One of the best things about Hong Kong is the fact that within the space of an hour, you can travel to completely different worlds, unique microcosms of cultures and lifestyles, an amazing variety that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
This weekend has been one of those eye-opening experiences — only in Hong Kong can you see so many completely different worlds within a day and a half. Where else would a Trini and a Jap find themselves one minute in an elevator with a woman in burka, an African man in colorful garb, a blue-eyed dreadlocked German, and an Indian man in a dhoti; the next minute on a crappy little boat heading to a tiny Chinese fishing island with no cars or foreigners; and then by Saturday night be raving out to house music under strobe lights in a foreigner enclave! I swear, Hong Kong can sometimes have so much variety, it is mind-boggling.
Allow me to put all of these scenarios into perspective.
On Friday night after work we went on a mission to find an authentic curry restaurant at the infamous Chungking Mansions, in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Part hotel, part guest house, part market, part god-knows-what, Chungking has been called the most diverse place in Hong Kong, with more than 100 nationalities within its dingy walls at any given time. It is Hong Kong’s mecca for illegal immigrants, cheap backpackers, drug dealers, and a general melange of dodgy characters. But it is also said to have the best curry, owning to the high number of Indian residents.
Talk about atmosphere. Even from the outside it seems as though the building itself is alive and mutating. The inside is dark and dank, and the haphazard water pipes and electrical wires strung every which way almost resemble veins and arteries. We wove our way through the little corridors with pirated Bollywood DVDs and second-hand mobile phones for sale in every corner. It was great to peek into Hong Kong’s little underworld, the part of the island that most Chinese people try to avoid. And once we found a restaurant and sat to eat, the food, of course, was smashing. All in all a good night, and very rich in content.
The next day was a stunningly clear, bright, sunny pollution-free day, so we took the kai-to boat to Peng Chau island, to visit a tiny community of fishermen and farmers. The island has no cars and is blessedly quiet, and seems to be unchanged for at least 50 years. At the waterfront old men were casting their lines into the sea, women were hanging up fish to dry in the sun, dogs were sleeping in the shade of a boat pulled onto the beach. It was like stepping back in time to a different Hong Kong.
As we walked through the tiny lanes few people said hello to us — perhaps shy of foreigners and tourists. Because of the good weather the whole island seemed to have done laundry at the same time. Every garden, patio and fence had clothes hanging up to dry in the sunshine. Peng Chau is certainly a different type of lifestyle. Everyone had their doors wide open, obviously not worried about thieves or strangers in their community. Old grandpas were reading the newspaper in their faded boxer shorts. And the sound echoing from every home was the soft clack-clack-clack-clack of people mixing up their mah-jong tiles on the table for a friendly game.
That night I ended up in yet another side of Hong Kong when I met some girlfriends for drinks in Lan Kwai Fong, the foreigner playground of Hong Kong island. It was a fun night, with strawberry margaritas, nice friends, some Mexican food, and by the end of the night we found ourselves drawn in to a bar with a pounding bass line. It was fun at first, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been dancing, but it was not my cup of tea — there were all these drunk teenagers everywhere, making out on the dance floor, humping each other on the couches (literally), it was hot, sticky, sweaty, loud… there is only so much of that I can take, so by 1.30 am, I was home again. I must be turning into an old lady. Maybe I should go join those ladies playing mah-jong on Peng Chau!
And on the seventh day, they rested. I can’t believe it’s back to work tomorrow. With a weekend this rich in content, two days is not enough. I know I may have bitched about Hong Kong recently, but I gotta give it this — if you go out there looking for adventures, there are many to be had.