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Hong Kong. Oh, could it be any more stunning than it is right this minute, decked full red, gift-wrapped and Christmas lit? Red and albino poinsettias mass, are bunched, are grouped, crowd window boxes, line avenues and streets, storefronts.
Christmas is secular here, of course, unless you want to count the lit stars suspended from invisible wire in front of the ritzy Peninsula Hotel. But there’s no Baby Jesus. The joyous lights on every building for a mile or more wink, tic, tic, race as you would expect, but also cast long festive trails on Victoria Harbour’s night water that links Kowloon on the mainland to Hong Kong Island’s business center. I had no tripod so the photos posted are execrable, but you’ll get the picture. Har.
Interesting how the thin skyscrapers reflect the aesthete of the people, thin as cigarette boats, cosmopolitan. See the daytime photo too, taken from a sampan belching diesel fumes. Yin and yang here, right? The moneyed soaring skyscrapers, the poverty of the houseboats on the jade water, some of the folks living on them, the guide says, are eighty years and older and have never come ashore. Could be tourist hype, no doubt, but one look at the mild faces and I could so believe. I put my camera down when they stare out at yet another set of tourists; I wave instead.
On the city streets I realize I’ve lost my New York walking skills. I dodge and weave the sidewalk hordes. Maybe we should be walking on the left, I say to my uncomplaining husband, England’s handprint still hardpressed in the way they drive on the left. Switching to the left side of the street doesn’t really work. I dodge and weave, I shake my head no, thank you, no thank you, no thank you to the Indian or Pakistani men who hand me their flyers, I can make you a suit; I’m good at it, come and have a look. Watches, Madame? I dodge and weave, am one of the few black tourists, polite even though, Leave me the hell alone, I’m begging you, is caged behind my teeth.
We are good tourists. We go up to Victoria Peak by tram, funicular style, the spectacular skyline view hazed this day. We go shopping for cashmere and pashminas in Stanley Market, we take a double-decker tram around Hong Kong Island for the novelty, to see more of the city, to experience, man. Our hotel is luxurious and comfortable. Choice fruit in a swan-shaped bowl arrives because we ask a worker in an adjoining room whether they’d finished making up our room (half eaten in photo.) Only when there’s surprise on his face do we realize that perhaps they’ve left the folded spreads off the bed for our convenience. We assure him it’s okay. Really. But, do you think we could have an extra pillow? Not ten minutes later, here comes the burnished fruit. Yeah, baby.
I love Hong Kong. Our beautiful city guide, Kenn, is very fluent in this totally bilingual city, but apologizes for her “chinglish”, Chinese English. I look away and I know that’s a term I’ll not ever be comfortable saying. It’s way too close to a word that I don’t ever want to come out of my brain. I learn that the bathroom is “the happy room,” learn that they refer to themselves as Hongkongese; she mentions the Shanghainese. I don’t know why I’m surprised? People in Taiwan are Taiwanese.
In Hong Kong, the scaffolding on buildings is bamboo – even on skyscrapers. In Hong Kong there’s a queue 15 people long outside the Louis Vuitton, outside the Gucci shops on Canton Road. In Hong Kong teenaged girls walk easily for blocks, hands linked liked lovers; they giggle and whisper. In Hong Kong the fragile leaves of the poinsettias remain unquailed and tropical, even though everyone here is wearing light down jackets, the women yoked by their scarves tied in the same noosed style against 40-degree temperatures. Spindly boughs of bougainvillea still bow, purple orchid-like Bauhinia flowers still nest high on trees. We are all freezing.
On Lantau Island we stop at the Tai O Fishing village, walk through the long narrow alley lined with dried seafood of every kind, blow lungs hung like loofah, dried blowfish. I use my first squat toilet behind a door that only comes up to my waist. I take the requisite documenting photo. As I walk along the pathway the villagers cannot take their frank stares from me, even when I smile and nod to shame them. A four-year-old points at me, her index finger up to her little cheek. Later at the Buddhist Temple, where the world’s tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue reigns with his enlightened smile, a broadly-smiling young woman, her hair pink-punked, poses with me for a photo, her head leaned closed to mine. Back in Hong Kong a seven-year-old spots me, looks back at me, prods her ancient grandmother to turn to look at me. What? There are knots of African men on the streets not four streets over; what’s the deal? I don’t know how to feel, really. Like a chicken geek in a traveling circus, like a film star, pawed at by people’s non-malicious curiosity. I just feel, like, I dunno, slimed?
Hey, stop gawking at me. I nod and smile, good morning, Zou san.