Hong Kong: Gardens

Updates from yesterday: my Hong Kong expert tells me pigs are considered auspicious for weddings, because - back in the day - it was seen as positive that they produce large litters. Thus the jewelry. She also says there are LESS watch and jewelry stores now than there were a few years ago. They cater to tourists, specifically ones from the mainland. And the locals hate them, because the stores can pay a high rent and drive out more local shops. All of which brings in to question my comment about this being a brand-obsessed city: that may be caused by the shoppers from the mainland.

Another friend sent me a review of the 40+ best coffee places in Hong Kong. N1 wasn't on it, which is interesting. But this led to me poking around that website a bit, and finding a piece on food experiences to change your life for under $100: "Warm Soy Milk: ... this is a winter-only treat brought out by 7 Eleven. To us, it is a harbinger for all that is good about the chilly season. We don our faux-fur coat as the temperature drops to an unsettling 21 degrees, and amble into the 7 Eleven, considerately placed every three meters in Hong Kong. You have to look for the small chest that looks like it should house ice cream, but in actual fact is a warm bath for your malted and original soy milks from Vitasoy. They’re such a treat on the way to work, as the wind blows and the char siu bao bakes first thing in the morning." ( http://www.afoodieworld.com/posts/3218-17-foods-that-will-change-your-life-for-under-100 ) This quote says so much about the city ...

The hotel had a comedy fire alarm at midnight last night. I call it that on the assumption that it seemed amusing to the person who pulled the alarm. It was an education in the Hong Kong approach to fire safety: the noise and flashing light was all out in the hall, and not nearly as attention-getting as we expect a fire alarm to be in North America. And when it ended, it just cut off mid-announcement. They didn't bother to say "this was a false alarm, you don't actually need to leave the building." I called the desk to check (and the phone line WASN'T jammed, which also says something ...).

This morning I had breakfast at the very popular A-Plus Kitchen. I ordered ham and macaroni, which turns out to be a soup of sorts. It came with a side of fried egg, croissant, and "sausage" (I know a hot dog when I see one). The ham and macaroni was not, I'm afraid, a big hit with me (it was fine, just not great). Their coffee machine was broken so I chose "Hong Kong Style Milk Tea" over instant coffee: very strong tea heavily diluted with milk. Again, fine but not a favourite. A common practise here is to drop the bill on the table moments after you've ordered: you're expected to pay at the cash after you've eaten, but it seems practical to me: it'll reduce disputes about what you ordered, and in this case it came with the local Wifi password.

photo: Touch the Dragon before you enter Sik Sik Yuen

Several people all trying to touch a brass dragon at the entrance to Sik Sik Yuen Temple

After breakfast I went to Sik Sik Yuen Temple, the city's main/most popular Daoist Temple. I think I got a bus-load or two of tourists: it was quieter by the time I left. I was fascinated by the mix of high tech and old religion: people dragging their luggage while they clutched incense, or consulting their phone after consulting the fortune teller. That said, I spent 15 minutes with my camera pointed right at the centre of the action and I didn't manage to record a single person bowing with their incense sticks while still holding their phone. There was one guy - but he was behind a couple other people, and I couldn't quite catch an image. The incense troughs are tended by a bored-looking man who uproots the incense within five minutes of its being placed by the worshippers, and tosses it into a huge burner that's got a roaring fire in it. I don't know what he was doing with the fruit and other food that was left.

The temple itself is garish, well kept up and quite attractive.

photo: Good Wish Garden

A lovely waterfall against a backdrop of apartment blocks

Probably my favourite feature after the chaos of the temple was the attached "Good Wish Garden," which is another lovely garden that makes good use of relatively limited space with water features and craggy stones and stairs and little bridges. It's towered over by ... well, towers. But there were Koi and turtles and quiet, just a nice place to spend some time.

From there I walked to Nan Lian Garden, which has me somewhat confused about the distinction between Chinese and Japanese gardens: full of perfectly stunted and twisted trees. And a gold pagoda in a pond with small orange arched bridges, and lots of stones. It's considerably larger and better maintained than the slightly scruffier "Good Wish Garden," and is a really wonderful place. Free, too. It's attached to - and maintained by - the Chi Lin Nunnery, the whole complex an oasis of quiet in the midst of Hong Kong, particularly startling as it's surrounded on all sides by freeway, overpasses, and major roads. The nunnery was apparently built quite recently (in the last 20-30 years), but it's built in wood in a centuries old style. Very lovely, very Buddhist, big gold Buddha statues in the main buildings.

photo: The Chi Lin Nunnery

The old-fashioned and lovely main courtyard of the nunnery

Off to the nearby Hollywood Mall for a very late lunch: most of the food options were either confusing or extremely expensive or both, so I ended up at Pizza Hut as I was damned if I was going to walk any further without a good long sit-down. It was a dull meal, but that's the price you pay for needing rest more than culinary discovery.

A visit to Fortress - a local electronics / computer chain - showed me that a slightly lesser version of the laptop I'm carrying is still available here. That's the Asus UX305, but theirs had a 1920x1080 display (rather than the 3200x1800 I have). Otherwise same specs, and it's selling for $7500HK. That's well over $1000, and as I bought the next notch up for $650CA 11 months ago ... a rather poor deal. The Rough Guide warns about thinking you'll get deals on electronics. They say Fortress is reliable: not cheap, but not terribly expensive either. So that's definitely a hint to not shop for computers here.

I noticed that the Science Museum was open until 1900, so I'd have enough time to look around. I headed half way across town - only to find they're now closed on Thursdays. This may truly be the end of my time with Rough Guide: they're too unreliable / out-of-date. As I've mentioned previously, I like their descriptions and their choices of what sites and monuments to list better than Lonely Planet (which I think is the only other really worthwhile guidebook). But being up-to-date is a MAJOR consideration in a guidebook, and chasing RG's inaccurate descriptions to closed venues and restaurants across several cities has kind of pissed me off.

Up to the 40th floor to do my writing and watch the Symphony of Lights.

And tomorrow, I get together with Daniel. How weird is that? He's a Toronto resident, also 11 time zones away from home. It's very strange to see a friend so out of context - but also a real pleasure, and I look forward to it.