Monday, August 11, 2014

Hong Kong: Day One

I remember the first time I saw real, honest-to-goodness palm trees.  I was a sophomore in high school and had traveled to Phoenix, to march in the Fiesta Bowl Parade as part of the Southwest Iowa Honor Marching Band ( >hack< nerd alert!)  My parents had bought me a set of American Tourister luggage (the suitcase of which I've almost completely worn out, 20+ years later, which is 10 years longer than the Kodak Advantix camera they gave me for Christmas just before my second Fiesta Bowl), and those palm trees were a sign that I was a TRAVELER - I was definitely in a different place, because we sure as hell didn't have any in Iowa.
up...those...stairs....UGH!

There is a possibility that I have become jaded in my last ten years (OH, YES...TEN YEARS THIS MONTH!  more on that to come), because it takes more than palm trees to thrill me now.  It is possible that at one point in Hong Kong that I rolled my eyes at them, because they have now become a sign that I am TOO FREAKIN' HOT, because we sure as hell don't have any in Mongolia (at least, I don't think so...I suppose there could be some hiding out in the Gobi - I'll let you know next spring).  However, for the record, I did do things in Hong Kong beyond drink frappuccinos and bitch about how hot it is. On my first full day there, for example, I got up relatively early and headed up to Victoria Peak.

Unfortunately, there is something you need to know about my sense of direction, in case you ever have to go anywhere with me.  I brag about it a lot, for good reason:  if I've been a place once, I will find it again.  Even if I haven't ever been there, I have an innate feel for the cardinal directions and read a map pretty well, but sometimes I don't go directly where I intend to.  I like to think this is my subconscious' way of being open to new experiences, but the honest truth is that I don't always read my map as carefully as I should, and that is how I ended up in the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens rather than at the Peak Tram.  I got there in the end, and it was a useful detour, since one of my students expressed an interest in the zoo if we do end up having to go to Hong Kong, but it involved me going further uphill than I would have liked under the circumstances.
After my first frappuccino of the day at the top of the tram (I had yet to discover the Starbucks across the street from Chungking Mansions) I had a look around at the top and enjoyed the view, but didn't end up staying too long - I wasn't really in much of a hiking mood.  I had considered walking down, but my drenched clothes and battered feet convinced me that was crazy talk before I even went up.  So I took the tram back down, stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe I'd passed on my way up, and after a couple of cherry limeades and a burger, got back on the subway and took it east to Sheung Wan station.  I tortured myself with another hike up a hill (thinking optimistically that this would be a good springboard into hiking again once I got back to Mongolia) to Man Mo temple, because temple-hopping is one of those things I do (unlike beach-hopping, which would have been much smarter on this trip).

I don't know if it's another sign that I am becoming a jaded traveler, or just the fact that Hong Kong really isn't my speed, but I wasn't blown away by Man Mo Temple.  It was a nice change from the skyscrapers and shopping centers, but...well, I've been to some amazing temples and monasteries.  The 108 stupas around Erdene Zuu Khiid in Kharkhorin were stunning.  The quietness of the countryside around Chimi Lhakhang in Bhutan was an interesting contrast to the cult of the Divine Madman who founded it.  Don't even get me started on Tibet.  And I'm only comparing to Buddhist temples here - if I start thinking about other traditions, Man Mo temple can't hold a candle...or a butter lamp.

This is not to say I didn't like it.  I did.  The incense drifting on the air - in this case, from really cool spiral sticks calms me, and I loved standing in front of the huge fans that were working their hearts out to keep visitors cool.  But I didn't feel like it deserved a place on the Hong Kong Top Ten list.  Maybe my expectations were just too high. 

How do you finish a day like that?  With another frappuccino and watching Guardians of the Galaxy (fun movie with a great soundtrack - I couldn't wait to buy it on iTunes and it has now hijacked my brain) at the cinema across from Chungking Mansions.  Life doesn't get much better than that.

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