Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feeling the pulse of a city

An afternoon spent meandering around the bylanes of SoHo, one of the really cool neighbourhoods in the city. Streets that are on a steep incline. Small friendly boutiques. Interesting restaurants. But today it was mostly about the people.

I shopped today hence all the interaction with people. Very cool boutique shops - paper, leather, vintage clothing and accessories, you name it, they got it.

Great customer care and every so friendly. And the language, everything from propah Queen's to broken 'you want, you try, you take' kind of English. Quaint little restaurants called 'Yorkshire Pudding' with signage like a London Tube station.

And an art gallery called Madhouse with interesting contemporary art from artists all around the world.

And outside the gallery's entrance this.

I tried some amount of street photography and here are the results.

Hong Kong is grey today. Mist surrounds the tops of the skyscrapers. Gentle inconsequential rain. A different side to this totally fascinating city.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Of cannons and teacups

Three stops today and all involved museums. First a Folk Museum, which involved an ethnic Chinese Hakka house. Then a museum, which is a converted fort with lovely views of Hong Kong, and then a Museum that dealt with tea ware. And if you thought tea ware isn’t interesting, well then think again!

The Law Uk (uk means house) Folk Museum is essentially two houses – one of which was shut when I visited – which tell the Hakka story. The Hakkas are ethnic Chinese who settled in Hong Kong but by the 1960’s, all their villages were eaten up by urban redevelopment. This house is a remnant of the Hakka's material culture. Ps, trivial fact: Chow Yun-Fat is Hakka :)

It’s not much to look at although they did have great signage and literature relating to the museum.

Inside the museum they have artefacts depicting household items. Literally the two small windows you see are the only windows in the whole house. This was apparently to guard against thieves. Interestingly in two of the rooms there were lofts which were used for storage and as bedrooms for children.

On the right is the staircase leading up to the loft

In fact looking at the whole area, it is easy to see how looming house estates can overtake identity and culture.

These buildings look squeezed in, don't they?

My next stop was the Museum of Coastal Defence. I had been recommended this museum not on account of the artifacts but because of the wicked views of Hong Kong. The museum is itself startling – looming over the visitor and greeting us with tanks and cannons.

A more unlikely Nina I haven't seen

The Viewing Platform was shut unfortunately but I managed to get these views.

The haze corrupts most views quite well :(

The Museum’s name is self-explanatory and it dealt mainly with how Hong Kong protected itself through the centuries. But one of the more interesting things I read about was an amazing adventure which involved the daring escape of 50 British Navy men with a one-legged Chinese Admiral when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong. That exhibition titled 'Escape from Hong Kong - Road to Waichow' was like a page turner. Each panel did the job of being the ‘omg, what’s going to happen next’ bit in your head. And believe it or not, the descendants of all the marines that escaped put together this exhibition to commemorate their bravery and courage.

The 2nd interesting thing was that Japan apparently fought a war with Russia during WWII. I mean you consider the length and breadth of that tiny little country and you wonder how on earth did they manage! In the end, it really does come down to the people, doesn't it?

The afternoon’s heat was getting to me and I headed out towards cooler climes, my hotel. But I had promised myself at the start of the day that I would finish the Museum of Teaware today. Boy am I glad that I went there. Tea seems to be a big pre-occupation here, much like in India. The museum had a video, which demonstrated how tea should be poured aside from the pictorial representations. Did you know you were supposed to use a bamboo whisk to prepare the tea?

And check out the insanely creative teaware I saw at the museum.

They have competitions to select the best ones every year believe it or not! There were such pretty tea cups for sale – my practical side had to fight very firmly with my shopaholic side :)

I ended up my day with some very fine duck at one of the better restaurants in Central (somewhat like South Mumbai where all the businesses are). Actually, last night was an extravagant night gastronomically - you name the meat, I ate it :)

The night lights in Kowloon are flickering away merrily...night is truly here.

Once upon a time in Hong Kong

The sun sets on Hong Kong harbour. The day’s memories rush back. Aching feet and long walks under the hot sun. Hong Kong is loud and chaotic. The MTR (their version of the Metro) is filled with people talking on their cell phones. It is not frowned upon as it is in Japan.

My first breath of Hong Kong air was green. It was at the Hong Kong Park and boy was that a fun thing to do. Spring time flowers, an aviary with colourful birds flying around the top of my head. I didn’t bother to read the names of the birds – they seemed inconsequential to me. The colour and their chirps filled my camera lens and ears.

Note that the Park is in the midst of what looks like skyscraper district. Reminds me a lot of Shinjuku in Tokyo but here the buildings seem to hold sway over everything they view.

I had expected to see the Museum of Teaware, which came strongly recommended. Unfortunately shut on Tuesdays but apparently the oldest Western building in all of Hong Kong.

I urged my feet onward to the Peak. Victoria Peak commands a superfantabulous view of the Hong Kong skyline. There were (what seemed like) at least fifty Spanish tweens chattering away waiting for the ride. The ride upwards in the Peak Tram was somewhat stomach churning. I was amazed that people were walking alongside the Tram in certain places given how steep the climb was.

Reaching the top, the first thing they send you through is the Peak Market – some ten souvenir shops all lined up in a row and selling exactly the same things, not forgetting the ubiquitous ‘I love Hong Kong’ tee-shirts too. You go up at least 6 floors before you hit the Sky Terrace but the view is absolutely gorgeous give or take the famous Hong Kong haze.

Another stomach churning ride followed downwards – really the Tram’s incline is insanely steep. My Lonely Planet tells me that when the two British gentlemen who built it, declared so, they were met with scorn and derision. It took them three years and in one swoop, they got rid of the sedan-chair option that had prevailed earlier.

A quick lunch and then Kowloon beckoned. Kowloon has been described as Hong Kong’s poor sister. But with her mass of humanity, cultural features and interesting old style architecture, she sure puts up a good fight.

Chi Lin Nunnery is my next stop. Set against high rises, this building with intricate carvings and tall, really tall Buddha statues gets most people on their knees. Bonsai gardens and lotus filled ponds add to the whole atmosphere.

I then walked into what I can only described as one of the most repulsive piece of architecture ever. Take a look at it and if your opinion differs, please let me know. The Nan Lian Garden was otherwise interesting. Rockery, bonsai, waterfalls but this piece of architecture really made it into a highlight for me.

Wong Tai Sin Temple was next. Colorful, with interesting statues, and people praying with joss sticks really kick started my first temple visit in Hong Kong.

I paid the $2 and entered a ‘Garden of Wishes’ to the haunting tunes of what sounded like a Chinese clarinet (Do those exist?).

Peace from the maddening crowd at the Temple. Nodded head at two really old Chinese men who walked by me who nodded back. One even said ‘Hi’ really loudly! :)

By now, I am regretting that I gave into my fashion sense and wore my pretty white chappals instead of sensible shoes for all the walking around I was doing. I was tempted to head back to the hotel but persevered and ended up having a great time walking around the markets of Kowloon. And she has plenty of those – a Goldfish Market, Flower Market, Ladies Market, Temple Street Night Market and a Bird Market too.

My trusty LP had suggested a route but I decided to wander around instead which turned out to be more fun. Am sure I missed a market or two but walking amidst the crowd and figuring where your best buy was going to be was a great experience too. The Bird Market was quite sad and err smelled to the nth degree. Birds in cages, chirping around were a direct contrast to where I stood in the morning, watching the birds flying around in a much more freer fashion.

Back at the hotel, Kowloon’s lights are coming on strong and steady. Soon the skyline will be filled with hundreds nay thousands of twinkling stars from the skyscrapers on the other side.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs I am assimilating

I met an elderly gentleman today from my building at the elevator. I bowed my head and said 'kombanwa' (evening time greeting here). I gestured to him to enter first when the elevator doors opened and said 'dozo' (you please). When he left the elevator at the floor below mine, both of us chimed together and said 'o-sakini' (sort of I am leaving before you).

Unremarkable as it seem, this whole 2 minute incident left me with a big grin on my face. It's always the little things, I tell you.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A 28 year wait

(All credits CricInfo)

So long we have waited and then destiny smiled a big fatass grin :)

I was 2 years old when we won the World Cup for the first time. That image of Kapil Dev spraying that champagne has now been replaced by Sachin being carried around the grounds at Wankhede and a team so happy and proud that they had done it for Sachin and their country. Dhoni did a remarkable job of leading the way and I am sooooo happy that our time has finally come.

I watched the match with my husband in Tokyo where he kept telling me 'don't yell so much' at 2 in the morning. My friends across the globe were mailing every time a wicket fell or we scored. When Sehwag and Tendulkar fell, most of us thought we were done for. But I really believed, it was time we won the Cup.

Kudos to the team for making it and giving us Indians a chance to feel proud of our cricketing feats. This image kinda says it all :D

(All credits CricInfo)