Guangzhou day 9 next

Chen clan ancestral hall
I can’t believe they have a collection of ivory carvings. Very intricate and decorative…..Girls taking selfies with these objects of barbarism. A group of teen boys has just sat down at the table in the courtyard I’m at. Why? There are plenty of places here. The rules of the temple outline that the mentally ill will be excluded

  

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Guangzhou day 9

This blog will now become random thoughts, now I’ve caught up with logging. 
Fu yau yuan Buddhist vege restaurant has a shrine by the door which some of the customers bow to on exit. The gracious and mildly amused maitresse de (if that exists) sits me by it, meaning the predominantly aged yum cha clientele pass pleasant remarks which are probably mild mockery of the gweilo using chopsticks. On 2 occasions the waitress asks me if I want a spoon. I think I do a reasonable job with kaozi. I guess I’m not graceful. Do they take pity on me or want me to feel comfortable with western eating utensils instead? I don’t sense hostility. They are very attentive and kindly in here. An enormous gweilo appears at the door and is rapturously greeted by a waitress. Obviously a favoured regular. He looks a bit like one of the reviewers on happy cows.
This is another place with never ending tea top ups. I think it gets stronger the longer the session goes on.

  

Guangzhou day 8

I can’t get the aircon to the right temperature, but anyway it’s cooler than outside. I want to get up early and see the city coming to life. On my street corner are the 21st century bare chested coolies, sitting and squatting, by the kerb, smoking and waiting to be called into action. There seems to be a thriving industry in sorting and collecting recyclables. Bicycles are used as delivery vehicles. I see 12 or so water tanks strapped to one. The little hutongs are atmospheric and historical. Homes to sleepy old people who stare impassively when I greet them. I do exchange a few words with a lady packing up her breakfast stall and offer to send her my photos of her. Another old guy asks me where I’m from. The rest look bemused and I’m not sure if this is guarded hostility for venturing into their shady streets bedecked with strings of laundry. There is a market stall selling chickens freshly slaughtered, a little show through whose curious Windows I peer. It is plastered with amateurish water colours of flowers and writing practice sheets. Inside seated on one side of a long table are two little girls diligently drawing as a youngish man with a white goatee points between an arrangement of vegetables and some sketches he is making pinned to the wall. A lady stands behind the girls and guides their movements. Evidently they are in a still life drawing class. An older man opens the door, I’m thinking to remonstrate, but he invites me in. I politely decline. Could be a bit awkward. Some people don’t mind being photographed. The coolies do, as does the furniture restorer sanding a chair on the street as his caramel coloured poodle sits in attendance.
I’m having lunch at zen again. This time it’s heaving and full of lively chatter. Bitter melon soup and fried noodles with bean curd skin.

  The route here takes me past countless little stores selling refrigeration parts, copper piping, hardware type stuff. That reminds me of the neighbourhood near Mong kok where all the little shos sold paint and decorating stuff. These kinds of places would have vanished decades ago as the diy mega store took over in uk.
The guan xiao si temple next door is week worth a visit and seems to be more monastery than temple. The garden is pretty and peaceful. On the hall of the sleeping Buddha a meditation chant has begun, primarily led by black and brown robed women, some men as well. They are not monks as they wear grey and nuns shave their heads. The chanters walk in a clockwise direction snaking in and out of the rows of cushions they squatted on and circling the reclining Buddha in the hall. Two ladies one clinking a bell, the other tapping a block, lead the way. This lasts at least 40 minutes and seems quite joyous. Outside I listen and watch. A 4 year old boy copies his mother and circumflexes.

I want to get somewhere else, but the hutongs and their rich source of image delay me. Finally I get the metro to yuexiu park and visit the museum of the mausoleum of the second nanyue King zhao wen. It’s a kind of pyramid covering the excavated 2000 year old tomb. This was discovered only in 1983 as the hill it was secluded in was being levelled for housing. The museum contains fabulous jade artefacts from the tomb, which fortunately had never been pillaged. This is the suit he was buried in.

  A thunder storm is brewing and I hit the streets and explore. Cities have a sense of urgency in the rain and figures sheltering under umbrellas reflected on the glistening neon lit pavements are an enticing sight. I’m hoping I will get a bit lost once I’m past the hospital and climb over a flyover, but there is something vaguely familiar. It’s the plumbing shops. Somehow I’ve made a direct line back to my familiar neighbourhood. I’ve walked a lot and sweated a lot. Time for a beer.

I wonder if anyone is reading this. Leave me a comment!

Hong Kong to China day 8

China day 1
It’s quite a mess getting out of hk. After 4 changes of metro and asking in 3 places at hung hom station for a train to Guangzhou, I learnl that there are no trains running and my best option is a bus, crossing town on the 87d, I text Kk to confirm that I have to get to some place near Mong kok. The guy at the China travel service gets me on the bus which arrives almost as soon as I get my ticket. Not much to report until d where we disembark to walk through immigration them onto a new bus which passes through a mile long tunnel under Shenzhen. The landscape is flat, the air grey and colourless with smog. Endless monotonous identical tower blocks. Busy highways, flyovers, underpasses crisscrossing and weaving together a dense claustrophobic urban sprawl. Hard to see where one city ends and another begins. There is no countryside. Guangzhou is huge and the traffic crawls very slowly towards a forest of ominous towers. The drivers seem affluent or are indicating status, as there are many Lexus, Mercedes, mazeratis, all of them texting at the wheel.

  
When I finally disembark its at the luxurious China hotel and I feel a bit of a fraud speaking to the bellboys, entering the rotating door and into the plush lobby to use the atm. Nice English spoken here. There is security at the metro, where guards use hand scanners to check bags. The system is cheap fast and efficient. The people are shabbier than Hong kongers, less smiley and seem more inward. The streets where I’m staying are of oven temperature, the thick air made more oppressive by fag smoke. A common sound is men expectorating. The streets are worn and a little frayed, compared to hk. Trash on the ground. Bikes and motorbikes using the covered pavements as their freeway. Crossing the road is less disciplined than in hk. I see a tower of flattened boxes being loaded on a truck, over the height of a double decker. It’s a relief to get to the lazy gaga hostel, which is cheery and communal, the total opposite to my anonymous room in hk. Oh and my room is 4 times the size and half the price. Everything is much cheaper. I have a bowl of rice, endless tea, fried lotus roots and asparagus tips and 3 fried meat ( nice English menu!) which is 3 types of mock meat with chilli. I recall and use some mandarin. Whenever you order spicy food in China the waitress seems to think you have made a mistake and double checks in astonishment that this is really what you want. The food here in zen vegetarian is plentiful and tasty. The vibe very relaxing.

I stroll back and take in the neighbourhood some more. It’s dimly lit. Street lighting is not abundant. It’s so hot that going topless at 8.30pm is the norm. I see many skinny shirtless guys who look as if they live on the streets. On the same block, an expensive modern piano shop, several green grocers with hanging paper lanterns, and nail bars. The streets are enmeshed by hutongs where men play Chinese chess and I even see a craft beer bar. This place is stimulating and I decide I should stay a day longer to explore in some depth.

Hong Kong day 7

After much dithering over breakfast I get an egg tart and sesame bun before heading to Kowloon tong to meet Kk. It’s a busy mrt station and Kk explains time his fascination with the sounds here. On swiping your octopus card to exit through the turnstile different electronic tones are made of different pitches according to whether you have a standard or concession fare. It’s a kind of wallpaper of bleeping but is a strange music. The soundscape is completed by babbling voices, footsteps and tannoy announcements repeated in Cantonese, mandarin and English embedding order and correctness subliminally. I can barely catch all the words. There is no “any abandoned luggage will be destroyed” like you would get on the tube in London, instead messages along the lines of “if you clear your throat use a tissue and dispose of it in the bins”. There is a nanny-ish obsession with hygiene here.
Kk takes me into a swish shiny upmarket mall called festival walk. It is aesthetically styled with multiple escalators, reflective glass walls, shiny floors, sitting areas (a luxury in hk) and a huge picture window framing lion rock and its residential foothills. We check out a fancy food stall called Taste, and it’s rather different from the Wellcome we visited yesterday. Western branded goods and European wines, an extensive cheese counter, waitrose labelled teas, olive oils. I’m interested who is buying these high ticket goods, and notice the shoppers with their minuscule trolleys only seem to be buying a handful of items. A weekly shop here would cost a fortune. Almost all the stores are western franchises and stylish jewellers. There is an ice rink named glacier ringed by eateries. It’s skating class time for kids, anything from 4 to 11 years old by the looks of things. When they fall down they don’t get hurt. Kk and I exchange our own single experiences on ice and are similar in our avoidance of doing anything that we can’t be good at or makes us clumsy. Later we see adults gingerly edging around the edge desperately grasping the rail. That would be us. Kk gets fascinated by the tractor that comes on during a break in sessions that polishes the ice. It looks like a simple but satisfying job being the driver. We have lunch in a western fusion type place by the ice. Kk has some lump of fish in a black bun. I have linguini in mushroom and truffle sauce.

Afterwards we leave the air con coolness to find a green minibus to revisit KK’s old stomping ground. He wants to show me la salle college, where he spent 12 years of his life. I try and imagine him here in his formative years. We can’t go in but survey the white block with its crest, so different from uk school architecture with its 9 floors, the statue of the benevolent founders, and a couple of kids playing football. School is out at the moment. On the wall of the opposite la salle primary school is a plaque which acknowledges a well known alumnus, Bruce lee. The plaque mentions the school’s reputation as “a breeding ground of the elite”. Is my friend a member of the future elite??

Kk shows me Kowloon tong, which is an old residential area full of eateries, and is familiar to me from the incredible photos of planes almost touching the houses as they came into land at the old airport. Kk seems to think the locals didn’t mind the noise so much.. At least not compared to the hike in property prices as the area prospered.

    
I want to visit the walled city park. This is a landscaped garden with water features and pagodas, which are pretty, but I’m interested in what once stood here, which is the famous dense labyrinth of the walled city, pulled down now 20 years ago at the behest of the British. This was the most densely populated land in the world, was home to lowlife, immigrants, triads and opium smokers, as well as containing cheap property for dentists and artisans. It evolved from a fortified settlement and all that remains now is the yamen ancestral home. There are diaramas, an interesting graphical cross section of life in these buildings rising 19 floors with no foundations. There is also the excavated remains of the original 16th century gate and a broken slogan. The garden, though relaxing in layout is plagued with dragon flies and we are jolted and vibrated by the pounding of a jack hammer that shakes the ground a block away. This deafening rhythmic thud bounces from mountain side to blocks and back again creating reverting all around us. It reminds Kk of primary school when they had to tolerate the same din for a few weeks. Apparently this kind of activity is restricted to an hour each rush hour time.
I’m keen to see the old airport but of course it is now being redeveloped and the spit of land that was the runway is now a pier for massive cruise liners. There are remains of access roads which sweep up and over the bypass, suddenly ending on the far side. They are overgrown and blocked off but we climb over a barrier to walk up and look at the view.

I head back to Kowloon with Kk, where he is meeting his parents. I carry on walking south in search of temple street market. Along Shanghai street are sea food restaurants with blue lit tanks of crabs and various fishes lining the Windows. There are neon lit games houses, and, I suspect a cluster of prostitutes on a corner. I come across the Art Deco 1920s cinema now the home of the hk opera and dwarfed by its surroundings. Next to it is a crumbling wholesale market that looks of the same era. At the top end of temple street I eat in ying vegetarian. It has a great menu but I probably order the wrong thing as its a bit dull; mock beef rice pot. Temple street market is cut in half by a busy road and after climbing around the temple garden I’m in a back street under the flyover, where there is a curious mix of fortune tellers and penned off areas which I can’t quite grasp. They could be bars, but there is no bar. In each one there are a few tables and chairs of the garden variety. Some of the ground is covered with carpet. Sitting there are old men in vests, smoking and drinking. At each of these 4 places someone is singing tunelessly into a mic. At one place the singer is accompanied by an old codger playing a keyboard. The singing clashes with one another. When I try to take pics, one guy gets a bit mad with me. Further down the street a guy is swaying to the music on his chair then gets up to slowly dance with his arms in the air with a not particularly willing passerby. Then I’m in temple market. It’s full of tourist tat, paintings, DVDs, tshirts, souvenirs. At an intersection is a stretch of bars mainly catering to gweilos drinking. I’m not interested in this kind of place.

I hit Nathan road which is full of night time promenaders. On the street corner opposite Chungking mansions are dodgy looking non oriental Asians whispering to passers by about their wares. Counterfeit watches was something I was offered. The big green mosque is closing for the night. I intend to take the star ferry from tsim Sha tsui, and take an underpass that is some long gallery depicting the history of the city and detailing the lives of its stars. This is the avenue of stars. It brings me out quite far from the pier so I walk around the back of the space museum, where there are strange little Astro grass islands, each crowned by a tree under which young couples lie looking at the sky or embracing. 

After disembarking at admiralty I undertake the long walk to fortress hill, pausing to watch late night football on the multiple pitches on Victoria park.

A few nights ago I was confused by alighting from the lift of my building and my room not being where it usually is….how can a lift take me to a different place not he same floor? Tiredness obviously was a factor. Today I noticed that the concierge’s desk was slightly different and the layout of the lobby too. But he seemed to know me and let me in. As I was waiting for the lift it struck me I might even be in the wrong building…it would have been too embarrassing to walk out, so I resolved to take the lift, go up and come back down as if I had visited someone briefly. On the 16th floor it all came back to me. This is where I was before. There are two entrances to the block on the same street 2 doors apart. And I hadn’t gone crazy. Anyway the adventure didn’t stop there as my key card wasn’t working so I had to go over the road to reception to sort things out. It was past 11pm… Had to hope someone was there. Yes. To my relief.

Hong Kong day 6

Writing this on the hoof standing on the mrt. On the way to meet Kk at Kowloon tong. I’m a bit late as I dithered over breakfast choices finally settling on egg tart and red bean bun.
Yesterday I did a lot of travelling. I went north to meet Kk in the north territories and experienced some of the complications he has getting about. I took 4 metro lines, a train and a light railway (a reject from the French, which runs like a tram down tong tai road. My instructions are a bit like a secret mission as I don’t really know where I’m going and Kk changes the plan as he has missed a bus. Meanwhile I have had to do some backtracking as I miss a stop, and later get on the light railway in the wrong direction thanks to a well intended station employee who obviously didn’t understand me. It’s about 12.30 when we finally meet on the platform at tai tong road and I discover I’ve been travelling without paying as I didn’t swipe my octopus card when I changed at sheung shui. We are in yuen long. It’s a busy hustling satellite town lined with shops catering for mainland Chinese who come from the nearby border to shop cheaply. Baby milk powder dominates the street displays of so called chemists. There are many gift shops selling beautifully packaged moon cake. Our mission is to mind a cake shop where the pastry is not made from the usual lard. It’s very very hot and not particularly relaxing. We eat our cakes standing up at a market where there are cheap lean-to eateries. Later we explore the market area. A lot of old people collecting flattened cardboard boxes strapping them to trollies to take to sell at recyclers. Some vicious looking butchers, arrays of tropical fruit including durian. Kk wants to shop me a McDonald’s or rather a McCafe. He extols the virtues of these places, where you don’t meet the usual impatient service and which serve as a community space for the elderly. Along the main drag are adverts for night school crammers. One particularly huge poster resembles the electioneering posters we have seen all week. 4 young smiling respectable men who could equally be advertising skin care products or hair styling products. They describe themselves as Dr Koo’s dream team.
We hop on a bus to Ping Shan. On the horizon we can see the dim and sinister sky line of high rise Shenzhen in mainland China. The heavy smog is ominous. We get out at Ping Shan and here we pick up the heritage trail. This is enclosed in the old tang walled village, though there is only a small fragment of wall left. This clan are one of the oldest settlers in hk, coming here in the 12th century. Although he is called tang and I’m willing myself to believe it, unfortunately Kk is not related to this clan. The area is decidly low rise and bucolic. There are car parks among greenery, probably prime future development land and notices warning strangers not to park and that any damage to their vehicles will be their own responsibility. The rural environment means mosquitoes. We both get bitten and are feeling extremely hot. The various historic buildings are partially restored, interesting, but not engrossing. A temple, an an ancestral hall, a well. We don’t complete the trail and yearn for coolness.

So we take a bus to sheung Shui and this really is frontier town. Kk gets irritated by the mainland Chinese shoppers with their unruly crying kids who are given no attention. The mall has electrical cosmetic and clothes shops and a familiar sight is a group of Chinese on their knees outside stores packing and repacking suitcases they have brought for their mass purchases. It’s a comic and desperate sight. Outside the streets are full of similar day trippers sticking up on fake baby powder and other stuff. We see a ramshackle makeshift temple in a square. The air is notably stinky of cigarettes, something that Hong kongers seem to shun. On the foot bridge by the bus stop runs a rare cycle track. Hk cyclists seem unstable dangerous and wobbly. Along the bridge are campaigners for various political candidates, hanging out leaflets and trying to drown each other out via megaphones.

 I wait with Kk for his bus then make my multi vehicle return to fortress hill. I’m delighted to find the Amrita buffet open. The food has almost all gone so the friendly manager offers me a half price feast of tasty vegetable dishes with rice and noodles, dessert and some great teas, including a walnut one.

Hong Kong day 5

Today is an early start. I have ted bean and dried mandarin soup downstairs then get the metro to central and walk to the piers to meet KK. We are going to Lamma island, a quiet island of 2 villages and a coal/ gas power station. It’s quite a choppy ride on the ferry around the west of Hong Kong island through busy the bay busy with freight ships, Macau catermarans and tiny lurching fishing boats. The view of the island and the glass towers glittering in the sun is a wonderful sight. South of Hong Kong island Lamma comes into sight with its incongruous 3 chimneys rising above the hills. Yung shue long is the larger of the 2 villages and is a cluster of narrow streets, I believed to be serene but with frequent urgent traffic of quad bike tractor type machines driven by tanned sweating locals delivering goods. We walk past numerous sea food restaurants and tanks of fish unaware that they will be chosen and plucked out for someone’s lunch. By 10.30 it is very hot and the sun is strong. We have a pit stop at a ramshackle stall with a covered seating area for some sweetened tofu custard. The old man serving is rather confused with his maths. Through KK’s eavesdropping we learn he is 86. He has an audience with some kind of visiting social worker who is rather harsh and cruel in her speech as she talks about his difficulties to the group of teenagers with her. Maybe they are her students. Quite soon an old woman appears. Evidently the wife and 82 years old. She is critical of this woman but also her husband for not clearing the tables. This ancient sprightly woman leaps to work all the time cracking jokes in hokkien with some other customers. Eventually the daughter appears and takes over. We walk a little further to hung shing ye beach. A Christian youth group are sat in a circle reading the bible on their phones. Several people are swimming. A shark net demarks the safety zone. We sit in shade by the barbecue pits. Kk isn’t too keen on sea and sand. We talk about religion. We get hungry and have to retrace our steps ending up in the bookworm cafe. The walls are full of books. Coincidentally we are sitting in front of the philosophy and theology section. We both have something South American. Mine is a plate of tortillas, and a vile green looking shake, which doesn’t taste bad. I spy a learn Cantonese book and cd and challenge KK’s comprehension of my poor pronunciation of stock phrases and numbers. I use this guide to ask for the bill.

Our walk across the island resumes. Back At the beach we stand in sweltering heat and harsh sunlight under an umbrella as KK resumes his filming of a wall of sand next to a small channel slowly collapsing. Like seven sisters or Grand Canyon he says. After 15 minutes his phone is over heating so we stop. The path across the island climbs shrubby hills revealing views of the power station. It feels a little Mediterranean. At a peak we stop at a gazebo and buy a freshly cut slice of pineapple to share and end up getting sticky. We are beginning to get bitten by mosquitoes. I point out banana trees and their phallic flowers to KK. He has not seen this before. There is another orange pod like fruit that I can’t identify. We descend into a hamlet where locals are drying grasses and down to the quiet beach of lo so shing where I have a tranquil float whilst KK paces up and down trying to avoid insects. We time our departure from the beach well as dusk falls quickly. We pass a cave full of water that is supposedly a half finished bay for kamikaze boats of the Japanese. We round a muddy estuary, pass a small temple and find ourselves in a narrow alley in sok Kwu wan lined with seafood restaurants, not so busy as it is a week day. I have a beer, KK a coke, as he likes the bottle, and we wait for the ferry. I’m feeling a bit nauseous and think I have a bit of heat stroke. I have an early night.