June 23, 2004
TRAVELS WITH MY CAMERA /ANU MALHOTRA
HONG KONG: THE CITY NEVER SLEEPS
AS I swish through roads crisscrossing each other at varying heights through the hillsides. I look out eagerly at Hong Kong Island. It’s like a vision of a futuristic city- the entire bay and hillsides of the main island are stacked with glittering steel and glass highrise, many architectural masterpieces glinting gold, blue and even silver. At night, they come alive like glittering jewels in an awesome sight.
It’s a beguiling city- the contemporary with its stunning modern architecture, glossy shops, sleek designer wares and apparel; and the traditional Chinese of raucous markets, smoky temples and street stalls. I love walking through the streets crammed with swishing trams, bustling shops and taking that peculiar smell of Hong Kong- an aroma of fresh seafood, Chinese herbs, perfume, vehicle fumes and body odour!
Almost 20 years ago, I had brought my little sister Simi here for a holiday. I recollect our excitement at exploring this fascinating city and feeling its ‘jizzy’ energy. This time, I am back for Simi’s delivery. She is going to have a baby! Much has changed in the Hong Kong, but the spirit is the same and the frenetic energy, palpable. On a nostalgic whim, Simi and I go to the Excelsior Hotel, where we had then stayed. This area, Causeway Bay, one of the original areas of British settlement in the 19th century, was where we had traipsed through then newly opened Japanese stores like Sogo, Mistsukoshi and tiny boutiques which sold fashion items, inspired from the Japanese catwalks. The local boutiques and their rude sales girls are mostly gone and today Causeway Bay is a flashy, up-market shopping area, with malls and boutiques, selling Italian and French labels. But the Jardine Lanes remain, where we jostle past cheap T-shirts, fake watches, bundles of underwear:
Simi has server food cravings, so often we go hunting for specific cuisines. One day, it’s Korean, where we eat delicious barbequed lamb and tofu soup. Another day, it’s at a local Chinese dim sum place, where she’s craving for the steamed bun, stuffed with barbequed pork, rice and minced meat wrapped in a lotus leaf. Some afternoon, she insists on High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, which has been served in the lobby, since the 1920s! We often eat from daipai dongs, noisy little market-stalls, selling an assortment of provisions and freshly cooked street food- fish balls threaded onto bamboo sticks, and dipped in chilly sauce, the wontons and freshly roasted chestnuts are our favourites.
Several evenings we eat out, in all sorts of restaurants. I particularly like the Peking Garden in Kowloon, and the “mazaa” is getting there by Star Ferry. The 10-minute ride is beautiful –sailing through water streaked with multicoloured lights reflecting off jeweled buildings. Kowloon is a shop-a-holic’s delight. Here, on Hongkong’s “golden-mile”, (Nathan Road), every consumer durable and designer label is sold, stolen or traded. We remember strolling through densely crowed markets –some devoted to market jade, goldfish and birds.
The lavishly decorated Tai Sin temple here, is dedicated to a mythical shepherd boy, with the power to heal. The temple, is popular with gamblers wishing for luck. There are fortune-tellers, who read fortunes from palms, feet or faces. Inside, I borrow a pot of bamboo prediction sticks and shake them till a number falls out which I exchange for a paper with a written prediction. “A bundle of joy awaits you!” I think, looking at my grown up baby sister- quite so!
- The best time to visit Hongkong, is between September to December.
- Visas can be obtained from Chinese Embassy, D-50, Shantipath, Chanakyapuri. Tel: 26112345; chinaembasssy.org.in
- Most international airlines run regular flights to Hongkong. The best way to travel to and from the airport is the Airport Express Rail Service.
- For enquires: Hongkong Tourism Board, C/o Mileage Communications (India) Pvt. Ltd. 30 Hauz Khas Village, (2/F). Tel: 26511423/1342, Website: www.tourismboard.com