Maria Holland

Exploring the Fragrant Harbor

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 2:55 am

Not having a window doesn’t feel weird until the morning, which – without a window – is indistinguishable from any other time of day.  This is where alarm clocks (and preferably, a little willpower) come in.  I left the place around 11:30, which meant I had gone over 15 hours without any glimpse of natural light.  Gross.

Oddly enough, there wasn’t much natural light outside.  My original plan was to ride the Peak Tram up the mountain for a good view of the city and surroundings, but reconsidered when I saw that the sky looked like this:

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Instead, I went wandering in search of food.  I ran into a major problem in this, paralyzed in indecision over what to eat.  Everything is more expensive here than anything is back in Xiamen, so it’s not the usual easy choice between cheap Chinese food and expensive foreign food.  The rule I try to follow, enjoy what you have, where you are, was decidedly hard to follow because I’m having a hard time figuring out where I am.  In China, I’m in China – not in America; in America, I’m in America – not in China.  But Hong Kong is a horse of a different color, and I can’t quite figure out if I’m in China or the West and, therefore, if I should be eating Chinese or Western food.  I ended up allowing myself to think in terms of US dollars, as 7 USD for a meal is more palatable than 50 HKD, and bought a bag full of delicious breads at BreadTalk, an orange ice cup from the ice cream truck (!!), and an enormous glass of milk tea. 

I stopped in at the H&M right by Chungking Mansions, where I heard they had “Western-friendly sizes”.  I wanted to believe, but it wasn’t until I saw the size 40 shoes that I was convinced.  They had 40’s – not 39’s that the saleslady promised were large – and they had them in every style.  But then I was distracted by the dresses – bright sundresses in sizes up to US 14!  Out of habit after 7 months of miserable shopping in China, I took the largest two sizes into a dressing room, where I was astonished to discover that they were both too big.  As I went back to try a 10, I relished the feeling of fitting in, of being a part of the acceptable spectrum instead of a negligible outlier.  I ended up buying a pair of black flats and a sundress, 99 HKD ($13 each) – shopping therapy at its best! 

For lack of definitive plans, I took the subway to Hong Kong island (from Kowloon, where I’m staying) and got on the bus headed for the tram anyway.  Then I noticed that the bus route included a St. John’s Cathedral, so I decided to check that out instead.  I was really surprised to discover that it was an Anglican church!  China only recognized five religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Christianity), with no allowances for variety within those categories.  Thus, there are no Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, or Anglican churches – and I have no idea what Mormons do!  But there it was, a beautiful Anglican cathedral in front of me . . . and a very physical reminder of the freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong. 

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I knew there was a Catholic cathedral in the area, too, so I asked directions and went for a walk.  Hong Kong is an interesting city, and after the culture shock of last night wore off I was finally able to enjoy it today.  There’s a lot of green everywhere, woven in between the city, and the city itself is built on very hilly ground.  Thus, touring Hong Kong on foot is like mountain climbing, with good views of nearby skyscrapers. 

The worst part about my sojourn was the number of times I nearly got killed.  I’m quite slow catching on to this whole driving-on-the-left thing, and thus tend to look away just as cars speed towards me.  Just one of the quirky remnants of British colonialism, like their use of the word ‘alight’ when talking about getting off buses.  I can imagine HK and the mainland getting closer and closer in many ways in the remaining 87 years before the “one country, two systems” deal is up.  I don’t think the Party will be able to keep up with globalization and the PRC will continue to become more capitalist, more modern, and more free.  Basically, the limit of China as t approaches 87 years is Hong Kong – did you follow that?  But some things don’t change gradually – regarding driving directions, for instance, a gradual change would cause immediate catastrophe.  Haha . . .

I arrived intact at the church someone had directed me to – not the cathedral, but it was Catholic and that’s a start.  St. Joseph’s is one of the least attractive churches I’ve seen in China, obviously built in the 70’s.

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But it had just turned 3:00 – the Hour of Mercy – and for the first time during the Octave of Easter/Novena to the Divine Mercy, I found myself in a silent church.  I definitely miss friends who share my faith, multiple opportunities to go to Mass each day, and priests who are fluent in my language, but recently I’ve found myself longing most for a chapel that is both nearby and frequently open.  Seek and ye shall find, I guess!

Asking directions again, I finally made it to the cathedral compound.  The outside is totally uninspiring but the inside makes up for it – a huge gorgeous sanctuary with several side altars and an abundance of stained glass, statues, and mosaics. 

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There was even an adoration chapel!  And there were people there!

After my church tour of Hong Kong was over, I returned to Kowloon and headed for the Star Ferry Port.  I bought tickets for the 8:00 boat ride around the harbor, which left me with a few hours to kill.  I wandered around, taking in the obligatory pro-Falun Gong exhibits on display in every non-China area.  I knew I’ve been in China too long when I wondered why the government put up with that sort of stuff, and it took me a while to remember things like freedom of speech, press, and public assembly.

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I really liked the view of Hong Kong island from the harbor.  It went on for ever and ever, shades of gray punctuated by neon that appeared to float in monochrome.

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I grabbed dinner – a burger and fries – from an Australian pub nearby and at in in a small parkish place near the water.  It was gorgeous – benches shadowed by palm trees, facing a bubbling fountain, sandwiched between a beautiful concert hall and the harbor.  The fog – same stuff that made the day so gray – made the night absolutely stunning, by trapping the lights of the city down here on earth.  It was every color but gray. 

I took the 8 o’clock boat so I could catch the Symphony of Lights, a nightly light show, from the water.  It was pretty cool, with huge screens displaying messages and powerful beams of light shooting through the sky. 

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The pictures didn’t turn out that great, but I’m not too disappointed.  The experience was enough, I think, and in hindsight I’ve found I treasure my written memories more than photos 96% of the time anyway. 

I was really entranced by the colorful flags on our boat, though, and managed to get a few good shots:

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