My flight gets in about 30 minutes late as we arrive during a typhoon. Warning level 1, which is quite severe. It seems to have died out by the time I get through immigration and am met by KK. We get the Airbus which takes us on a graceful suspension bridge over the causeway, and a view of tens of thousands of containers appears, like little boxes in the port. Undulating swathes of 20+ floor tower blocks rise behind in layers as far as the eye can see, backdropped by the scrubby vegetated craggy mountains on Kowloon. A tunnel takes us under the harbour to Hong Kong island. We pass through central and admiralty like gorges lined with gleaming finance and bank buildings. Getting out on electric road we pass by an old theatre, an indistinct stone carved sign, and its auditorium open to the sky, concrete arched vaulting betraying the nature of the building. It’s a bit of an adventure finding the accommodation. Into an apartment building up in a lift to the 15th floor where after finding reception and paying, we are given directions to another block on the other side of the road. The girl shows us the route in quick time on a video on her phone. My building is swaddled in billowing sack-like material that envelopes the bamboo scaffolding that surrounds the block. Whilst waiting by the concierge for the lift we see an artists impression of the new to be painted exterior. I am on the 16th floor. The room is small but I’m getting used to it. It’s quiet, basic but I’m comfortable
After changing for the humid sticky and sporadically rainy climate we go for a walk around north point to find one of the restaurants I found on happy cows. KK comments on the staff being quite friendly. He doesn’t seem to expect friendliness. Apparently hk is famous for its impolite and aggressive restaurants. Nobody speaks English, and this is the trend for here. The menu is in Chinese. I let KK order my chow mein with mock beef. I have soya milk and there is a pot of green tea to share.
We take a walk around the neighbourhood, but have to return to get KK s forgotten umbrella. There is a local vibe with little workshops and stalls, I insist on investigating a little arcade. Almost every shop is closed except for one with glowing neon signage. It’s amazing: it turns out to be a sign making shop. The guy there sees us and beckons us over. He proceeds to show us his work and news cuttings. Apparently he has his own calligraphic style and is well known in the area. He grabs a brush and pot of ink and shows me some characters, painted on the back of an old pink invoice. I ask KK to paint the Chinese name he has given me. The calligrapher then has a go, then decides to try and teach me to write it too. His teaching is actually just showing me and telling me to copy. I make several concerted attempts, get frustrated with the difficulty of it and eventually give up. It’s hard to get away from the guy. We are not sure whether he now is going to expect us to pay him or not. In the end it seems he wasn’t after anything, just enthused by sharing his art. KK forgets his umbrella here too.
The last hour or so that we spend together starts by taking one of the rickety tottering trams along kings road and Hennessy road through wan chai and admiralty to central. We walk beneath fosters hsbc building with its ecto skeleton, dwarfing the colonial ex parliament building, but palming in height next to the bank of China tower. In front of the hsbc are 2 bronze lions called Sid and stinn named after the directors of the bank long ago. The building has gone through 3 incarnations, formerly being a beautiful Art Deco building. The lions are riddled with shrapnel holes. Under the building embedded in the pavement is a large map of the area we are on, illuminated by led strips. It shows the development of the area and you can see how several stages of land reclamation have shifted the shore further away. This all comes to life the following morning as we meet again here and are ambushed by a bearded gweio who demonstrates the app he has writte for hsbc, which is being launched on this day. The app is quite cool as among other things it turns the map into a through the decades 3D experience. For the first time when KK explains who we are he doesn’t mention teacher/student relationship. That’s quite nice. I hate being defined by my job. We cross behind the hsbc and up some steps next to which tumbles a feng shui waterfall. There is a little park, a strange landscape of palms against cutting edge power and status architecture of metal glass and high finance. There is a little Catholic Church in colonial style to one corner. We watch the dusk and the lighting up of the towers from a bridge. This looks over a very swan my looking bar, outside stand the gweilo bankers: Young British men with huge incomes all in white shirts, off duty without ties, standing imposingly in groups talking loudly and drinking beer. They could quite easily be in London.
KK is meeting some old school mates so we split up but I go across the harbour with him to tsim sha tsui. I take wander round the neon lit streets. Money changers, McDonald’s, sex shops, canon cameras. I follow signs to the garden of stars where there is a viewing point over the harbour to Hong Kong island. The constant light pollution makes photography easier at night. I take a walk around the space museum and the Hong Kong cultural centre and find myself under the old Kowloon terminal clock tower, which is all that’s left of the station. It is bathed in coloured lights and slogans, as is the rear of the cultural centre turning it into an amphitheatre of colour. There is a raised gallery opposite which gives another view of Hong Kong. Up here is a stage where at 9.15 a girl in a suit covered in LEDs begins a frenetic techno dance show which rapidly gets baled out as the rain comes down heavily.
We are right by the iconic star ferry terminal, so I get a ride across the harbour with its spectacular views. At admiralty I immerse myself in the lights, reflections and movement of the traffic spending an hour or so taking pictures.
I have beaten the jetlag!