For the first time in ten years, I booked myself into a hostel. One lone tear slid down my cheek as I realized there would be no tuxedoed chaffeur to greet me at the airport. Instead, I hoisted my heavy and growing-heavier hiker's backpack on my back, dragged my leaden suitcase and two carry-on pieces up the four flights of escalators to the subway station. I pondered taking a taxi to my hostel, but only briefly; somehow that would have been cheating.
I checked in to the Hong Kong hostel with more fanfare than I ever would have expected at a hotel when the hostel owner coyly remarked, "Patricia if you need anything, anything at all, please call me." And I nearly did call him when I was led to a room in the center of a corridor. In the center of a corridor that had no windows. My tiny 8x8 windowless room was fitted with a box spring, two petrified pillows, and a make-up stand. Honestly, what more could I have wanted? Despite the meagre surroundings, I jubilantly unpacked and headed out for a long walk into town.
I estimated my journey into town to be a 45-minute walk. 90 minutes later, I was dripping in sweat, and only just crossing into the outskirts of where I wanted to be. I'd been too amused to notice. On my way, I'd passed the usual roast meat stalls, shops overflowing with trinkets and bath products (side-by-side of course), and advertisements for beauty care. My favorite was a sign offering "Yacuum Ear-Cupping" for the princely sum of HK$80, or USD10. I don't know what "yacuum ear-cupping" is, and there was something really, really nice in not finding out.
Although I was exhausted, I did not sleep so much like a rock, but on a rock, so hard was my boxspring mattress. I rose early and decided to do something I'd always wanted to do: walk, yes on foot, to The Peak. The Peak is Hong Kong's most-visited tourist attraction. A tram slowly trundles visitors 373 meters from the Botanic Gardens to the top. It is said that the Peak Tram has been built on an incline so steep that buildings appear to be leaning at a 45-degree angle. On my way up, I asked directions from a stranger. He eyed me with sympathy. "Well," he solemnly said with what appeared to be mist in his eyes, "good luck to you."
At the entrance to the steepest part of the walk, I noticed some graffiti on a side wall. "I loved her and she lied, cheated, and stole." Then, "I really loved her." Finally, the conclusion to this madman's prose: "Love, now contempt." Well, at least this was an ideal place for a suicide, I thought. Another sign posted suggested I allow 30 minutes for the remainder of the ascent. I scoffed; it would take a geriatric 30 minutes to walk this last short distance. 30 minutes later, I arrived, red and sweaty.
I spent a few hours at the top, taking notes and photos. The sky in Hong Kong was a rare brilliant blue, and I could see 270 degrees around me. I drank in the sights, two soy milkshakes, and descended. As usual, the descent was far worse than the ascent. My too-small Mongolian shoes were pinching my toes so badly that I timed my steps to Rachmaninoff 3, just to keep my mind on a quick pace, and my mind off my feet. Needing some respite, I stopped at the Botanic Gardens. I lazily observed rare spotted orchids (nice, but the air-conditioning in the greenhouse was nicer), and a smiling orangutan, who pulled his lips apart to make a face at me when I waved at him.
My first stop on my way back to my hostel was a Nike shop. In about a nano-second, I purchased a new pair of shoes that actually fit, and unceremoniously dumped my Mongolian shoes in the nearest trash can. My second stop would prove to be the most amusing of any experience I've had yet in my many trips to this island.
In a desperate search for food, I walked several miles looking for a meat stall that serves, among other things, roasted pork and greens. Earlier, I thought I had seen one of these small stalls on a corner near my hostel, racks of succulent meat hanging from window hooks, a smiling local beckoning me inside. I frantically traced and retraced my steps looking for that same smiling man carving pork in his shop window, but to no avail. Hungry and somewhat despondent, I gave up. Poked my head into a tiny crowded local restaurant. A Chinese man held up two fingers. "No," I mouthed, "just one." He motioned me inside, led me through a crowd of lcoals, and seated me at a table with a Chinese family. Err, slightly uncomfortable, I thought.
The Chinese family did not acknowledge me. "Hello..." I said a bit bashfully. No response. I called the waiter over and ordered the first thing on the menu. A few moments later, their food came: roasted pork! My dish arrived, looking grey and sickly. I begged the waiter to change my food to what they were having. He obliged and I tucked into the delicious roasted pork dish I'd been dreaming of all day. I drained my tea glass and helped myself to what I thought was a communal tea pitcher. As I poured it into my glass, I noticed that the communal tea seemed sort of lumpy and viscous. Too thirsty to take serious notice, I took a huge gulp. The communal tea was actually communal sweet & sour sauce. I giggled and apologized to my eating companions. No response. I called the waiter over and asked for water. "Coke?" he said. Err, no, I wanted water. "Hot water?" No I didn't want hot water, but I got it anyway. A glass of boiling water with one lone (and quickly disappearing) ice cube. The mother and daughter of the Chinese family abruptly departed, leaving me alone with Dad, which made an uncomfortable situation nearly unbearable. I gave him a wan smile; he patently ignored me, again. I breathed a sigh of relief as he hurried himself out the door.
I bagged my leftovers for breakfast and waddled back to my hotel, passing on my way a Falun Gong rally protesting the Chinese government's plans for the "Final Solution" of Falun Gong members. The protest included a demonstration of what Falun Gong believes to be the Chinese government's solution: removal of internal organs for sale on the black market. True or not, the demonstration was quite involved: a surgeon, scalpel in hand, slowly mimed his intention to remove a patient's organs. The actors were dressed in full costume: scrubs, scalpels, caps. Creepy. Exhausted, I returned to my hostel and fell into a deep sleep. A few hours later, I was dining with friends at Hong Kong's number one restaurant. Although my crab souffle and Sauvignon Blanc were delicious, I kind of missed the hectic experience I'd had at the pork restaurant earlier in the day. If I return to any one establishment while I'm here, it will be to my unfriendly pork shop. Maybe I'll even make friends with the same unfriendly family...