Early on Day 3, two things became clear to me. One is that I tend to be a morning person, and going on vacation doesn’t magically cure me of my early-rising tendencies. The other is that Tsim Sha Tsui is a really busy neighborhood at midnight and a really quiet one at 7am. Fortunately, some of the hole-in-the-wall Pakistani restaurants on the ground floor of Chungking Mansions are run by my fellow early birds. Or maybe they stayed open all night; I don’t know. Either way, dirt-cheap chana masala and paratha is a pretty awesome way to start the day. That, and a stroll along Victoria Harbor, where I could look across to see the Hong Kong skyline.
I took the subway across (actually under) the harbor to Central station, and set about exploring downtown (they actually call it Central). This, I later found, was a somewhat ill-considered approach; Central is not designed to be explored on foot. At least not on the ground. If you insist on walking, Central is best explored from the raised walkways that run directly from one skyscraper to another, eliminating the need for things like sidewalks. On the ground, Central is a frustrating tangle of pedestrian bridges and underpasses; it’s impossible to get anywhere. While I was standing on a street corner looking at my map and trying to figure out where I was and how I got there, someone approached me wondering if I knew of anything worth doing in Central at 8am. She was from Thailand and was on her way back to Bangkok after having lived in the US for several years. Due to jet lag, she’d been up and wandering around Central looking for something to do for about 3 hours at that point and had run out of ideas. She goes by Natasha – all of the Thai people I know have Western-sounding nicknames, apparently because the rest of us inevitably butcher their names. She took this picture of me.
We also went to Kowloon Park, where I got a picture of some flamingos. It’s a pretty awesome park.
If you wander around back streets in Tsim Sha Tsui, you can also find halal butchers, particularly if you’re looking for something else.
Natasha went back to Central to meet a friend (who probably woke up at a more civilized time), and I had some noodles and soy milk for lunch.
After lunch, I went back to Hong Kong Island; instead of Central I checked out the Sheung Wan neighborhood. They had lots of shops selling dried stuff – fish, herbs, and edible bird’s nests. I’ve heard that they’re edible, at least – I’d have no idea how to prepare one. I also saw a place selling dried ox gall bladders; apparently they’re important for Chinese medicine.
Of course no trip to Sheung Wan is complete without riding the Mid-levels Escalator – it’s apparently the world’s longest. Where else can you spend 45 minutes on an escalator?
In the same neighborhood is the Man Mo temple. It’s not all that big or impressive; the coolest thing about it is the incense spirals hanging from the ceiling. In some places they put little plexiglass barriers under them to protect you from the falling ash; at Man Mo they just put up a sign warning you. Keeping the appearance old-school, I suppose.
From Man Mo, I walked back through Central toward Hong Kong Park. This time I’d figured out the elevated walkway trick and planned a much more intelligent route. On the way, I got pictures of the signature skyscrapers from a few different angles.
Hong Kong Park has a big aviary full of tropical birds and photographers. The photographers aren’t necessarily tropical.
They also have a couple of nice ponds and a waterfall; if you go behind the waterfall there’s a cool view of the Bank of China Tower with its notoriously malicious feng shui.
One thing that I’d missed on my early-morning pass through Central was the biggest picnic I’d ever seen. According to my guide book this usually happens on Sundays, but since May 1st is a state holiday they apparently decided to do it again. Hong Kong has a large population of Filipina migrant workers; a lot of them work as housekeepers. On May Day the HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) tower is closed for business, but two walls of the lobby open to the outside and they turn it into a big picnic space. It was packed full of Filipinas between about 20 and 40; hardly any men or children to be seen. They didn’t all fit there, so they also blocked off some of the adjacent streets and took up positions on the elevated pedestrian walkways. If it had been a political protest it would have been really effective and intimidating, but I think it was mostly just a picnic. Of course, when people whose job is to be helpful and unnoticed take over the financial district to have a picnic on their day off, there are certainly political overtones.
They also had a choir going. They sounded much better than the one in Shanghai.
I caught the ferry back to Kowloon just after sunset and got some night views of the skyline. Every night at 8pm they do a big light show that is designed to be viewed from the Kowloon side – several of the big skyscrapers have lasers going and flash their lights to a soundtrack. The narration rotates between English, Mandarin, and Cantonese – I showed up on Mandarin night so I didn’t catch much of what was going on.
After the light show I went to the Temple Street Night Market in Tsim Sha Tsui. I’m not much of a shopper, so the idea of haggling for junk doesn’t really appeal so much. My favorite part was the Cantonese opera singers that had set up on one street. Unfortunately, the palm readers had set up on the same street, so if you linger to listen to the music you’ll be accosted by people wanting to tell you your future. I must have had my hands in my pockets so that the “not superstitious” crease wasn’t visible. I ate some kind of meat on a skewer that I forgot to photograph and that made me feel vaguely unwell.
All in all, a pretty awesome day.