Sunday, May 13, 2012

Golden Week Day 7: Last day in HK

This is the last installment of this series, and I did a terrible job of taking pictures on my last day in Hong Kong.  I had breakfast at a noodle place in Causeway Bay where I had a noodle soup with fish balls and some other unidentified things in it.

It was still sort of rainy, so I decided to take it easy and check out the Hong Kong Heritage Museum up in the New Territories (the northern part of Kowloon).  Part of the trip there involved a double-decker bus; I made a point of riding on the top level just because it was novel.  I was a little worried that it would be room after room of Ming dynasty pottery, but it was much more interesting than that.  They a great big exhibit of Tibetan religious art and a couple of exhibits on Cantonese opera with lots of costumes and clips from performances.  If I’d been in Hong Kong longer I definitely would have tried to see an opera; I’ll have to keep an eye out and see if they ever come to Osaka or anything.  There was a huge exhibit on Roman Tam, who was an iconic Canto-pop star for decades.  My favorite part of that exhibit was the videos of some of his concerts; he was very into outlandish Las Vegas-style costumes with lots of sequins and peacock feathers and that sort of thing.  There was one number where he shared the stage with a bunch of women in cat costumes whose job was apparently to sort of paw in his general direction while he was singing. 

After the museum, I went back to Causeway Bay and had an early dinner at Kung Tak Lam, a very well-reviewed vegetarian Shanghaiese restaurant.  It was incredibly awesome food, and motivated my only photographs for the day.
 They brought out this appetizer thing -- peanuts with a little seaweed and (I think) both salt and sugar.
Left: fried rice with seaweed.  Right: Sauteed mushrooms with asparagus and some kind of mock meat in a hot and spicy sauce.  Yes, I did eat both of those.

After eating I went back to the hostel, picked up my backpack from the front desk, and started making my way to the airport.  I flew to Shanghai, where I had an overnight layover (too short to really do anything interesting), and then got on another plane to Osaka.  I picked up a copy of Martin Jacques's When China Rules the World at the Hong Kong airport and read about half of it on the way home.  Interesting, although I was a little surprised to see a book with buzzwords like "contested modernity" and "civilization-state" being sold at the airport right next to the Twilight series.  After that, it was pretty much back to real life.

Golden Week Day 6: Cheung Chau

By Day 6, I was ready to get a break from all of this urban stuff and get out of the city a little.  So I went to Cheung Chau, a little island that’s southwest of Hong Kong Island.  Cheung Chau is Cantonese for "no air conditioning here."  Actually it's 長洲, which literally means "long island" -- it would be chōshū in Japanese.  It’s a short ferry ride from Central.
Central as seen from the ferry.

They really love the bamboo scaffoldings.

One thing that was a real contrast to Hong Kong was the little neighborhood shrines that were scattered all over the place – it actually reminded me a little more of Japan in that way.  Maybe they do have those in Hong Kong, just not in the neighborhoods that I’d been in.
I went to the Pak Tai temple; she is apparently Cheung Chau’s patron deity and saved the island from plague.

One thing that is apparently a big deal on Cheung Chau is these steamed buns with sweet bean paste inside.  They’re delicious.  Unfortunately, I’d missed the annual bun festival by a couple of days – from what I heard it involves building big towers of buns which people then climb in a race.  At the various tourist shops you can also buy plush buns to strap onto your cell phone.  They’re about the same size as the real ones; significantly larger than a typical cell phone.

They also have some pretty nice beaches.  The people in this picture looked like they were filming an interview; the guy on the steps was apparently looking and sounding really cool, while the others held up reflective panels (Quinn probably knows the technical term for these) to ensure that he was perfectly lit.

I hiked up a big mountain thing in the middle of the island that had some nice views of the ocean.

Along the harbor there’s a strip of restaurants that sell really awesome seafood; I had the steamed fish for lunch.  Good thing I don’t mind making eye contact with my food.

After lunch it was back to the beach, where I swam in the ocean and hung around for a few hours.  I got a minor sunburn.  It was a really nice beach for swimming – small waves, no rocks, and a big net to keep the sharks out.

After a hard day’s work, I headed back toward the seafood area.  As I was looking at different places, it suddenly started pouring rain, so I decided that the place I was standing directly in front of had a sturdy-looking awning and was an excellent choice.  I ordered the fried squid, and sat down to discover that there were only two other people in the entire place.  I was feeling oddly extroverted, so I decided to see whether they spoke English.  It turns out that they did and were more than eager to practice on me.  They introduced themselves as Vivienne and Candy and enjoyed coaching me on correct Cantonese eating protocol.  Apparently one never eats from plates; the plates are only there to keep the bowls (which you eat from) off the table.  Also, your bowl, glass, and chopsticks are to be washed with the tea, which then gets emptied into a big plastic bucket thing.

They insisted I sit down for this picture so that I wouldn’t be too tall.  I didn’t realize how sunburned I was until my camera was handed back to me.  It actually makes me look sort of scary; I’m surprised they talked to me at all.  I don't think that Vivienne (on the right) intended to give me bunny ears with her peace sign, but that's sort of how it turned out.

After dinner, it rained some more so we all caught the ferry back to Hong Kong; they went to Sheung Wan and I went back to Causeway Bay. 

Golden Week Day 5: More Zhongshan and Causeway Bay

After spending the night on the couch at the Beccadome, I put on some mosquito repellent and set off for a guided tour of Zhongshan’s major tourist attraction, the Sun Yat-sen Park. 

I was a bit embarrassed at how little I knew about Sun Yat-sen – the guy helped start a revolution that overthrew the Qing dynasty, founded the (ill-fated) Republic of China, and is still considered a hero in both mainland China and Taiwan.  No wonder he got such a cool park.

We went to lunch at a noodle place where they pull the noodles by hand.  It looked really exhausting. 

After lunch, Becca took me to the ferry terminal to head back to Hong Kong.  While on the ferry, I had my first (and to date only) conversation entirely in Mandarin.  It basically went like this:

Me: Hi.  I’d like some water.
Very patient ferry employee: Eight yuan.
Me: Eight yuan.
Very patient ferry employee: Thank you.
Me: Thank you.
Very patient ferry employee: Don’t mention it.

It took me about 10 minutes to get up the nerve to do that.  I basically felt like a superhero afterwards.

After returning to Hong Kong I checked into my new hostel, YesInn@Causeway Bay.  Causeway Bay is a sort of shopping/entertainment district toward the east end of Hong Kong Island.  This hostel had a bit of a too-cool-for-school atmosphere about it; the hipster density was a little on the high side.  On the other hand, it was clean and the bathroom didn’t smell funny and it probably isn’t notorious as a hub for illegal activity, unlike some other places. 

While exploring around Causeway Bay, at one point I heard loud drums and gongs and things coming from around a corner.  When I went to investigate, I saw an art gallery (it seemed to specialize in mosaic art) with a bunch of very well-dressed people mingling about and some people doing a lion dance inside.  It was hard to get a good picture, in part because I really didn't feel well-dressed enough to try going inside.

The guys in the yellow pants were the ones doing the music.  And the woman with the wide-brimmed hat isn't an actual person; it's a sculpture covered in mosaic tiles.  As is the giant shoe bathtub.

I got some freshly-bottled sugarcane juice from a street vendor, which was awesome.  I also tried Hainan chicken, which had been highly-recommended by a friend from Hong Kong.  I wasn't crazy about the skin.

Golden Week Day 4: Po Lin to Zhongshan

On Day 4, I got up bright and early and had some Chungking Mansions Pakistani food, along with some durian.  This was my first experience with durian – it’s a fascinating little fruit.  Actually it's a pretty big fruit.  When I opened up the package I’d gotten from the supermarket, the first thing I noticed was the smell: strong and not entirely pleasant.  Then I took a bite, and thought it tasted horrible.  Since I’d paid for it and didn’t want to throw anything that smelled that badly in a shared garbage can, I continued eating it.  After a couple of minutes, I started to like it.  A couple of hours after finishing it, I started wondering where I could get more.  I’ve heard that starting smoking is sort of like that…

After breakfast, I packed up my backpack, checked out of the hostel, and caught the subway out to Lantau Island to visit the Po Lin Monastery, home of the Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha.  From the Tung Ch ung station I took a bus that seemed to just keep climbing through heavily-forested mountains.  All of the green was pretty amazing after a couple of days of concrete jungle.  When we arrived at the monastery, it was very cloudy and misty.  All of the pictures I’d ever seen of Po Lin were taken on clear, sunny days; I’m actually not sure which is more typical.  While the mist made the sculpture difficult to appreciate from a distance, it helped to create more of an ethereal atmosphere than a sunny day would have.

 There were a couple of stairs.
 At this point you could finally see him.

 The Big Buddha statue is flanked by an entourage of Bodhisattvas.  Each one is holding something different.

Underneath the Tian Tan Buddha there’s a nice little mini-museum that has paintings with a timeline of the life of Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha).  There’s also a real Buddha relic that was apparently given to them by whatever organization is in charge of keeping track of such things.  Understandably, they didn’t want that photographed.  It was in some case thing that was so complicated that you couldn’t really get a look at it anyway.

 You can kind of see him through the clouds there.

After seeing the Big Buddha, I looked around at the actual monastery a little bit.  Although there were lots of tourists around, I liked that it had the atmosphere of a functioning monastery – it’s not something that exists for the sake of the tourists.  A big part of it was actually under construction.  There were also signs all over (which I lacked the foresight to photograph) reminding visitors that alcohol and meat were not to be consumed on the premises.

 You can sort of see the new building under construction (it's sort of grayish) in the background.

 There were a bunch of these things around -- that statue style is also very common in Japan, and it depicts a story where, immediately after being born, Siddhartha jumped up and started talking.  And was pretty ripped, if you look closely.  People were taking those little ladle things (near the pedestal) and using them to pour water over his head; I'm not sure what the significance of that was.

You can also get a vegetarian lunch at what appears to be the monastery cafeteria.  They also didn’t want you taking pictures there; I’m not sure why.

After lunch, I wanted to take the cable car back down to Tung Chung.  This required cutting though Ngong Ping Village, which is where all the tourist-trap stuff was.  My guess is that there was some kind of negotiated agreement where all of the kitsch (and meat and possibly alcohol for sale) was kept at a respectful distance from the actual monastery.  The one thing worth slowing down for in Ngong Ping was a pogo demonstration.  It was these three American guys who apparently tour around the world doing impressive stuff on pogo sticks.  It was way cooler than my pictures make it look.
 It finally cleared up a little as I was leaving.

The cable car ride down the mountain was an attraction all on its own.  You get really spectacular views of the mountains on the island, as well as the ocean and surrounding islands.  You also get an impressive view of the Hong Kong Airport, if you’re into that kind of thing.
 This would have been a better picture if I hadn't gotten so much of my own reflection in the window.

 The cable car mysteriously stopped for a minute or two while we were dangling over that water.
This poor kid just couldn't stay awake.  He and his dad (to the right) were visiting from Japan and seemed a little startled when I started talking to them in Japanese.

If I’d planned things out better, I could have caught a ferry directly to Zhongshan from Lantau Island.  Instead, I caught the MTR back to Kowloon, somehow located the China Ferry Terminal, and just barely made the ferry to Zhongshan, where I was going to visit my cousin Becca Rasmussen.  I was worried that I’d be up on the top deck of a ferry getting sunburned, but instead I was in an air-conditioned cabin with tinted windows where they brought us bottled water and snacks (I’d paid about $3.86 USD extra for the first-class seat).  They had a couple of TVs where they were showing what looked like a movie depicting the Long March.  I’d heard that there was a new Mao film in the works in China, but a few minutes of diligent googling didn’t produce anything (in English, at least).  The sound was turned off and there weren’t subtitles in any language, but it was certainly lit and staged in a way that made him look very saintly.  About what you’d expect, I suppose.

Becca and her roommate Rachel picked me up at the ferry terminal.  We rode around Zhongshan on a bunch of buses (they apparently don’t have a subway system yet), had dinner, visited the video store that hooks them up with bootlegged American rom-coms, etc.  In case her parents are reading this, her apartment is very nice and is in an extremely safe-looking neighborhood.  Honestly.  I didn’t do a very good job of taking pictures that evening, though.