Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ Category

IMG_3023A fellow writer from my writing group is of the view that food descriptions add sumptuousness to bleak travel words. Her advice worked as ‘Heavy Metal’ detox as till recently Dim Sum and Dumplings were same. A friend explained that the first is an umbrella term to define a family feast, lunch or brunch time, of variety of dishes and the second, my favorite, is dough shaped around fruits, veggies or meat in ball shapes and particular dish or cuisine of Dim Sum.

The rainbow additions to my diet changed my perception towards food. Another reason for hopping onto to the food cart is that writing about Hong Kong is similar to being repeatedly pushed through topic shredders as the Island city has been prodded and pricked with every alphabet. The F word helps in discussing what you have eaten, where you are going to eat: Michelin star, five-star or simply neighbourhood open-air food stalls, the once popular Dai Pai Dong, book cafes and fast food outlets to check out the esoteric or exotic such as Snake soup, whole pigs or fish varieties. Add to the list combination cafes: books, motorcycles, flowers, art galleries, clothes boutiques and you wonder whether enjoying coffee/tea/juice on its own is unsalable or inadequate.

IMG_3012This was something different…Medieval Weapon Cafe on Beech Street, Tai Kok Tsui (Mong Kok neighbour). Tucked or rather palmed between hardware and general stores and crowded by delivery vans this tiny place in a warehouse dominated area is a surprise. The name attracted me, as did Longitude Dental Clinic in the same row, and we walked in to a 600 square feet area displaying armory and food counter. The swords, sheaths, visors, hand protectors, shields adorning the walls and on shelves transport you to the world of Iron Man, Garth comics or to some present characters I am unaware of. I wanted to click photographs straight away. Rei Tsang, the owner/director quietly reminded me that clicking is connected to eating and that we order food, it is a café.

IMG_3006Fair enough and the Chicken spaghetti salad washed down with pineapple orange juice was pleasant on taste. One can have sandwiches or pastries and pose with the Atlantean Sword (features in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian) or the wide lethal Buster Sword and an appropriate tankard with tankard of coffee, tea, juice (set menu). What I liked, more sedentary, was the Chain mail, a steel mesh, a fashion statement.

Rei Tsang started this venture three months back (www.facebook.com/WeaponHouse) and is helped by his wife. The weapons are for sale, including cat armor modeled by his cat.

An interesting mix of comestibles and swashbuckling valour.

My husband trying out the medieval helmet

My husband trying out the medieval helmet

 

Ailsa’s Travel Theme……. and what better example than Hong Kong with waters dictating mood on land.

Lantau island….serenity

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Cheung Chau Island……frisky

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DSCN2641The diminutive and coquettish shoes, not more than three inches in length and with arched heels, exquisite embroidery, semi precious stones and in iridescent colours, are not doll’s shoes but regular shoes worn by Chinese women centuries ago. One pair was just 7 cm in length, the smallest shoe in the display from collection of Dr David Ko Chi-sheen of Taiwan’s Foot-binding Culture Museum. (Hong Kong 2009).

Foot binding or ‘Lotus Feet’ was a Mainland China custom percolating down from rich to poor. Finding a suitable match negated educational qualification and ‘tinier the feet’ meant better chances of appropriating rich husbands. A three feet foot, referred to as ‘silver lotus‘ or ”Small, slim, pointed, arched, fragrant, soft, and straight giving the same pleasure as a lotus blooming in murky waters’, was considered the perfect symbol of bound feet. A prospective mother-in-law, knowing her son’s preference for ‘butterfly’ dainty steps, would first inspect a girl’s feet and then say yes to the marriage proposal . The pain and suffering due to decaying toes and peeling skin was inconsequential.

Dorothy Ko in ‘IN EVERY STEP A LOTUS’ writes that the Han Chinese women were bowing to social dictates of the time wearing the embroidered and colorful symbols of prosperity. By the seventeenth and eighteenth century the custom had percolated down to the masses.

In 1887, Alicia Little, refers to bound feet and how ‘six year old girls instead of hopping, skipping or jumping like little girls in England, were leaning heavily on sticks taller than them or being carried on a man’s back or sitting sadly crying’.

I look at the ‘normal’ feet of women walking the Hong Kong streets and find the giant strides equally ‘beautiful’.

IMG_2919Hong Kong is forever in a flux; in a constant need to replenish and re-engage its outer casings. The latest, at least I visited it few days back, is the perky changeover of the former airport Kai Tak *and its surroundings.

IMG_2924The runaway has been converted into a cruise terminal and the three levels no-trims attached building features passenger and service areas including drops-offs, waiting halls, concourse and an elite shopping area awaiting footfalls of cruisers. On the ground floor level are fascinating snapshots of the airport through the ages and on the rooftop another iconic symbol, a gleaming ‘golf ball’ radome.

IMG_2922The highlight of this 23,000 square meters revamp is a rooftop garden reminding me of the 1.45-mile-long High Line Park in Manhattan, (Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West DSCN406734th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues) on the elevated section of the disused New York Central Railroad spur or the West Side Line. Redesigned as an aerial greenway and rails-to-trails park it is an intoxicating cultural and relaxing hub amidst the bustle of New York City.

IMG_2927The Kai Tak Rooftop rendezvous offers family fun on the extended central lawn, fountain plaza, concrete walkways, viewing platforms for incredible views of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula.

IMG_2925It was mid-afternoon when we arrived, loosing our way and mix-ups on distance, but the crabbiness vanished on sighting the luminous cruise liner against the harbor vista. ‘The Old Hangar’ ambiance of ‘a cool industrial/vintage chic space with high ceilings’ was tempting as refuge from afternoon sun, but, we preferred the open spaces, the flora and fauna lining the concrete pathways, the strategically placed benches, temptations to laze well into moonlight or starlight, the closing time is 11 pm, and an interesting way to end the day.

 

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*Kai Tak or the Old Airport made way for a new International airport on Lantau Island on 6 July 1998 after 77 years of service.

Address: Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, 33 Shing Fung Road, Kai Tak, Kowloon, Hong Kong

 

 

 

Old Fashioned handcart for transporting cartons and other daily use items. Mong Kok street, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

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Which Way

Posted: May 30, 2015 in Hong Kong
Tags:

Cee’s Which Way Challenge…….the pic is slightly off context but the carcass seem to be waiting in queue…for the Wok or Barbecue pit. (Somewhere in Hong Kong)

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Backwaters......Mumbai

Backwaters……Mumbai

Traveling on an Indian train is a series of mechanical exhalations, specifically for an Indian, whether in general second or cattle class or in First A/C. The surrounding levels of odors set the tone of the journey and with olfactory senses already in a limbo by the time the train streams out of the platform it is the sights and sounds that keep you engrossed.

An adventure prudie, guided by age, my the finger zeroed on Rajdhani Express for the rumbling journey in mid April 2015, across the plains of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan to Mumbai and from here a taxi ride along the Western Ghats to Pune. An ambivalent travel decision, to fly or track it, had resulted in Second a/c sleeper in the August Kranti Rajdhani, a clone of the original Rajdhani, clanking between Delhi’s Nizamuddin railway station and Central Station, Mumbai. A disappointment as I was hoping to touch down at Victoria Terminus or the present Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), with its  Victorian-Gothic style of architecture, constructed in 1888, a reminder of the British Raj pre-independence and more recently the scene of Dec. 26/11 terrorist attack.

The August Kranti train, named after the August Kranti Maidan, formerly the Gowalia Tank Maidan from where the Quit India Movement, launched in August 1942 and the train metamorphosed into more than a steel contraption. I was hoping for a revolutionary journey as far as hygiene is concerned. Late booking of tickets had resulted in upper berths, a hurdle because for senior travellers to climb up is nothing less than an acrobatic flaying of limbs. The consolation is that one can ask a younger traveler to exchange seats, but our luck was on back-burner. There were senior citizens on the other two berths and an elderly lady on the berth along the aisle leaving us with no choice but to butt up.

Discomfort forgotten, this was the first long distance train journey in India after a gap of nearly thirty years. The earlier train journeys had mostly been short distances, to Nainital via Kathgodam or to Mussorie and Shimla and later after marriage between Delhi and Allahabad. The August Kranti would be covering nearly 1,377 kilometers in 17 hours and 15 minutes and in train speak it was one of the reliable ‘on time’ trains. The diehard BJP supporter, in adjoining berth, attributed this to present government’s railway policies and we hoped for the best…clean and sit-able for 17 plus hours.

The coach was clean but it was the morning train toilet smell that I dreaded. In 1998 I had traveled  Hong Kong-Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong by express trains and sitting in the Indian train it was a reflex comparison with the lux coaches of the Beijing-Shanghai express, the spiffy uniforms of attendants, the bathrooms, the hot water availability. Though by end of Hong Kong-Beijing segment we were toilet searching for usable ones.

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Personal fiefdom…Mathura Station

The train slided out of Nizamuddin Railway station around 4.50 pm, on time, and jogs, judders, lurches past New Delhi city swamps and algae ponds choked with plastic, industrial townships of Faridabad and Palwal towards Mathura- the land of Lord Krishna and his shenanigans. The Mathura platform played host to a cow or bull, could not make out from the moving train and I wonder how it came to the platform. So much for ‘Clean India’. The phone service provider had kept us updated about territorial boundaries as we crossed Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra…the last two in the night and early morning. Nothing appeared to have changed as the setting sun highlighted the stark villages, the mud houses in between newer brick constructions. As sunlight faded I turned inwards, to the compartment and its inmates.

We were sharing the lower berth, sitting with the lady, a silent request granted silently. The gentleman was not so obliging and stuck on to his lower berth. They were seasoned train travelers judging by the way they made themselves comfortable. The lady was enterprising, carrying her gastronomic condiments along…crushed cardamoms to add to the train tea and pickles and chutney as food asides. More interesting was her bagging the sachets of tea, milk, sugar, salt, tomato ketchup, served with tea and dinner, and by the time the train touched Borivili (Mumbai suburb), her departure point, she was richer by a few sachets. Her preferred mode of travel was train because of airline baggage restrictions giving credence to Santosh Desai’s words… ‘We never travel alone… we travel with our entire way of life and sometimes that has trouble fitting into an airline cabin’   (Mother Pious Lady..Making sense of Every Day India).’ Santosh Desai.

The gentleman, a shoe trader, was returning to Mumbai after attending his Guru’s camp in Mathura while the lady was on her way to attend the sermons of her guru in Mumbai. I found him taciturn and vocal by turns and the duo turned us into mute audience of their wisdom talk. Within time the conversation veered towards professions and economy and I watched how the lady inveigled an interview/assignment for her shoe designer granddaughter.

Finally, it was time to clamber up to our berths and In between toxic stares at the shoe trader, for not offering me the lower berth, I dozed into dreams of clean toilets, clean stations and gourmet cuisine. Waking up I realized that I should accept that ‘travel remains a journey into whatever we can’t explain or explain away’. (Pico Iyer).

The early morning scene of the peaky backwaters of Mumbai was a pleasant sight till we nudged closer to the city and the whistling local trains or steel cages transporting herds. Finally Bombay Central and a vortex of human bodies, stench and luggage, and we made a hasty exit for the taxi stand for commute to Dadar station. A 20-minute journey extends to more than 45 minutes, as the streets/lanes are jammed with humans, vehicles vying for tarmac space. The scene was reminiscent of Indian movies, of village bumpkins lost in the clamor and chaos of this tinsel town that is more squalor than cheesecake. One wonders why the state’s political parties squabble over beef bans and Marathi supremacy instead of channeling their energies towards making the city clean and livable.

(Did not click any train and station pictures)

Duronto Express….Return from Pune

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Pune Station

The return train journey was no Continental soiree across rambling Alpine villages or prairies of North America, but a staid rumbling in another superfast train, the fully air-conditioned Duronto express, across the plains of Central India towards New Delhi, the capital city of India.

IMG_2830We were advised to book berths in the Duronto, as it is the fastest train on the Delhi – Pune sector covering 1520 kilometers in about 19 hours and 45 minutes. The luxury is the fairly comfortable padded velour first class berths and the freedom to stretch, burp or loll. The full day cooped up in a coupe was slightly discomforting and I segmented my hours; first few hours, till lunch time, gazing out at the flashing landscape that was no ‘Picasso blur of light and color’ but burnt sienna of the Deccan soil. The patches of green fields, the flat mountainous projections in the hazy distance add occasional people brightened up the dull scenery of the Western Ghats.

The train makes it first stop at Lonavla and later at Khandala and I start to hum ‘Aati kya tu Khandala’ from film ‘Ghulam’, sung by actor Aamir Khan on-screen. The station is least inviting and I leave Khandala and my humming behind and look forward to, two more stops,  ‘shining’ Gujarat. There is very little to differentiate between the villages and towns of the adjoining states, Xerox copies of each other, and it is the signboards that are giveaways of changing territorial boundaries. The people waiting on platforms mirror the city or state, the train had stopped at Surat and Vadodra, and we had a brief glimpse of colourful Gujarati turbans shielding business-dead pan faces. By this time the velour comfort takes hold and i stretch out,  breathing the rhythm of ‘back and forth’ as the train trundles on towards the desert plains of Rajasthan…..it is night by the time we cross the Gujarat border. The clacking over the rail joints and brief stops in middle of night fail to rouse me from my sleep.

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Green cover

Train food is nothing to slurp over, a slight improvement, and the vegetarian and non-vegetarian Continental fare  accompanied by ice cream, were edible. Being First class the service was good and the chicken cutlets with steamed veggies a shade better than the lunch fare.

A.H.Wheeler...still continuing

A.H.Wheeler…still continuing

We had opted for train travel, probably trying to relive the romance of the railways and not compare it with airline travel. The one advantage of land travel is that there are no long queues, security pat downs, luggage restrictions and most important, the space or leg room. Stretch, exercise or play along the aisle, as the young mother and her two kids were doing, and no reclining seat-in-your-face. I finished a 250-page novel, curled up on my personal berth served by polite attendants, oblivious to the occasional flares of light from villages and stations as the train hurtled into shadowy blackness.

The 5.30 a.m. knock on the door and the smiling attendant placed our tea trays on the stool. What more could one ask for? It was time to unwind and prepare to disembark. A journey to relive the past had come to an end, a sanitized journey minus the shenanigans and subterfuges of past journeys when we had to chain the luggage for fear of pilfering during the night. The caution is still there, despite armed guards and security on board. Also missing is the constant stream of vendors, not allowed in First class compartments, climbing in and out at different stations. The stations too bore the ‘bare’ look as the proliferating books, fruit and snack stalls regulated leaving the platforms for travelers and their luggage.

On time and we were in Nizamuddin Station, New Delhi….the beginning of the end.