Old Fashioned handcart for transporting cartons and other daily use items. Mong Kok street, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
“As an adult traveling alone in a remote and cut off places, I learned a great deal about the world and myself: the strangeness, the joy, the liberation and truth of travel…..”.
My journey was not exactly illuminati of an occluded place but a ‘Jack in the Tin Box’ bus journey through the streets of Kowloon, Hong Kong. It was a spur of the moment decision, a touristy moment, to hop on to the first bus trundling out of Hung Hom Ferry bus terminal and it happened to be bus no 269 B, a circular bus service between Hung Hom and Tin Shui Wai, New Territories. The civilized adventure in the backyard was the camel eye view of a city within a city splurging on back streets, concrete walls blowing kisses to each other, the chintzy exteriors of clubs, salons, eateries and street food stalls as we made our way to an unknown destination and for me a new name on the Hong Kong map.
The ‘mechanical Hongkonger’, bus No. 269 B, was no match to daily dentured pavement walks as it whittled through the surging vehicular traffic and pedestrian overflow of West Kowloon Corridor, Mong Kok, Jordan, the Jade Market, Sham Shi Po, through crowded areas and markets I had never seen in 5 years time.
The cityscape took on a new avatar, businesslike, with sunlight slithering through concrete gaps on faceless people on their daily chores, the aged intent on their movement oblivious to surroundings, the cell-strapped youngsters, the intrepid trolley pushers, the pampered pet dogs and the bane of sidewalks the poky umbrellas.
The sun was extra generous on the iconic scenery of bobbing boats, cargo vessels, steamers and the propped up green mountains as we moved down the Kowloon corridor towards the stretched out blankness of the missing horizon and the silver strands of Tsing Yi Bridge spanning the shimmering waters between the islands. We have travelled down this road several times but always with a purpose, arriving or leaving the country with no time to look around fast forwarding our entry into different homes. This was different, a relaxed anticipation of an unknown local extension with place names Olympian city, Kwai Chung, Shi Tseng, Lam tin, Yuen Long, Pat Jeung, till recently blips on commute horizon, connecting dots of the journey. We were in the front seats soaking in the afternoon sun and oblivious to embarking and disembarking passengers and at red lights moseying up to the vehicle right in front.
The scenery opened up to farms and housing blocks till the high-rise silhouettes revealed Tin Shui Wai the ‘Town of sky and water’and entry point to Hong Kong Wetland Park. Pockets of residential blocks interspersed with educational institutions, commercial blocks, parks and offices giving a spaced out vacant ambience and from upper deck a feeling of deja vu. On ground level a carryover of Shenzhen or Guangzhou, spiritless and dead pan.
The Kingswood Ginza Shopping Center, opposite the Ginza Light Rail Station and few minutes away from the Wetland Park,was packed with Sunday shoppers making the most of festive season sales. The Hong Kong zing is missing…maybe it is the environment or proximity to the marshlands (north of Ping Shan in Yuen Long District) or distance from the main commercial centers of Hong Kong and Kowloon that gives it a reclusive visage. Tin Shui Wai was an aquaculture destination with resident fisher folk converting the marshlands into ‘gei wai’ fish ponds and rice paddies.
Decline in aquaculture led to reclaiming of the abandoned pools and in 1987 a new township sprouted up. It was a case of plans going awry as there were few takers for the apartments due to unemployment and lack of communication when industries moved on to nearby industrial cities Shenzhen, Dongguan and Foshan in Guangdong province. Loneliness and insignificance worsened and Tin Shui Wai was referred to as ‘city of sadness’* for its high rate of unemployment, suicides, marital and child abuse.
A sandwich and coffee at La Kaffa and without any attempt to walk to the Wetland Park we boarded 269 B for the two-hour return trip to Hung Hum ferry terminal. The setting sun casting its shadow on the passing scenery added the dash of optimism as we made our way through the evening glow of Nathan road, a delectable goulash of people, vehicles, noises, odors and hassles.
*Tin Shui Wai: City of Sadness by Derrick Chang 2007. (Asia Sentinel – Tin Shui Wai: City of Sadness
E is for Emperor Qianlong*, the Qing dynasty emperor who commissioned a secret garden, the Qianlong Garden, to immerse himself in art pursuits post his 60 years of rule. Emperor Qianlong was the sixth emperor (1711 – 1799) of the Manchu led Qing Dynasty and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China.
I joined the queue of tourists, art lovers, the curious and school trips for the interactive exhibition “A Lofty Retreat from the Red Dust: The Secret Garden of Emperor Qianlong” at The Hong Kong Museum of Art. The exhibition showcases Emperor Qianlong’s love of scholarship and the arts by featuring 93 relics from Beijing’s Palace Museum and 43 artifacts connected with the Garden that survived the intermediary years till the last emperor fled Beijing. Emperor Qianlong had issued an imperial edict reserving the garden on the western section of Ningshougong Palace (Tranquility and Longevity Palace) for use by ‘super sovereigns’ and the doors remained closed to outsiders. The Garden is now under renovation and will open for public viewing in a couple of years and till then the exhibition is our window to the enchanted Garden.
The Qianlong Garden, designed in the architectural style of Qing era had taken nearly ten years to be completed and looking at the murals one can understand why. The four sections of the Garden, the Leisurely Pursuits, Blessed Longevity, Enhancing Life for All and A Life of Art and Artistry showcase pavilions of Ancient Flower (Guhuaxuan), of Expecting Good Omen (Fuwangge), the Pavilion of Viewing Beautiful Scenery (Cuishanglou), the Hall of Wish Fulfillment (Suichutang), the Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service (Juanqinzhai), and the Well of Concubine Zhen along with a labyrinth of corridors connecting the courtyards and other structures. The Garden had housed some of the most extravagant interiors found in the imperial palace complex and some of the calligraphy, murals, furniture and paintings are on display illustrating the cultural significance of traditional Chinese royal gardens.
The multimedia presentations, the animation and computer programming offer an opportunity to understand and take part in the philosophical and religious beliefs of longevity and eternal bliss reflected in the design and artifacts of the Garden. Particularly fascinating are the Portraits of the Emperor while hunting deer, (the Emperor and the deer seem to be posing for the painter); the panel portraying the Emperor who ‘wants to be immortal’ by taking the place of the Buddha and the ‘18th century version of 3D-VR portrait of a royal family.
Few hours admiring the display and I agreed with the advice in Do’s and Don’ts for the ‘Garden’ Tour….’Bring eye drops in case the animation is so exciting that you forget to blink’. The real Qianlong Garden in Beijing, once it opens to the public, will be a place to curl in your nook.
Feb. 28, 2010: The morning fog had a surprise in store for me. Walking on Hung Leung road, Hung Hom towards Whampoa,(Kowloon) I heard the distinctive ‘Koo Ooo’ of the Koel, my childhood nemesis. It was a surprise because in 2 years of my stay in Hong Kong this was the first time I heard the ‘Koel’ and it was an instant carry back to cool summer mornings, boat rides on the Ganges river, raw Mangoes and Guavas. We have this open land around our house in Allahabad (India) crowded by Mango, Neem and Guava trees and early spring the trees would be full of blossoms and new fruits. The Koel could be heard from different perches and I would follow the voice to put a face to it but the bird would, invariably, outwit me. Till date I do not know what it looks like except for Wikipedia pictures and with information that it is the male of the species that loves to hear its voice. I always thought it was the female but like the Peahen (Peacock family) the female Koel is the indistinctive one. The Male Koel is bluish black with yellow-green beak and crimson eyes. (wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_Koel)
|Bird Call of Koyal India video by Shirishkumar …
1 min 56 sec – 1 Oct 2007
Now, here in Hung Hom, in concrete surroundings with countable trees, I thought I was imagining the snippy ‘koo OOo’ and the only way I could check it out would be to out koo OOo it as I would do during three ‘spring’ months every year till I outgrew the sport. It was a regular ‘slanging match and with every koo..OOo the pitch would increase forcing one of us to give in….either I would be called inside the house or the Koel flew away. Another reason for finding the narcissist tweeting irritating (as the present techni-tweeting) was that the Koel was a precursor of Board examinations (Class 10 and 12) and later College and in between all the cramming the melodious koo OOo was a taunt. Here was a bird, a known parasite who does not make its own nest, hopping around full of cheer and I had to study.
In ancient Indian literature, the Vedas, the Koel is referred to as ‘raised by others’. The male Koel creates the ruckus helping its partner lay its single egg in the crow’s nest next to the already present egg. The crow, without realizing the difference, conveniently hatches the egg.
In Indian poetry the ‘Koel’ is a melodious symbol and the Sanskrit root of Koel is “Kokila’. Both very popular names for girls in India.
Listening to the Koel, after all these years, reminded me of challenges and serene mornings that had inadvertently tiptoed into mundane affairs.