Today would be my last day in Hong Kong; my flight would depart just after midnight, so I’d have to head to the airport at 10pm. After meeting with colleagues for breakfast, a group of us checked out late in the morning to move our belongings over to the Metropark Hotel in Causeway Bay. Suzanne Stein and Marcelo Sant’Iago were both staying there, and Suzanne was kind enough to let Louise van Rooyen and me leave our luggage in her room for the day while the four of us played tourist with the free time we had left.
We hired a minibus taxi to take us to the Metropark; with all of our collective luggage there was no way we could have jammed all of our stuff into a standard taxi. The minibus looked like it spent most of its time transporting livestock, but it still got us to where we needed to go. Over at the Metropark, the hotel wasn’t ready for new guests to check in, so we all left our luggage with the bell stand, baffling the attendee as to why this Suzanne Stein character had such a ridiculous amount of luggage going up to her room.
|Suzanne Stein gets fitted at the tailor in Kowloon|
Before exploring the city one last time, we paid a final visit to Stitch-Up tailors in Kowloon, catching the subway from Tin Hau to Tsim Sha Tsui. Suzanne had ordered two suits and a bunch of shirts, and she needed to go in for her final fitting, while Louise was contemplating a purchase of her own. When we got to the tailor, Andy’s brother George said he’d need about 10 minutes to get Suzanne’s suits from the workshop. We took advantage of the time by heading to the other side of the mall to pick up drinks from Starbucks.
Back at the tailor, Suzanne got fitted for her suits while Louise browsed and Marcelo politely declined several offers from George to get a suit made. Once our business was done, we went downstairs to the local McDonalds to take advantage of the public bathroom facilities. There was a huge line for the women’s bathroom, so Marcelo picked up a fried shrimp snack; it was tasty, but more fried than shrimp.
We then walked towards the Star Ferry to return to Central. A small elderly gentleman in Buddhist robes approached me and tried to get me to make some kind of contribution. This being Kowloon, notorious for its dime-a-dozen scams, I declined. I walked a few more steps with Marcelo before we realized that the elderly fellow was now handing papers and trinkets to Louise and Suzanne. Uh-oh. Marcelo and I just shook our heads and grimaced while the ladies made their transaction: apparently they’d each get some prayers said for them at some local Buddhist shrine for a small fortune — about 20 bucks apiece. I hope they’re damn good prayers for that price.
|Filipino amahs picnic in the atrium of the HSBC building. Click on the picture to see the video.|
We caught the next ferry and pressed onward to Central, where we crossed through the underground footpath until we found ourselves near the entrance of the HSBC building. The skyscraper has an immense open-air atrium on the ground floor, and it’s often occupied by large groups of Filipino maids, or amahs, having a picnic lunch. None of us were prepared for the sheer size of the spectacle. The entire atrium was jammed with thousands of women, encamped on the marble floor atop their favorite blankets. Women were having lunch, gossiping, cutting each other’s hair, doing their nails, cutting coupons, you name it. And all of them were talking at once, creating collective cackle that echoed throughout the hall. I took a couple of video clips to capture the scene, along with a few still photos that I’m sure did it much less justice.
Heading uphill from the HSBC building, we climbed through the park adjacent to the St. John’s Cathedral. When it was built in the 1800s, locals complained it was an eyesore; today it’s once of the few significant colonial-era buildings left on the island. The cathedral was packed for Sunday afternoon services; a choir sang a beautiful hymn in the back of the church. A man standing near the entrance quietly told us we couldn’t take pictures, so we stood silently, listening to the haunting hymn as the congregation fanned themselves for relief from the mid-day heat.
A few meters up the street from the cathedral we reached the entrance to the Peak Tram. This was to be my second trip to the top of the Peak on this trip to Hong Kong, but it was the first time up for everyone else. For a Sunday afternoon it was surprisingly quiet in the ticket line, so we were able to get our tickets and climb into the tram in a matter of minutes. Louise and Suzanne were engrossed in conversation for much of the trip while Marcelo and I quietly enjoyed the view; after a while I had to give Louise a poke on the shoulder so the two of them would look out the window to see what they were missing: a spectacular view of the Hong Kong skyline as the funicular pulled us higher and higher.
|Andy, Marcelo, Louise and Suzanne pose for a photo at the Peak|
Reaching the top of the Peak, we meandered through the shopping mall at the exit to the tram until we reached the observation deck. Despite the light crowds downstairs, the deck was packed with tourists who were splitting their time between enjoying the view and buying souvenirs from a dozen or so kiosks. The four of us managed to find a strategic spot for a group photograph, but we had so many cameras to pass around that we ended up creating a minor roadblock for other tourists who wanted to lean over the railing for the full 180-degree view. Louise bought a set of miniature walkie-talkies and some Hello Kitty stickers for her daughter; Suzanne, meanwhile, took part in a survey about Hong Kong tourism conducted by a group of students, who found her having a smoke by a garbage can.
“I just wanted to see how they were organizing their questions,” she said afterwards, laughing. “The ‘where are you from’ questions were just a list of checkboxes with only a handful of countries, and some of the questions were a bit leading, like, ‘Do you agree or disagree – Hong Kong is a shopping paradise.”
“Don’t forget they’re totally skewing their whole data set by preying on smokers at the garbage can,” I added. “Wonder if they’re all more likely to show other addictive traits, like compulsive shopping or gambling…”
After having our fill of the view, we needed to fill our stomachs; it was nearly 3pm and we hadn’t had any lunch yet. We went to a café on the second floor of the Peak Galleria, which featured a marvelous view of the city. At first we sat outside in open sunlight, but after 30 minutes we felt we were being rotisserie roasted by the hot afternoon sun. Fortunately a table with an umbrella soon opened up, so we moved over to it, probably adding a few weeks to our lifetimes by avoiding the inevitable skin cancer we were giving ourselves in the open sunlight. Marcelo and Louise got noodle dishes while I had an oriental chicken salad and Suzanne stuck with sushi. The food was average at best, and the bill was, well, let’s just say you pay for the view and not for the quality of food or service.
By now it was nearly 4:30pm, and Louise had to be back at the Metropark at 6pm for her ride to the airport. I’d wanted to take them to the Man Mo Temple, but time was running tight. So we decided to take the next tram down from the Peak and catch a taxi to the temple. The taxi took us uphill through the Mid-Levels, past the island’s main mosque and synagogue, then plummeting downhill again towards Sheung Wan. We exited the taxi a couple blocks east of the temple so the driver didn’t have to navigate the local one-way streets.
|Beams of light cut through the incense smoke at Man Mo Temple. Click on the picture to see a video.|
Reaching the temple, I noticed the sun was getting low in the sky — still quite bright out, but beginning to dip below the western skyline. Inside, we were greeted by a stunning site — the thick incense smoke created a brilliant sun ray pattern, with beams of light streaking a sharp angles through the interior of the temple. It was a very moving experience, not at all lessened by the fact this was my third or fourth visit to the temple. There are other temples in Hong Kong, but Man Mo is a special place that never fails to awe and inspire. We wandered the interior of the temple, quietly taking photos and videos of the candles, altars and incense. Suzanne and Louise shopped for school pens and pencils that had been blessed at the monastery; buy your pens here and your kids’ grades will improve, so the theory goes.
I found myself checking my watch every few minutes, somewhat concerned about Louise missing her ride to the airport. As long as we took a taxi back to the hotel, we still had a little time. So we walked a couple of blocks to the Cat Street antique market, where we all stocked up on gifts and souvenirs. Soon enough, though, it was 5:30pm, so we caught a taxi back to the Metropark.
Once we got there, though, I discovered that Louise’s ride was actually coming at 6:30, not 6:00, so we actually had time to spare. We decided to have a parting drink in the hotel bar. Marcelo and I made it down there first while Suzanne and Louise freshened up. For some strange reason, the bar was playing Elton John’s “Your Song” over and over; Marcelo and I lost track after a dozen times in a row. By the time Suzanne and Louise joined us, it was nearly time for her to go, so I ran down to the bell captain and told him that she’d be running a few minutes late. I should have said longer; we ended up spending about half an hour in the bar before parting ways with Louise.
Since I too had to go to the airport in just three hours, I wanted to stay fairly close to the hotel. Suzanne and I hung out at the bar a little while longer while Marcelo had a quick shower, then we went for a walk around the neighborhood. We probably should have gotten some dinner but I was still full from our late lunch, so we ended up swinging by the local supermarket, where we picked up a few beers to drink upstairs, noshing on cashews and watching MTV Malaysia in Suzanne’s room.
By 10 o’clock, it was time for me to go, so we all said our goodbyes. Who knows where we’ll see each other next; Osama Manzar and Zaman are each trying to organize similar events in India and Bangladesh respectively. We’ll just have to wait and see.… -andy