Riding the Waves to Eternity

Hangin' with the Cosmic Surfer

Skip to: Content | Sidebar | Footer

Hong Kong 2 – 6 Feb 2013

Our initial flight to London took us in over central London on which the sun had already set. As often happens at these times I heard in my head Pete Atkin singing a Clive James lyric – “the sky was full of London all around the tilting wing…” and I slipped into a familiar reverie, singing along to myself. I had to purge the earworm later by listening to the song on MP3 somewhere into our second flight, from London to Hong Kong.

A long flight is like a rite de passage, casting off one existence and entering a cocooned, separate state, neither sacred nor profane until re-entering the world, changed. The flight on the 777 was uneventful. I didn’t sleep much but did get in some occasional snoozes which took the edge off tiredness when we finally disembarked eleven and a half hours later. BA had a pretty good entertainment selection but instead I read Joe Abercrombie’s “Red Country” and listened to music – Joni Mitchell, Nic Jones, Ludovico Einardi and Frank Zappa as far as I remember, although the Einardi lulled me to sleep for an hour or so as I remember it starting and remember it finishing but nothing in between.

Amy was waiting for us with Ken’s parents and we came into the city in the late twilight, a little too zonked to appreciate it properly. We showered at the hotel and had a meal which, with the company, I enjoyed but I was happy to get to bed.

Star Ferry to HK Island

Star Ferry to HK Island

Unsurprisingly we woke early, still tired, and after an average breakfast at the hotel went for a walk around the nearby Sha Tin Central Park. The park is next to the Shing Mun river and, like most green urban spaces, was home to many local residents, frequently elderly, exercising with a complete and refreshing lack of self-consciousness. I hadn’t expected fish to be jumping and egrets and cranes to be stalking the river, all under the watchful gaze of the ubiquitous black kites.

We were taken for an excellent dim sum brunch, lubricated by an ocean of earthy red tea before we took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island and explored a little. The exploration was helped by an extensive system of elevators and moving walkways which ferried us around with unobtrusive efficiency although we did eventually abandon it for a side visit to Man Mo Temple. I was glad to abandon it and get down to street level.

Street Life

Street Life

The side streets gave us our first real experience of the smells and bustle of HK at street level, something which we didn’t really repeat during the rest of our time there. One of the overlayed smells was that of incense which became overpowering in the temple itself.

It was at Man Mo Temple that I first caught a glimpse of Buddhist devotions by the visitors and tourists and this started a train of thought which developed throughout our stay in China. I didn’t really understand what I was seeing aside from statuary and incense cones but I was aware that something was happening which I hadn’t expected.

HK From Victoria Peak

HK From Victoria Peak

At the time I put the thought aside as we moved on and caught a tram to the funicular railway that pulled us up to the viewpoint on top of Victoria Mountain. From here the true scale of Hong Kong is visible despite the mists that draped from the overhanging skies. What struck me most was the insistent verticality of the city, not just the downtown office blocks but the myriad blocks of residential apartment buildings brushing the clouds to the horizon. I was forcibly reminded of Judge Dredd’s Mega City 1 as the ever-present black kites rode the thermals between the buildings.

We were tired but later that evening were treated to excellent home-cooking by our hosts, washed down with beer, wine and copious quantities of very good company.

Sai Kung Harbour

Sai Kung Harbour

On Monday I did my own thing and met an old school friend who has been in Hong Kong since the early nineteen eighties. He knew where to find bottled real ale and we had a good gossip and catch up as well as a wander around Sei Kung Harbour. I liked that we were out of the city and able to relax over a meal and a couple of beers before taking a wander around the harbour area. It was a pleasant afternoon with a wide ranging conversation moving from some of the realities of living in Hong Kong, especially regarding housing and space, to Scotland and the likelihood or otherwise of a “Yes” vote in the independence referendum next year.

The next day was a much fuller day as we had begun to make up some of the sleep differential although we were still awake quite early. After another early morning stroll around Sha Tin park the temperature began noticeably to warm up. Some of the locals stayed in puffa jackets because it was “winter”, but it was a 23° winter and I was in chinos and summer shirt. After another excellent dim sum breakfast we made a start for Lantau Island and the Big Buddha.

Cable Car to Lantau

Cable Car to Lantau

We took the Ngong Ping 360cable car mid-morning when the area was covered by a patchwork of mist and cloud. This gave us clear views over the sea one moment and ghostly images of cables and cars vanishing into or emerging out of grey nothingness the next. About two thirds of the way into the ride we broke through cloud level and were rewarded with spectacular views over the hills and, towards the end, of the Big Buddha itself.

The Buddha site and surrounding Po Lin monastery complex is something of a curiosity. It began from a visit of Chinese monks to India on which they were impressed by the Indian traditions and wanted to bring something of that back to Hong Kong and decided that a gigantic Buddha statue was the way to go. Still, the site is clearly sharply focused on drawing in tourist revenue and attracts the usual selection of reasonable shops alongside cheap stands of tourist tat.

Enlightenment this way...

Enlightenment this way…

The statue is approached by a lengthy staircase and the view from the top is magnificent. Looking out on the remnants of mist folding over the ridges leading to the nearby sunlit hills I was unavoidably (cliche alert) reminded of vistas from Peter Jackson’s Tolkein films. But in a good way. Visitors included both tourists and, I noticed again, adherents. There was a certain incongruity about the mix of the sacred and the profane but it reminded me of Notre Dame in Paris where the faithful mingle with the casual visitors. My sense of incongruity was really the shock of the familiar.

Po Lin

Po Lin

 

The monastery below the statue is a classic Chinese temple with incense burners and braziers and the statues of Buddha and the Bodishatvas protected by the statues of Temple guardians. Again, there was no shortage of adherents burning incense, paying their respects and leaving small offerings.

My initial thought was that the historical Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha would have been horrified by the commercialisation of it all but I later changed my mind: the Chinese tradition probably has it right – he would have found it hilarious.

Tai O

Tai O

We took a cab to Tai O, a fishing village famous for its stilt houses. It is an odd one. Firstly I will remember it as being the first (and so far only) place in which I have knowingly eaten jellyfish. The pickled jellyfish came as a garnish for a fish dish and I felt obliged to at least try it so as not to appear as a puny and squeamish westerner but actually I had more than was necessary to save face. I wouldn’t say it would be my first choice on a menu but I wouldn’t decline it if presented with it again.

Secondly I wasn’t really able to read the economy of the village which on the one hand seemed to present aspects of considerable poverty and yet dropped the occasional hint of hidden affluence. It was a dichotomy I was to see throughout our time in China.

Tai O too

Tai O too

It was, however, extremely photogenic. The weather was lovely and I enjoyed wandering around. It was an interesting contrast to the high-rise intensity of Hong Kong centre and I had tweaked the settings on my Nikon so I was pretty comfortable with the pictures I was taking (of which there were many).

That was our last full day in Hong Kong. We spent a short time the next morning investigating a local mall, with which HK is increasingly infested. Malls are, I think, undead things: they are gibbering extra-dimensional horrors which suck the life out of the cosmos. They contain everything that you could possibly want and almost nothing which you actually need.

I left Hong Kong with an abiding regret that we hadn’t spent more time there and that our time had been disrupted by jetlag. I would have particularly liked to spent more time at street level getting to know the city more. And I would have liked to eat more of the ace food. We had the advantage of having local hosts which meant that we ate more or less as locals rather than as tourists and this was a definite and major plus. And I got a serious taste for the dark and earthy red tea.

We’ll be back.