November 9th, 2006

full steam ahead

A flock of herons, a deafening of mynah birds

Hong Kong is a cultural crossroads so we had lattes (Italy via Seattle) in a Japanese store (Sogos) in English style bone china with Dutch inspired decorations (made in Japan) listening to phonetic versions of chansons and soft jazz and we bought eel sushi and sesame rice crackers and peach mango tea to mix the cuisines.

Then MTR to Central and looking at the fountains and Christmas decorations and nice restaurants and round in circles while we find the bus to Stanley (turns out the buses are underneath the plaza). The bus switchbacks up over the hill and down along the coast to Repulse Bay (where one apartment building has a whole for the dragon to fly through and a new semicircular building looks a perfect Bond villain headquarters) and then stops just above Stanley, which runs downhill to the sea. The market is a long covered alley of stalls and shops, with tat, silk and everything in between. The promenade will be lovely when they finish building it: for now it's a building site. The Tin Hau temple is dark with gleams from the statues: the skin of a tiger shot in Stanley in years gone by has turned black with age and incense smoke.

Stanley Main Street is Spanking Monkey Sportsbar territory, with fish and chips and Carlsberg on offer. We eat thai at Murray House, an imposing granite mansion that used to be on the site of the Bank of China (the spikey building) and was moved brick by brick.

Back on the bus, through Repulse Bay and round to Aberdeen, where factories line the streets, high rise flats line the harbour and sampans ply between the fishing boats, ferry piers and the giant floating restaurants; they aren't many houseboats left but it's still wooden boats side by side with the modern city. We watch three men practice tai chi with swords. Fish eagles hover over almost any waterfront in Hong Kong but they hover more and swoop lower over the fish market. Flocks of white herons fly the length of the harbour and mynah birds chatter past us to roost in deafening hordes in the trees. It gets dark early in the tropics and the sky turns pink soon after five.

The express bus back to Central goes through the tunnel, with colour-coded times for standard routes. A golden dragon curls up at one intersection, balancing a pearl on his tongue: at the back of an arcade is a tiled wall of dragons. We take the weirdly thin double decker tram back to Causeway Bay: all the windows are open and after the heat of the day it's a balmy evening. After a quick rest at the hotel we head out to the night market on Temple Street. Think Berwick Street market on steroids and acid: tightly crowded stalls selling shiny hair clips, torches, t shirts, jade, dildos, kimonos, hats, bags, pirate DVDs and a hundred other things. We follow the guidebooks instructions on haggling and probably still overpay but we're happy.

There are plenty of restaurants with tables on the pavement. We stop at one with a tout who looks like the bad guy in Kung Fu Hustle and have crab and prawns with cashew nuts and fried rice and choi sum (which last redeems us of whatever it is that the tout complains of about the prawns). Delicious: and less disturbing than the wiggling mantis prawns on plates, or the frogs I see under a bushel or the clams that stick their tongue out at us. Enormous bottles of Tsing Tao appear and it turns out we're thirsty!
full steam ahead

Going up and down and up and down and up

We took the tram to Central (where the 'raucous fruit and veg market' is silent and locked) and then up, up, up on the mid-town escalator, pausing only for coffee and Kripsy Kreme donuts part way up. A small donut theatre so fresh donuts - yum. The escalator is a series of travelators and escalators and short walkways, so you can get off at any street or at the mosque, or enjoy the sight of the skyscrapers shrinking down.

Down to Central again in a light bus number 3, which has superb brakes to cope with the slopes through the zoo, then across the handy walkwayus for the ferry to Lan Tau (Central to Mui Wo, about every 30 minutes). The loo near the ferry pier has a tuneful song playing, with advice like 'please use soap to wash hands thoroughly'. The main loo is a pissoir with a note not to put newspaper in the pan. That's a level of local life I think I'll skip trying. We do try the robot ice cream machine, with a vacuum arm that reaches in and sucks up a tub of pineapple sorbet to drop in the tray.

The ferry is the fast enclosed one but we still get to see Kowloon and the new bridge they're building and the typhoon shelter and the very long Tsing Ma bridge (so long it crosses two islands before it hits Lantau) and Disneyland and plenty of derricks teaming up to unload container ships in mid channel. The South Seas are green and pleasant and the on-board video advertising the Macau run is unintentionally hilarious ("Sweetie, did you know this ferry is covered with the latest anti-fouling paint? Later, I'm enjoying this reclining seat. This boat is so stable I can apply vast amounts of lipstick and look like a clown...")

Bus number 2 runs from the ferry terminal, rattling up over the hill into the forest, past two buffaloes in a garden, along the shore and then up and up and up, from level with the dam and the water intake and the funnel-like spillway of the reservoir up to the mountain that towers above it, and up a little more to the Po Lin monastery.

Behind the big bhudha is a complex of temples and gardens and lily ponds, full of bougainvilla and butterflies and visitors and still peaceful for all that. Vast iron incense bowls with flame licking out, the yellow roof and the great golden buddha and other statues, lotus tilesin the floor. The abbot is escorting a couple of visitors through the gardens and smiles slightly as he passes. The drone of prayers drifts across and up the many steps to the base of the statue and the six bhoditsavvas. Despite the haze the views across the island and down to the Shek Pik reservoir are wonderful. You can only see the bhudda's tooth in crystal if you have a ticket for a meal in the temple but it's still worth the trek. And a few minutes through the woods at the bottom of the steps are a tiny tea plantation and a tea house with a complicated procedure involving a thermos of boiling water first used to fill the thimble sized cups in a bowl which are tipped out with tongs. Then the water goes into the tea pot to brew, then the tea is strained into a jug so it doesn't over brew and you fill the cups from the jug, top up the teapot and start again. Very refreshing.

Waiting at the bus station, the sun paints the mountain rock pink as a backdrop to the grey white lion gate and gilds the bronze buddha on its hill. And down again with an apricot sun in a pink sky underlined by ranks of misty blue green mountains. Warning signs for cows and falling rocks: we see cows browsing on the verge but no rocks and no cows stunned by falling rocks either.

There's a long cable car line running from peak to peak, from next to the buddha down to Tung Chung. We saw the cars running all the way down - must be a fabulous view, for a scarey-go-high thing.

Quick visit to Taste - seems to be the local Waitrose (with Waitrose stock) - for eel sushi and fruit juice which we eat watching the Citygate musical fountain. This is a series of jets over a grid of lights, with Bellagio-style roaring jets that send the water so high and fast, with air in, that it sounds like a cannon, and background music. The light shines red and blue and green in the streams of water - pretty! Then the MTR back to the hotel (we're switching from the Regal in Causeway Bay to the Regal at the airport because we have to get up at $UNGODLYHOUR to fly home. Taxi to the hotel as the shuttle isn't for ages, showing us pretty city lights and completing our set of Hong Kong methods of transport.

And as I don't thing I can squeeze this into the work blog (try humming it). Underground? EDGE around means posting for free. The bloggers of South Asia PacRim are we...
full steam ahead

Flying home

Somehow I got up before 6, got through the airport, had cinnamon toast in the lounge, chatted about the weather in New Zealand and we're flying home. Bye bye foreign climes, hello (brrr) winter.