Lost in Hong Kong

It’s more than a cliche to say you better be ready for anything when you travel around the world. And the way we do it, the unexpected can often come in torrents. A long flight from Chicago to Vancouver B.C. to Hong Kong ended with the added thrill of lost luggage as we stood and watched the carousel go round and round and people disappeared one by one. Stefanie picked up her backpack right away and that seemed like a good sign until we were left alone in the claim area with dying hopes. Nice way to kick it off, get the weirdness out of the way right up front so we won’t have to wonder when it’s coming. We filled out the forms and the nice men promised to call as soon as there was any news. I kind of kissed off seeing my little satchel until at least Bali since we are only here two days.

Hong Kong neon

Hong Kong neon

The last thing I’d do is let that kick my butt. I’m ready to enjoy this come hell or unavoidable consequence so we grabbed our bus into Kowloon and I fought hard to not let that loss break hard on me. Everything in the bag except my wedding ring can be replaced so what the heck, we got our health right? I went through the stages of grief as quickly as possible on the bus ride to the hotel because I wanted to get into the much-anticipated joy of arrival if at all possible. I managed to keep my pouting to a minimum and, for the most part, internal.

The streets of Kowloon

The streets of Kowloon

We tried to get a good night’s sleep after checking in to the hotel. Our room was tiny and the two single beds ate up all the maneuvering space so we had to take turns moving around as we settled in. The double dose of Sominex got me knocked out for a few hours but soon I was back to the insomnia as I wandered through plans to get on without my backpack.

The Wishing Tree

The Wishing Tree

Next morning we were up around nine, asking our hotel staff how to get to the wishing tree. Stef had her own reasons to make use of this Hong Kong custom and I just developed my own special need to make a wish regarding lost possessions. We mastered the Hong Kong rapid transit system and transferred our way up to a small town in the New Territories, the northern fringe of the former colonial region. After a quick cab ride we executed a commando raid on the wishing tree since we had only one day to see all of Hong Kong. The wishing tree custom involves tossing an orange tied to a scroll with your wish up into a tree, hopefully getting it lodged in the branches. You only get three tries. I got my two wishes written out and tossed into the trees. Stefanie got her bundles of wishes up too after buying one replacement for the second uncooperative orange.

Stef has success making her wish

Stef has success making her wish

Back down to Kowloon past the same lovely rural scenery we saw on the way up, we transferred onto the train that took us under the channel and on to the island of Hong Kong. The shiny, largely glass and metal city with its amazing blur of humanity rushing about greeted our rise from that submarine express. What at first I took to be frantic and oppressive actually grew on me fondly as the rest of the day progressed. The city is an elaborate 3-dimensional maze of triple-deck causeways and interlocking buildings. Often we wouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t realize when a hall between two stores became a connection between them. At other times just finding our way back outside at street level was a challenge. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìJaw-dropping?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I kept repeating to myself. Like nothing I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d ever seen.

Statue Square

Statue Square

We had lunch with the locals in a noodle shop and then went from site to site, using our Xerox copies from the libraries guide book to lead us on. One of the only buildings older then fifty is the old Courthouse and we used the Statuary Square in front for a brief water break. We headed up through the HSBC building (a billion dollar wonder of exoskeletal construction) to gaze up twenty stories at into the hollowed out center atrium and then, through another causeway, headed out into a lovely tiered garden by the old Episcopal cathedral. After another short break in the lovely, cool interior with wood beamed and blue ceiling, we went up to take the tram up Victoria Peak. This famous overlook gave us our first overall look at this city and I agreed when Stefanie remarked, “modern architecture sometimes looks uniform and boring close up but from a distance the assembly can be very impressive”.

Stef taking in the view at Victoria Peak

Stef taking in the view at Victoria Peak

Our day ended back on the Kowloon side, sitting on the promenade doing some people watching while the sun went down over Hong Kong. The bus ride back to the airport in daylight revealed easily the largest harbor complex we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d ever seen. Miles of docks, cranes, freighters and container cargo, receeding of into the vast distance.

The luggage left behind was fast becoming symbolic of what we had tried to leave. We made a promise to travel lightly but we had no idea just how extreme that commitment was.

The "Star" promenade at sunset

The "Star" promenade at sunset

Hong Kong harbor

Hong Kong harbor

Observations

Mexican man with black leather vest

Socializing in a plaza

Except for their Spanish, the girls could be any typical group of young adolescents in the U.S., talking and squealing in a tight clique. They’re dressed in school uniforms and gathered along the cramped sidewalk of Quebrada just above the bus stop where I’m waiting. I watch them crowd together, then fall back from one another, laughing. Their conversations seem urgent, their friendships kinetic, like they’ve just run a mile and are out of breath. Whispers and shouts emit from the group, and their eyes collectively watch each other and whoever is around them. Then suddenly it’s time to go. Kisses all around and peels of excited laughter as they pinch each others’ cheeks in fun. The kissing gives them away, as definitely not Norte Americanos.


I was caught in a funeral procession again last week. They’re more solemn here and a curiosity to those used to the sterilized grief of a parade of cars with orange flags marked ?¢‚Ǩ?°”funeral” adorning their hoods. As I stepped onto Quebrado I saw the slow parade of people dressed mostly in black walking through the street ahead, en mass, black umbrellas over head. Theirs was the largest group I’ve seen so far. The first I witnessed many weeks ago came marching down Insurgentes passed the Biblioteca following a flower-laden hearse. There was no question as to what they were. Their tears were enough to tell me what I was watching. Cars went around them, never stopping or hardly slowing. At home, I’d been taught to stop the car as funeral processions went by. So I stood at the curb and removed my hat in their honor. A little huddled knot of people unafraid to show their grief so publicly.


Horses in the campo

Horses in the campo

?¢‚Ǩ?ìHay Ingles/Espan?ɬ?l diccionario??¢‚Ǩ¬ù I asked the clerk at the bookstore. She told me ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and handed me a copy of the one dictionary they had. Leafing through it I apologized, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMi Espan?ɬ?l es muy mal.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I was on my way for a hair cut, and while I once again had looked up ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlength?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (largo) and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgrow?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (crecer) and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdeaf?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (sordo) and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbangs?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (flequillos), I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d neglected to translate ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlayers,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as in, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI want my bangs layered.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù So, I was on a mission to get the correct phrase. My last hair cut I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d used the word ?¢‚Ǩ?ìestratos?¢‚Ǩ¬ù only to get a look of pure confusion from my stylist. I managed to pantomime what I wanted, but I knew I needed something more definitive this time.

Art sales in the lavenderia

Art sales in the lavenderia

Looking at the clerk at the bookstore, I took off my hat and pointed to my bangs. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìQuiero corte mi flequillos en estratos. Como se dice??¢‚Ǩ¬ù I asked her, pointing to the Spanish translation of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlayers.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù She wrinkled her brow and got that same look of confusion. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNo uno largo,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I said ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú not one length ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú using my fingers as a prop. She said something incomprehensible and then demonstrated different lengths along the side of her head. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I said, realizing she understood what I was after. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìComo se dice??¢‚Ǩ¬ù How do you say it? She repeated but not to where I could understand. Another hearing loss moment. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEscribe, por favor.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Write it, please. I handed her a pen and she uncovered a scrap of paper. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEn capas,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù she wrote out. I repeated it to her satisfaction. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù she nodded and smiled. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMuy amable,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I told her. (You are very kind.) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMuchas gracias,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I added as I tripped out the door with my newest magic phrase.