Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dispatch From Foreign Devil in Fragrant Harbor

Woot! In case the picture didn't give it away, we're in Hong Kong now. Last night we even saw a Kung Fu film in a theater just off the bustling street you see above.

We spent most of last week in mainland China (post to follow), and though we found it surprisingly easy to get around despite our complete lack of Mandarin, it's great to be back in Hong Kong, where folks are used to English even if they don't speak it, and nobody stops to stare at me when I'm out on the street.

Here are just a few of the things I like in Hong Kong...

The Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery

A lot of the pictures you'll see of it online crop out the high-rises that surround it, but to me the fact that this sacred place is in the middle of Hong Kong's hustle and bustle is exactly what makes it so great. And you can tell that the gardeners are working with the skyline rather than trying to ignore it.

Apparently it's the world's largest structure created entirely without nails. The above, of course, is a picture of the garden, because taking photos in the interior is forbidden. But I can tell you it's a very welcoming and serene place, with its ornate woodwork and its many golden Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the sound of a young nun singing reminded me of when we were visiting a museum in Istanbul that was said to contain some of Islam's sacred relics. As we walked through the exhibit, the whole thing was underscored by an imam we couldn't see who stood on the other side of a wall and continually sang the Koran. It was lovely.

The Subway System

Both here and in mainland China, the subway systems are extraordinarily fast and efficient, even for English speakers like us. It makes me feel simultaneously embarrassed and sorry for everyone who comes to New York and expects we'll offer something similar. Instead we give them enormous rats and constant service interruptions and announcements that even the natives can't understand. Sigh.


It's used instead of metal poles for scaffolding everywhere, even on the fanciest building projects. Which makes sense, since it's lightweight yet incredibly strong, and readily available. Hell, bamboo is so versatile it can be made into paper, into can even be eaten. What a useful plant!

Night Markets

China really does nighttime well. Everything and everyone comes alive, and there's a market to match whatever mood you're in. Electronics, lingerie, luggage, teacups, jewelry, Mao-morabilia...

Of course, we're on the road for months, so we are both strongly disinclined to buy even the smallest of souvenirs. But we can take pictures!

(This is Mike's new nickname.)

And we can eat!

Here we are at the Temple Night Market, and that's one of the many "Beer Girls" in the background wearing the red and white stripes. She tried to get us to buy her company's brand (San Miguel) and was very disappointed when we went with Tsing Tao instead.

The Star Ferry

It connects Hong Kong island with Kowloon (which is where we're staying) and is a romantic, swift, and cheap way to make the crossing.

Our Hotel

This place is ridiculously comfortable, the rooms stunningly designed, and there's a pool with glowing and twinkling lights that cycle through overhead while you're floating on your back and thinking about how to resist the siren call of room service. Also, a sauna. Also, a steam room. Also, a shower with one setting marked "fresh" and one marked "fun" that uses six different shower heads and many lights and varying textures and temperatures of water to give you experiences that are, indeed, both fresh and fun.

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