Discover Hong Kong
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Last month marked the first time to travel to a place where I was mostly left to my own devices. I can safely say it was one of my most memorable experiences, and definitely my favourite four days this year. Without revealing too much detail, all of this materialised because of my recently developed curiosity about one of China’s Special Administrative Regions, but was precipitated when it seemed that the universe conspired to make it happen. So, on the early hours of the third Saturday of April, I boarded Garuda Indonesia with a full medium-sized suitcase plus an even fuller handbag, and headed for Hong Kong.
Initially, the itinerary would have involved a two-night stay in Shenzhen, China, but the new strain of bird flu occurring in the mainland compelled me to cancel that leg of my trip. Even with hectic last-minute hotel bookings, it meant allotting four days instead of two to urban exploration, and meet-ups with friends who reside in the area. Hence, my saying “mostly” on my own.
I’ve had more than enough of my share of red-eye flights, but the four-and-a-half hour journey out of Jakarta involved way too much food than is acceptable in a time designated for rest. Civilly accepting the snack, the in-flight meal, and the follow-up snack took up a sizable chunk of my will power, that by the time the aircraft landed in Hong Kong International Airport, I was only focusing on freshening up and getting some uninterrupted sleep. Thankfully, the Plaza Premium Lounge was within the same terminal I arrived, and I managed to fulfill the former for HKD 180. Granted, a little steep for some clean water and bubbles, but it was a necessary investment, seeing as one of my first activities involved a camera, and the possibility of my own mug appearing in front of one.
Madame Tussauds Hong Kong
After having a dim sum breakfast at Tsim Sha Tsui, and a quick visit to a nearby herb shop (who, oddly enough, had shopkeepers who were incredibly fluent in Indonesian), Victoria Peak was next on the agenda. Although sunny, the temperature was comparatively cooler, and weather acted as a sweet respite from the rainy reality of Jakarta. There was still a few hours to spare before I was due to leave for my hotel, so I headed straight for the wax museum.
Madame Tussauds is the brainchild of French artist Marie Tussaud (née Grosholtz), which was founded in London around two hundred years ago as a way to display her wax modelling work. The success of its flagship branch has seen the opening of numerous other branches in major cities across the world. When it expanded to Asia in 2000, Hong Kong became the first city to house this attraction. It is located inside The Peak Tower.
After learning the craft under Swiss physician-turned-wax-modeller Dr. Philippe Curtius, the sixteen-year-old Anna Maria “Marie” Grosholtz created her first wax creation of Voltaire. The determined student proceeded to create models of other famous people, and her talent earned her the respect and friendship of the French royal family. However, she took to creating death masks and models of the famous fallen around the time of the French Revolution. She continued to practise her modelling and honed her attention to detail through these means. When Dr. Curtius passed away in 1794, he left his entire collection to her, and she proceeded to tour across Europe for the next three decades.
The conception of Madame Tussauds came partly out of her marriage to François Tussaud in 1795, as well as from being financially strapped when a 1802 invitation to exhibit her work in London alongside a German performer Paul Philidor went awry. Fortune seemed to continue eluding her when the Napoleonic Wars broke out, so Tussaud spent time in Great Britain and Ireland, and eventually found a permanent place in London. In 1835, she opened the very museum that has become one of the most well-known tourist spots of today.
Obviously, many of the figures in display in the wax museums outside of London are crafted by Tussauds immediate and distant protégés, but the creative process is a marvel to behold. According to the exhibition, the first step after selecting the subject is to invite the fleshy original to a sitting. During this session, wax modellers proceed to become intimately acquainted with the subject’s face by taking 180 photos of and 250 measurements across their body. (Should a subject be unavailable for sitting, studies will be made from existing photographs.) It is an amazing feat of patience for both parties, and all information gathered is kept strictly confidential.
With this collected data, the artists first form a clay model of the subject’s head. When it bears much liking to the original figure, they proceed to construct a metal skeleton. Clay will be fashioned over this frame, based on the measurements taken of the body. Moulds are then made out of these two parts, which will be used to form the waxen incarnations. Since wax shrinks as it sets, everything is built 2% percent larger.
Once the wax is ready, the model will be given their hair. I found this particular step rather interesting, because I would have thought the painting of the model would happen beforehand. However, to be consistent to the acute dedication to detail, strands of hair are placed into the wax one by one until the ‘do is completely formed. This job tends to take up to five weeks to complete. Afterward, the colouring of the model is done with oil-based paints, presumably due to their malleability.
In order to match the colour as much as possible to the original, the paint is applied in layers to properly portray the texture and natural nuances of human skin. It is an incredibly careful art. But, once this arduous but worthwhile process is over, the wax figure is dressed and placed under a spotlight in the museum for tourists to enjoy.
Indeed, I did. Madame Tussauds Hong Kong itself isn’t particularly large, so it only seemed to cater to the international and local consciences of Hong Kong, but there were wax models of historical figures that I never would have expected to make its way into the Asian branch. Just after the section dedicated to political figures, is a corner for the gentler revolutionaries. Seeing Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Pablo Picasso, and even William Shakespeare had roused the many pleasant memories I have of art school.
Rembrandt has a corner for himself, which has a photo booth formed out of his 1662 painting, De Staalmeesters (Translation: The Sampling Officials). Inside is a beret and a black cloak for anyone who wishes to emulate a syndic, if only for a few seconds. But even more fascinating is the artistry behind the formation of his wax figure’s left hand, grasping an artificially weathered palette and three paintbrushes. Either the wax artists also had an advanced understanding of physics, or an excellent adhesive was involved.
Just across Rembrandt is a rather lank William Shakespeare, sitting and writing inside a small hut. He and Rembrandt, obviously long deceased, are examples of wax figures created with a strong degree of ambiguity. When looking at versions of Shakespeare on display in other wax museums, they all seem to look strikingly different from one another. The one at Madame Tussauds in London has very red hair, in comparison. However, Picasso seemed to be have some consistency in his features, including his liver spots, and his trademark cigarette.
Beyond the artsy-fartsy realm, there are also figures with great minds, one of whom is incredibly notorious for his intelligence. Albert Einstein and his wild hair stands in front of an mock-up chalkboard bearing various formulas he discovered during his prodigious life. I couldn’t help but think of the genius who was in charge of styling the mane of his wax figure.
Just a stone’s throw away are some pioneers of moving pictures, standing at a slight distance from the likes of great actors that have graced the film industry over the years. I couldn’t help but get a snapshot of Alfred Hitchcock and pose arm-in-arm with Humphrey Bogart (not pictured). There are other captures of myself with the statues of Johnny Depp, Audrey Hepburn, among others, but unfortunately, they didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.
After my curiosity about Madame Tussauds was satiated, I exited the museum to scout the area outside. I wasn’t able to use The Peak Tramway, but I had a good look at one of the retired units from 1956 plinthed just across and slightly above The Peak Lookout. Then, I headed to Starbucks for a quick rest. There was a great mix of expatriate tourists and residents populating the outlet. Some were runners, dropping by for a post-workout refreshment. Looking back, their presence was no surprise. The environment at The Peak is excellent for exercise, and overall area is conducive for a leisurely weekend.
Empire Hotel, Causeway Bay
After touring The Peak, I took a taxi down the mountain and headed to Hong Kong’s Central district. Ideally, I would have wanted to go to the Golden Bauhinia Square, the site of the historic 1997 return of the former British colony to the People’s Republic of China, but it was pushing close to standard hotel check-in time, and my knackered self was in dire need of a nap. However, the ride down the mountain and into one of the busiest parts of the area took all but 20 minutes, and I was more than an hour early for a room. So, I left my suitcase with the concierge, and, armed with only my tote, stepped out into the mildly warm weather.
My Nexus S had run out of battery that morning, but the hotel did not have any outlets at their lobby. Also feeling peckish, I walked about a block or two to the Pacific Coffee Emporium at King’s Road near Butterfly on Victoria. The café had outlets, thankfully, so I spent the remaining hour charging my phone, while having a sandwich and coffee for lunch. Outside, a twenty-minute rainfall run its course, almost unnoticed. When the water turned to drizzle, I made my way back to the hotel.
After giving them a HKD 1000 deposit, the front desk informed me that there were no rooms with a single queen-sized bed available. I wasn’t fussed. Due to the rushed nature of this hotel booking, I did not expect to get my preferred type of accommodation. So, I was given a suite with two single beds.
I was not disappointed. In fact, service and food included, I would highly recommend Empire Hotel for anyone who is planning to hit up Hong Kong.
The room I stayed in was a city view unit on the sixteenth floor. Back in Jakarta, I had the impression that the purported view would boast the Causeway Bay that is featured in the top results of an image search. However, Wing Hing Street showed the city in a smaller scale, pocked instead with apartments, hole-in-the-wall stores, and local eateries. The only visibly large building, street-level-wise, would be the refuse collection and public toilet. Thankfully, the presence of the latter was not enough to distract. After puttering about the room for a while, I settled into one of the beds, grabbed the pillow from the other one, and took a much-needed snooze.
I woke up at 9:30 that night, energised, yet jonesing for some dinner. I tried making use of the room service, but the few attempts I made to dial the number was met with a busy tone, so I assumed it was closed. There were barely any sounds coming from the street, save for what seemed to be the occasional truck. I figured that the city was in the process of settling into a collective calm, and that nothing would be open. However, something was niggling at me not to trust the quiet, and after some deliberation, I slipped on my cardigan, and headed out into the later hours of Saturday.
I was so glad to be wrong. The illusion provided by the upper floors was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Wing Hing at night. I asked the front desk for the directions to the nearest open food place, — as well as the nearest 7-Eleven, just in case, — and exited the hotel. I headed in the direction of the convenience store, per the instructions of the clerk, but in the last minute, decided to push on to explore the possibility of something local still being open. I found myself in Tsing Fung Street, a smaller stretch under a flyover, which still had groups of people congregating at that hour. I strolled up and down, in search of a free seat. Unfortunately, all of the places I took any remote interest in had closed for the night.
Turning back, I decided to gravitate towards the areas with queues, and I suddenly found myself in the newest branch of Dessert Loma. Even though I wanted something more filling than what their menu had to offer, I didn’t want to back out of the table that was immediately given to me. So, I ordered a cold tofu and mango dish for about HKD 27, and enjoyed the half hour I spent there. I then paid my bill, and made my way back, but not before stopping by 7-Eleven for a sandwich and a drink. After inquiring the time of the hotel’s breakfast buffet, I made arrangements with a couple of friends for Sunday via instant messaging. With that, I winded down for the night, satisfied with my first day, yet excited for what’s to come.