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.