Exploring Hong Kong
After a relaxing first day, I woke up at a little past nine in the morning, with just enough sleep under my belt. The complimentary breakfast was due to close at ten, and I made it to the hotel restaurant, with minutes to spare. Thankfully, the waitstaff were accommodating enough.
Since my dinner the night before was rather sparse, the hearty contents of the buffet-style meal — scrambled eggs, baked beans, bacon, atlas carrots, sausage, juice, water, coffee, the works — was a welcome start. Just as well, because that day I completed a half marathon. At least, I probably walked the part.
The first meet-up of the day pushed back an hour, so I returned to my room to freshen up further and relax before attempting Hong Kong’s public transportation. Five years after leaving Singapore, Jakarta has forced me back to the lifestyle of private vehicles, and I only had the vague memory of the former to accompany my eager feet. Slightly over half an hour before meeting my friend, I asked the front desk clerk for directions to the nearest MTR station, to which I was told to take two left turns to Tin Hau. After a couple rookie mistakes, I emerged from Central Station, into the heart and soul of the bustling island. I found my friend minutes later.
We carefully maneuvered through the weekend crowd into a more intimate cluster of buildings via the Central–Mid-levels escalators. Soho, or “South of Hollywood Road”, is a charming commercial and residential mix, which is densely populated with restaurants, retail outlets, art galleries, and antique stores. Stacked on top of each other on an incline, the commercial functions are readily visible on the lower levels, with the flats sitting quietly on top. It is a cultural Rubik’s cube, and the uphill walk would have been quite a trek, had it not been for the inviting sights flanking our left and right sides.
Lunch was spent at the French-American Bistro at Hollywood Road. We sat at the bar seats facing the street, with heaping plates and beer to top it all off. The next couple hours were spent in constant conversation and people-watching in the crisp weather. I vaguely remember excerpts of a theoretical foray into Hong Kong’s red light district industry, and witnessing someone trip down the adjacent steep staircase. Personally, I found the restaurant’s helpings to be a little large for my taste, but the wonderful staff and great location more than made up for it. Then, we hauled our full stomachs out for a much-needed walk.
Hong Kong Park
With the business district a few minutes away, we headed for Hong Kong Park to check out Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. There were some tents lined up along the pathway leading up to the House, and I pulled out my camera to take a couple shots, only to realise that I had left its battery sitting, charged, on the table of my hotel room. But, thank goodness for smartphones. We ended up stopping short of the museum’s entrance, upon finding out that cameras were not allowed inside the premises. Just before we spun on our toes towards the Edward Youde Aviary, I asked a very kindly calligrapher for a photo using my phone, to which he happily obliged. Unfortunately, none of the shots I took this day are good enough to post here, but if you follow me on other social networking sites, you may have seen a select few.
Unfortunately, the entrance to the Aviary was also closed off, and we had to meander through spiral stairs and stone paths to find an open attraction. Eventually, we found ourselves at the Forsgate Conservatory, a 1400-square-metre fully air-conditioned indoor garden dedicated to the preservation of various exotic plants. We walked through the multiple levels in a matter of minutes, but the brief moment of ventilation was a wonderful respite after working up a sweat hoofing it around the premises of the park.
After crossing the Garden Road overpass, we exited Citibank Plaza, and got a glimpse of the Victoria Harbour amongst the juxtaposition of the steel angles familiar to modern architecture and the nostalgia-inducing structure of The Legislative Council Building. The Harbour, much smaller after years of land reclamation operations, now sees a closer physical distance between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula. As a result, the scenic Star Ferry journeys have been cut down to become very brief rides.
We passed Statue Square and headed north towards Star Ferry Pier, in order to board one out of Hong Kong Island. A sizable queue formed rather quickly, one of many throughout the Star Ferry’s 125 years of service. While waiting, I learned that the present-day democratic incarnation of this water transportation held a darker a past: the manner in which the general fleet are painted was more than just decorative. According to my friend, the British settlers utilised the bi-colour design during their occupation to indicate where certain people could sit. The high-class passengers would be privy to the white seats situated at the top, whereas the rest were left to risk getting splashed in the green seats. I could find no articles backing this claim, so I am wary about even writing this. I assume that it is either hearsay, or a classic example of how history is once again written by the victor.
When it was our turn to board, we stepped on, and quickly managed to find a nice seat towards the front. The well-maintained wooden interiors struck me as almost regal-looking. The ferry roared to life for yet another trip across the water. In my window seat, I silently observed an elderly tourist couple poring over a map, and all for five minutes, sat to enjoy the foggy, yet vaguely salty late-afternoon air of the harbour.
Hong Kong Space Museum
We stepped out of the ferry into Tsim Sha Tsui. With the Clock Tower a stone’s throw away, we devised on how to divide our time between all of the museums and galleries in the surrounding area. I was to meet another friend later that evening, so we to manage our remaining time accordingly. Ultimately, we chose two museums, and the first one we headed to was chosen in homage to our common fascination for Earth and beyond.
The Hong Kong Space Museum was a dream come true for the little girl in me, who wanted to be an astronaut before getting blissfully lost in the creative universe. We wandered through the various facilities, briefly reverting to our childhoods as we watched scale models of rockets drop capsules, learned about black holes by manipulating a dome-shaped simulation, stood slackjawed in front of a life-sized spaceship cockpit, and observed children running around the museum with an enthusiasm so profound that it entranced a couple of fully grown adults. By the time we decided to move onto the next attraction, the innocent cacophony of laughter and youthful vocalised curiosity showed no sign of fading alongside the setting sun.
Hong Kong Museum of Art
The next building was only a few minutes’ walk. We entered the far quieter Hong Kong Museum of Art and approached the ticketing alcove to inquire on the admission price. There were a couple of people ahead of us. When it was our turn, the lady clerk asked if we were students.
“We wish!”, I replied, much to her amusement. Then, we paid the HKD 10 standard fee.
There were a series of thematic exhibitions going on that day. The first one we went to, called “Special Exhibition for the Twentieth Anniversary of Xubaizhai Gallery”, was a display of ancient Chinese paintings donated by late Singaporean banker Mr. Low Chuck-Tiew, whose love for art almost rivaled the value he placed on his own life. I couldn’t help but feel moved and a little intrigued at this passion towards his valuable collection.
We then moved upstairs to the to the next presentation entitled “A Hundred Chinese Paintings from the Hong Kong Museum of Art”. The hundred-something-strong collection of paintings by various Chinese artists covered the fourth floor gallery showed an intensive exploration of techniques. A selection of pieces depicting similar subjects were hung in pairs to show the interaction between the East and West, particularly, the distinction between their styles. Despite being heavily — and understandably — guarded, this was one of my favourites in the building.
Adjacent to that was a porcelain exhibition. “Maritime Porcelain Road: Relics from Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao Museums” was a glass-encased majesty of a display, showing delicate and beautiful artifacts of which China is best known. We joked about which items we’d be willing to feature in our own places, and before leaving, I found myself lingering a little longer in front of the colourful yellow-based set from the Ming Dynasty. Even though I wanted to see the rest, we were pressed for time. We decided to end our tour just as Saturday was transitioning into the peak of the weekend. My friend dropped me off at the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR, and we parted ways.
My phone was nearly out of battery by the time I rode the few stops over to Sheung Wan to meet my other friend. He picked me up at the station, and upon my request for a local meal, took me to one of his favourite Teochew restaurants for roast goose and congee. The filling meal was warm, wonderful, and timely, for a night that was gradually getting chillier. We decided to continue catching up at his flat, which was a couple blocks away.
While my phone was charging, we made up for lost time over glasses of wine and whiskey. By the time Sunday reached our particular corner of the globe, I was introduced to Josh Rouse’s “It Looks Like Love”. That song became my personal soundtrack of this entire Hong Kong trip.
We then shifted to playing a selection of our favourite pop-rock tunes from the nineties, which triggered a fond reminiscence over the honesty present in the music of our formative years that appear absent in the auto-tuned productions of today. Just like our parents did, once upon a time. Worse yet, just like hipsters, too — except we proceeded to scrutinise the second-wave of that movement. We ended the discussion with Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” reminding us once more of the youth we both shared.
I took the cab home at past two in the morning, and dropped my aching but happy self onto the cold sheets of my hotel bed. A bigger day was in the horizon, and I had to ensure that my sore legs would recover in time for the next set of hilly strolls.