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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.

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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 3

I’m meeting KK at mong kok. First I have breakfast in a little veggie shop nearby. The sole lady customer there translates and I get the default fried noodles and congee. We chat about travel and hiking and she unexpectedly pays for my breakfast. She warns me of pickpockets in China.

The metro escalators have signs reassuring us that the hand rails have been sterilised regularly. This is a hangover from SARS. This closed down hk for a week. KK told me the schools were closed and lessons took place remotely. Elsewhere you see labels on doors in public places also confirming sterilisation. I’m later reprimanded by KK in a restaurant for not serving myself with the third pair of chopsticks given to us. 

KK is waiting for me at mong kok station and takes me on a tour of the market streets. The so called sneaker street is being set up. Red white and blue shrouded trolleys with goods are wheeled into place. Steel frames and white awnings erected by shirtless deep brown skinned swearing traders. There is a street that sells predominantly baby milk powder, popular with Chinese visitors… We see goldfish street, with shops full of tanks and bags of brightly coloured fish being carefully selected and  fished out with little nets on poles by customers. Other shops have puppies and kittens in little Perspex boxes that little kids point at with joy. I feel pity. There are bowls full of miniature tortoises and tanks containing handsome reptiles. At least these are not going to be bought to be eaten. KK takes me to a music shop full of erhu skinned with snake skin and guzheng with beautiful  carved decorations. We are here for strings for KK’ s erhu which turn out to be made in Germany. It’s raining outside. I delight in photographing people struggling with umbrellas and old street people struggling with loads pulled by ropes over their shoulders. There is a foot bridge lined with clusters of scarves young women sitting on sheets, sharing boxes of food, brushing their hair, taking selfies and video chatting. They seem cheerful and are not homeless. This is where Indonesian and Filipino maids gather and socialise during their time off. Kk’s family have a mid. He says they earn quite good money. We pass by a pro Falun Gong banner and leafleters. Adjacent it is an anti Falun Gong banner and photos of prominent members mocked as demons. The guy manning this display has a body cam and films us, we are sure. This cause KK to take some distance. KK wants a pineapple bun or a custard tart but I’m afraid i direct us to a veggie Buddhist place where we share a round table with a woman who recommends some dishes to us. She pours me some ta from the communal flask and KK instructs me to kowtow by tapping my fingers on the table to show thanks. With more heavy rain we need a new plan. KK suggests a bus trip to west Kowloon. It takes a while before a bus that isn’t overcrowded comes along. We see KK’ birthplace – the hospital, a bunch of international schools, the hk media university with a military camp strategically planed right next to it, and end up in a residential village ( the term used in hk for housing estate) backing onto lion rock, which only vaguely looks like a lion to me. We walk through the tower blocks to the Wong tai sin temple, which is closed. There is a shopping mall next to it with large imitations of coiled incense as a decorative motif. KK has to leave now, and I remain in the square watching the beginning of a political rally, a small boy playing in a puddle and a couple of skateboarders. It’s dusk and I feel a bit introspective and think about the start of the day when I opened Lisas email telling me how valued I am and by the way I haven’t got the job. It’s not nice feeling rejected, and to be honest either way I’m not looking forward to my work situation when I get back.

I have dinner at an Indian near Nathan road. The thali is great and the lassi refreshing but rather expensive. The Indian at the next table keeps belching loudly… Different culture, different manners.. Around tsim Sha tsui huge groups of teens are gathered looking at their phones. It doesn’t require very close inspection to realise that Pokemon go has taken over the city!

I get the metro to admiralty then change to fortress hill. I investigate the food bridge that crosses in front of my block and find it carries on over an alley into electric road. Under the bridget there is fascinating local nightlife here. It’s too hot to be inside with no air con. An old foursome sat around a foldable table playing cards, a number of makeshift homes that seem to almost be permanent are carefully constructed from cardboard and blankets. There skinny shirtless skinny owners talk quietly on the benches nearby. I’m going to my little room.