus for seven hours with a group of interesting folks. I’ll not go into that, as I have not the narrative skills to do some of these characters justice, but there was the group from New York. As Sharon put it, I never thought I would come this far to hear that much Yiddish. And the French family, the parents from France, the semi-gorgeous daughter apparently living here. Then there was the most exotic pair, two women, both in hijab, one a neo-natalogist practicing in Ulm, Germany who has to be one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and her companion; and then the rest of us, mostly unremarkable.

The tour got off to a late start, as is the manner here. Like New York, this city never sleeps, although unlike New York it gets up late. We thought we were sleeping in this morning and hit the streets at around 9:30 to find plenty of folks shopping, vegetable and fish markets dot the city in every precinct, but no shops open at all before 10:30. Still we got a chance to wander a bit and experience the opening of the Christmas season here (yes, it’s a big deal).

One is tempted to suggest purely for the sake of commerce, but our guide said it is also a big family holiday as well. By then we were on the bus which then wound its way through an unnarrated tour of the city picking up folks from various hotels. Oh, well, we got to see a lot.

By the time we got onto the big bus for the tour proper it was closer to noon. Our first stop may have been the most authentic and exotic, the Man Mo Temple, begun in 1847 and actually three spaces, one a temple to the god of literature, one to that of the martial arts and the third a shrine.

From there we went to Victoria Peak, an amazing site. As you emerge from the tram you run a gantlet of tacky shops and fast food joints, our favorite New York fries offering french fries adorned by hideous English-style sauces. Get past them (the shops, not just the fries) onto the trail that curls around the peak and you get a wonderful perspective of this city.

From there Gray Line takes you to the Aberdeen Fishing Village. A brief tour of this water village gives you a peek at the lives of Chinese fisherfolk who were, in Hong Kong, forbidden education before 1971. Since that date, which seems to have been a turning point in the history of the territory, the population of fishers has declined dramatically as these hard-working people have had alternatives to the lives they were confined to previously. So much for imperialism as a good thing, as argued by the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson.

Aberdeen Bay also gave us a surprisingly good lunch at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, an elegant and tasty tourist trap.

After lunch we were shepherded into the Dynasty Jewellry Manufacturer. OK, we fell for it, purchasing a diamond and ruby cocktail ring for Sharon. It is our 40th wedding anniversary next year and I have been known to spend money on myself for pens, you know.

The visit to Stanley Market was worth it only because we wound through the hills and the spectacular architecture of Repulse Bay. Unfortunately we did not stop, so I could not shoot any of it.

The Market? Think of the largest weekend drive-in flea market you have ever seen and treble it. Ugh! At the foot of the market is a nice little village.

I did get a silk pouch that will stand-in for a three place pen pouch as I forgot to bring an extra pen case and don’t want to bring a dozen or more of my “travel” pens into China proper tomorrow. Next stop, Shanghai for three days starting tomorrow. I’m not gonna bother with the laptop, I don’t think, so the blog will come only after our return.

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