Aside from mundane considerations having to do with how to get from A to B on my OneWorld award, I had two reasons for stopping off in HK. First, I figured that after a couple of months traveling I would need a rest, and second, I wanted to try some walks I had read about, especially on the outlying islands. A bad foot and bad weather combined to put a stop to the walks, on the one hand, but to make a rest more attractive, on the other. Hong Kong is usually seen as a shoppers town, not a place for walks or for rest, but all that a rest requires is that you sit still – in your hotel room or a cafe, preferably a comfortable one. It doesn’t much matter whether you’re in Hong Kong or Honfleur, you simply need to stop. Now, I’m quite good at doing that at home – I just need a good book or my computer – but I’m terrible at doing it on the road. There’s always something else to see, somewhere else to check out. Even with rest in mind, I had planned a trip to Macau and those walking tours.
Since I’d already stayed in a Kowloon-side hotel with a good harbor view back in 1997 I decided not to pay extra to repeat the experience, and instead booked a no-view room at Bishop Lei on the island. For most of my visit no views were available, so I was very glad I wan’t paying for something I couldn’t enjoy! I had mostly had large rooms on Taiwan, and found the room at Bishop Lei decidedly small – I wouldn’t want it as a double – but I ate breakfast there every day (coffee, OJ, yogurt and energy bar) and dinner (from my favorite sandwich shop, Pret a Manger) twice. After two solid months of restaurant meals I enjoyed eating “in”.
I also indulged in afternoon tea. I don’t care about the tea, it’s the scones and clotted cream I want. I asked for recommendations on fodors.com, where the Peninsula was the easy winner, but the Mandarin Oriental on the island had also been mentioned, so I headed there my first afternoon. I had to wait until 3:00 for afternoon tea to start (and a good 15-20 minutes for any food to show up on my table), but I enjoyed the five savory and five sweet morsels and the two scones that eventually arrived. I have to say that the ambiance in the Mandarin’s somewhat Art Deco lobby was more business-oriented than I expected. Later, wondering what to do in Tsim Sha Tsui on a rainy afternoon, I tried tea at the Penn, as well. Just scones and cream, but they were bigger and better than those at the Mandarin, as was the setting – a white and gold colonial confection. I could have used more cream, but can’t you always use more cream?
Although I didn’t make it to Macau, I did ride the ferry out to Cheung Chau, one of the outlying islands, but despite the sun the views from the ferry were much obscured by haze. After walking past a long line of waterfront cafes on the port side of the island, I discovered the completely (in November,at least) quiet beach side, a short walk away. I thought Cheung Chau quite scenic – a good escape from Hong Kong if needed.
A visit to the Art Museum convinced me that I had temporarily overdosed on Chinese art, although I quite enjoyed a trip out to the Sam Tung Uk Museum – a restored Hakka village – at the far end of the red subway line. Fortunately, the museum was only a short walk from the station, as the rain was coming down in sheets.. Unfortunately, part was being renovated. But I found it interesting anyway, with a typical front-to-back, public-to-private orientation, and a small exhibition chronicling the change from farming to industry to high-rise housing in the surrounding area.
I had more fun with the markets. Finding the first, the bird market, took more walking than I expected. As I followed the signposts provided by the T.I., I even imagined I might be walking in circles. When I eventually reached it, the market seemed to be shutting down for the day – or perhaps for lunch. I thought it sad – the birds beautiful but caged. I couldn’t quite figure out the pecking order that gave one bird his own cage, and condemned others to crowded quarters. Although I had come to see the birds, I noticed that everything to do with their care and housing (and display) could be bought – including live food.
The flower market, equally small, at least raised no moral questions for me. At the jade market, reached by a short subway ride, I actually spent some money – all of $5. The adjustable string holding the jade pendant I bought in New Zealand in 2005 had finally given way in Taiwan, and it had occurred to me that the jade market was the perfect place for a replacement. This market filled two big halls, but I saw little variety in the merchandise. While I was in the neighborhood I visited the TinHua temple, But found it a bif of a disappointment after the temples in Tainan. I completed my market survey by getting off the escalator at Hollywood Rd. for antiques, and I could not believe how many Tang-era artifacts – or at least Tang-style artifacts – I was seeing.
Thanks partly to the rain I did quite well with the “rest” part of my program. The “resupply” part was also successful, except for Lonely Planet’s Nepal and South India books. The prices were well above those in the U.S. – I would have done better to buy in Taipei. Since my Kathmandu hotel would pick me up at the airport, I decided the guide books could wait – I was sure that the prices would be better in Thamel. Getting my hair cut and colored wasn’t cheap either, but much needed. Again, a fodors.com recommendation worked well – Lisa at Tala’s on Shelly St.did a good job for me. The salon was also convenient, being right next to the mid-level escalators. I enjoyed riding the escalator, especially after I found the sky walk from the IFC Mall which kept me off the street, although I wouldn’t want to live in one of the neighboring buildings. Not only was it fun to check out the assorted businesses, by watching the locals I discovered I could get a $2 credit on my Octopus card from a machine part-way up
Finally, I made an appointment with the on-duty orthopedic specialist at the Adventist Hospital (where I needed my passport as well as my credit card). The taxi ride to the hospital was longer than I had expected from the map, but the views were good. The verdict on my foot was that it was still recovering from the sprain in Vancouver. Good news – no permanent damage likely. Bad news – I would keep limping for a while.
When my last morning dawned sunny, I went up the Peak in the hope of finally getting a good view. Since I’d already been up by tram I took a taxi, but this turned out to be a very slow way of getting there. Perhaps because it was a sunny Sunday, there was a major traffic jam on the way up. And even though it was a sunny day, the view wasn’t that great as the persistent haze hadn’t cleared. The area at the top was even more touristy than I remember, with a huge cantilevered building in the prime viewing spot, charging admission.