Day 6: 13 January, HK

Breakfast is various buns from the bakery. Then I take the bus across the harbour to Kwun Tong and the Public records office. There is an exhibition here based on a 1970s survey of the bus system on HK island, which contains some fascinating B/W photos of areas that I have become familiar with. The speed of change is striking

http://www.grs.gov.hk/ws/online/bus_stops/en/index.html

Afterwards I walk further into Kwun Tong. It’s raining a little. I track down lunch in a weird place: a health vegetarian restaurant attached to a yoga centre in an up-market tower block. A uniformed courteous concierge patiently makes sure I get the right lift. An interesting phenomenon in some of these buildings is that not all lifts go to all floors.

I hang around a mall and walk people posing and taking selfies in front of an elaborate and tacky new year’s centrepiece of cockerel and fake pink blossoms. I watch life here for a while. Outside the mall street life is more down at heel. Around the bus and mini-bus stops are small alleys and lanes with tiny shops: copiers, tailors, pawn shops, stalls on the streets where spivvy jewellers, magnifying lenses jammed into one eye scrutinise watches and rings, looking to make a quick buck.

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I’m tired and decide to get the MTR back to Fortress Hill for a rest. This is not a great idea as later on I have to cross the harbour again and get to Junction Rd. By bus this takes an age and the traffic jam in the tunnel is tedious. I’m off to watch the

Raise the Umbrellas at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity

Raise the Umbrellas explores the origin and impact of Hong Kong’s 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ through the inter-generational lenses of three post-Tiananmen democratic activists – Martin Lee, founder of the Hong Kong Democratic party; Benny Tai, ‘Occupy Central’ initiator; and Joshua Wong, the sprightly student leader – alongside voices from unknown ‘umbrella mothers’, student occupiers (Yvonne Leung and Vivian Yip), star politicians (Emily Lau, and ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok Hung, as well as the pro-Beijing heavyweight Jasper Tsang), prominent media professionals (Jimmy Lai, Cheong Ching, Philip Bowring), international scholars (Andrew Nathan, Arif Dirlik and Hung Ho-fung), and activist Canton-pop icons Denise Ho and Anthony Wong. Driven by stirring on-site footage in a major Asian metropolis riven by protest, Raise the Umbrellasreveals the movement’s eco-awareness, gay activism, burgeoning localism and the sheer political risk for post-colonial Hong Kong’s universal-suffragist striving to define its autonomy within China.

Director Biography

Evans Chan

Graduated from Northwestern University for his Doctor degree in Visual Culture. He is born in China, raised in Hong Kong, Chan is a critic, dramatist, and award-winning director of two feature films: To Liv(e) (1991) and Crossings (1994). His films have been exhibited and awarded in various international film festivals, e.g. in Berlin, London, Rotterdam, Moscow, Taiwan Golden Horse Film Festival etc. He is a former advisor to the Hong Kong International Film Festival. He is ‘the most intellectual of the current crop of Hong Kong directors’, wrote Barry Long in Hong Kong Babylon (1997, Faber & Faber).
Apart from his engagement in film industry, Chan also known as a veteran cultural critic. Chan’s publications including Dream Tenants, a collection of essays and stories, and The Last of The Chinese, a collection of critical essays on dance, cinema and literature, are all highly praised and circulated.

http://www.hkindieff.hk/indie_vision03.html

It was worth seeing, but I got there after it had started and was uncomfortably sat in the front row before a massive screen. I felt the film tried to do too much and didn’t have a coherent narrative. What was interesting was the LGBTQ thread: there is a parallel with the story of Pride. In fact this is referenced by Andy Wong, the canto-pop gay singer who becomes one of the figures of the Occupy events, as his inspiration to get involved. Some naive quotes from students: “Before Occupy I didn’t like his kind of people, but this changed…”I didn’t stay for the Q&A (a Skype link with the director): the translation on the wi-fi loop was hard to keep up with and drowned out by the volume of the Skype call.

I have a quiet late evening wander afterwards which takes me back to some places from my time with KK in the summer. It’s interesting re-visiting places under different circumstances and alone. I wander around Kowloon City park, the site of the demolished Walled City. It’s dark, cool, lonely, more or less empty. Adjectives you don’t usually use to describe Kowloon. An eventual walk down to Prince Edward Rd East, where KK and I had looked for the approach to the former Kai Tak airport. Getting to the bus stop “home” is extremely complicated as road bridges and diversions of footpaths send you back and forth over the busy highway in the most convoluted way.

Day 5: 12 January, HK

I’ve decided to do a hike today. I get the MTR to the eastern end point of the HK island line to Chai Wan. Here Lonely Cows lets me down as the place I’m looking for for lunch can’t be found. My back up is a stall in the multi-level market next to the mall. Here a get a bag of snacks and buns for my picnic and head for the starting point of the walk, which is gradual climb along a steep road to Cape Collinson, the slopes of which are covered with extensive cemeteries, both Chinese and Catholic. I climb up the terraced steps of the Catholic cemetery for about 20  minutes and the view of Shau Kai Wan and the narrow channel into Junk Bay appears in the haze behind the tower blocks. I carry on up a path through some woodland that opens out on a picnic area. I turn right and carry along a paved road for another 20 minutes before turning up a steep winding path which climbs up to the ridge known as Dragon’s Back. Up here you have views both east looking across the bay to Tung Lung Chau island (though hidden in the haze) and down over the curious promintory town of Shek O; and west over the shelters narrow inlet of Tai Tam harbour.

view-from-dragons-back

The path along the ridge climbs to a series of peaks with rocky out-crops, at each of which I take a break and admire the view. It’s a bright overcast day, and not at all cold. It’s funny how the HK guide describes this as a level 8 hike (the hardest). It’s a good work-out but not really strenuous. I take the west-bound path down off the ridge which descends rapidly to the Shek O rd. Here I wait for the bust to Shek O, but a mini-bus arrives first and I inadvertently end up further along the peninsular, as far as the road goes, in the car park above Big Wave Bay. This sandy cove is full of surfers, but the waves are not big. The path that leads around the headland north of the bay is steep and should take me to the signposted prehistoric rock paintings, but I soon realise I have missed them and have gone so far it’s poinless to go back. I’m not sure where the path will go, only that it’s north and in the direction of Cape Collison. Steeper and steeper.  I have to climb 312 m Pottinger Peak to get back to the Cape. Feeling tired. At a split in the pathos, where I should have turned left I hear a tuneless song approaching. Hallelluya. At the top of her voice, headphones on ears’  a lone hiking woman remains within earshot for the rest of my hike. When I finally descend, the path so steep, that steps have been cut in the mountainside, I am passed by joggers running UP. The path empties out onto a road, and am amazed to discover I am several miles from Chai Wan still. No public transport at all, dusk falling, I walk a very long descending road flanked by the vast sprawl of the cemetery.

I’m a bit pushed for time and rush to Sai Wan Ho. Golden Veg again, and once again great food. Then I’m off back to the HK Film Archive to watch a fascinating film called Enclave, directed by Li Wei. A documentary in remote Sichuan: a community disregarded by Central Govt, where schooling is in the hands of outsider volunteers who struggle with the primitive conditions and harsh weather. The kids are covered in shit, are using school books from the 1970s, believe Mao is the president, and have no need for any learning as they have no prospects. The people burn fires in their huts for warmth and to cook by; no chimneys, huts full of smoke. Squalid and medieval.The central character is an interesting study in the brainwashed. The village has only very recently got TV, and Yibu (an illiterate adult) watches it eagerly, lapping up what he sees and then praising the virtues of the Chinese army, party and leadership. China is great and I love my country. What he fails to see is that his village has been forgotten by China and is wallowing in a dark age. I wonder how many other places are like this. Do my students who have silver spoons and espouse positivity about progress in China have any awareness of the stark inequalities in this so-called developed country? There is a Q&A afterwards. One of the girl volunteers comes to find me and so kindly offers to translate the conversation with the 22-year old director. There are interesting issues to discuss: communication problems, the diallect of this place being so localised; the unpredictability of the occasionally unhinged alcohol Yibu; the extent to which the film crew’s presence may have exposed the community more to the “developed outside world”; the difficulties in coping with being embedded in such harse and filthy conditions. I’m impressed and inspired by this provocative work.

http://www.hkindieff.hk/without_home02.html

Enclave

Director: Li Wei

There is a remote village in Sichuan Daliangshan, the people here lead a life that the same as animals. Electricity became available in the village in 2012, many volunteer teachers came here. Yibu Sugan lost his father when he was young and now lives with his mother. Through television, he has a new way to learn more about the outside world. With the arrival of volunteer teachers, he is praised about leader’s policies and pleased to talk politics, economies, education and other deep opinions with teachers, it reveals the concern about civilisation and un-development.

Day 4: 11 January, HK

I think I might have skipped breakfast and instead had an early lunch on Fuk Yuen St in the alley under the foot bridge, where the old ladies sit outside their recycle shop at night and play cards, and where the homeless have built homes around the public benches, out of cardboard sheets, old mattresses and blankets. There is a waffle shop, a fresh fruit stall, and  hole in the wall veggie eatery. I think I went to the veggie place, where the owner spoke great English, but the food was a bit dull.

Afterwards I get the tram to Sai Wan Ho and look for the HK Film Archive, here I pick up info about a film festival and spend a long time viewing an exhibition about special effects in HK movies. The exhibition readily admits that techniques in HK movies were inferior to those in Hollywood and in most cases were pale imitations: multiple exposing, matting, back projection, models. The one area that HK has excelled in and exported to HW and transnational collaborations is wire work (just think of martial arts fight scenes).

I’m hungry and follow Hungry Cows in search of Golden Veg on Shau Kai Wan Rd. This is a delight. Really good venue, well cooked tasty food and in spite of limited English smiley, chatty friendly staff. I learn that many people who come to this place (and other veggie places) do so once a week in an effort to be “healthy”. The waitress I chat to (I wish I could remember her name) is a buddhist and committed vegetarian. She is impressed by my 31 years of vegetarianism. This topic is often a good entry point for a conversation.

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The rest of the evening is a long intriguing walk back to Fortress Hill: along the busy Shau Kai Wan Rd, full of photo opportunities: reflections, iconography, tinted glass doors, and general bustle; the shores of Quarry Bay park. A relaxing contrast from the claustrophobia of Kowloon. People have the space and opportunity to have a more leisurely lifestyle. There are women practising Tai Chi, men rehearsing movements with swords, groups of enthusiastic joggers, dog walkers. And the fresh breeze off the harbour. It feels good to walk. Back in North Point, Java Rd is closing down. The last remaining open store is a pet shop: puppies in glass boxes in bright shop windows, cooing couples cuddling kittens inside…..

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Day 3: 10 January, HK

Today I go to the congee shop on Kings Rd for mandarin and red bean soup for breakfast and plan my day. I intend to take in some alternative culture and head for the Cattle Depot Artist Village in Ma Tau Kok near Hong Hom on Kowloon. I get there by ferry from North Point. The terminal lined with golf with stalls full of tanks of freshly caught sea creatures and fish. The sun is shining, I almost wish I had my sun glasses. I take a wrong turn and end up on a foot bridge on which a homeless woman has hung her clothes to dry. Beneath the bridge is a cluster of religious icons: bud has, virgins etc. I walk alongside the roaring East Kowloon Corridor which cuts like a canyon through the forest of high rise and disappears into a lengthy tunnel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle_Depot_Artist_Village

The Artist Village is a turn of the century listed ex-abbatoir, complete with concrete troughs and hitching rings. I’m looking for the base of Videotage but they are closed up. There are various artist’s workshops housed in the peripheral buildings. A sculptor surrounded by old domestic appliances, plastic and metal junk welding a new masterpiece. I look at an a couple of exhibitions: one tacking community and living space, the other the fruit of a series of workshops with teenagers.  I watch a documentary filmed in Shau Kei Wan market. I’m disappointed at how little I find and how uninspiring it is. It’s time to walk. The side streets are high and narrow and are populated by car workshops, and lines of washing hung out of faceless windows. Around one corner is a demolition site, the face of a lowly 2-storey house is all that remains of what once was there.

I follow To Kwa Wan Rd a little way, many of the buildings are peeling and date from the 1960s. This is not space age shiny new Hong Kong. There is a workshop in which Lambourghinis and Ferraris are being fixed. Along a less busy road I come across a throng queuing to get into a restaurant, politely being pestered by both pro and anti-Falun Gong.

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I’m searching for a place to eat. The one I’m hunting for is closed and I head further west and into the district of Hok Yuen, a strange mist-mash of shiny new malls, low-rise scruffy streets full of recycling depots, where men are sorting metals, crushing and bailing them, then loading trucks. One small street is lined with fancy elaborately decorated vast restaurants. The street is festooned with red lanterns and christmas stars. At mid afternoon, the street is empty, the restaurants empty. I am intercepted by a woman from the office that manages this private street, and have to account for what I’m photographing. “Not people, not you…really…just the nice decorations…” haha. I eat something unmemorable in a little vegetarian eatery. There is a boy, a college student I guess, who I find quite fascinating.

I end up accidentally walking to the Whampoa. This seems to be a huge luxury private residential development. At its entrance stands the incongruous weirdness of a shopping centre in the shape and form of a ship. Once around Whampoa I am at the harbourside at a steel and glass Harbour Grand Kowloon. Smart bellboys and doormen attending to visitors drawing up in scruffy red HK taxis. I decide to walk in, fully expecting to be stopped, but the doors are open for me. The warmth of the sun over the water fills the lobby through its glass walls. I loiter, linger, look at the cakes in the cafe-bar and watch guests, certainly not moneyed business people, arriving. There is some kind of group thing going on. I catch the ferry from Hung Him back to North Point. It might have been that evening that I went to the buffet restaurant. I can’t remember now.

Day 2: 9 January, HK

This is really the first day of the trip, and it’s one where I’m very much guided by my instinct and on-line maps, and reading stuff on the internet. rather than KK. It’s quite a solitary time here, in which each day I struggle to get up and out, having no awareness of the outside from my cell. It’s not until I get out descend in the lift and exit the lobby that I know what the temperature and weather are like, and if there is anything going on on the streets. Today I am concentrating on the local. My goal, or perhaps my meaning whilst I am here, is to work with photography and soundscape. I have set myself the task of using a fast portrait lens to explore the layers of colour, shape, information, movement and behaviours that are stacked up in the canyon-like streets of HK. The technical aspect of this are a challenge. Working with these parameters  and shallow focus, the margins for error are very small, and as the lens refocusses as I look through the layers of crowds, with people criss-crossing in the foreground, to an interesting face. It means I am not as reactionary and more a sniper than a gun-slinger. Sure I miss decisive moments, and probably I will things to happen in front of me. Perhaps the faces I photograph, to some extent, are ones that already know they are being watched and have been tracked in my sights. I look back at these photos and wonder if it is me that is on their minds, and if so what their feelings are to me. Sound is something I havent worked with before and my handheld recorder could do with a wind guard. I find myself lingering on the fringes of conversations and product demonstrations  on street corners, in a language I dont understand. It is the music and texture of the voices, and later the machinery (trams, subways, lifts), that attracts me. If only there was a way to record the smells of a place, as I feel these are often so distinctive and evokative: in this case, the heady herbs and spices of the Chinese medicine shops and steaming buns.

I feel a bit like a spy and there is a sense of loneliness and isolation in my existence here. I go and get a glass of soya milk from a congee shop. I use my drilled rehearsed Cantonese to ingratiate myself “Mm goi; yi go ne go”. This is interesting: I get what I want but I have no idea whether the sounds I produce are perceived as Cantonese, Gweilo grunts in some unfamiliar language or just unintelligible noise. I wonder does it even matter that I try to produce sounds. We find when we travel and have low local linguistic ability that we use basic stock phrases where probably you would achieve the same results just by pointing and persisting. Sometimes I don’t bother, sometimes I make the effort. Another area of marginalisation. It’s the same when I consider my subject matter. We will never have a conversation about how they feel and who they are. These narratives are the narratives which I project onto these people and attempt to draw out when others look at my pictures. I am very uninformed. I miss many details. I’m not sure what it is that draws me to my subject: it certainly isn’t an understanding of them. Perhaps it is the impenetrability I experience in looking. Imagination and fancy play a big part.

Today is spent in Northpoint: the Kiu Fai Mansion under the State Theatre; I peer through the doors of elderly homes like the one in “A Simple Life” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2008006/

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the mirrored lobby of Sunbeam Theatre on KIng’s Road; the market around North Point Rd; a crowd of housewives watching a guy demonstrating some magnetic window cleaning device, some face-mask clad women stacking the bamboo poles used in scaffolding buildings here, supervised by a scrawny bare chested tattooed leader; the covered multi-storey market on Java Rd; the rows of jewellers with windows full of gold ornamentation.

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I spend time watching construction and road diggers around Wharf Rd and Tong Shui Pier rd. I spend time on Tong Shui Rd pier, beneath the sweeping flyover of the East Island Corridor. There are sparrows, an old guy comes to feed them. Other retirees with nothing to do pass time on the benches. Another performs stretching exercises. Ferries, fishing boats, freighters and container ships share the channel in front of me. Dusk falls, and the sun glows feebly as it sets.

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I had lunched in 3 Virtues on Kings Rd, a spacious dim sum place above a small mall. Round tables, white table cloths, mandatory pots of tea, and groups of elderly set for the afternoon to nibble, gossip and sip. The waitress is gracious and attentive, not pushy and advises me on which noodles to order. This is quntessentially HK. This is the kind of place KK doesn’t like.

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I think I had dinner at Ahimsa Buffet behind King St. A place I frequented before and usually quite late in the evening. It seems popular with 20-something educated types. There is a good choice of food, but having got there late I have to rush before the hot buffet is cleared away. I ask for a discount because of this, and the young guy who holds court with his friends, performing tea rituals, happily obliges me. Somehow he reminds me of Erique.

My evening continues as I go back to my room and begin to process, sort, edit and delete photos. This is a ritual that becomes a time-consuming and obsessive habit each evening.

Day 1: 7-8 January 2017, arrival HK

I’m not sure that writing a blog retrospectively really is such a good idea, but then again we can never right at the moment; there is always a temporal delay, some processing and editing in how and what we choose to record. This is 3 weeks late.

So, this was my second trip to HK, and only 4 months after the last one. Was it too soon? What were my expectations and how far were they met?

In choosing where to go cost is a factor and I’ve developed good skills in searching out dates and costs and destinations that match my criteria and work within my parameters. Travelling over Christmas and New Year is prohibitively expensive. 5 weeks without work with few friends becomes unbearable, so I have to get away.

I was hoping to see KK. I was planning to pursue a photography project. I didn’t want a “holiday”, rather to spend time living for myself and being active.

The journey lasted an age as I had a 7 hour stopover in Dubai. I toyed with the idea of leaving the airport to see what this place was like and take in the tallest building in the world. To be honest, there wasn’t much to entice me. I opted to search out a curry stall in the airport that I remembered dimly from a previous trip. I walked the length of the vast terminal 3 finding nothing but costly franchises. A waiter in one place, on failing to secure my custom, told me there was an Indian at C gate. Which involved getting the shuttle train back again to where I had first been looking. After almost 2 hours I found A Taste of India, excited to get my longed for mango lassi and masala dosa. Dismay and disappointment. No dosa at night. I had to settle for idli, dry samosa, and a small lassi, over-priced, unsatisfying….The remaining hours at the gate were tedious.

On arriving in HK, and queuing at immigration, having skipped baggage reclaim as I had only hand baggage (something I had longed to be able to do each time I’d come to Asia), I checked my phone and had the pleasant surprise of reading that KK would be picking me up. Once through passport control and avoiding being swabbed for viruses, I spied KK in arrival and he takes me to the family vehicle, which is more minibus than car. The weather is warm, around 21 degrees. The smog is heavy and the views of Kowloon are obscured as we drive over Tsing Ma bridge. KK tells me about his exciting new venture: some kind of shared workspace where he is building a sound studio.

We are heading to Fortress Hill and to the Yesinn Hostel. After parking in a tower block multi storey, we are on the streets of a neighbourhood I have become familiar with. The concierge in the lobby of the tower block in which the hostel reception can be found is stroppy and antagonistic: fussing stupidly about my not having the door code to enter the building. Of course I don’t. I havent even checked in. After taking the lift to the wrong floor we end up in the reception on floor 15. My room is in another building, on Tin Chong Street. On the corner is the ex-National Theatre, a place which fascinates us both. Underneath is a rabbit warren of corridors of boarded up shops, hair dressers and workshops; we see the neon sign maker’s shop (this is the guy who tried to make me write my name in Chinese last time around). This almost forgotten mansion fascinates me and I return to it on several occasions.

My room is better than the one I had in the summer: lots of drawers and an enclosed shower area rather than having to shower over the toilet. I discover later that it’s noisy. The walls are thin, and the plumbing loud. My neighbours’ showering and running taps is clearly audible. The pipes rumble. Conversations are loud. Light is an issue too as my window has no blind and gives onto a shaft that other residents’ windows give onto. I use a blindfold to sleep with.

After a quick unpack, and presenting KK with his gifts we go out onto Java Road then Electric Road looking for somewhere to sit and drink. I am dead tired and KK has little time as he has to get home for a family dinner. Reluctantly (for me) we end up in Fortress Hill McDonalds as it sells ice cream. It’s full of Sunday families and has no finesse or calmness. We percha at a messy table and have about 10 minutes to chat before a sweaty lump with a tray loaded with burger, fries and soft drink elbows himself a space onto our table. This signals the time to leave. Our meeting is almost over. We cross over Kings Rd agin, this time by the green foot bridge, I want to linger on the bridge and re-orientate myself. Much of my familiarity comes form the photos I took last time and have looked at on countless occasions. Even how I see KK is shaped by a photo, and he assumes a pose on the bridge where he leans his chin on his hand and rests his angular elbow on the railing of the bridge. I ask him if he misses UK. I don’t think he really understands this question. On Electric Rd we investigate a brick building which stands out among the new and modern: a low building backing onto Electric Rd enclosed by a high wall, east, west and south. We walk through the gate in the south wall and find ourselves in a courtyard and notice signage for the dismantling of an exhibition in a building resembling a cricket pavilion. I spy a board on the gate and read up to discover that this is the ex-Hong Kong Yacht Club, and old colonial building which would have looked onto the waterfront. This has long lost its access to the harbour, due to reclamation of land making room for the Island Eastern Corridor and office development. This is Oi, an arts space.

http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/APO/en_US/web/apo/about_oi.html

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I walk KK to the car, and accompany him as he negotiates the spiralling ramps down the 5 floors of the car park. We say goodbye, and make no plans. He has not been very communicative on his availability during my visit and a feel a bit deflated. I’m hungry but crave sleep more than food, and go back to rest. I make the mistake of unnecessarily using the aircon and feel cold during my sporadic sleep.