Saturday, March 31, 2007

coming to an end

My Hong Kong adventure is winding down and the end is within sight. I leave tommorrow after a whirl-wind last day of presentations, possible interview, workshop and dinner (my plane leaves at 1 AM!). This will probably be my last post actually in Hong Kong. It's been a wonderful time. I've made new friends, taken over 700 photos, gained weight and have a whole extra bag of stuff to bring back. All the signs of a grand adventure.


Yesterday was my last day of school presentations at HKIS. So I decided to mark the occasion by cataloguing my commute from the hotel to the school. For the past week, I've gotten up in the morning and caught a taxi like this:

Once I get a cab, I hand the driver this piece of paper, which is the address of the school in Chinese. Most drivers don't speak English, so the written address is essential.

Then I am driven through the congested city,

pass the cemetary,

and into the countryside towards Repulse Bay.

On the way, this building always strikes me. It was recently renovated, the whole pastel part was just added. The hole is built to ensure good feng shui. Apparently when a building is against the mountain a hole allows the dragon to still come out. Poetic, isn't it? However, I also heard a story that the developer saw something like this in Disneyland and just copied it for his own building. I hope that the motivation for the hole is the former, not the latter. Then I can forgive that awful peach color.

Finally, I drive pass Repulse Bay,

and up the mountain,

where I reach the Hong Kong International School. For the past 6 days, arriving there has given me a strange sense of homecoming. I'm rather sad that I won't be doing the commute again.

fine things

Today I rode the famous Star Ferry to Kowloon. This ferry is a mere $1.7 HK--which is an incredible deal. Unfortunately, I didn't get to take advantage of this deal because I thought it said $17. and dropped two $10. coins in the slot before I realized my error. I really kicked myself on that as I am running low on HK cash.

In Kowloon, Amy and I went to the Jade Market, an indoor marketplace with hundreds and hundreds of stalls selling jade, jewelry and other fine things.

I was, ironically, explicited instructed NOT to buy any jade at the Jade Market. Jade has too many variables such color consistency and purity that determine its value--all of them very difficult to judge to an untrained eye. Any attempt to buy "some nice jade" would undoubtably be taken advantage of by the ruthless bargaining vendors.

So instead, I stuck to the lesser value objects, such as the vegetable ivory carvings. These hand-carved figurines are made from a Tagua nut; it has a similiar appearance to ivory and no elephants were de-tusked.

With my wallet empty and my hands full of Tagua nut souvenirs, we went to the Pennisula, the "Grand Old Lady of Kowloon" hotel, for the high tea served in their opulent lobby.

It was very British, complete with delicate cucumber sandwiches and scones. I felt very aristocratic, nibbling on my crust-less triangles of bread and sipping tea poured from real silver teapots. Suddenly, my chagrin of losing $18. from the Star Ferry seemed so bourgeois.

discovering dragonfruit

It was really neat to taste things in Hong Konh that I can't get in the States. Some things, like certain fruits, are not allowed to be imported (because of the fruit flies) such as wax apples(left) and mangosteens.

Mangosteens are these interesting fruits with a deep, dark purple (almost black) peel. The peel is hard and thick and when you hold a mangosteen in your hand it feels like a you are holding a stone.

But underneath the thick skin-- almost in direct contrast-- is the whitest, softest fruit. It is the sweetest fruit I've ever tasted, with just a hint of tartness.

This fruit is in sections, like an orange. But there's a trick to the mangosteen. If you flip it over, you'll see a flower shaped pattern on the bottom. As many "petals" are on the flower is how many sections of fruit is in the mangosteen. And they're all delicious.

The other fruit that I've eaten before but never really seen, and especially not in abundance was the dragonfruit. This fruit is also a lesson in contrasts, as the outside is brilliant fuchsia and green, while the inside is white with black specks.

The dragonfruit has a subtle sweetness and the texture of watermelon. I love its appearance. I really want to illustrate a book about why the dragonfruit is called a dragonfruit. I haven't found too much about that, maybe I'll just make a story up!

Another discovery is pomelo soup! I had the most amazing bowl of this dessert soup, made from pomelo,mango and coconut milk when I was at dim sum at a restaurant called Metropol(I'm not sure about the spelling). It was my first taste of it and it was so fresh and light and yummy! I'm told that this soup is what the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, has in her vase. She's very popular.

Other hard-to-find delicacies include Sesame Ice cream:

And long-life peach cakes. But I confess, I did not actually try a peach cake. I was too full from eating everything else.

dining directions

I can’t believe I have been here in Hong Kong for over a week. Well, actually, I do because I am starting to get a feel for the city—something that, for me, takes time.

But just a start. Last evening I was left to my own navigational devices, leading Linda Sue Park and Gail Carson Levine to what was promised to be the best Chinese food in Hong Kong (I know, I keep such impressive company when I am in Hong Kong! That all fades away when I return to the US and my most frequent visitor is the UPS man). They had just arrived a couple days before, so I felt that I (being the most senior Hong Kong visitor) should steer the way.

Unfortunately, while you can take the girl out of the US, you still can’t take the direction dysfunction out of the girl. My mystical “I’ll find my way using the force” didn’t work here in Hong Kong any better than it does in the States, so we were wandering up and down the street for a bit. No one recognized the street address, and try pronouncing D’agulier Street to a Cantonese person. They had no idea what I was saying.

But we did eventually find the Ning Po restaurant (more thanks to Linda Sue and Gail’s cell phone then me) which was highly, highly praised from one of the foodie teachers, who also included a list of the best dishes to get.

And it may just be the best Chinese food in Hong Kong. It was incredibly delicious—the dou miao (Chinese greens) was the hands down favorite which we almost fought over. If you are ever in Hong Kong, this restaurant is extremely recommended. Just don’t ask me how to find it.

blue dress

Women in Hong Kong are very stylish. Every woman I saw looked so polished and put together. There were no dragging too-long pantlegs, too-tight waistbands or oversized shirts. Everything perfectly fitting and flattering.

And the reason for this is that people here get their clothes regularly tailor-made. Comparably affordable, if the whole suit, dress and outfit is not made from scratch; clothes are at the very least impeccably altered. Men also have flawlessly fitting clothes, the only people who look disheveled are the tourists.

My two week stay was just enough time to upgrade me from messy tourist to potentially well-groomed ex-pat. But I had to work fast. Amy, almost immediately upon my arrival, brought me to a tailor where we discussed and designed until the blue dress was finally decided on.

Patricia, the tailor, then had me back in a couple days later for a fitting. It was neat to see the dress in the rough stage, with hundreds of white temporary stitches.

And now the dress was done (that's Patricia standing next to me). I heart it, even though I'm not sure when I'm going to wear it. I'm going to have to get Robert to take me out somewhere. Or maybe I'll save it for my next trip to Hong Kong.


Within walking distance of the school, there is Tin Hau Temple--another temple devoted to the Goddess of the Sea (I suppose an island depending mainly on the fishing industry figured they couldn't have enough of those)--which I saw today for the first time.

It is rather large, almost as if bits and pieces have been added over time--a pavilion here, a walkway there, a statue somewhere there. It is actually pretty disorganized and slightly shabby. The smoky, mysterious atmosphere that I have seen in the other temples is nowhere in sight. The statues and colors are, in fact, rather garish.

And I loved it. I had no expectations of this place, it wasn't in any of my guidebooks or lists. But there was an intangible charm to it that is hard to describe. The unplanned design, the bright colors, the new cartoon-styled statues next to ancient stone carvings gave the whole temple an unpretentious air. It made you feel not in awe, but welcomed. It felt like people had loved it and still did.

Adding to its appeal, was this longevity bridge. According to the plaque, crossing the bridge adds three days to your life. It was a very well-worn bridge.

My camera was running out of batteries, so I didn't take as many pictures of it as I wanted. I'm going to have to go back. I've been searching on this trip for inspiration for a new book and I think I may have just found the perfect setting. The colors, the bridge--it's as if they were waiting for me to place them in a book. I can feel images wanting to be painted. Maybe the reason I crossed the ocean was to see this place, answering the call of the Goddess of the Sea.


After dim sum, we went for a short walk to Hong Kong Park, a beautiful, calm green space tucked in the hectic city. The park boast of fountains, leafy green trees, blooming flowers, whistling birds and an artificial lake home to colorful koi and turtles, who were in hiding because of the light rain. Its very lushness makes quite a strange juxtaposition with the towering modern buildings that surround and dwarf it.

It was Sunday, so that meant it was the day of wedding photography. There is so little green space in Hong Kong that all engaged couples take their photos ahead of time at the park--it's one of the few picturesque places. Since it was slightly drizzling, there weren't as many brides as there normally are. We only counted six. I wondered what they do when the days are fine and the place is packed with brides. Take turns in front of the lake, I suppose. Maybe there's a number system.

But their finery makes a stark contrast with the Filipino ladies sitting underneath the HSBC building whom we saw on our way home. Sunday is the day these low-income wage earners have off; most of them have no private space to relax in. So, they create their own in public areas--like underneath overpasses and buildings. I'm told every Sunday enormous masses gather here, sitting on flattened cardboard--talking and gossiping. Underneath the HSBC, their words echo into nonsensical chatter and they seem to me to be the birds of Hong Kong's giant concrete trees.

eating and eating

For the first time ever, I ate at a speakeasy; a term given to private dining restaurants mainly hidden from the public. These restaurants are usually not legal (no boards of health certificates!), very small (sometimes just someone's kitchen), with a fixed menu (you get what you get!) and extremely delicious. The speakeasy we went to was no exception to the last...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Amy's fun-filled merry colleagues (including Nat & Jen Whitman, whose mother happens to be Margaret Read MacDonald whom I had dinner with at ALA--small world!!) reserved us all a table and dinner at Club Qing. This had to be done at least seven days in advance.

We went to Lan Kwai Fong, the very hip, cool, club and bar section of Hong Kong. The young and beautiful walk these streets, in high heels and designer clothes; and a local pharmacy advertises that it has viagra and condoms in very big letters (wish I had taken a photo of that!). And hidden so well that Amy and I couldn't find it and had to call Nat, was a red metal door that led you to an elevator...


to Club Qing:

where I had what I imagine will be the closest eating experience as I'll ever have to Iron Chef. I ate things such as White Bunapi Mushrooms with Truffle Sauce, Scallop and Cheese Roll with Crataegus & Kiwi Sauce and Coconut & Papaya with Shellfish Soup--all gastronomical delights. Before each course, the chef came out and told us what each dish was with tips on how to eat it. So a bit of Top Chef, too.


After gorging myself on the 8(!) courses, I decided that they should call them sleepeasy restaurants, because I just went home a rolled into bed with a food coma.

But I woke up the next morning up and eager for....

Yep, dim sum! We went for another fun and stomach filled meal. But it's Hong Kong, and I can't leave Hong Kong without having dim sum, right? That would be sacrilegious.

And when we got our bill of $1166, my companions lit up. Apparently it's a very lucky number and bodes well for the rest of our day. I like that, having some good luck around is always nice. Though, I think we already gave the restaurant theirs.