Deciding prior to my trip to Asia that I would take a second day off while here – though I felt the slightest bit guilty for doing so (the Lovely K will chide me for that) because of the cost and trouble to get here and why not work most of the time – I nonetheless knew that today, Saturday, would be another tourist day. Thursday I went south, to Stanley Market. Today I ventured northeast, then northwest.
Stanley Market is maybe seven kilometers south, as the crane flies, but the #260 bus takes a circuitous route by necessity, showing off break-taking views of Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay near Wong Chuk Hang and Chung Hom Kok, respectively.
Fortunately, the MTR – pronounced MTR-lo in Cantonese (just thought you’d want to know) – goes to where I wanted to go today.
Before I got on the MTR to head out of town, I had to get new earbuds for the iPod, as my current set has frayed ear coverings. Can’t have that. I knew I wanted to go to Nathan Road in Kowloon, where the hawkers all have cheap electronics, but I knew that my lack of haggling prowess, demonstrated so elegantly in Stanley Market, was potentially deleterious to my budget. Nevertheless, I walked several blocks to the north, scoping by sidelong glance the various stores to see who had prices showing (“watch out for unmarked products” cried an insider website, 12hk.com), and who generally had a clean, well-run store.
I doubled back to one I saw near the beginning. I went in. “Jo san” was exchanged, and I indicated that I needed new ear buds. The man showed me a range of types and brands, one box looking like it had been displayed through a dust and grime storm some fifty years before (that worried me), and one set that he said cost about HK$1000 (about US$128). I finally settled on a pair of Sonys, with lime green accents.
“350 dollars.” About US$45.
I gave him a pained look. Like, Dude, you just ran over my foot with your motorcycle.
“Oooh. I didn’t want to pay that much.” I placed the package down on the glass counter with an air of finality. Finality, like, OK, here I stand, and there I walk…but I could be convinced otherwise. Try me.
He came back, “How much you want to pay.” I took up his calculator and toyed with the keypad, putting in 350 and dividing by 7.8 to see if my pained look was really painful enough.
“265,” he said, while I was typing. This was about US$34. I kept typing.
“OK. And I will try them here and if I don’t like, I get my money back, right?”
I felt that I had had some small victory. So what if they were manufactured in Bangladesh for 50 cents and he bought them wholesale for two dollars. I got a 25% discount. That was good enough for me.
First tourist stop was Che Kung Temple, 10 km to the north of the central district of HK, accessible for the grand total of about US$2.50 on two different lines.
The century-old temple is dedicated to a Sung dynasty general who was deified for his devotion to the villagers of Tin Sam. Apparently, he miraculously cured a plague and also miraculously brought many people good luck, or so said the plaque outside the temple entrance, where people greet you with happy a “Jo san!” in front of their vendor stands where you are supposed to buy incense before going in. I skipped that step.
Inside the courtyard, which preceded the altar, there are large brass bowls with sand into which you place your 2-foot long incense and bow and pray. I skipped that step, too.
Once inside the temple, you face a 30-foot high golden Buddha whose gaze down on you feels intimidating, like maybe you shouldn’t have skipped those steps. People stopped in front and stood, bringing hands into a silent clap position in front of their noses, and prayed. I also skipped that step.
Behind and to one side of the Buddha statue were five tables with two chairs in front of each. One table was staffed with an older man who was counseling a young couple. He was doing all the talking.
The feel of the temple reminded me of many Catholic churches in Italy and France.
Once back on the MTR, I wrote this poem in my Moleskine:
Angry Buddha statue
points me to the
Who stooped to wash
I couldn’t help but think of the marked contrast between Buddhism and gospel Christianity: fear and distance versus love and intimacy. Otherness and cold separation versus God-with-us and humility. Sorry if that pisses some of you off; I’m just calling it like I see it.
Took the MTR back south to the Tai Wai station to transfer lines. I wanted to go the Sheung Shui station out in the countryside, about 23 km north. I overshot the nature preserve I intended to go to and wound up in Paramus, New Jersey, on steroids.
Now, I must tell you, Dear Reader, that the train ride out was quite lovely. We went by Tolo Harbour to the east of us, a pleasant stretch of water surrounded by hills up to 700 meters high. The people-watching on the ride itself was fun, too, which is the same reason I like riding the NYC subway. Shing Mun Country Park, which is where I intended to go, was accessible with the Tsuen Wan line to the south. In any event, I ended up about 5 km south of Shenzhen, with a population of eight million and one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
Not exactly a bird sanctuary.
So, it was late morning and I was ready for lunch, and, I admit, I just had to: McDonald’s. I had to try it halfway ‘round the world, if just to say I did. I queued up behind an army of grandmothers and schoolchildren, hungry for their chicken nuggets or “Shogun Burgers,” a regional combo meal choice not widely available in the States.
I got a Big Mac meal for the equivalent of US$3.31. And I didn’t even have to haggle.
I walked around the mall – c’mon, this is Paramus…you think they didn’t have a mall there?! – and went into a sneaker store just to look around. The salespeople, all under 10 years old, eyed me greedily with my wallet full of American dollars, which are currently as weak against the eastern currencies as a noodle against a bamboo shoot.
(By the way, this is worth a digression. Downtown, when work is done on office buildings, the scaffolding erected is made from bamboo. Not like bamboo that is processed. Just plain old dried out bamboo, lashed together, some as high as 40 stories. Couldn’t believe it. Apparently, it’s as strong as steel…but that would mean that… Never mind.)
In the mall going down the escalator, I saw a 3-year-old boy refuse to hold his grandfather’s hand. He wanted to stand on his own while riding. Same in any language, folks.
Back on the MTR-lo to go back to Hong Kong Island.
In the MTR, which is one long connected tube, so you can ostensibly see everyone sitting some five or seven cars down, they have TV screens every so often. I was cranking the Cars’ first album on my iPod and enjoying my new haggled-down-yet-still-too-expensive earbuds when the news on the screen showed a 50-year-old woman from the Sichuan Province, where the earthquake’s epicenter was.
She was looking at a piece of paper with rows of neatly typed characters on it, apparently a list of the dead. Her face was in profile, her lips parted slightly. Her eyes followed the list down, her left forefinger guiding her gaze. Row by row. Slowly.
The next shot was of two men holding her by each arm, supporting her unsteady gait. Her face was reddened, her gaze set ahead.
photo: FDB Graphics