Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hong Kong, Day Two

Even though I'd gone to bed fairly early — before midnight — I managed to sleep until nearly 8 the next morning. Another way that Hong Kong is more Western than it's Chinese is that the inhabitants don't start their day at the crack of dawn (due, I suppose, to how late they stay up). My room was on the second floor, overlooking the street — I hadn't had the presence of mind to request a higher floor when I checked in — and I'd worried about street noise waking me up early (as had been the case in Macau); but the block was surprisingly quiet.

After checking out, I'd thought of getting some congee (rice porridge), since that's what they have for breakfast in all the classic Hong Kong gangster films. But then I remembered that I don't even like congee, so I headed for a nearby coffee shop on Nathan Road instead, where I scanned the latest issue of Time and relaxed to the sounds of smooth jazz. And I felt my first slight twinge of Christmas spirit when they played Ella swinging "Rudolph."

My next stop was going to be the Hong Kong Museum of Art, but it didn't open until 10, which left me with nearly an hour to kill. So I headed for a Starbucks down on Salisbury Road, where I got another cup of coffee, grabbed a Herald-Tribune, and took them over to the harbor promenade. It may not have been as spectacular in the daylight as it had been the night before, but sitting by the water enjoying that great view on a balmy late-November morning, sipping a cup of Joe and reading an actual newspaper rather than a computerized simulation, I experienced a near-transcendent sense of well-being.

The art museum turned out to be hosting a fairly spectacular traveling exhibition of Treasures from the British Museum, but I was nearly as impressed by the permanent collections — devoted entirely to Chinese art — which included calligraphy, painting, and a chronological, well-annotated survey of the nation's ceramics. A gallery on the top floor (which had a nice view of the harbor) was devoted to southern-Chinese painters from Guangdong province.

To the east on the promenade is a fairly new Avenue of the Stars, which consists mostly of slabs in the walkway devoted to the leading lights of the Hong Kong film industry, a la Hollywood Boulevard, many of which include handprints in cement, a la Grauman's Chinese (ah—there's the connection) Theatre. Surprisingly, although they have stars, many of the most prominent figures, such as Wong Kar-Wai, haven't gotten around to making their handprints yet.

By this point, I had exhausted all the must-do activities I'd planned and was beginning to run out of steam. So I walked back toward the ferry terminal by way of Kowloon Park (urban Hong Kong doesn't have nearly as many parks as Macau; this one is a welcome escape from the hectic scene on nearby Nathan Road), an HMV store (where I nearby bought a non-bootleg copy of Jia Zhangke's first feature until I realized that the package didn't indicate whether it was subtitled), and Harbour City, an enormous shopping mall where I'd noticed an inexpensive all-Asian food court (Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian) when I was here a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I picked wrong and had a barely palatable plate of pad Thai; the view of the harbor was nice, though (even if it looked out at Kowloon rather than Central).

I caught a ferry that got me back to Zhuhai by 5. Despite the common language and short geographic distance, the culture shock couldn't have been much greater if I'd been returning from New York or Paris. After the modern commercial and cultural Mecca of Hong Kong, Zhuhai's grubbiness struck me as disconcerting and off-putting. But by the time I caught the bus back to the campus I'd regained my bearings and my affection for the city — crass as it may be compared to its more glamorous neighbor — was beginning to return.

No comments: