streets of hong kong
When I first visited Southeast Asia in 1980, the politics were quite different than they are now. Hong Kong is no longer a British Protectorate. China is not ruled by the tight fist of Mao. Thailand, despite military political coups, and the destruction of its coastal areas by a tsunami, is developing an upper middle income economy. The sleepy beaches of Penang in Malaysia, now rival Miami Beach. But Singapore remains one of the financial centers of Asia.
And yet, with all the changes, its buddhas, temples, museums, and other antiquities remain timeless, as does Hong Kong, the city that never sleeps!
As we exited the plane in Hong Kong, the sweltering heat enveloped me during the short walk from the plane, across the tarmac, to the air chilled terminal where I arrived in wilted clothing, with frizzed hair, feeling like a sponge!
After checking into our hotel we freshened up and wasted no time hitting the street to explore Hong Kong. Across from our hotel was a park where men and women were performing a stylized dance-like routine. When I asked K what they were doing he replied, “Tai Chi, a strengthening and relaxing practice very popular among Chinese.”
As we walked down Nathan Road store windows filled with jade, coral, gold and diamond jewelry lined the street. Though first dazzled by all this splendor, the glitter soon became indistinguishable from costume jewelry!
At the bottom of the road, facing the harbor, stood the famed white facade of the Peninsula Hotel shimmering in the heat. Rolls Royce’s lined its circular drive with uniformed drivers standing ready to wisk guests off at a moments notice.
sunset over Hong Kong Harbor
We walked until sunset, when the sky filled with ribbons of purple, orange, bright gold, and pink color. As the sun dipped below the horizon we thought about dinner.
We entered a restaurant and were greeted by a large aquarium filled with eels, lobster-like creatures and other crustaceans. Behind it was a wall of fish tanks, each holding a different variety of fish. After being seated the waiter arrived at our table and I chose a fish from one of the wall tanks. A short time later it arrived, perfectly cooked, on my plate.
The next morning we took a tram high above the harbor to Victoria’s Peak. We walked around its small park, had a cup of tea in the restaurant, and enjoyed breathtaking views. The harbor below, one of the busiest in the world, was filled with ships of every shape, size, and provenance. At the mouth of the harbor more ships lay anchored, waiting to enter.
Once off the Peak we walked along the waterfront and came upon a world of sampans, many tied to one another. Generations of families were visible onboard, along with coal stoves, chairs, boxes, and mops-everything one needs to keep house. The boats, festooned with laundry hung out to dry, looked like they had battered sails at half-mast.
Hong Kong Sampans
Floating markets holding food, flowers, and other wares wove their way through the sampans, selling their goods. I had stumbled onto a village afloat, far different from the houseboat neighborhoods of Marin County in California, more similar to those I would see in Bangkok.
Shatin Floating Restaurant Hong Kong Harbor
That night we boarded a ferry for “The Shatin Floating Restaurant”, moored along the shore of the Shing Mun River, which billed itself as having “Exotic Oriental Granduer and Exquisite Food”. It lived up to its promise. We were seated at a large round table with a group of hearty Australians . The food was served buffet -style and so delicious we ate and drank ’til filled to the brim. The Australians were grand companions!
I had heard having suits made in Hong Kong was something not to be missed so, the next morning, I asked our concierge for the name of a reliable tailor. He did better than a name, he gave me Henry, a bone thin, fascinatingly wrinkled faced Chinese gentleman, who spoke English, and smoked like a chimney.
Henry escorted us to the Ocean Centre Mall and a tailor shop where I commissioned two suits to be made. After choosing the cloth and style, numerous measurements were taken. I was told to come back early the next day for a fitting and the suits would be delivered to the hotel that afternoon. They remain among the most beautiful clothes I’ve ever owned.
When we entered the Mall I had spied a fluorescent sign advertising the Beverly Hills Delicatessen. After diet of raw fish, rice, and slivers of cooked vegetables,chicken and meat, this Jewish girl’s mouth was watering at the prospect of having something to get her teeth into. I convinced Henry and K to eat lunch there.
Corned Beef sandwich Jewish Deli style
As we passed through its doors the familiar deli style of Formica tables laden with bowls of dill pickles and jars of brown mustard appeared. The menu promised true deli fare so I ordered up a corned beef, a pastrami, and a Rueben for us to share.When the huge sandwiches arrived at the table I picked up half a Reuben, opened my mouth as wide as possible, chomped down, and was oblivious to the juices dripping down my chin. What joy! Henry and K laughed and soon we were making headway through my idea of exotic food.
Jade collection Hong Kong Jewelry store
In addition to buying suits, I wanted to purchase a piece of jade. K’s sister had given us the name of a jeweler who was expecting us late that afternoon. He greeted us at the door to his shop and asked what I was looking for- beads, a bracelet, or necklace, or ring?
But I could not answer as my nose was pressed to a case filled with jade stones of all the colors and sizes. One in particular had caught my eye. It was three by two inches, oval in shape, with two cats, in a ying- yang position, beautifully carved into the stone. When I asked what the stone was used for, the jeweler replied it was often kept in pockets, where its owner rubbed it for good luck. When he placed the stone in my hands it was as cold as a mountain stream, its surface sleek as silk. It was a beautiful shade of emerald green, flawless and I had to have it.
We agreed on a price that included setting a gold bale at one end of the piece, allowing me thread it with a long gold chain and wear as a necklace. Whenever I wear it, I warm it in my hands, my thumbs massaging my ever-silky cats, my touchstone.
Too soon our time in Hong King came to an end. There was still so much to see; streets crammed with push carts of goods; and antique stores tucked into alleys; and restaurants famed for their food. But we were headed for China, far more mysterious in 1980, than China today. Come along!