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.

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