Friday, February 15, 2013

Hiccup in Hong Kong

Our evenings were spent with friends, weaving from one restaurant to another. We even ventured to an Irish pub after a bit of a scuffle with the inebriated 18 year old whose preference for 16-year-old-buxom-and-sexually-adventurous-girls compelled him to assume the role of doorman. Yes, to let them in and keep out the middle-aged people such as ourselves. I was tempted to pull this child by the ear and whisper ‘Silly boy, don’t you know you can learn more about life and its pleasures from an older woman?’ Our efforts were not justified by the reward: we stepped into a trendy yet tawdry bar with explosive music-from-the-1908s-that-should-have-been –discreetly-swept-into-the-rubbish-bin-along-with-Madonna-like-clothing. After consuming a few drinks prepared with cheap liquor, we exited the bar with newly sprouted hairs on our chest and already pounding skulls.

Our days were spent exploring the wonders of Hong Kong Island. The humidity and scorching temperatures threatened to leave us looking like a rumpled-and-discarded-piece-of-wrapping-paprer-from-a-childs-party. We were torn between sitting in a café and exploring the city. The Central-Mid-levels Escalator, consisting of a mile-long stretch of covered, mostly elevated escalators and walkways that takes less than a half-hour to navigate without making any stops, served as a compromise. Nevertheless, we still depended greatly on our baby wipes to remove the never-ending accumulation of sweat!

When crossing the walkways that crisscross the city, I heard a strange chattering sound as if a thousands trapped birds were flapping their wings. I turned to find hundreds of Filipino women seated on the floor, as far as the eye could see, on makeshift chairs and flaps of cardboard. Immigrant workers with their children reared by grandparents back home, they gathered every Sunday - like flocks of colorful migratory birds - to gather in clustered groups. Their collective, melodic chatter sounded somewhat surreal on a Sunday, the day of the week when the urban heart beats less frantically, when the exhaust-spewing buses thin out, the motorized din dies down and the commuting, shopping masses rarefy.

From dawn until dusk they talk, laugh, paint one another’s nails, sell the occasional odd and end, and play cards. They also picnic, cross-legged on blankets or slabs of cardboard spread out on the concrete or crouched on camping stools, placing dozens of Tupperware containers filled with homemade goods on the ground to share. These tiny yet tangible extracts from their island created a tapestry of scents and colors.

Our day was a sensory discovery of a constantly changing cityscape - from traditional, to modern and elegant, to seedy - that delighted our 6 senses. Avenue of Stars, where commemorative plaques, cartoon characters, and a life-size statue of kung fu action hero Bruce Lee set the glamour of Hong Kong’s film industry against the captivating dazzle of Victoria Harbor. A bit tacky but from a cultural perspective, it was fascinating to witness the locals borderline-slight-obsession with cartoon figures. Hello Kitty anyone?

The subway system was also intricate and well managed, extending even to the boats that traveled between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. And strolling in the city was not stressful as it is in China where one runs across the street  - hoping not to slip on the great globs of split that populate the roads - since cars do not pause to let pedestrians cross. People from Hong Kong do not usually refer to themselves as Chinese and their insults towards the mainlanders can be quite intense ( Were the differences between them inherent character or socialized? 

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