Hong Kong

In this my fourth visit, it is with a genuine heart-pang that I leave my good friends Kaori and Travis and Yuki and Masa and new friends Kazu and Christine.  Complex negotiations (always a Kabuki dance through a mine-field in Japan, but nothing like good initial sales as a lubricant, to mix a metaphor) successfully concluded with the book publishers and video producers add to the feeling of quiet satisfaction as I leave for the airport.

Banking over the crinkled coast, I had hoped to look down on Fukuoka, where I visited last year (https://tomyers.wordpress.com/2009/05/page/2), but by that time we are in the clouds of the bumpiest yet quietest plane ride I have had in some time.  Bumpiest because of unavoidable weather, the ‘rough air’ sending the crew to their seats and the Japanese schoolgirls on their spring trip abroad shrieking in fear.  But also the quietest because I indulged myself in some of the new noise-canceling headphones which are so many steps above the previous ones; these turned even my window seat at the back of the plane into a quiet garden of silence.

Students observe, Kaori laughs at, and Quan has kyboshed my penchant for buying watches and wearing a different one each day.  Frequently in need of a little retail therapy at the end of a long stint of teaching, the urge hits me in the airport as I await the flight out, and a clever or pretty new watch is cheap and easy to add to the backpack – and I must have about a dozen by now.  These new headphones, though more bulky, are way more useful for the upcoming return across the Pacific and the anticipated 10 crossings of the Atlantic I must make before summer.  The constant noise of planes and airports is exhausting, so I think the investment will be well worth it.

Typical back street in HK

After a truly white-knuckle landing at Honk Kong’s mountainous airport on the south side of the island, I am met by the unexpectedly young and whip-like Lau On (last name first, of course) and whisked to the Holiday Inn.  After Japan, Hong Kong is hot, sticky, and decidedly dilapidated (I later learn that this is because of the lease system of ownership, similar to England).  I had no time for touristy things, and little inclination either – head down, heart a little hardened, time to go home.  The hotel room overlooked a grimy series of high-rise flats where laundry is hung over the balconies.

I walked down to Victoria harbor (I’m actually in Kowloon, so looking across at Hong Kong itself – the better view in fact) in a sea of humanity that makes Japan feel like a study in aloneness.  The two cultures, both decidedly Asian, couldn’t be more distinct – bumped, jostled, and constantly beset by hawkers who are shameless by Japanese standards, the faces are much the same, but their miens are different, as are the postures and the movement.

If I had the room or inclination for more clothes in my overstuffed suitcase, this would be the place to buy them – bespoke tailors everywhere sporting quality cloth, all tugging at my sleeve, “Come in, sir!”  And watches? Kaori would lift her eyebrows and Quan lower hers – I look but I don’t touch, everything from Patek Phillipe to the lowliest Casio, all at such bargain-basement prices that I would suspect any Rolex I picked up – but my resolve is strong.  While prices are politely fixed in Tokyo, everything in Hong Kong is cheerfully ‘negotiable’.

The harbor is as you would think – full of junks, tourist cruisers, and the occasional freighter (all of China’s exports used to go through here, but since the handover from UK to ‘Red’ China in 1997, the prosperity and bustle has continued, but China’s other ports have taken some of the trade away from the massive docks).  The view of the Hong Kong side from Kowloon is just what you imagine from the pictures – a solid bank of higher-than-high rises set against The Peak of the hill behind the waterfront crowding.  The water itself has the mild but distinct sweet-sewery smell one associates with Venice.  (Later, I see the skyline at night alive with lights and lasers, that go only for a limited half-hour at night because of objections to light pollution.)  The new expo on the shore looks like a turtle, and some say that it is the turtle who traditionally lives inside The Peak that is coming out, making for bad feng shui (pronounced fungshway).  So others have proposed – seriously – that this needs to be countered by another building on the Kowloon side like a huge bird – maybe something like the Sydney Opera House, wings and all.

The students in my windowless classroom at the Expo are from all over – Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, even one from Vietnam, as well as Japanese and Australians resident in Hong Kong.  The class is a mix of physios, trainers, yoga, Pilates, and manual therapists that makes it hard to hit the right note – the soul-less room and some equipment trouble combining with my fatigue to make this very expensive class less then worth its weight in sterling in my eyes.  I had warned Kaori that with all that is going on at home I would not be 100%, but the Japanese classes went well; it is here that I really feel a bit flailing and hollow.  But the second day goes better and we end with the inevitable photos and invitations.

Hong Kong is loud, though – the taxi drivers, the streets, the muzak in the expo – all exuberant to be sure, but my ears have been sensitised by living with Quan and my visit to Japan, so it all feels unnecessarily jangly.

Bathroom notes: One handle controls the amount of flow through the faucet and the other the temperature – doesn’t that make much more sense than one controlling the cold and one controlling the hot?  And in this hotel, the shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and body lotion all come in the same type of bottle, so the contents are printed in Braille on the back.  Why is American money all the same size? – makes it hard on the blind.

So runs my mind in the last packing hours before the 24-or-so-hour run back across 11 times zones to home, home, home.

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