This is my last day. I’m not sure what to do, and almost accidentally I end up getting off the MTR in Sham Shui Po, which is north of MongKok, and has a large street market. There is a mall full of little stalls selling a myriad of computer components and technological paraphernalia. I find a shop that just sells tofu. The blocks of bean curd are stacked between layers of wooden boards which are weighted down. It looks deliciously fresh and soft. I have cup of soya milk here.
In the side streets are metal recycling sheds: compacted tin, copper, aluminium squeezed onto racks.
Through a doorway a group of hand workers catch my eye. As I venture into position with my camera, one of them calls out in a friendly way. we chat about the weather in the UK. They are fixing zippers. The shop is full of racks and shelves of different types of zippers. This is all the shop sells.
On a street corner I spy what looks like a squatter camp: A low sprawling structure covered by assorted coloured plastic sheets and tarps, the outside festooned with banners. I venture inside. It is a labyrinthine market, dark, with narrow alleys, each rammed almost as high as the low ceiling with stacks and rolls of fabric. This is a fabric bazaar. As I explore cautiously, not sure if I am welcome, a lady called Margaret, sitting at her sewing machine calls out and proceeds to chat. She spend the next hour filling me in about this place, its history and its future. This is Pang Jai, the last remaining bazaar of its type and it is due to be demolished by the council who have sold the land for redevelopment. She gave up an office job abroad to come and take over the family business here. She says this place has become famous and and go-to place among fashion designers, students and costume makers in the film and theatre industries all over Asia. The traders have been campaigning for several years by running a number of events involving teachers, designers, school groups and communities to keep this place in the public eye and attempt to sway the decisions of the planners. She shows me some of her designs (which tend to be canibalised denims onto which she has stitched shells and beads and badges and slogans, meaning each of her garments has a story) and what she plans to wear at Saturday’s event: interesting PVC flower printed designs with Japanese undertones. I say I will attend the event, even though I can’t. Somehow this shows a loyalty to the cause.
KK has texted me, and it’s late in the afternoon. I had more or less given up on seeing him before I leave. We have about 30 minutes together on a wall in a noisy MongKok square, which is not the best way to part. Both of us have one eye on other appointments that we have made. He suggests next time we don’t meet in HK…I’m inclined to agree.
In the evening I meet up with Tom and we go to the buffet at Fortress Hill: to my surprise it’s really really busy. On my previous visits, I had enjoyed the slowness and quietness of the place. We talk about career and his family situation. At 9.30 we have to leave. I go and pack my small bag ready for the long long trip back home tomorrow.
Today I embark on a little excursion which I had been putting off for a while. I get the ferry from Central to Park Island (formerly Ma Wan), a 3o minute ride. The island lies beneath the motorway from Lantau and Tsing Ma bridge. There is no private transportation access, and it is home to a modern private residential development, and some dumb looking attraction called Noah’s Ark. I’m here to walk past all this crap and find the original village of Ma Wan on the western shore. There are some paths over the hill with “private property signs” which lead down to the main street, which snakes past some wharves, rotting old stilt houses hanging over the beach, a little temple, a ghostly children’s play area and the shells of windowless empty shells of abandoned houses. The street lights still work…The villagers were forcibly ejected to make way and increase the prestige for the new luxury developments. Some locals still fish from the beach and use empty houses as bolt holes. I explore a couple of houses, and climb up flights of stairs onto their flat roofs.
I miss the ferry to Tsuen Wan, as I’m engaged in a chat with KK. This leaves no alternative but to get the ferry back to Central, which is a pity as I had wanted to go somewhere new. In Admiralty I find a vegetarian “cafe” which sells fusion food and I have an interesting laksa risotto. I walk up Hollywood Rd to Man Mo temple, and take in the smokey atmosphere before waking back east through the antiques streets to the mid -central escalators. On the way I come across another calligraphy stand: same political party, same process of writing out good wishes slogans. I pass by Central, a building that captivated me last trip with its many mirrored surfaces. I spend a while exploring the optical effects with my camera and get some great shots.
It’s the end of the work day. Under an elevated walkway is a busy Chinese medicine shop, with workers following recipes to source ingredients from walls of labelled wooden drawers then weigh them out with hand balances. At the door a man is selling herbal teas from vast metal urns. I try one. It is acrid but feels good. I sense this is an old and traditional shop….but when I looked for it on Google Street view later, I saw an empty concrete shell, suggesting that it hasn’t been around for very long at all.
I have an anxious hunt for a recommended restaurant on the 23rd floor of a block in Wan Chai/Causeway Bay. Anxious as my phone battery has run out, and then because my Octopus card is empty so I can’t go anywhere else as it’s late. I’m the last customer in this buddhist place and I feel like a curio or inconvenience to the staff. Anyway the food is good, in spite of the hidden charges!
Today is the day that KK and I finally get together but it turns out to be a disappointment. His business venture has gone sour and his mind is fully occupied with that. After meeting in Mong Kok, where I have been killing time looking at the Anti-Falun Gong stall on Argyll Street, he drives me to the east of New Territories to Sai Kung, a very small fishing village. On the way we stop at a derelict ATV TV studio. KK is concerned about leaving the car anywhere and fears vandalism. In Sai Kung we walk for a while looking for somewhere to eat. Many places are closed, and anyway KK isn’t hungry. In the end I chose a Turkish-type place and have a falafel wrap. Not that great, and not really the nicest place to talk. KK has some kind of stomach issue and rather than enjoy being together and looking around, finding toilets becomes the goal of the afternoon. The afternoon is a bit of a disaster, and I feel a bit sad, as I have been here 9 days and I know we won’t have any more opportunities, and worse, I don’t know when we might meet again. HK is rather far from UK. As we both put it in a chat the other day: our time was wasted.
Back in Mong Kok, I roam around photographing the bustle of groups of people eating snacks on the streets, goldfish street, and a busking old man playing the erhu. I get lost in a mall and find myself at the wrong MTR! Eventually I make it back to Fortress Hill.
This is one of the loneliest days. I was hoping that KK might have been able to make some time at the weekend, but there are no messages. I don’t feel like doing much, but can’t sit indoors. I decide to see what’s at the western end of the tram line in Kennedy Town. Victoria Park is empty. It is cordoned off as preparations are being made for an event for the Spring Festival. The Filipino maids who usually gather there on their day off are clustered on the pavement and under the flyover. Admiralty looks busy with shoppers. Kennedy town is definitely an end of the line place. Quiet, seems to be home to quite a lot of Gweilos and full of western restaurants, with western prices. I have a late breakfast of various breads sitting on a bench looking over the harbour. Feeling a bit empty and listless. There is nothing to see here and so I walk East along the great named Belcher’s Street then Queens Rd West. Here I come across a trestle table stall where members of the Democratic Party are writing pithy new year’s wishes on slips of red paper. Passers-by queue up to get their carefully calligraphed slogans to hang on their doors.
In getting off the main road I end up under the dramatic sweeping flyover that carves a swathe over Hill Street.
I climb some steps which take me up to Pok Fu Lam Rd. Ahead of me is an impressive collection of towers and sky bridges: this is HKU. Curious I cross a bridge and am among the university buildings under one of the towers. It’s a ghost town, but everywhere seems accessible and no security guards, barriers etc. A small group of men are practising some form of self defence.
I pass them and climb 10 (?) flights of steps on the outside of the Biological Science Building. I’m very high up as the tower is pierced on the flank of a hill. The view looks over the northern towers of Sai Wan and beyond to Kowloon. Beneath me are several smaller, older, colonial-era buildings. One of these is the main building of HKU, which I visit later. It has the feel of a museum with its inner cloistered courtyard. Students have come here to take pictures of each other in graduation robes.
On Bonham street I enter Sai Ying Pun MTR by means of a lift which takes me down through the hill to underground level. I am taking the MTR to Tsim She Tsui and ISQUARE. Here I visit and Indian restaurant and sit on the terrace above Kowloon Park Drive as the sun goes down with a really good thali and lassi.
I’m tired. I can’t remember much more.
I dither around Oil St for a while and have a wrap for breakfast. Follow the back streets to Tin Hau MTR and sit on the square outside watching an elderly couple at a charcoal fired chestnut and sweet potato stall. Some kids are chasing pigeons. A sad lonely woman sits opposite.
I meet Marco at Prince Edward station. He is bigger and less cynical. I haven’t seen him since the Railway Bell in Brighton 4 years ago where we regularly met to watch football. I missed him when he left. We go to a down at heel Dim Sum place and sit not very comfortably side by side. The tea is nothing special, Marco attempts to order vegetarian dim sum but one of the greasy snacks is topped with bacon. We talk a lot about HK. I’m surprised at his lack of knowledge about the student leaders of the umbrella uprising, even though he graduated in IR. When we part he says we should meet again. We don’t. Kind of sets the tone for my visit…
After we part I wander past Yao Ma Tei market towards temple street. Back to an area that fascinated me before. Around the temple are little tables with people reading palms and tealeafs, and curious karaoke tents where seemingly limited to the elderly, some with wonderful voices, some atrocious, singing songs from bygone times. In and around are very crusty scabby homeless people. This seems a closed little world and I really don’t know exactly if these people are busking or if I should pay them for sitting and watching.
I have dinner in a busy place that I went to before. Last time it was starchy and dry and the same again. Looking at what other people have ordered I feel sure I chose badly from the big menu again.
Around temple street I buy a juice and while queuing am accosted politely by a guy who, he informs me, is a taxi driver who has lost his licence for speeding. I give him a few dollars to get rid of him. I take the Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui and the mtr from admiralty back to my little cell.