The surprising thing about visiting Hong Kong is that I’ve found it to be an intensely familiar place, as well as just plain intense. Aside from all the elements it contains of other places I’ve visited before and the many Hong Kong films and serials I’ve watched, a flood of memories from my childhood have involuntarily surfaced this past week. Vietnam was colonised by China for a millennium so I guess this history has also become part of my own cultural heritage.
Whenever I walk past stalls selling jade bracelets, my mind flinches from the memory of how excruciating it was to have one put on when I was a kid. I had to squeeze my soaped up hand as tight as I possibly could while my mum pushed one onto my wrist. Not long after I endured the whole drama of putting it on, I smashed it when I fell up the stairs of our Lakemba flat.
The many Chinese medicine shops here recall to mind the evil smelling stuff my uncle would took every day for whatever ailments – the smells from the urn on the stove would permeate the walls of our kitchen for days afterwards.
It’s kind of cool that I actually know some Cantonese words because of words that have been borrowed into Vietnamese. Like there’s a card game that my brother and I were taught when we were kids called sap saam– and it finally hit me the other day that that means ‘thirteen’ in Cantonese. I can also order my favourite dishes in Cantonese at yum cha. My friend Iris, who I met in Kuala Lumpur last year, met with us to have some yum cha in Mong Kok on Saturday. So now I can say I had yum cha in Hong Kong! And it was good too.
Mong Kok is great for food, but it’s mainly a shopping district. There are some great markets including one called “Ladies Market” which sells all kinds of stuff, including wigs and some hysterically kinky underwear.
In fact, the major pastime in Hong Kong seems to be shopping, which is why it’s ultimately not a place that I could ever love since shopping is pretty low on my list of interests. In fact, the obsession with material goods and designer labels is almost too much to bear. How many clothing stores, let alone Prada and Gucci and Burberry stores, does one city need? There are dozens of top-end shopping centres which use large amounts of concrete, glass and marble which could probably be put to better use with more public housing! Clearly I’ve spent way too much time over-intellectualising while I’ve been here…
Visiting the New Territories area of Hong Kong was a relief from the city and included stops at some temples, traditional villages and places with lots of greenery. Two of the outlying islands of Hong Kong – Lamma and Cheung Chau – were also very different to the urban centre of Hong Kong and well worth visiting. On the way back from Lamma I finally felt a bit of Hong Kong magic gazing upon the city; in fact, the views from both The Peak (the highest point on Hong Kong Island) and from ferries are incredible, and give this amazing metropolis the perspective it deserves.
At the end of the day, Hong Kong is basically a place where people enjoy spending money and having a good time, and they also go nuts for a big fireworks spectacular – which is not so different to life back home after all.
(The way the crowd reacted to the National Day of China (1 Oct) fireworks at Victoria Harbour was really cute – there was a lot of ‘waahs’ and other manifestations of pure unadulterated pleasure. Check out the guy on the right!)
(Me and Debbie in Lan Kwai Fong, an area full of bars and clubs frequented by ex-pats, tourists and hip locals. We saw a fight outside Club Hei Hei in the wee hours of the morning so some of those locals probably included members of the “Triad”.)