Monday, November 7, 2011

Last Day in Hong Kong: Closing the Circle

Wednesday, May 25

On our final morning in Hong Kong, we got up early and headed to Kowloon Park in search of Tai Chi-ers and others demonstrating the combination of self-discipline and art.


As we walked the pathways past ponds and between lush areas of green, we were privy to moments of meditation and careful instruction. Beneath a tree, a cluster of people sat cross-legged on towels, their hands hovering and their eyes closed in meditation. One woman looked to her instructor for guidance, mimicking his posture and deep breathing. Further along our stroll we came across a simple gazebo placed out over a pond, inside of which another woman took Tai Chi lessons, the movements carefully controlled, yet elegant.

Everywhere we looked there were groups of women doing dance moves in unison and laughing, and people of all ages engaged in meditative poses. The air was calm and pleasant as we wandered among people enjoying the beautiful day and outside air.

Following the sound of music, we wound around to find a group of people laughing and talking while they played instruments and sang together. It didn't look to be anything official, just a casual coming together of friends in a park. We watched from the other side of a turtle pond for a while, and then I decided to approach for pictures.

I approached the group and waited to catch the eye of one of the women who'd been singing along to the music. Not wanting to assume anyone spoke English, I lifted my camera, then my eyebrows, and gestured to the group before me. The woman kind of laughed, then presumably told the rest I wanted to take their picture, and commenced leading the group in a boisterous song, clapping and smiling brightly at me. (In the picture above, she's the woman wearing the black shirt and blue pants, smiling at the camera.) Their instruments were varied and unfamiliar to me, which made it even better to watch. The sounds melded together in a flowing and flipping kind of song, and I was happy they let allowed me and my camera to be a part of their gathering for a few minutes.

Also, you gotta love the Phat Farm T-shirt :)

From there, we went in search of the famed Kung Fu Corner of the Sculpture Walk section of the Park. During certain times of the week there are wild demonstrations of traditional Chinese dances in this part of the Park, but we were just hoping for some more opportunities to watch people engaged in group Tai Chi classes. What we found when we got there was more than we'd expected, as different groups of people moved in unison around a courtyard lined with artistic sculptures. 

 From traditional Tai Chi, to Chinese fan dancing

One of my favorite spots was populated by one man practicing graceful sword movements, while a small group of women practiced Tai Chi moves nearby.

Just as it was at the Chi Lin Nunnery, the grounds of the Park were a calm and peaceful oasis surrounded by city buildings reaching into the hazy sky.

The coexistence of modern art and ancient practices in Kowloon Park was an inspiring thing to witness. We watched for a long while, moving about the open courtyard to spend some time in audience of each group.

At one point, an elderly man approached us and began talking to Chris, asking if this was our first visit to Hong Kong. Since it was, the man declared that this was to be our Hong Kong Honeymoon :) The man was so friendly and welcoming to us, and seemed genuinely glad to see visitors in his beloved city. It was nice. Since he'd mostly directed his attention toward Chris, I felt weird to ask to take his photo - so I wanted until he left to sneak one.

After the Park, we hopped a train back over to Hong Kong Island to walk the promenade along Victoria Harbour and see the Hong Kong version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Avenue of Stars. The part of the afternoon I most looked forward to was having High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, a very posh hotel many people recommended we not miss.

Tea was served in the front lobby of the hotel, but its lobby looked like that of a palace, complete with a string quartet playing in one of the upper balconies. The staff was friendly, despite our casual dress, and an afternoon tea ended up being our last meal in Hong Kong - an excellent note on which to end.

The tea was fabulous, and surprisingly reasonably priced. We ate fresh scones, cucumber sandwiches, and bits of cake, among other tasty treats on a three-tier platter. 

Back down on the Avenue of Stars, there was an art exhibit of interesting photos. As it was the end of the trip, I was running out of memory on the camera, so opted to take a picture of my favorite. The artist's photographs were unaltered, but taken in ways that challenged the viewer's eye. I wish I would have taken more pictures of his!

Every night at 8pm in Hong Kong there is a collaborative light show where different buildings participate to create a beautiful laser show across the harbor. It began with this gorgeous, traditional boat passing across the water.

A statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars

I'm not sure why we waited until our last night to see the light show, but it was a nice end to an amazing trip. We stayed until the lasers went out, until the promenade cleared and the night felt like ours.

Goodnight, Hong Kong. It's been swell.

In the morning, we would be catching a pre-dawn taxi to the airport to fly the final twelve hours back home to Germany, thus completing the circle that took us around the world.

From the adventurous and wild landscapes of New Zealand to the peaceful gardens nestled into this bustling and crowded city, experiences from this trip will remain fresh in our minds for a long time to come. I never imagined I'd actually circle the globe in one trip, but that just goes to show how amazing life can be. It's things like this that only make me look forward to what else life has in store.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Peace and Darkness

Tuesday, May 24

Good morning again, Kowloon.

view from our hotel - Victoria Harbour is hiding in the fog
Tuesday was blind museum day. Dialogue in the Dark is a museum exhibition where visitors are guided through every-day scenarios and settings as the visually impaired do - totally in the dark. ( Our guide was a blind man who gave us walking canes and led our small group (all Americans) through a house, a park, across a crowded city street, and into a cafe for a drink at the end. The museum is set up to simulate these experiences in order to show the seeing all the other ways they can interpret their surroundings without the use of sight. It was cool. Chris and I have done a blind dining experience in Berlin before, but this was a different animal.

Our guide demonstrated how you can tell the size of a room by the echo and quality of your voice bouncing off the walls. We listened to rain outside the window and could hear the difference as we walked from room to room in the small house. In the park, we could feel the grass turn to stones beneath our feet, and took turns crossing a small, wooden bridge that rose over a small stream. While in the park we were asked to identify the plant life around us. I kept finding myself getting pushed into the wall (fake park remember) by the shuffling people from South Carolina. They were very nice, but between one guy's glowing watch and their constant need to call out to find each other's exact location was a little irritating. There were 8 of us - no one was going to get lost. They were careful not to lose me or Chris, as well, which was nice of them. I'm not sure I was actually near Chris all that often, but we could keep tabs on each other well enough.

Crossing the street was interesting because we learned how such cities as this are equipped to help its blind citizens. At every crosswalk outside the museum, just as it was within it, there was a bumpy slab of concrete to let you know you're about to cross a street. The beeping coming from the crosswalk sign speeds up when it's safe to walk, and when your feet hit the bumps again, you know you're back on the sidewalk. I think one of my favorite parts of the experience was the movie theater. Everyone found a seat, bumping into one another and sometimes climbing over one another, and we sat in the darkness and listened to a series of instrumental pieces and songs, each one invoking a different kind of feeling. It's amazing how easily sound can conjure images in your head when you have nothing else to occupy your sight. After the show, we made our way to the cafe where we had to figure out how much cash we had (in Hong Kong dollars) if we wanted to buy a drink. Like Euros, the currency in Hong Kong utilizes coins for the smaller whole dollar amounts, so that was interesting. Hoping to challenge myself with fixing my coffee with cream and sugar, I was a little disappointed when I was handed a small can. I popped the top and had my coffee at a table with others from my group and we chatted with our guide about where we were from and what else we planned to do in Hong Kong.

In the end, Chris and I hung back to let the others from our group make their way out, so we never actually saw what they looked like. We did, however, know them immediately from their voices in the small grocery store across the way from the exhibition. We chose not to speak as we passed :)

After the exhibition we wandered around a different part of Kowloon through yet another serene city park where people did Tai Chi, fed the ducks, and relaxed on the benches.

We knew we weren't far from the Chi Lin Nunnery so we headed that way. A train ride later we were walking along a rather ugly stretch of city street, but then we climbed the steps to a bridge that'd been built across said roadway to bring visitors to the main entrance of the nunnery. Lined with Bonsai trees, it was a nice path.

From the moment we walked through the great wooden gate we were transported to another place. It was quiet in this courtyard despite the city groaning all around us. The noise from traffic honestly melted back and we were surrounded by ponds full of lily pads and Bonsai trees of all kinds arranged about this gated in oasis. It turned out we'd just missed visiting the inside of the nunnery, but that was fine because this was more than we'd expected to find.

We walked together and we walked separately around the garden, paying attention to the detail in the way the trees were trimmed and appreciating the stillness we both felt there. Buildings rose on either side of the beautiful structure that was the Chi Lin Nunnery, but we were wrapped in a cocoon of quiet. I could have stayed there for hours, but eventually the rain came and we moved on, happy to have found such a sweet moment in the middle of a very busy end of a huge trip.

By this time our stomachs were telling us it was time for food, and this night we decided to go for sushi. Being this close to Japan, it had to be good, right?
After a delicious meal of raw fish and lobster paired with things like caviar and mango, we headed to Hong Kong Island again to visit The Peak. Having seen what the view of the city looked like from high above as well as at sea level during the day, we wanted to see it at night, in hopes that the smog would be overtaken by the lights of the city.

The Peak Tram made for a fun ride to the top of the world over Hong Kong at such a crazy angle, it was a little scary. Apparently one of the world's oldest funicular railways, the Tram rises about 1300 feet and if you're not being pressed into your seat back, you'll be falling forward into it. 
The view of the city at night blew away the one we got during daylight hours. The smog that was unsightly by day created an eerie glow over the city by night. 
The Peak boasted floors and floors of shops and several restaurants with views of the city below, but we were just there to look. 

Playing camera wars with Chris - he's got a video of me.

I Love The Peak photo backdrop!

Finally, the end of day four and we'd made it to the highest point in Hong Kong. That night after we got back to the hotel we reorganized our tightly-packed luggage and packed a few boxes to ship home. It was a little sad knowing there was only one day left of our great adventure on the other side of the globe, but we were both feeling the effects of the go-go-go of travel and were looking forward to sleeping in our own bed.

But soon enough. One more day to go.