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.
Hong 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.
The 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.
The highlight of this 23,000 square meters revamp is a rooftop garden reminding me of the 1.45-mile-long High LinePark in Manhattan, (Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th 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.
The 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.
It 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.
*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
‘Who is taller’? The toddler guesstimating the red wood soldier at entrance to the 1906 red brick Western Market (Des Voeux Road Central and Morrison Street junction), Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.
The Edwardian style Western Market, a former British Post Office converted into a showpiece market place in 1991, is a combination of classical facades and kitschy shops selling toys, crafts, jewelry on ground floor. The real treasure is on first floor…bales of satins, silks, sequins, laces…..fabrics to splurge on.