A Travellerspoint blog

A Tale of Two City-States

Dec 2

sunny

The midnight line passes without event, tucked up as I am on a meagre row of benches that house a dozy bunch of road warriors and backpack battalions. The inside of HKG is essentially devoid of activity, a faintly glittering shell that evokes the frozen inside of a long-lost Christmas cracker. To my right a strange chain gain of almost ten men struggle with cranes and other tools of medium industry to erect a few simple banners. A union job if ever there was one, it takes an inordinate amount of time and pratfalls to get a few strips loosely hung, seemingly unnoticed by most of my vegetative companions. One of the few watering holes open, 7-11 has gifted me a bottle of cold green-tea water that takes the bite off a few hours spent fruitlessly, more than one MRT stop away from sleep but unable to move further into the promised land of Plaza Lounges without a check-in crew or boarding pass at hand. The monitors give warning that already the flight is one hour delayed, and true to market-share, the Scoot counter opens half an hour late to compensate, at this point encircled by the few and the brave.

By about 0600, my papers in order, I shuffle through security and go in search of the solace of a quiet space, a snotty desire to distance myself from a herd which in truth does not exist at this unspeakable hour. I follow my aspirations to the Cathay Pacific Sky Lounge, blearily aware that access is a Platinum perk that has been some time axed, but ever hopeful. The picture of early morning self possession that moves elegantly to intercept me is quick and tightly pleasant, dismissing me with a poised diffidence that the Air China girls could only hope to touch. Back down I go to the lower gate level, finding the more egalitarian Plaza Premium lounge. It is essentially bare and pleasingly dim, a few business types slumped in club chairs, a pair of pilots to my left who seem to be partaking of pre-flight aperitifs. I settle on soy milk and a thimbleful of everything on offer: high fibre cereal, noodles, and congee. As I nibble, a breakfast rush begins to appear, decidedly lowering the tone. Someone walks away from a fridge with soda in hand and the door wide open, children are folded into the mixture with predictable results and I scoot off to let the morning market get into full swing. The flight to Singapore promises to be packed, a crowd already massing by the time I arrive with two chargers and a dream. I join the queue fashionably late and brimming with 220 voltage, finally boarded into an aisle seat.

Budget carrier that it is, we are presented with a three-four-three seat configuration per row, my two side neighbours a pair of indeterminate relationship, her mostly coughing as he sleeps smashed against the window like a runaway sloth. Across the aisle the next most proximal passenger also has what appears to be a case of whopping cough, unhelped by the lack of complimentary anything, making me almost charitable enough to buy him a bottle of ebola enriched mineral water for the journey. Not yet brave enough to pull on a face mask I grimace and bear it, nodding in and out of consciousness over the uneventful three and a half hour flight. Circling down on Singapore I can't help but peer obtrusively over the plausible couple to gaze at the sunny tropical expanse. Not seeing the city centre, I am taken aback at all the luminous shades of green and yellow and eager to make contact with tarmac. Immediately out of the plane the air in the skyway is like a backdraft, not nearly so shocking in heat as it is in sweetness. The airport is friendly and thoughtful, a tempting glimpse of palm trees visible through the bottom floor windows as I head for the shuttle desk to procure a wallet-friendly ride share. It is a simple procedure, and within fifteen minutes I am in a shuttle bus with three more passengers and two more hotels, a brisk and cheap option I maximize glued to the window.
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Palmistry

The drive is gorgeous, tropical fauna opening into a gleaming metropolis, full of marvellous architecture on high with low lying boroughs in Portugese and Arabic styles among others. My hotel is first, a charitable welcome and a quick ride to the fourth and top floor, where I find a perfect little room. Opening the doors brings in a gust of floral air, not at all the drinking-quality intake I expected from such a densely populated nation. The deck houses a comfortable nesting chair where I wilt, not before spying over to my left where my room borders the tempting pool.
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Aqua Serene

Firing back a bevy of texts with my local connection Joab, we agree that we will link up after he finishes a shift at his dad's engineering firm, and I regain a few hours of the large sleep deficit I'm running. I set an alarm, and spark out on the sun parched bed listening with half intent to the alluring sounds of the vaguely Arabic/Indian district I am housed in. Meeting set at the local subway stop for 7:30, I find the world coming back into view with a sticky sense of dread and cotton-wool mouth. Glancing at the clock I see it has gone 8:05, and three texts await from my new now-stranded friend. I jump on to chat and unleash a litany of apologies, tearing around and side-eyeing my new gilt tablet which has conspicuously not sounded a single alarm.

Joab is good natured as ever and quick to laugh it off when we finally link up at the Bugis MRT stop off nearly fourty-five minutes later. He buys me my first metro ticket, a reloadable card similar in structure to Hong Kong's Octopus, though smaller in reach. We bound downstairs to catch the train to City Hall where we cross tracks and make for our final call at the ION Mall. It is the typical Asian spire of marble and gold, perhaps a bit more restrained but nonetheless hitting all the main designer high points with some very plush dining options interspersed. It takes us a while to get sorted out in search of Paradise Dynasty where I am dead set on sampling their famous rainbow selection of xiao long bao, a tasting menu of steamed and soupy delight. We find a restaurant at the top, a likely locale with the moniker Paradise where we are seated in a lovely dining hall done in a traditional upscale Chinese milieu. Only when the menu comes does it become clear we are in the wrong paradise, and we excuse ourselves quickly, whirring around the rest of the upper promenade to find that our Paradise has closed just ten minutes previous. Mitigating the dream to another day, we set out to find some other dim sum delights, his friends texting him a promising suggestion.

It takes a good ten minutes just to find a way out from under all the marble and escalators before we are back headed street-side to a restaurant that seems more word of mouth than bricks and mortar. Taking a few sharp angles we find that the hole in the wall in question is plugged, this apparently their one day off per week. Running into overtime and hungry, Joab suggests an open air dining market with stalls of all different cuisines and flairs. I am essentially game, but on walking into the arcade from the nearly 30 degree night air and finding it not a degree less, I bashfully ask if we can find somewhere with at least a fan in sight. Joab laughs understanding as I play the Canadian card unashamedly, and we make directly across the street to a promising cafeteria I had already clocked, serving mostly a mixture of Indian and Singaporean fusion with mass appeal. No frills adorn the deck chairs and grotty tile but it is no detriment to the tasty looking offerings that steam on patio furniture between late office workers and casual diners. I opt for Mee Hoon Goreng, a gorgeous plate piled with noodles, protein and thick sweet sauce, while Joab grabs a huge helping of minced lamb in a Mutabak, traditional middle eastern flatbread dining at its best. He also downs a huge chocolate shake drink to beat the heat while I have a papaya drink swimming with fresh chunks of fruit. Deciding the large portions are not copious enough he also puts in for an order of Roti John, thick soft bread heated with spicy meat and veg inside and swirled in spicy oil drippings. Even in the sweltering heat I can't get enough of all three dishes, and we swap and stuff merrily, going back only to quench the fires with a second shake for him and iced green tea for me. The bill is small, the service warm, and I leave in a partially chile-induced glow at the incredible food options that literally spill out into every small street we come across.

I am absolutely stuffed, but we continue on with the promise of an amazing durian dessert, and by the time we have walked and chatted for close to another half hour I have made some room and learned much about Singapore and it's idiosyncratic/technocratic ways. Just to trash my idea of the super-strict state we jay-walk with abandon and even dare to discard gum wantonly, albeit in the dark. I feel enriched if still bloated by the time we hit the late night dessert cafe, not even realizing it is after midnight when we sit down to a huge bowl of fresh durian fruit served mashed and chilled in a soup pulsating with refreshing sago pearls. Joab lets me have the best of it, an amazing quencher swimming with sweet stinking pulp.
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A Portrait of Durian, Great

Underground transit trussed up for the night we walk back to my hotel, the soupiness of the air achieving a fearful symmetry to my saturated digestive tract, unwitnessed in the face of Singapore's charms. I think only now to ask where Joab lives, an apartment with his family that is far flung out by the airport, and feel a twinge of guilt at keeping him out late and at the mercy of a taxi. He seems totally unconcerned even as he describes the extra fares that get piled on past twelve, leaving with a warm goodbye and my assurance of picking up some tab tomorrow in recompense. Pouring myself into the chilled lobby of Santa Grand Bugis is like a cryogenic mud wrap, and I feel revamped before I even hit that strata of the fourth floor. Sliding the balcony door closed soundlessly after a fashion, my room light vanishes beyond the starry haze of city central, perfect and immaterial.

Posted by Camp-Aztitz 21:55 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

Bodhi of Evidence

Dec 1

rain

Acutely aware of the crunches that test both my abdominal muscles and time management skills, I decide quickly that my last full morning in Hong Kong will be best served by seeking out the giant Buddha statue which perches serenely on the rolling hillscape of Lantau island. The MRT line that runs with such focus to the airport continues on for a few more key stops before terminating at the base camp for pilgrimage, only rightly an outlet mall. Disembarking from the substation I find a wet chill in the air, water vapour poised to attack from any direction, driving me into the warm arms of a general discounter that stocks reams of hold-overs and never-rans from low and high end designers alike. I push through rows of the mundane and the sublime, the latter including a bizarre orange and yellow mesh and poly-blend shocker from Junya Watanabe that I am almost driven to splash out on like a wardrobe cure for scurvy. I opt instead for two more sensible choices in shades of navy, hoping that one or both pieces will be a fitting compliment to an evening at the Ritz. Pushing past some comically oversized mainlanders flashing more rolling white real estate than a Wenzhou condo developer, I get over-heated in an absurdist shoe section that begs for pride of place somewhere in my life.
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Ziggy Store Lust

Resisting the siren's call and having sadly missed the boat on foot binding by a good 20 years, I make my sensible purchases and head out in the greyness to skip the pricey tram ride and join a short queue for the 28 bus to Buddha town. It arrives shortly, laden with a good mixture of Chinese and foreign tourists spread out on the comfortable public grid. My bag sits on the vacant seat next to me, happily bumping along up winding turns through humid air and largely unspoiled green. Half an hour out from the city's financial and service centre feels truly a world away, a perfect release valve after days of involuntary crowd-surfing downtown. A particularly steep grade catches me by surprise, downing my purse and sending a torrent of makeup containers down the aisle, a dingy mirror spinning ominously a row and a half down. I look appropriately sheepish, waiting for a slower curve to duck down and gather my pieces, elegant as always as I manage to whack my head on the seat back in my hurried quest to pull myself together. Mirror uncrack'd from ride to slide, no curse upon my chilly hide, I disembark with the rest and feel karmic wind through my bones. Pulling an umbrella up and open feebly I am at once underdressed, pinning for the ubiquitous puffer coat and hustling up to keep cardiac function flowing. I march past tour groups and food stalls, stopping only once before the main drag to capture a little abode, pock-marked but charming.
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the Priory of Lion

I rush next through a couple of temples where incense burns bright and gilt statues are ever vigilant before turning my eye up to the giant Buddha that sits atop a staircase of 268 steps, a trifle in comparison to the momentous emotional spire that leads to transcendence. Barely up even to the former, I rocket up between couples and families, missing the forest and nearly the trees in the desire to get some nice shots and get back on a warm vehicle. The view from the pinnacle is stunning, made more so by the wet atmosphere, and I can't help but take a few moments to breathe deeply as I survey the marvellous statues and the great beyond. Shopping opportunities only located discreetly within the facade of the Buddha there seems to be at last a small measure of restraint on the capitalist dragon, and the view is all the richer for it.
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Green Fees

Refreshed and quietly pious, I run down the stairs and quickly bin any spiritual learning as I splash out at a delightful gift shop on all manner of wares, my personal treat a cardboard miniature of a MRT station complete with little shops and ATMs. Once I am a few hundred HKD lighter I make back for the bus, joining a longer and colder line than the first, legs pumping like I am treading water until the coach pulls up. Safely onboard I watch the late arrival's resignation before the spin down the mountain brings me back to my warm MRT snug-hole. I am back at the apartment in decent time, now mid-afternoon and having neither heard from nor contacted Johnny. Thinking further on my travel details I realize that my 5am flight the next morning necessitates travelling to the airport at a time when my only option will be a pricey cab. Ruminating on the matter I decide to just leave the apartment this night, grabbing one of the last express trains and dealing with a few extra hours at the lonely airport to make up some of the financial hits I have taken courtesy gift-ware. I ready myself to leave around 1100, my Ritz plans indefinitely on-hold, and email my landlord to let him know I'm on my way out. He responds quickly and it is as simple as closing the door behind me to end my Sheung Wan immersion. Having looked one last time with fondness at the tiny but neat set-up, I can appreciate even my sore head as I emerge from the front door to a surprisingly brisk Hong Kong evening. Thankfully brisk also is the hailing of a cab, a red car pulling aside just minutes after I step to the curb, taking me just as far as the proximal Hong Kong express station where I replenish my Octopus card and clamber aboard the silent bullet, headed straight back into the heart of Lantau.

Posted by Camp-Aztitz 11:33 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Guise Wide Shut

Nov 30

sunny

The dolefully cheerful Mr. Bing is the first face I see, a perfectly yellow expression of dumb cheer gazing out from a greasy liner atop my trash. The fragrance of duck lingers subtly, piquant in the air of an aborted evening and promising morning. I decide it is time for some culture, and mark the location of a slick history museum on my map, thoughtfully located within walking distance of H&M, my other main target in a hunt for a perfectly cropped evening pant. I opt this time to take advantage of the many bus stops that lay just outside the building frontage, climbing on the 101 within minutes of bringing shut the rusty grill to my retreat. Octopus only mildly dinged, I move to the top of the mostly empty double decker taking point by a window. We pass numerous other multi-level carriages, a charming sight weaving through distinct districts each offering a healthy dose of clarity to visual and olfactory senses.
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Shek O, Sweet Chariot

We cruise into the harbour tunnel, my first time being acutely aware of descending under the bay, coming up in Tsim Sha Tsui before diverting east. At some stage I get the vaguest sense that I am leaving the probability of my destination behind but am unmoved, confident both in the posted final station and my ability to navigate below ground in a crunch. Sure enough, the sprawl becomes decidedly residential, population density falling off in a surprising quickness as we begin to peek on the vistas of the New Territories that stretch to the Chinese land border. Last call is at an interchange with no distinguishing features beyond a lot of young guys in oversized tank tops milling around undersized apartments. I slip off, the picture of calm in the face of a failure to launch, blood made thick with Clonazepam and durian whipped cream. Shuttling down a few alleys I finger fake watches that aspire no higher, before circling around to an MRT station. No time at all and the light-rail marvel has me back sea-side, in close range of the shopping sprawl.

Moving away from the harbour I am an undercurrent cutting in and around the cliche mainland tourist hordes. Beginning to wonder if there is a booming trade in knock off shopping bags, I take paper corners from all the usual top end brand names, held awkwardly on elbows for maximal effect. Fearing I might be sick at the sight of another garish Dior window display pushing suffocatingly high necklines in Hollywood regency prints, I take my usual escape by slipping into the tasteful airiness of a small Muji on the top floor. Deep breaths of supima cotton Ts and simple Japanese housewares brings me the strength to emerge again into the smell of new money and old silhouettes, darting across to the huge H&M which promises nothing and delivers accordingly. Stymied, I pace a few blocks before drawing back to the water, my new plan an excursion to one of the lesser islands that dot the waters around Hong Kong proper. I find no such option, and with a freshly bought carton of pear flavoured milk threatening to turn in my purse I decide it is time to make the central crossing. I enjoy a top deck view this time, sunny skies gifting a healthy dose of Vitamin D I beat off with sticky layers of Japanese sun armour, reapplied furiously in one of many anxiety/vanity hybrid rituals. Docking on the second floor means I am that much closer to Kee Wah, this time settling on an ominous black slice of roll cake, promising charcoal flavour. Sliding the dark magic into a sleeve I am back at dried fish mews in no time, happily munching on the sweet afternoon quencher.
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Au Pear

Turning to the prospect of online procurement I begin a bevy of inquiries into options for delivery of hot Chinese rations to my settlement. Multiple awkward phone calls later and I find no takers amongst Hong Kong's many food delivery companies, the lack of a local phone number a deal breaker. Ready to pay any cost to secure some crispy prawns in egg yolk I plead to be allowed an exception for my Canadian number, ready to pickup long distance tabs on both ends. The strategy is fruitless, the idea of a single person in a rented apartment without a local landline or cell almost appalling to some, leaving me gastronomically frustrated. Turning my eye to shopping for company instead I peruse a few local dating apps, some hopelessly rigged with fees, others bereft of members. Feeling that Johnny is far from a sure thing for our Ritz meet-up, I keep my homing beacon lit, hoping that even on the ever fragrant fish street I can bait a line on short notice. Hungering now only for sleep, I am sated in thirty minutes or less.

Posted by Camp-Aztitz 18:57 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Farewell, My Couch-Cubine

Nov 29th

all seasons in one day

Packed like proverbial sardines, the occupants of concrete row alight from their beds generally in my wake. I have been up since early morning, toying with options endless for how to spend my half-day before I am due to meet up with Johnny, a local make-shift guide. Mildly appalled by the return fare to Macau I de-list it, deciding instead to head in search of knock offs at a large local market. Calling it a draw with the shockingly crowded shower leaves my hair in a soft wave, a charming contrast to the litany of bruises inflicted by the now-soaking bathroom. Down once again to the MRT, still marvelling at the elegance and accessibility it affords, I am slightly shaken to think that my impending trip to Japan will cause an efficiency-aneurysm. One line change later and I am up in the liminal zone that separates Tsim Sha Tsui from it's slightly seedier cousin Mong Kok. I consult my offline maps repeatedly, beetling around what I take to be market town and stumped at the lack of spending options.
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There be Dragons

A single metal shutter goes up, a beacon in the stillness that brings a small clothing seller who manages to pack flammables more densely than a fire log. I find what I seek, a belt to hoist a sad looking pair of floral trousers which seem to have wilted in the subtropical climate to hang loose on my equator. I spend the few dollars happily, emerging back to the street where there is now a small regiment of men assembling metal carts. Most shops still shuttered I finally twig that I am on Asian time, prowling in a district known for late night markets at the ungodly hour of 0900. Spying a cart with phone cases, I peel a partially shifted tarp back delicately with one aqua claw, bringing a tanned bundle of life with a pepper curl set shuffling up. "Naw open!" she exclaims, and I apologize, showing her a photo of a Juicy Ipad case, asking if she knows where I might find an illicit cousin. No is the gist, and I move on untroubled, deciding that it is time to abort my early mission.

I make a few more inroads before it is back to the MRT, up to my suite to thread thin blue faux-suede between belt loops and make final arrangements with Johnny. We decide on Exit J from the Central sub-station, an alphabetical appending I have only just now noticed. Bucket list in hand, I ride the one station over and twist through corridors to emerge at J-town, the most appealing vista yet. The heart of the financial district rises up above me, backed by the lush green Victoria peak. No sooner have I cleared the escalator then I am the target of a leaflet-ing, for a cause I can't discern but meet with gentle recoil. Seeing no one familiar, I take a seat on the concrete bench that runs around the verdant plaza and study my prospects. One man is something of a fixture, an older gentleman with a craggy complexion and wandering eye. Remembering Johnny only as a mid-twenties dish who self described as both cheerful and "a little bit dumb", I let my eyes too wander in search of more verdant pastures. A few faces come and go and I begin to worry that Bachelor Number One is indeed the not-quite avuncular figure by the escalator when Johnny approaches. Broadly kind-faced, his cheer and kindness are apparent immediately, a full assessment of his intellectual capabilities still pending. We make small talk as we head up the garden path where I am enlightened to learn that the leaf-letters are part of the Hong Kong protest movement. There is a visible police presence at every corner despite only a trickle of polite protesters, but we are careful to avoid lingering with any questionable company despite my temptation to grab a yellow umbrella and charge. A counter protest movement shows greater numbers just up the way, megaphones out and preaching. Johnny's English is good, and it is not long before we decide to first tackle a trip to the Victoria peak, the famous pinnacle of Hong Kong island. Approaching the line for the scenic tram route reveals a scene just as likely to be bargain day at Snake Blood Emporium. We decide after only a few moments that it is not worth the trouble and set on the idea of taking a relatively affordable cab ride instead. Seizing on Hong Kong bucket list item the second, Johnny promises to find a local hole in the wall famous for their turtle jelly. The first subway ride and walk prove fruitless, the holy grail apparently closed temporarily or indeed defunct in some way. Searching out a second best option, we come across another stop shortly after, a typical Hong Kong establishment that counts about 3 tables behind a steel door for its ambience. We are only two, drizzle beginning to hang outside the rusty pull down while we move in on two bowls of dark green jelly, chilled to perfection. Bitter but inoffensive, it reminds me of grass jelly, and we both finish quickly after applying drizzlings of honey.
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To Shell and Back

I intone some gracious words in Cantonese to the hostess, earning a surprise smile and pronunciation praise for my tonal troubles. Sure that my Qi is aligning with each moment, we set out with the task of finding a taxi to the top. Drizzle is now a slowly drifting fog of rain, bringing all manner of locals and tourists out like rats to the curb for the safe passage of a car. After failing to secure any of the multitude of cars that pass it begins to seem that we are in a losing game. Not to be bothered with something as tiresome as a phone booking, we are caught in masses of people moving up and down glittering roads in the dark of the commercial centre, at the mercy of cab drivers who apparently have little interest in a relatively short trip. "That's illegal" Johnny bites, explaining that denying a fare because of a small commission is against the law, but apparently part of a syndicate of shiftless drivers and corrupt police who allow the silly situation to continue. We try main roads and small thoroughfares, so hopelessly outgunned that the sight of a cab without a "reserved sign" causes my breath to catch in my throat. Playing hero, I run full tilt out into oncoming traffic, the sound of screaming sidewalk-goers in my ears as I weave past moving cars to pursue the golden fleecing. Rattling at the cab window, I am rebuffed, and make a walk of shame back up to Johnny's position past stunned locals teeming at the curb-side. It strikes me as ridiculous to be standing in the richest part of one of Asia's richest cities, constantly in danger of getting clotheslined by the ubiquitous Dior and Chanel shopping bags, thrown together like we are all in proverbial steerage with nary a car stopping. Our nerves both going, Johnny and I stalk up a small street, taking point on opposite sides of the road when a taxi finally slows. The passenger making his way slowly from the car is literally in a full leg brace, but I take a defence stance regardless, shadowing his exit with a distinct lack of taste to ensure the prize doesn't slip away. No sooner is the velcro-wrapped boot and stiff limb out the door than I am in, no longer asking after a ride, but simply telling. Hand forced, the driver rounds and begins back up to the peak with the human equivalent of two wet cats in back.

The ride takes us up a winding path, astronomically expensive condos dotting the hillside that lies largely shrouded in mist. From what I can make out it is beautiful, albeit going off a few feet ahead of the car that can be revealed. Reaching the top, we disembark where I find, not entirely to my surprise, that "The Peak" is another shopping extravaganza. A multi-level mall is busy with shoppers, the outer decks for viewing tacked on like an afterthought where only a handful of people move in and out of fog. Johnny and I join them, savouring the thin air, if no view to speak of beyond a bizarre giant floating bear filled with colourful baubles. Knowing when I'm beat, we slip back inside and find a small dessert shop with a promising display. Johnny opts for Mango pudding, I for durian-cream filled pancakes, a delicious toast to our exciting taxi quest and mountaineering. After failing to secure some shin guards in Adidas for his late night soccer game to come we get back in a taxi queue, this time bound for Mr. Bing, a Beijing crepe restaurant I have set my gaze on.

We arrive in the small cafe, the lack of real seating making our decision to take-out, two peking duck "Bings" hot and steamy in our carry-out ware.
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Peking, a Friend for the End of the World

The subway brings us back to Sheung Wan where I find that the allure of duck has overwhelmed my faculties and I struggle for a good 15 minutes to guide us back to my simple abode. I pass Johnny a tissue, not for the first time noticing a sweat-drenched forehead, and wondering about the balance of his elements. Presuming that turtle jelly and chilled mango are no antidote to an excess of fire, we settle in with our still slightly steamy crepes as Johnny contemplates out loud whether his unprotected shins are up to a late night soccer game after all. The crepes are delicious, the taste of duck lingering with other local flavours. The late game suffers a few strange fumbles, Adidas ego guards a glaring omission in the catalogue as Johnny makes to catch the last half of the game. He over-eagerly re-confirms our plans to meet again on Monday for drinks at the Ritz, doubly cheerful as before while I fold laundry with a studied disinterest. Applying a smile worthy of a Malaysian air hostess, I bid him a grey goodnight, letting his hand be the last on the door.

Posted by Camp-Aztitz 07:02 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (3)

Octopi Central

Nov 28th

sunny

An entire day has slipped under me as I begin to stir in the newness of a rumpled bed, laid out like one of the smoked fish that spill from every storefront on the road below me. I have made my way along the island's coast to the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Sheung Wan, in which I reside in a small but effective apartment with more window real estate than floorspace. Harbour views tease to my left even at this early hour, as concrete monoliths slumber in every other opposing position. Having had my day to unpack and cure in the hotbox around me, it is time to move unencumbered around Asia’s self-proclaimed First City. Two tries is more than enough to determine that the bathroom is not interested in my cranial well-being, the tiny shelves poised over the sink catching me again as I try to pre-emptively lift the grime from my face. Off to the kitchen I go, a surely better example of Feng Shui, where I find the basin and headroom makes for a better workspace. The plan is vague, a small list of Hong Kong essentials the roughest of road maps to shape my steps after bolting the thick iron door that secures apartment 6F in the Ka Yue building. I opt for the stairs, deciding that ten floors of dusty stone and worn reed baskets is just the starter I need to face the rougher edges of my sky city.

I do a small circle in the domain of smoked, pickled, preserved and generally lifeless seafood before making a few blocks over to the harbour side walk, taking in a beautiful vista of Kowloon where glass visions rise and fall like sheet music. The crowning glory is surely the International Commerce Centre where my siren's song of a hotel, the Ritz Carlton, is perched from floors 102 to 118.
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Sootin' on the Ritz

Heat and uncertainty moving me along at something between a saunter and a scamper, I can see the ferry terminal to Macau up ahead. I toy with the idea of an impromptu trip, mulling it over in the coolness of the attached IFC mall, before making a different course down to the subterranean pull of the MRT. A small service desk is where I nab the apropos Octopus card, loaded with HK$100, a lengthy lifeline in this superb and affordable transit system. Nabbing a train to Central, I switch to another, moved blissfully by the crowd, only vaguely cognizant of moving to the Kowloon side of the harbour. When I bubble up it is in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, the heart of tourist town with it's island views and neon facings. At mid-day it is not especially busy nor compelling, the urge to explore sated quickly as the temperature rises to a mid-day crescendo. Perched atop a cement encirclement by a theatre I look directly to the Star Ferry terminal, a venerable HK institution and next port of call.
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Pier Pressure

The charge falls lightly on the flush tendril of the Octopus and I take a seat near the back, enjoying surprisingly fresh sea air as we make the brief crossing. Docked and locked, the manageable afternoon crowd disembarks through Central pier where my eye draws me to another HK staple, Kee Wah bakery. Settling on a spicy tuna pastry and requisite pineapple tart, I sink into subway splendour, only minutes away from my Sheung Wan terminus, soft shoe-ing it past soft shell crabs to find the discreet building door tucked between colourful shops. The heat and humidity have left me strength only for a kitchen-sink scrub down and pastry party, buttery flakes melting away under the spotlight of a Hong Kong winter.

Posted by Camp-Aztitz 02:58 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

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