HK 2

Kowloon Peninsular is accessible from HK Island by virtually every form of transport known; not, however, by the famous and fabulous HK tram: a tunnel links the two under what seems a shallow harbour, though its waters are plied by very large boats. We got there by ferry – after making the discovery, at HK Central Station, that you can check in for your flight out of HK at the station, an hour’s drive from the airport. This seemed so extraordinary and untrustworthy that we spent a while watching the system work. Others had no such trouble with the oddness of this action at a distance and happily consigned their luggage to it.

The ferry was like those in Sydney – a slow old tub with upper and lower decks, and like the trams, at $2 an adult, only slightly pricier. (NZ$ to HK$ is about 5 to 1, respectively.) Awe-inspiring to be on the water between the Island and the Peninsular, their towers in the haze of humidity and their architectural moments, like the Norman Foster tower, massive, next to a building which looks like a transformer, while behind us, the Bank of China Building and the Exhibition centre, the latter’s roof like a badly flipped pancake, folded onto itself. At the other end, a sailor type clipped a fluoro harness onto his belt to make the ropes secure to the wharf and was very self-conscious about its colour clash with his navies.

The Cultural Centre, Art Gallery and Space Museum make an impressive collection of buildings. Their principal material is brick; seen from a distance, it gives them a softness and textural interest belied by being close to them, when they become rough and grainy and monumental. Again, walking among them was like Sydney, around the Opera House.

Nathan Rd. heads away from the sea, more like a boulevard, with banyan trees on one side, and HK’s Mosque and Islamic Centre, and a great number of men standing out trying to lure, tempt or bully you in to one of the many electronics shops, watch shops, and other men, either Indian or Pakistani, wanting to tailor a suit or shirt or blouse or something for you, or show you their watch or pen which is supposed to make arouse envy? lust to buy? I don’t know. I told them my watch was much nicer than theirs. Nathan Rd. had a familiarity to it, possibly due to the number of rich-looking Europeans, and arrogant-looking Eurasians, that made it impossible for us to like.

We were about to give up on Kowloon when it came a bolt: Mong Kok! That’s where Sports-wear St. is and Electronics St. and Flower St. and Ladies’ Market. Beside the Park Lane row of shops we decided to hop on a bus. Read the timetables and directly after our bus had passed came to the conclusion we needed a 259B. Apparently there is only one. Because no other came. So on impulse we flagged down a taxi.

Mong Kok is on the extension of Nathan Rd., in a straight line from Kowloon. The area we wanted lies between Argyle and Dundas St.s, taking in Nelson St. The surrounds became more interesting en route, messier, with profusions of neon and excrescences of aircon units and colours and signs and bamboo scaffolding and everything scintillating under a full sun. With a dull sheen. The taxi was cheapish, probably a few dollars difference between it and the bus. It was one of the fleet with red body and white roof, like a child’s depiction, boxy.

Plunging into Mong Kok we found we were constantly repeating ourselves, the same products coming up on sale again and, after a series of variations to throw us off the trail of the blatant cribbing of material, again. I did find a camera to covet, but having seen it couldn’t bring myself to committing to purchase anything else. It was a Leica digital, simplicity, looking like the very oldest models, looking like my Zorkii at home! But digi therefore better, in practical terms, convenience terms, and 100 times as dear.

We ate ramen and Chinesified accompaniments, meaning we shared the ramen to enable us to buy accompaniments that the waiting staff was embarrassed to tell us could not be ordered on their own. And having had enough of ‘shopping’ – J. with Nikes, me with headphones, Q. with a new soccer strip featuring the name of one of the players he ‘liked’ from the World Cup, meaning a shirt and shorts, silky, entirely appropriate to the climate here, and his third set! – we went underground into the MTR, the subway. Brilliantly easy. A reminder that another world was going on beneath our feet. As we later discovered it was above our heads, when, tramming home, we could see into the third and second floors restaurant after restaurant where we had not been able to find anywhere to eat at ground level.

Later means venturing out into the evening to catch the Guinness Book of Records record-holder for the biggest sound and light show in the world. Stopping at Central we came upon Marketplace by Jasons, a highclass supermarket, where we bought pizzas in three flavours to eat while watching the show. The pizza was great. We watched from where we’d been earlier today the show, which was if anything could ever be Super-kitsch.

(Between day and night, Kowloon had been invaded by men, more men, men standing out on the streets, men taking back the night from the women who had outnumbered them ten to one yesterday, and among the men, another ethnicity was in evidence suddenly, African men, two of whom were sitting in their fine white pants on a planter’s edge swigging back on bottles of bubbly rose.)

First, the introduction, coming at us without echo straight across the harbour. Tonight the commentary will be in English. A list of the participating buildings. Including the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army and American Citibank. I may be guilty of mild error in the nomenclature, but I am not joking.

Then the music, faultlessly synchronised to lights and lasers and zig-zagging up and down the real upstager – China Bank, of course. What was the music? Pop Classical TV theme tune pastiche. Symphonic in possessing movements, meaning the music moved from being reminiscent of one theme tune to the next and from cliché to cliché. In other words, bombast and all, it was magnificent.

We ferried and trammed home, misjudging the tram and being led in a circle through the ghost market, a deserted backstreet, the stalls a patchwork of corrugated iron, plastic and cardboard, and delivered up short of our destination by four stops. After a long wait, another tram finally got us home: an hour from Central to Quarry Bay.