Hong Kong- Day One

Arriving in Hong Kong is similiar to Taiwan. We hit the fog often associated with the Spring here. Slowly we creep along the misty waters sounding our ship’s horn frequently. Hong Kong is very unique. In fact, it is a precarious place.It is vigorously fighting to keep it’s independence from mainland China. The people that we met desperately want to keep their democracy but, China is steadily eroding their freedoms. The success of this little outpost on the bottom edge of China is an example of a free people that the Chinese government cannot stand to have exist. I think their struggles are only beginning.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities on earth. The living conditions are extremely tight. Our guide is quite proud of her flat which is located 40 minutes out of center city by subway. She had paid $400,000 U.S. dollars for it. Her 100 square foot bedroom is the envy of her friends. Her total apartment is only 350 square feet. It is hard to fathom this existence, but when we visit the Temple Market Street; she points out an area where a person, usually a male worker, will pay $200 per month for a top level bunk bed. The lower level goes for $500 a month. They build a type of cage around the bunk bed so that you can keep your belongings in a locked foot locker. They hang a shelf for a hot plate at the foot of the bed. Immigrants are flocking here from the mainland for higher pay. Reminicent of our Southern border. Our guide, whose name is Rosita, a name given to her by her English teacher, really has issues with the illegal immigrants. She says they have no manners or respect for the customs of Hong Kong. We cannot tell these people apart but Rosita sure can.
Our ship is docked at the terminal building. We have no idea that upon entering the terminal we will be coming into a side entrance of a huge modern mall with 1,000 stores. We could be in America. All the name brand stores are here as well as home grown ones. In order to get out of the terminal, you have to walk through the Mall. Can you say Corral? This morning the stores are not yet open and it is quiet and lovely. When we return we will find a mad house of thousands of people in here shopping. If Rosita had not escorted us back through the mall to the ship, I might still be lost amongst all the retail stores. James is happy that I can’t stop and linger in the stores. There are even employees with large paper maps helping new comers to the mall find their way. Rosita explains that Chinese are fond of any high end retailer that has a recognizable one word name with a logo that they know. Coach, Channel, and LV are all hip with customers who are qued up to enter the stores where total patrons in the store are limited due to crowding. Ferragamo is not so lucky. James and I are amazed. The path we have to take through the mall for the next two days is through the Children section of the mall. High end, name brand stores catering to the little ones are everywhere. Designers like Robert Cavillo and Stella McCartney are offering exclusive designs in stores devoted only to children. Hell, I cannot afford these fashions but they have designer frocks for the kids who will out grow them in a matter on months. This is Incredible. On Tailor Row one can have a duplicate of the latest desingner fashions replicated in your custom size in a matter of days. Sonny, our driver, maneuvers us expertly through the heavy traffic.
Today is the Saturday before Easter. Traffic is busier today as tomorrow is a very special day here. First, it is Easter which is celebrated by the more than 1/2 million Christians in the city. Tomorrow is also the day when the Chinese families gather at the graves of their ancestors in a sort of rememberance communion with them. Rosita is trying to explain their customs cleaning the grave site and burning incense. James and I are told that they also bring along lunch ( not sandwiches either) which consists of multiple food items including a whole pig. All of this has to be carried by hand up to the grave sites on the side of the mountains.The theory is the ancestors can enjoy the picnic by whiffing the smells the food gives off and the living ones can have a great meal. Oh, it gets even more bizarre. The Chinese have all manner of paper offerings to their ancestors. The paper offerings are purchased from stationary stores and are in all shapes and sizes. The idea is to burn a paper offering in the shape of something the ancestor always loved or wanted. They come in the shape of money drawn on the bank of heaven, sports cars, gold bars, credit cards, shoes, Apple cell phones, and purses. Rosita takes us to a stationary store which is like Macy’s on Christmas Eve. It is mobbed with people buying for the graveside ceremonies. They even offer the paper necessity bag which cantains underwear, socks, pj’s ect. All of which will be burned tomorrow. To avoid the crowds, Rosita and her family went to her ancestors’ grave on the mountain top last weekend. Her two brothers carried a whole roasted pig on a bamboo pole up the mountain and she carried the trimmings and paper offerings.
Next we go to the “Dry” market. The dry market is a kind of medicine food store to the Chinese. The store is a little hard to take. All types of sea creatures are dried or dissected and packaged for sale. You name it, they had it. Even bird’s nests and deer antlers were on sale. The whole place stinks to high heaven.James is barely hanging in there.Rosita eagerly explains what various items provide in terms of medical treatments. Its like the Dr. Oz show on steriods! Wet items, like fresh fruit and veggies are offered elsewhere. Because so many Asians do not have access to dairy products on a regular basis, many of them have become lactose intolerant. They have a dry “medicine” to help that as well. Next stop is the oldest Temple in Hong Kong. No big Buddha here, just old ones. As expected, there is big business here today as the local families who have elected cremation in leiu of a family plot for burial. They are burning incense and paper offerings here instead of up on the mountainside. If you have a big issue in your life or a large wish that you want considered, you can purchase the jumbo size incense coil which is almost 3 feet in length and will smolder for a month making it easier than dropping by the Temple on a regular basis. James is coughing with all the smoke trapped inside the Temple.
It is now time to drive up the steep winding road to go to the peak for lunch. This road travels through the wealthier neighborhood in Hong Kong. We are back in the land of luxury sports cars and limousines. We wind our way up through lush green subtropical vegetation broken up by large estates and well manicured lawns in front of mansions. At the top we are at the highest point in Hong Kong and can gaze down upon the highrise towers and port below.
Lunch is pretty good, maybe I am becoming more accustomed to the local food. James is nursing a diet coke and having his usual rice. We join the throngs outside on the platform for a few scenic photos. Sonny drives us quickly back down the road to the Aberdeen fishing village where we take a sandpan boat ride. In this harbor we pass a floating restaurant and multi-million dollar yachts alongside rickety old fishing boats that also double as a home for these families. The old boats are lashed together and resemble a large floating junk city. Some even have guard dogs living on them.
Tunnels under the bay are the fastest way to get back to the ship and that madhouse of a Mall. We did cross the bridge where the democracy protestors had recently been gathered to protest the mainland Chinese decision to limit the people who could stand for election to the local Hong Kong government. Only those approved by the Communist Party would be permitted to run.
Back on the ship, we only have 1 and 1/2 hours to dress for dinner. We have reservations at Lung King Heen restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. On the way to the hotel, we stop at the Temple Street Market. It comes alive at 6:30pm and goes until midnight. The vendors sell all types of kitchi stuff. Cheap Jade, your name engraved on a grain of rice, sun glasses, purse knockoffs, tea sets and even cell phone connecting wires that light up are offered by the street vendors. I am loving it with all these choices. James, however, has had a rough day and even the prostitutes who are trying to catch his eye, do not make him want to stay. So we head off to the hotel. The Four Seasons is , of course, typically elegant in the Four Seasons manner the world over. The hotel is beautifully decorated for Easter. The restaurant is waiting for us. We had to make the reservations weeks ago. It is small with fabulous service and views of the bay. We arrive just prior to the 8:00pm light show that occurs nightly and features all of the highrise buildings with individual flashing light designs. What we learn is the better place to see the lights is from the pier where we are tied up. Even so, the tallest building in Hong Kong is directly opposite our window with its distinctive light show and a bar at the very top where we have reservations after dinner.
Dinner is served, but not before James has two Jack Daniels to start. Rosita and I are discussing the menu which is larger than I expected. All of the dishes are large portions and meant for sharing. He tells us to get what we want, but he had decided on his fare and is not sharing. Their signature dish is the roasted suckling pig. Rosita and I go for the tasting menu. The staff was extraordinarily attentive and we had great seats for the light show. Its 10:30 and we are not finished with dinner. We will have to make a call to roof top bar and let them know if we are coming or not. Since we have another full day of touring tomorrow we decide to take a pass.