Hong Kong Day 2 - Words in the Sky

2 October 2009

Thursday 1st October

It was a public holiday in China to mark 60 years since the founding of the People’s Republic, and the television was showing a military parade taking place on the mainland, all missiles and people waving flags. Mercifully all that was confined to the TV - on the streets of Hong Kong everything seemed the same as yesterday. I did see one guy selling flags later on in the day but nobody seemed to be taking him up on the offer. Clearly no major sense of Chinese patriotism here, although I suppose most people didn’t mind their day off work.

Not that everybody had the day off. Our driver Jackie, provided for us by Will’s aunt, was back to take us around the more suburban areas of Hong Kong. But first we needed breakfast, so he took us for Dim Sum, where we were joined by two of Will’s friends Sylvia and Winnie, and also his grandmother. She did a great job of embarrassing Will, although sadly in Cantonese. We ate various dumplings, chickens feet, some boney pork thing, noodles and rice followed by a few sweet dishes - a couple of types of sponge and one resembling a custard doughnut. All washed down with Jasmine tea which I wasn’t a fan of - it tasted like what I imagine I would get I if I filled a kettle with water from my fish tank.

We drove Will’s gran back to where she lives, in a big house up Victoria Peak with Will’s aunt, who has been treating us all very generously even though we haven’t seen her yet. We then headed out to the New Territories, which is a more rural part of Hong Kong. Here the residential blocks are smaller, maybe 4 storeys high instead of 30.

We visited Kat Hing Wai, which is a village in the walls of an old castle (“old” meaning pre-colonial, i.e. pre-1898. Any building over 100 years old is pretty rare in Hong Kong). It felt a bit strange wandering through the narrow alleyways between people’s houses, because this is otherwise just an ordinary village - there’s not really anything to see apart from the old women at the entrance wearing big hats, who were desparate to charge people HK$10 to take their photo.

We then saw the Kam Tin Tree House. This is an abandoned house which has been completely swallowed up by a tree, the tall roots breaking through and wrapping themselves around the brickwork. There were a couple of old temples nearby, though again they were only “old” by Hong Kong standards. We went to a small museum called the Ping Shang Tang Clan Gallery, which had a few pictures headed “the olden days” of children in the 1970’s. Yes, back in the mists of time, when people slightly older than me were growing up.

Then we went to the worst cafe in Hong Kong. The menu was purely for tourists - I ordered a coffee and that traditional Chinese dish, a cheese and ham sandwich. The coffee was cold and then a little later they came back to tell me they’d run out of bread, so couldn’t make any sandwiches. I ordered a beef stew which turned up on a skewer. Either an amazing physical feat, or a mistranslation.

We then saw the Wishing Tree at Tai Po. Traditionally, you could tie your written wish to an orange and see if you could make it land on a branch. But it turned out that was a good way of damaging the tree, and branches started falling off and injuring people, so you can’t do that any more. Now you have to attach your wishes to a nearby noticeboard instead - I can’t see that being as much fun somehow.

We then went back to Victoria Harbour to watch the holiday fireworks. It was the same place from which we’d seen the disappointing light show two days previously, but much more packed now. The Chinese should know a thing or two about fireworks, and they didn’t disappoint - the display was huge and included a few types of firework I’d not seen before. I was particularly impressed by the fireworks that made images in the sky - heart shapes, smiley faces, and finally Chinese characters. Writing in the sky with fireworks - clever stuff. Plenty of non-ironic “ooh”s and “aah”s from the crowd, and in front of us a sea of people recording every moment on cameras and phones - people who presumably prefer not to witness things in the present and instead live it for the first time when they play back the video.

We then headed back out to the New Territories for dinner, to the Hei Hei Chinese Kitchen. Whereas I’m quite familiar with the concept of a BYOB restaurant, this was BYOF - you bought the seafood ingredients for your dinner, live, from the shops opposite, and then they cooked it for you. Jackie was rather generous with Will’s aunt’s money and we had a feast of clams, barnacles, scallops, prawns, bigger prawny things, fish and mussels. We also had more of those pigeons, though mercifully that was one ingredient provided by the restaurant - we didn’t have to catch our own. An absolutely fabulous meal, and as fresh as it could possibly be.

We stopped off on the way back into town for dessert. Nick had been keen to try a fruit called durian, which he’d heard smelled absolutely disgusting yet tasted delicious, so he wanted to see for himself. We went to a place called Lucky Dessert which offered various desserts using durian, as well as more sensible ingredients. Nick had durian rolled in glutinous rice and Will had durian pudding. I went for a mango jelly and Rachel had a hot mango pancake roll. The mango desserts were lovely, and durian was “interesting”. It smells of onion - not as bad as I’d imagined, though odd for a fruit - and it tastes to me like a root vegetable, maybe a turnip or swede. It’s not bad per se but I think it would be rather better as an accompaniment to a roast dinner than as a dessert. I only had one mouthful - Nick had a whole dessert and found the worst thing was the aftertaste, which lasted for a hours. An evening of durian flavoured belches is probably why durian is like Marmite to the locals.

Jackie dropped us off near Knutsford Terrace which is full of bars. We went to that most traditional of Chinese drinking establishments, the Irish bar. We had several Bailey’s cocktails until we were kicked out when the place shut at 3am. We briefly went into another bar which was a little too loud - and then a Coldplay covers band started playing, and we made a hasty exit.

We then went to Joe’s Billiards Bar. Two men were asleep on the bar as we walked in. It was pretty late already and it soon became even later, as we knocked back more beer and enjoyed the free wi-fi. We left at 6am and the subway had started running again, so we took it one stop back to our hostel. The area looked completely different, bathed in the early morning sunlight, with hardly anyone around.