Once in a while, I have a day that is so rich in content and just downright fun that it actually makes me — dare I say it — love Hong Kong.
Saturday was one of those days. It didn’t start off so interesting — I had a doctor’s appointment in Wan Chai but luckily for me I was in and out of the doctor’s room in ten minutes. I had planned to meet my pal Ritsuko for lunch at 12.30, which meant that I had a good hour to kill. What should I do with the time?
I suddenly had a stroke of inspiration: baby feet!
Unfortunately I suffer from horrible alligator foot, meaning the soles of my feet are suitable for rock climbing, or perhaps fire walking. So I decided that it was time to get a proper pedicure. The question was, where to go?
I hopped on the ding-ding (that’s the Cantonese nickname for the old street cars that go, obviously, ‘ding! ding!’ as they go down the road), and in ten minutes hopped off in Central close to the Li Yuen street markets. Li Yuen East and Li Yuen West are two little dark alleys smack dab in the middle of downtown, selling a plethora of touristy rubbish. As you walk through you are accosted by old Chinese ladies saying “Hello Chinese blouse very beautiful! You try!” But there are also a number of Philippino girls, calling out, “Manicure pedicure ma’am?” So I simply walked through the market until one little lady offered me a pedicure, and I simply accepted.
She led me through the market and up some dank stairs into the Happy Magic Salon on the 2nd floor. As I opened the door I was greeted by a sexy young thing in tight jeans and a silver top, singing karaoke and drinking a San Miguel beer (at 11.30 am). She smiled shyly, like a teenager caught in the act, and stopped singing.
Inside the salon were a number of other young ladies, all tapping away at a number of computers, all using MSN or Yahoo messenger and webcams to talk to their family and friends back in the Philippines. The sexy thing in the silver top sat a computer, continued to drink her breakfast, and started chatting with an old foreign man with hair that matched her blouse.
The pedicurist got to work on my feet and made some chit-chat. She told me she’d been in Hong Kong for 18 years. I had no idea that Philippinos had been coming to Hong Kong from so long ago. “I come from very very small island, if I stay, I make only little money. But here it is very good.” The sexy silver top piped up, “But we don’t really like the Chinese, ha ha ha!”
After about an hour, I had a new set of feet and some very pretty toes, and I set off to meet my friend. We hopped over to Tsim Sha Tsui — better known as “TST” — the busy section of the city across the harbour. Waking up Nathan Road we passed the Kowloon Mosque, the infamous Chungking Mansions, and the hundreds of dodgy fake-watch sellers. Finally we found the Hong Kong Museum of History, where we would spend the afternoon.
I have to say I am a little embarassed that I’ve been here for almost a year and it took me so long to go to Hong Kong’s best museum. And it is a great museum; very interesting, informative, and excellent exhibitions. The permanent show is called “The Hong Kong Story”, which chronicles prehistoric settlement in Hong Kong, the arrival of the Europeans, the Opium Wars, colonisation by the British, invasion of the Japanese, and finally the return to China in 1997.
It was great to get the big picture of Hong Kong’s history, but also really insightful to see the details of why it is the way it is. For example, I never knew that a massive fire burnt down Hong Kong’s biggest squatter area, and the government responded by building the quintessential ugly tower block apartments which are now found all over. The exhibition answered a lot of questions that I’d always wondered about.
I also hadn’t realised just how quickly Hong Kong had developed in the past thirty years — I saw an old black and white picture of Hennesey Road in Wan Chai where I had been for my doctor’s appointment that very morning, and it is virtually unrecognisable now. It is amazing just how fast and furious Hong Kong has grown and become a modern and well developed economic tiger. Made me wonder why Trinidad, with over 30 years of an oil boom, can barely fix a hole in the road while Hong Kong has modern trains and subway systems. I have to say, visiting the museum and better understanding the events that shaped Hong Kong has given me a new respect for the place.
After four hours at the museum our feet were killing us, so I took Ritsuko to one of my favourite “bars”: the observatory deck at the waterfront of TST. Right at the water’s edge is a little deck with benches where you can sit and admire the beautiful view. We went to the “bar” — the 7-11 — and bought some ice cold Heinekens and sat down to chill out. It was a beautiful day, the visibility was pefect, and as the sun went down, the city began to sparkle with a million lights. Then we hopped on the Star Ferry, said our goodbyes, and headed home.
Like I said, it was one of those days that makes me happy to be here. I can only hope there will be many more of those to come.