Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Markets of Kowloon

Sunday, May 22 - continued

After spending the first half of the day with the Ten Thousand Buddhas on the northernmost part of Hong Kong, the only piece actually on mainland China, we headed back to our hometown for the next few days to check out the markets. Walking around Hong Kong Island, it's not difficult to see the British influence left over from the days before Hong Kong was self-governed, but Kowloon is something different. If Hong Kong Island is more uptown, skyscraper office buildings, and trendy bistros, Kowloon is more downtown, urban, no space unused, local hole-in-the-wall eateries and street food. Kowloon is also known for its markets, to include the Lady's Market, Jade Market, Bird Market, Fish Market, and the Temple Street Night Market.

Once back on our side of town, we took to the busy streets made narrower by the stalls of the Lady's Market. Though we didn't do much shopping, it was an entertaining stroll.

From novelty thong underwear to knock-off designer handbags, bobble-head everything to clothing, keychains and toys to leather-bound journals and teasets, it was all among these stalls.

From here, we wandered through the congested streets, peeking in windows and snapping pictures like a couple of tourists at every turn.

The Yuen Po Street Bird Garden sounded much more magical in writing. I imagined actual gardens, you know, with green stuff growing around. I imagined elderly bird-lovers with their old, bamboo cages sharing conversation about their common love whilst feeding the wild birds who stopped by for a visit.
To my disappointment, it looked more like an outdoor bird shop. Rows and rows of bird cages stacked atop one another, many packed full of birds, greeted us instead of a garden. People sat with their birds in cages playing cards, but still, but it felt more like they were just trying to make a buck rather than share in their collective joy over birds. Am I still so naive that this was a let-down? I suppose I am. Being there reminded me of why I don't like most zoos - there's something inherently sad about staring at caged animals, and there's something poetically devastating about it when it's a bird. Sure, you can come down to buy yourself a winged pet at the Bird Garden, but that's really about it.

The only free birds in the whole garden.

The Fish Market and Flower Market were equally lacking in whimsy, but are certainly good places to go if you're actually in the market for fish or flowers. 
The cat wasn't for sale, but when the store lady saw me smiling at her kitty she swiftly scooped him up and posed for a photo. What made Chris stop making fun of me was the fact that more people then stopped to take his photo, too :)
Something we saw over and over again around Hong Kong were outdoor relaxation and wellness parks, wherein people can sit on a bench and read, play a little game of hit the birdie across the courtyard, and even practice Tai Chi. The park we came across while market-walking had all of this going on, and it was crowded with people lunching and watching games, if they weren't involved somewhere. 

I'd really wanted to take Tai Chi in college, but it was always full. Next best thing - using Tai Chi machines in a public park in Hong Kong! The coolest part about it was the fact that people actually use them! The more time we spent in this great city, the more elderly people we saw exercising all over the place. It made us stop and wonder how old some of these people really were. Often, the lines on their faces and the movements of their bodies told two entirely different stories. 

Before long we found ourselves walking past the stalls of yet another market, this one of the produce variety. I'm pretty sure the yellow, spiky melons are durians, supposedly the king of fruits - if you can get past the horrendous stink of the flesh. We did not partake.
The dragon fruit, on the other hand, was delicious and mild, its flesh white and pear-like with black specks. 
Having seen loads of people walking around with milky-looking drinks with dark blobs in the bottom, we decided to check out this strange phenomenon. It's called Bubble Tea, and apparently it's become rather popular in some places in the States. Having never heard of these before, we bought one each. The thing about Bubble Tea is that the straw is super wide to allow the globs in the bottom to be sucked up into your mouth whilst you enjoy your beverage. These chewy balls of tapioca starch (we later learned) were novel at first, but once we were halfway through our milky teas, we wished we'd passed this stand by. Our stomachs became so full so quickly of these increasingly gross little globs, we threw half the tea out and groaned for the next half hour. This is a big business and the salesgirl was super nice, but Bubble Tea? Not for me.

Our last market of the night was the night market on Temple Street, appropriately named the Temple Street Night Market. The items for sale were all but the same as what we saw at the Lady's Market, but with more produce. There were also places along the street where tiny kitchens had set up plastic tables and chairs on which to serve their fare. Steaming trays of dim sum, barbecued pork and plenty of noodles waved hello at us as we walked by, the nightmare of Bubble Tea beginning to leave us, replaced by hunger.

Fortune-teller row, call it the Psychic Market, where people said they could see your future through use of everything from the lines on your palms to tea leaves to birds. I was really tempted, but ended up not stopping in to take a peek at my future. It was time to find some food and head back to the hotel to crash after a very long day.

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