Hong Kong is news once again… a victim of its own magnetic desirability. Along with rest of the world I wish the Island country will soon stop looking over its shoulders for ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ (Jennifer Egan’s novel ). It did that in 1997 (Handover) and once again, 2020.
My first impression of Hong Kong, in 2008, from an airplane window was of a city wrapped in a chimeric blur of structures under watchful gaze of sentinel mountains and waters. Once on land and driving towards our furnished or service apartment the illusion was replaced by the prosaic-ness of humanity and concrete. The extraordinary buzz of people, cuisine, politics would be a challenge and I readily accepted. ‘Hong Kong grows on you’ and within few days I developed an inherrant antennae to move with the flow.
My Walking Tryst: A perfect antidote for a oscitantically boring day is to walk Hong Kong …on ground, below ground, elevated walkways, vertical and horizontal escalators, promenades, alleys, hiking trails. It is the cheapest and easiest way to banish ennui and as Scott Bricker of America Walks puts it “Your brain functions quite differently when you walk.”
Health benefits aside, walking in Hong Kong is vibing with the ephemeral stretches of greenery, the vertical glass towers and mansions, the alleys, wet markets, the promenades, beaches and villages, the humongous malls best savored on foot. The blue and green ferries, buses, trains, taxis and escalators are welcome diversions to discover twinkling cross harbor lights, the incense filled temples, glass and steel skyscrapers, enduring colonial architecture and labyrinth of alleys and roads swathed in aroma of local dry ingredients and of world cuisine.
My first month in Hong Kong was an enigma in keeping pace with nimble toes, wayward toes, slim or heavy torsos oblivious of others, umbrellas poking in ribs on rainy days or bodies just pushing ahead. I tried my best simulating the movements of person in front of me, to not elbow or step on toes or touch, and by the time I reached destination I would be a mental and physical wreck.
I am a walker, morning and casual walks, and the idea of too much footwork was not only improbable but torture. A visit to an exhibition of ancient Chinese footwear changed my perspective. I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded or other equally strong adjectives to see a ‘Lotus Feet’ footwear , an original worn by Chinese women following the custom of ‘foot binding’ around 10th century. Every country has its own beauty quirks. In India it is fair skin, while for the Victorian ladies it was corsetted tiny waists but the ‘footwear’ appeared an inhuman practise. Went home and read about Foot Binding*, of how girls flaunting three-inch feet or a ‘golden lotus’ were considered the most desirable prospective brides by high society mothers looking for matches for their sons. The next in line was ‘four-inch feet’ or ‘silver lotus’ and the five feet and above dismissed as iron lotuses or undesirables.One can imagine the doomed marriage prospects of Iron Lotuses.
I looked at my feet, tiny by Western standards but not by ancient Chinese standards. Looking at shoe store windows I felt assured that present shoe sizes are on par with the world.
A few days on and I pushed my stilettos and block heels to back of shoe rack replacing them with flat pumps and brand new Nikes and anticipatingly joined the multitudes in their strides. Upstairs, downstairs, vertically, horizontally, sideways or full blast on the streets of North Point, Central, the ant hill Causeway Bay, Nathan Road past Jordan to Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tai and Tsim sha Tsui, Kennedy Town and the newer developing areas and islands because in Hong Kong, ‘every one walks.’ There are cars and we too got our driving licences only to use them as identity proofs.
Weekends were leisure walk days: On a cool pleasant day of combination weather, drizzle and 32 0 heat, we set out for Taikoo Shing from Quarry Bay MTR station, a 15-20 minutes walk. Another option would have been to start the day with hiking in Tai Tam Country Park with its comfortable family friendly walking trails along the Reservoir and then come down to Quarry Bay streets. We opted for the first alternative, bus ride followed by stroll.
The start point was from the Western part of Quarry Bay (Lai Chi meaning late as usual) Kings Road. A single entry road till 1984, Kings Road was previously known as Shau ki wan Road and renamed Kings Road to honor the Silver Jubilee of King George V’s reign in 1935. Being a Saturday the area was crowded and in no time our slow walk turned into a minor peripatetic pleasure due to high decibel chattering of lunchtime crowd of women, children, seniors, helpers, tourists. It was difficult to visualize Quarry Bay as a rock quarrying area during Colonial era when the only sound heard was made by Hakka stonemasons settled in this area of Hong Kong Island. The quarried rocks were carried down the hills to the coast to be shipped for construction and road building.
Under the afternoon sun the acoustics sounded different but these new commercial activities have aligned Quarry Bay with its classy neighbours…North Point, Causeway Bay, Wanchai, Admiralty, Central…..
Another name for Quarry Bay was Tsak Yue Chung (Chinese) or Arrow Fish Creek (British) because of crucian carp found in the once-upon-a-time stream that supposedly existed in the 19th century. Since then the ongoing reclamation and construction pushed the waters towards the Bay and the fish, I presume, have re-located to aquariums or ponds.
With hyperventilating crowds everywhere sometimes the comfort of seclusion of hidden eating places is a better choice. There are eateries along Pan Hoi and Hoi Kwong streets but we continued to tramp on our pavement space, peeking into alleys searching for 1049-1056 King’s Road. Finally, after a few wrong turns we were in the courtyard of the much Instagrammed Yick Fat Building or the Monster Building inserted in between Yau Man Street and Quarry Bay Street.(Monster Building – Wikipedia)
It is an iconic monstrosity of living space. The dilapidated and crumbling, with peeling paint, cubes or cages with red, blue, green hued balconies, beehive style, fluttering limp-washed clothes, the ground floor clutter of launderettes, massage parlors, electrical and mechanical workshops and isolated eating places set around a rectangular courtyard is a sharp contrast to the looming glass towers nearby. The buildings’ uniqueness is certainly something to cash upon. It featured on the cover of photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze’s book Vertical Horizon (2012). In October 2013 the Complex was the setting of the movie Transformer; Age of Extinction and was in the news because director Michael Bay was attacked by two men demanding HK$100,000 ($12,900), their share for filming the premises
A few steps around the courtyard, no buzzing sound from anywhere, and trying to catch the perfect angles of the piled-upon construction, we were out on Yau Man Street and Kings Road towards East Point Center, a warren of veritable Chinese medicine shops, clothes, household goods and Dimsum Master restaurant.
The entrance is deceptive, squashed in between stores, till you step inside a fabricated food cave with attentive staff waiting to guide you to the nearest available table. The place is crowded, lunchtime traffic, and a brief check of the menu, restricted our selves to standard Fried Rice, Chicken Corn Soup and Pork Dumplings, large helpings to satiate our hunger pangs.
When it comes to restaurants I prefer ground level or a rooftop-eating place, to watch sunshine streaming down on ferries and yachts gliding down the South China Sea or the moving traffic on various arteries of the city. The ‘cave’ was crowded and it was a hurried lunch to be out in the sunshine to continue the short walk on King’s Road towards bus stop.
A long ride to Mong Kok, Nathan Road, a skim through repetitive market scenes, store signs of Fortress Hill and North Point till we turn towards Cross Harbor tunnel and onto Nathan Road with its own cliquey sets.
There were other walks, short and extensive, mapping Hong Kong into foot lengths during our stay in Hong Kong (2008-16). Now re- located in India the connectivity is active.
Sharing for JO’S MONDAY WALK