Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 7, Hong Kong

This morning at breakfast I took a copy of a Hong Kong newspaper. What a shock! On the front page there was an article about how seven bombs went off yesterday in Shaanxi Province in front of a building housing a high-level Communist Party policy meeting. A week ago there was a suicide bomber on Tianmen Square in Beijing, which, not being a television watcher I didn't find out about from CNN in the hotels. There is obviously considerably more resistance to the government than most Chinese, at least officially, know about.

Because Hong Kong is so populated – seven million people – so hilly and so cramped, there is a long series of covered escalators that lead down to the central business district. They run downhill until 10 AM and uphill after that. This delivery person is standing next to the covered escalators.

We passed a real estate company. People pay (to buy or rent) for apartments according to gross square footage (G) which includes common areas but actually live in the net square footage (N). At 7.7 Hong Kong dollars = 1 US dollar, the monthly rents shown are pretty substantial for such small apartments. To buy an ordinary-sized apartment in a lousy building costs hundreds of thousands of US dollars; a nice apartment in a decent building runs millions.

During the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976), two million Mainland Chinese fled China and came to Hong Kong. They climbed over mountains and swam here from as far as 40 miles away. Hong Kong now has seven million people; I can't imagine how it could have absorbed all those refugees. It certainly made housing even scarcer than ever.


Next on the list was a visit to a Taoist temple.  

I watched a young woman bring a small armful of supplies she had purchased in front of the temple and place them carefully on a table. First she lit two long candles and stuck them in a bowl of sand. Then she lit three fat incense sticks and stuck those in a different pot of sand. Then she lit what looked like two dozen thin incense sticks and put them in their sand pot. Finally she prayed to the figure to the right holding dozens of pieces of paper. When she was finished, she gave them to someone outside who put them, one by one, into a very large oven where her wishes ascended to wherever wishes go.


Another room of this temple held ancestors' ashes. Certainly in such a crowded place it makes perfect sense.

The British, when they ruled this place starting in 1841, had a great deal of social clout and insisted on burying their dead. I am wondering how many developers have tried to build on perfectly good cemetery land.

The next place was Hong Kong harbor, where we took a boat ride on a sampan that looked like this. 

All kinds of boats were crammed into this harbor, from multi-million yachts to houseboats to fishing boats.


The last picture shows a boat with rows of lights are for night fishing. There used to be many more fishermen in this harbor, but now the water is so polluted that fishermen must travel at least three days away to catch unpoisoned fish. They've figured out easier ways of making a living.


These beautiful trees are blooming all over Hong Kong. They're called bauhinia trees and are native to this area. This is the best picture I could get, so if you want to see the flowers better – they look like orchids – look up “bauhinia flowers.”

The local tour guide is giving me a headache: nonstop talking. Even when the bus stops at the next place on the list, she holds us inside ten more minutes so she can talk some more. Some people in the group are so obedient that they shush others for conversing while the guide talks. People's behavior in groups is fascinating.

I'm resuming writing this after a full evening. Hong Kong must have fifty trillion stores and five trillion restaurants. Actually, for someone like me who considers shopping a necessity and not an entertainment, this place is an orgy of consumerism and makes me gag. After dinner at a Thai restaurant we went to an outdoor evening market for more shopping. We were warned about “three-generation T-shirts” – of such poor quality that you wear it, wash it, and it shrinks so you give it to your son. Then he wears it, washes it, it shrinks again, so he gives it to his son. I took a look at the stalls and then waited in the bus. I think I have seen more jade and fake jade dragons than I ever want to see again.

The bus then took us to the ferry terminal at Victoria Harbor and zip zip, met us at the other side while we took the ferry across.  Hong Kong isn't quite as glitzy as Shanghai at night was, but the intense compression of this city seems more evident at night. 

Then the bus drove up and up and up a narrow winding road to Victoria Peak – Queen Victoria's heyday coincided with the heyday of the British in Hong Kong, so there are lots of places named Victoria this or Victoria that. From down below yesterday I estimated that the highest mountain was the height of the tallest buildings, but I wasn't quite right. There is one building, a new one of 119 stories, that seemed higher. It was quite a sight.

The bus drove us back downtown where we got on a trolley – original tracks from 19th century, trolley car from after World War II – and rode on the upper decks for a few stops, swaying and creaking and squealing. I was on an upper deck yesterday on my sightseeing bus trip and loved it, but for most of the others it was a new experience. Then a short bus detour to Hong Kong's red light district: the girls looked so terribly young. Then back to the hotel at 10:45 PM.

Mike has apparently decided that this group has more free time than they know what to do with, and invited people to join him (on our nickel and public transportation) to see more markets and temples. You can imagine what a lovely prospect that is for me, but many people in the group were thrilled. So tomorrow I'll see them at dinner, billed of course as a banquet since it's the last one. Good night!

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