Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hong Kong: February 24, 2011

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All material including photographs are ©2011 Ronald Dunlap / Doglight Studios

I walked out of the hotel into a morning of azure-blue skies. My agenda had called for a return trip to Wong Tai Sin, but due to the unexpected improvement in the light, my plans needed to be revamped. But before I could do any revamping, I needed an energy infusion; and the most convenient place to do that was my local Burger King.

I climbed the stairs to the second-floor establishment and got in line. After paying my HKD 23 and receiving my allotment of eggs and bacon, I found an empty table. I savored each morsel of my food and every drop of my Diet Coke. Most of the times I've been here, the dining room has been filled, mostly with single patrons. It's a good place to be anonymous and to people-watch from your second-floor perch.

After my meal, I hopped down to street level and headed south. The sidewalks were fairly crowded. I wasn't sure if there was some special event going on or if it was just the cosmic collusion of unusual start times. My march to the ferry was slowed by my puritan impulses to make a record of my fellow walkers.

On the ferry ride over, there were still a few low-hanging clouds bumping the financial towers of the city. I was hoping that by the time I was up at the top of the peak, they would have burned off.

The paved area just outside the Star Ferry House is a major tourist transportation hub. Most of the city bus lines make stops here, as well as a good portion of the city's taxis. A couple of days before, I had spotted a direct bus to the peak, and I was going to try it out this morning. I dragged my Octopus card across the bus's sensor and took the stairs to the upper deck. After about a 10-minute wait, the advertisement-splashed double decker began to wind its way through Hong Kong's morning traffic.

Except for the tourists, most of the riders were working class. Dressed in either household-staff costumes or black, middle-management suits, their faces were in direct contrast to those of the contingent of foreign visitors. Consumed by the same boredom that commuters know worldwide, they were headed for jobs that put food on the table but left little in the way of meaningful interludes.

The bus ride takes a little over 20 minutes, which is a lot longer than the tram, but I'm enjoying the experience. It's a great vantage from which to view the unfathomable intricacies of Hong Kong's elevational layout.

The peak is crowned with two shopping malls. The south mall is connected with the tram, and the north is built over the bus depot. After I exited the bus, it took me a good 10 minutes to work my way up through the north mall and out to the public vista area. There is also another "pay to play" overlook at the top of the north mall that's a good 50 feet higher than the public area.

If you ride the tram, as part of your ticket you get admission to the north mall's observation deck; otherwise, you need an additional ticket to gain access. Since I'd ridden the bus up, I was completely oblivious of this requirement, and after I'd taken the five escalators all the way up, they denied me entry. I asked if I could just buy a ticket there, but No-o-o-o-o, I had to ride back down and get the ticket somewhere on a lower level. Well, that pissed me off, and I rode back down and exited back out into the public area.

From here you can still get a pretty good view of the city, and I figured it would have to do. There was still a lot of haze in the distance, and I didn't think the view would have been any better from the "pay to play" deck. There is a walking path that leads around the top and supposedly back down to the city. You can use the first portion to get some different angles and shots of the megalopolis with a little vegetation as a foreground element. I took several shots, then waited around another 45 minutes in hopes that the haze would lift. It didn't, but I kept on shooting. Once sated, I began walking back to the bus stop. About halfway through the north mall, I spied a restaurant specializing in spaghetti. They were only half full, so I swept in and had my daily allowance of "Bolognese."

I caught the 1:30 bus back to town. The bus was mostly filled with workers going home, and unfortunately, somebody needed to get off at almost every stop, which bumped the trip duration from 20 to 35 minutes. On the way down, you pass the Hong Kong (Happy Valley) Cemetery. It really looks interesting, but regrettably I didn't have the time to get back there. On my next visit it will be one of my first stops.

I rode the ferry back and forth across the harbor a few times, trying to get some photos of the boat's interior without passengers. It looks totally different without its human cargo, very "Edward Hopper."

It was just a little after 3, and I wanted to sit in the sun for a while. Not far from the ferry house on the Kowloon side, I found a bench on the promenade. It's hard for me to relax and enjoy the moment. I'm driven to work continually; that next great image might be just around the corner.

While I was sitting there, several more people wanted pictures. It's like I'm one of the Disney characters, or some kind of "old white traveler" mascot. I did the usual, and we traded taking pictures. These folks were from everywhere, Dubai, Singapore, Korea, Japan, even a group of Hong Kong school kids doing a "what tourists like" survey. Hong Kong seems to be one of the most congenial leisure destinations for many from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

At four I made my way back to Raja Fashions. Again, I had to wait a few minutes for my suit to arrive from where they actually do the work. The jacket fit everywhere except the arms. I couldn't really flex them without putting a real strain on the seams. I knew that after a while they would rip out. The salesperson was getting pissed, but I was adamant about wanting them corrected. The tailor got between us and said not to worry, he'd do his best to correct the problem. I was getting bored with this process that's supposed to be a pleasant endeavor. It was more like a debate club where I paid all the bills.

They wanted me to come back at 7, but I told them I'd be back at 11 tomorrow for my "last" make-it-or-break-it fitting. I left them and walked around the area a bit, grabbing shots.

A couple of blocks away, I took what I feel is the best shot of the trip. In his steaming glass kitchen, a master chef was cooking up a storm. Moving in and out of the steam, he seemed like a chrome-framed apparition, with the yellow hanzi characters giving the image a real cinematic (with sub-titles) feel. I spent a good 15 minutes in front of his window, shooting away in hopes of catching just the right moment. There's something about this shot that defines the way I see the world. It's a hard and monotonous struggle, but if you approach it in the right light, it can be beautiful.