Monday night, after he finished work, Jordan met me at my hotel. It was fantastic to see him! He took me to dinner (and paid for it!) at Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum restaurant and Hong Kong's only Michelin starred restaurant. We ordered way too much food for a ridiculously low price. The evening was delicious - the food, the surroundings, and mostly talking with Jordan. My two kids are among the funniest people I know. I've been interested in listening to Jordan's insights about his experiences and place in life. Both of my children seem much wiser than I was at their ages (and undoubtedly more mature!).
Jordan also took me to buy an "Octopus" card, which is what is used here to get around on the subway and buses. Sort of like Boston's "Charlie card." The Charlie card has a story behind how it was named, so I suppose the Octopus card must as well. Note to self: google that.
After dinner, we walked through Jordan's neighborhood, call Sham Shui Po. It is one of Hong Kong's poorer neighborhoods, and relatedly, more affordable, which is all relative in Hong Kong. The buildings were, by and large, old and in disrepair. The streets were crowded, which wasn't unique, but there was a decidedly more gritty feel in the streets of Sham Shui Po. The cockroaches crawling out of a sewer drain nailed that home, though they don't limit themselves to that neighborhood. There were tons of stalls lining the sidewalks selling all sorts of goods (I'd name some, but I was getting awfully tired), and an endless number of tiny dining establishments with open air counters, where you would order your food, facing the street. The smells were amazing. I loved Sham Shui Po!
The weather here is super right now - high seventies and dry.
The streets seem to have alcoves more than they do storefronts - not only in Jordan's neighborhood, but all over. We passed a small alcove with about 6 men sitting around a small table, playing mah jong and smoking. They wore intense expressions as they played their tiles. The air was full of smoke, creating a scene that felt heavy and ethereal all at once. The photog in me really wanted to stop and grab a photo, but I did catch in one of the guide books that photographing mah jong games is a major no-no. I don't know why.
Jordan walked me to his building, where his apartment is situated on the fourth floor, above a "computer arcade," which isn't games but a store full of electronics (if I'm recalling correctly). There's a tiny entrance where a security guard sits, and a rickety elevator that brings Jordan to his apartment. We couldn't go in since Jordan had left his key back in the hotel room, but we'll go back at some point.
I'm doing OK with adjusting to the new time zone, as long as I grab a late afternoon nap. It gets easier every day.
Jordan is staying with me at my hotel, which for him is a real break from Sham Shui Po! Free breakfast each morning, a gym, and a pool/hot tub which neither of us has yet visited.
Tuesday I visited two temples, navigating the subways and streets on my own, with help from various people on the street. While in general, no one here makes eye contact with me (and if they do, they do not smile!), but when I've approached people to ask for assistance, everyone has been extremely kind and helpful. Despite English being tauted as an official language here, second of course to Cantonese, I am finding very few people who have much English language capability. It's helpful that I can point to a map on my phone to show them where I'm trying to go, and with some body language and a few words, they are able to get me going in the right direction. I have really appreciated all the help! So, although I don't get a warm fuzzy feel from the people here, they are always eager to lend a hand if I ask.
One other observation is that you really have to stay alert while you are moving about this city, because 3/4 of the pedestrians are playing games or watching videos on their phones while they are walking, heads down, and they don't look up! It's pretty much a nonstop frogger game over here in Hong Kong.
My first stop on Tuesday was to the Nan Lian Garden, a Tang-style park space with a golden pagoda, koi ponds, bonsai trees and rockeries. The whole place felt like a fairy tale. I spent a good hour just taking it in and of course taking photos.
The Chi Lin Nunnery is adjacent to the Garden. The nunnery is a large Buddhist complex, hand built in wood in the style of the Tang dynasty monastery. It is built with interlocking pieces of wood, and without a single nail, intended to signify the harmony between humans and nature. You enter the complex through the Sam Mun, a series of three gates, representing the Buddhist precepts of compassion, wisdom, and "skilfull means." I wasn't permitted to take photos inside the main hall. Inside was a golden statue of the Buddha, surrounde by statues of deities. I didn't have a full appreciation for the significance of it all, but the sacredness of the space was impressed upon me by the many chinese men, women and children who were praying, eyes closed, hands in prayer form at their chins, bodies bowing repeatedly while they rapidly moved their pressed hands up and down in short, staccato motions in front of their chins. Their lips were moving and they all seemed to shed any degree of self consciousness as they took as long as they needed with their bowing and hand gestures. There was incense flowing throughout, someone (a monk?) chanting behind a screen in a deep, hypnotic tone, and offerings of fruit at the base of each statue. It was a llovely, peaceful retreat from the endless bustle of the Hong Kong streets.
After I left the nunnery, I found a small restaurant near the subway station, and also near a secondary school. As I was a solo diner, they asked if I would mind sharing a table. I was accustomed to this approach from numerous meals in Chinatown in Boston, and I said that I would be happy to share a table. In my head, that meant one seat at a large round table filled with 6 or 7 other diners, but in reality it meant sitting across a tiny table from an 18 year old student named Gloria. Gloria chews with her mouth open, and makes loud smacking noises as she eats. Those who know me well know how hard this was for me! I believe that I maintained a neutral, even pleasant, expression on my face, but woah. I enjoyed the most delicious mushroom soup, being careful not to slurp.
My second stop this day was a Taoist temple called Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin temple, which is really an ensemble of halls, shrines, pavilions, altars, temples and walkways, covering what I estimate was the equivalent of a couple of square NYC blocks. At the main temple, which I could not enter, were many people in prayer, inserting sticks of burning incense into containers of sand as offerings, and dropping coins into collection boxes. Set a bit further back were prayer cushions, upon which worshipers kneeled. Here, a sense of fortune and superstition seemed to be prevalent, as each worshiper held a cylinder of small, narrow bamboo sticks, which they shook and shook until eventually one stick escaped and fell on the ground. Each stick was inscribed with a number or series of numbers, and the person shaking the container would write down the numbers from the escaped stick and bring that number to a different building that housed a maze of fortune tellers in separate stalls. For a price, the fortune teller would offer insight based on the written numbers.
Though I didn't engage in the bamboo stick shaking, I did have my palm read! First, the reader wanted $300 HKD and while I took a moment to try to calculate the conversion to US dollars, she said, "$200 HKD." I agreed and she looked at my hands, my fingers, my nails, asked my birthday, and then gave me a lot of information about myself and advice about my future. She told me that I am a manager or a boss, that I spend too much money on others and that I need to keep some in my pocket, that I take care of other people too much, especially my family, and that I need to give my family their freedom. She told me that I am stubborn. She said that I need to marry again, but definitely not to an Ox, because I am a sheep. She told me not to find a handsome husband, because handsome husbands come and go. What I need is an honest man. She said that I need to start working again, but not to be so stubborn in my work. In short, she's not wrong.
After returning to the hotel, I was wiped out and fell asleep. When Jordan came back from work, I could barely open my eyes. We had room service and a lot of sleep!
Wednesday was more challenging for me, as I could not find my Octopus card and apparently I left my wallet back in the room in the safe with my passport. I walked for over an hour (of course getting lost along the way) to the Hong Kong Museum of History. Though it was free, and interesting, I wasn't in the mindset to read a lot of information, so I took in the color and feel of the exhibits without really learning much about them. I was hungry, thirsty, and penniless so I sat in the cafe pulling apart a smushed kind bar that was in my bag.
The museum is next to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which was ground zero for awhile for the conflict between the protestors and Hong Kong police. The images on the news and twitter were violent, with tear gas and explosive trajectories and fires everywhere. By yesterday, though, I think the last of the barricaded protestors had finally left the school grounds to be arrested by the police like all the others had been. I'm not sure that anyone really knows what has become of the protestors who had taken over the school for so long. There is speculation on twitter that they have been transported to the mainland, and that can really only be bad news. Now, the school is cordoned off by police tape and there is obvious destruction to the school, along with umbrellas propped all over the walls surrounding the school. Umbrellas are symbolic of the protest movement in Hong Kong. Also, not only in this area, but all over the city, are large swaths of empty gravel in an otherwise bricked sidewalk. These bare spots are where protestors removed bricks and placed them in the roads to impede traffic and barricade certain areas. When civilians began removing the bricks from the road so that the roads would become passable again, the protestors began gluing the bricks to the streets. Other than the closed and damaged school, and the bare sidewalk patches, I have seen no evidence of turmoil or unrest. This is in part attributable to recent elections where longstanding district leaders were voted out in favor of pro-democracy candidates, giving the protestors a true sense of triumph, and the city a brief respite from the violence. As Trump has just signed the bipartisan bill to condemn the human rights violations against pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, it will be interesting to see whether Beijing will react, and whether that will stir up further unrest.
Yesterday I walked 20,000 steps getting back and forth, and fell into bed in the afternoon and slept for a couple of hours. I got up to have dinner with Jordan (who had to pay, because I did not have enough cash and it's hard to find places that take charge cards!) Ttoday I feel like a new person, with money in my pocket and an octopus card in hand, off to explore some more!