‘Let’s go’ is the family mantra for packing bags and catching the next flight to anywhere. It is not a sudden-kill-bill moment as it sounds because for certain destinations the decision-making process stretches onto days and months. But once consensus is reached there is no scope for re-think. This time it was Hong Kong and I flipped. Here, we were, two satisfied empty nesters nurturing a lifestyle centered on house-garden-club membership-golf greens-friends and my partner of 30 years wanted to tip over the platter.
Friends and relatives were skeptical and few were arrogantly smirky about what they thought inevitable disaster recipe of non-energy and old hands. My husband was offered new job assignment in Hong Kong and was keen on taking it up. My role was to agree and follow and this time I reverted to pressure mode.
Persuasive tactics continued for weeks and to whatever I would say my husband would promptly prefix Hong Kong. ‘In Hong Kong you can purchase the solitaires you wanted’ or ‘from Hong Kong we will travel to places we have not visited.’ The last one did not hold as we had already been on ‘Lets Go’ short duration trips to USA (every year), Europe with Cyprus the favored destination, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, Middle East, Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines. The continents left were Africa and South America and they are too far from Hong Kong.
Ultimately with all the panache I could muster I acquiesced. There was more to gain from not prolonging the issue, and found myself on the 38th floor of Horizon Harbor View in Hung Hom, Kowloon. The introduction was not the close-your-eyes type but sheer bliss when I looked at the picture perfect view of Hong Kong from the living room window. Now, two months on and I still cannot get over marveling at the linear structures reaching out to the blue skies. The bare mountains like protecting kung-fu protagonists, looking down at the traffic of ferries scurrying across the green Hung Hom Bay waters, the lone catamaran with orangey-brown sails, the nose-in-the air Star Virgo or Pisces, rusty junks, barges and sampan. At night it seems a painter’s brush has done the make-over with sequined concrete structures and twinkling multi-colored neon and residential lights streaking the Hung Hom Bay waters green, red and yellow.
The waterside is a reminder of another coastal region we had ventured to in 1995. The place was Muscat, the capital city of Sultanate of Oman with similar scenario of job, house, car and add-ons. The children were still in school so four heads poured over an old school atlas to locate the country. Our son, then 11 years, could not fathom living in a shoe shaped land wedged between Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Dubai. “Why not USA or Europe….not this vague place’ complained our 16-year-old daughter. Before the argument side tracked our objective, a flip of the coin decided in favor of Muscat. A few days later we were on Oman Air flight that would dispel preconceived notions of a desert land with camel riding sheikhs and their head-to toe covered consorts. Here was a modern city with all the trappings of twenty first-century lifestyle and steely versions of our son’s toy cars.
Life settled to its routine of school-office-coffee mornings till the ‘Shining Star’ led me to the scent of antiquity. While handicraft shopping in the souk (the local market) in downtown Muttrah, I stumbled upon what until then was an essential feature of childhood memories of Christmas carols at our convent school. It took me a fraction of a second to register that the tiny, ordinary beads of gum stacked in plastic containers and gift packs thrown around in the cubicle shop was the same ‘frankincense’ given as gift to Baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. The shop owner finding and easy target reeled off information about types of frankincense, which is the most expensive one and how and when to use it. From the souk I went straight to the British Council library to read more about frankincense and felt good that within few hours I could ferret out information about its source, something that intrepid travelers, kings and explorers remained in ignorance of for centuries. It was in the middle of the 19th century that one Dr. H.J. Carter, Assistant Surgeon in East India Company of Britain identified the Dhofar region in Southern Oman as the source of this untold wealth.
A visit to Salalah, the capital city of Dhofar, was imperative and the first school vacation found us there. Driving around the sandy, desolate countryside it was easy to visualize caravans carrying their precious cargo across the peninsula to whet the whims and fancies of rulers from the Mediterranean to China. The people of Dhofar, who controlled this lucrative trade, invented stories of dragons guarding frankincense trees and this along with the inhospitable terrain and climate must have created an aura of mystique around the trees. No wonder frankincense‘s aromatic resin was much in demand as gift for friendship or favors by none other than the Queen of Sheba, (who till then had been another fictional character out of Arabian Nights tales). Sheba is supposed to have coaxed King Solomon to distribute frankincense and myrrh, often worth more than their weight in gold, to neighboring lands, bringing enormous wealth to both.
We returned to Muscat richer with a pouch of frankincense and slice of history. The five years in Muscat, peppered with other adventures, were an incredible learning experience. In 2000, only three of us returned to New Delhi, our daughter going to the USA for under graduate studies. Four years later our son followed and today they have signed in their own identities in the USA.
Back to the present and here was another new territory for me to explore. I stepped down from my perch to walk the lifelines, the streets, alleys and elevated walkways connecting this concrete systematized cornucopia. I crisscrossed Whampoa, TsimShaTsui with its klutzily confusing commercial areas and the ’golden mile’ Nathan road, Jordan where we inadvertently walked into a nightclub and the bouncers stared us out for being non-members, the numerous eating places at Knutsford Terrace and the Chungking Mansions for the habitual Indian spices I had refused to carry from home. Across the Bay, the visited hotspots were Lan Kwai Fong in all its nocturnal glory (joined by husband), trips to Stanley that reminds me of Janpath, the central shopping area in New Delhi to purchase Chinese linen place mats and linen shirts, Ocean Park, Sha Tin and Tai Po. The Man Mo temple was closed on the day we went, so we missed out on that but tried Malaysian noodles at the food court in Tai Po market. We explored the vertical conveyor jaunt of Peak Tram, the Mid-level escalator walk providing slanting and segmented views of villas and congested building blocks swathed in Chinese herbal smells and inter-continental concoctions of Stanton Street. These continue to be reviving experiences. In between there was the day visit to Macau, unfortunately being a weekend, with accompanying crowds.
On the day we arrived in Hong Kong, an acquaintance told us that staying near water brings luck. We have surely been blessed.