Kyoto, Japan (2010)…a sudden encounter and transfixed we ogled. “Perhaps it seems odd that a casual meeting on the street could have brought about such change. But sometimes life is like that isn’t it” –Arthur Golden. Memoirs of a Geisha
View from Calgary Tower…..watching the sun set. Downtown Calgary, Canada
The 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.”
Apart from health benefits walking Hong Kong is vibing with the ever-increasing hordes of multilingual tourists and locals thronging its markets, lanes and buildings. The vibrancy of the surrounding waters add the ephemeral to ancient landmarks and temples, the stretches of greenery peeping in between vertical glass towers making Hong Kong a city best savored on foot.
We did just that…strolled to Taikoo Shing from Quarry Bay MTR station; a 15-20 minutes walk aided by a combination weather, drizzle and 32 0 heat, ricocheted of the pretentious structures. Another option would have been to start the day with hiking in Tai Tam Country Park (expanded towards Quarry Bay in 1979) with its comfortable, family friendly walking trails along the Reservoir and then come down to the market streets.
We are in the Western part of Quarry Bay or Lai Chi or “late as usual” on Kings Road, which till 1984 was the singular road for traffic entry into Quarry Bay and prone to traffic congestions. Previously Shau ki wan Road, it was renamed Kings Road to honor the Silver Jubilee of King George V’s reign in 1935. The walk turns into a minor peripatetic pleasure due to high decibel chattering of the lunchtime crowd, professionals, seniors, helpers, tourists and it is difficult to imagine that Quarry Bay was once what its name suggests, a rock quarrying area during Colonial era when Hakka stonemasons settled in this area of Hong Kong Island. Rocks were quarried from the hills for construction and road building and carried to the coast to be shipped. The acoustics may have changed but the buzz of new activities helps Quarry Bay play catch-up with its classy neighbours…North Point, Causeway Bay, Wanchai, Admiralty, Central…..
Another tag that Quarry Bay lugged for some time was being called Tsak Yue Chung (Chinese) or Arrow Fish Creek (British) because of crucian carp found in the once-upon-a-time stream (19th century). The waters, since then, have been pushed further away due to reclamation and construction.
Hong Kong areas are twirling emulations of each other and with hyperventilating crowds everywhere, sometimes the comfort of seclusion is a better choice. Food adds a bit of recherché to the mundane but since food is a means to survive I did not sample the eating-places along Pan Hoi and Hoi Kwong streets ( Foodie tour: Quarry Bay.Timeout.com, Hong Kong) continued to tramp on our pavement space, peeking into stores, searching for 1049-1056 King’s Road. Finally after a few wrong turns we are in the courtyard of the striated Yick Fat Building inserted in between Yau Man Street and Quarry Bay Street.
Dilapidated and crumbling with peeling paint and closeness, beehive style, lending it the impressive outage to feature on the cover of photographer Romain Jacquet-Lagrèze’s book Vertical Horizon (2012). The cubes or cages with red, blue, green hued balconies, 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 are a sharp contrast to the looming glass towers nearby. The buildings’ uniqueness is certainly something to cash upon. In October 2013 director Michael Bay was attacked by two men demanding HK$100,000 ($12,900) for filming their premises for the movie Transformers.
A few steps around the courtyard, no buzzing sound from anywhere, and trying to catch the perfect angles of the piled-upon construction, we are 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 savorless Fried Rice, Chicken Corn Soup and Pork Dumplings, large helpings to satiate our derisory hunger pangs.
I prefer ground level or a rooftop-eating place, when it comes to restaurants, 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’ crowded and abuzz, a hurried lunch and we take the escalators to sunshine and continued short walk on King’s Road towards bus stop, hop onto a bus bound for Mong Kok, Nathan Road.
The bus ride is a skim through repetitive market scene, store signs at short intervals morphing into Fortress Hill and North Point till we turn towards Cross Harbor tunnel and onto Nathan Road with its own cliquey sets.
A 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.
This 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.
Fair 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.
The 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’.