Crowded Planet’s Guide to Hong Kong

The most pervasive philosophical message that has hounded me all of last month has been this

Your flight has been delayed due to late arrival of incoming aircraft

Yes. I’ve been traveling more than my DVT affected blood vessels can take and eating more microwaved-to-oblivion aircraft meals than my digestive system can tolerate. But between all of the nastiness of the travel itself, I’ve enjoyed visiting these places. This post is about my trip to Hong Kong. I had this devious idea that I would insert a “Click here to read more” link but devilishly redirect y’all to the Indibloggies voting page where you can exercise your franchise in my favour, but I decided against it, so please vote for my ability to resist cheap political tricks.

Anyway, It was precisely 5 minutes before my Boeing 767 touched down in HKIA that I got the traditional Indo-Chinese itch. It is the insufferable and unavoidable itch that every Indian has when suddenly encountering a large number of Chinese people – to ask them if they eat snakes. My curiosity had to wait, like a poor online retailer in Google’s secondary index, till the next day to satisfy itself with a restaurant menu that I realized is potentially every naughty young boy’s dream way to make his young female relatives throw up. Two items particularly caught my eye, but my stomach, that spent over two decades eating Paruppu Usili, resisted my brain’s temptation to boldly eat what I’ve never eaten before

  • Fried Snake Balls (the balls are made from dough in case you thought otherwise)
  • Snake soup

I then asked my office colleague Oliver (yeah yeah, I’ve seen Russell Peters so I did ask him what his real Chinese name was. His response was a 2 second ad jingle whose sound I remember but not the words) what snake tastes like. He told me that it was the tastiest kind of meat in Hong Kong and was standard fare for kids who were under the weather. Chinese penicillin, if you will. I also noticed a suspicious lack of Gujratis at the Jade Garden restaurant, but I realized that when Mr Patel walks into this place and orders tea and snakes, he will be in for a bit of a literal surprise.

The other thing I noticed was this wonderful habit of placing several aquarium tanks outside of restaurants.

Ah, I thought, perhaps they wish to put the visiting guest at peace by getting them to gaze at Turtles, Crabs and assorted crustaceans. It was a bit like The Sims game, where one gets “happiness” points for staring at fish. Of course, when I saw the steamed turtle menu item (they had a picture, I can’t read Chinese) I realized that the Chinese variation of the popular maxim that goes “Eat food to live, not the other way around” must read “Confucius says Eat food that’s been living just a moment ago, and not stale stuff from the fishmonger

After finishing my first real Chinese meal, and Sottai, no, they did not have Gobi manchurian and Hong Kong Noodles, I took a walk down the insanely crowded streets of Wan Chai and saw this

It’s simple really. Some creative entrepreneur might have seen the idiomatic expression “foot in the mouth” and imagined that these decadent westerners like to eat the leggy parts of livestock, so literally “foot in the mouth”, and what better foot than a really large foot in the mouth eh? So “Giant Foot Restaurant”.

I was also Shaquille O’Neal as far as Hong Kong was concerned. Never before has 5 feet 9 felt this tall. So, now that I’ve exhausted all my cheap desi shots at the Chinese, let’s get to the actual travelogue.

I was actually brimming with excitement over being able to use Mandarin for the first time with regular people and I had one of those FFFFUUUUUU moments when I first heard Cantonese being spoken. I felt like a student who had just learnt Vara Veena walking into a class where Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi was being taught. Oliver told me Cantonese has 9 tones to Mandarin’s 4. If Mandarin was Mohanam, Cantonese was Thodi. Thodi mushkil, I mean.

There’s also bit of British Raj hangover that HK suffers from. If China was about “Nee Hao”, HK is about “Nee Hao are you old chap?”. Everybody dresses impeccably in perfectly tailored business suits. Garment stores in HK have it rather easy. All they need to do is locate medium sized kids clothing in Texas and pass it off as XXXL in HK. In most places, the largest size available is the size I wear, a respectable M in most continents (In Texas OTOH, my clothing size will fit an armadillo on a diet).

If you are  tourist spending a couple of days, the best advice I can give you is to buy the MTR tourist day pass, that will let you use the subway like a horny sailor who’s just returned after a year at sea to um..Amsterdam. You can get from any point in HK to another in about 30 minutes and it will save you a packet of money along the way.

My first destination was Victoria Peak, a place from where most martial arts movies opening scenes are shot, a sweeping panorama of the famous Hong Kong skyline (which usually then cuts to a Mercedez Benz opening to let out a white silk suited villian who shoots an innocent man in the face to set in motion a chain of events involving a whole lot of Kung Fu and funny English subtitles). A small note of warning to tourists. The Peak Tram that takes you up has two kinds of tickets. One that only takes you to the top and the other that gives you access to the terrace from where you can get a view of Hong Kong from the top. You had better cough up the extra 10 HKD for the terrace view because if you dont, the very same ticket costs double once you reach the top.
After that I crossed the bay to the Kowloon peninsula to see the 10,000 Buddhas monastery at Shi Tin, and I am not Shi Tin you, there are 12,800 statues of Buddha at that place, but they all look a bit Chinese and dont conform to our traditional mental image of the Buddha as a chap with closed eyes and evil designs on Singur.

I also noticed that despite globalization and the ruthless spread of western culture, we Asians have still not forgotten our ancient traditions, in this case, the noble art of graffiti

On the way back from the monastery, I stopped at Mongkok (which is not, as many of you might think, a french possessive reference to one’s virility) to do some shopping. It’ the HK equivalent of Ranganathan street. I attempted to put all my newly learnt Mandarin skillz to use and tried bargaining using numbers in Mandarin. One elderly woman at the market gave me a look that suggested that despite her age, she could defy the laws of gravity and land one deft kung fu blow to my mouth to stop me from massacring her (second) language, so I stopped right away. We then resorted to the traditional bargaining channels that vendors there use with tourists. The calculator. She typed 200 HKD. I hit the C button and typed 100. She put on a pained expression and suggested 150 as the absolute final price. I then unleashed my “walk away” move. She beckoned me back and at 120 HKD, I bought 7 Calvin Klein designer watches. Of course CK “designed” those watches but the nice folks back in Shenzhen simply found them too easy to copy and manufacture at a price point where one can buy a coca cola in the US.

Mongkok also has a jawdropping computer/electronics market if one is a gadget/gizmo lover. I saw a perfectly designed Macbook air ripoff running Windows 7 and also a “High” Phone, I kid you not.

But at the end of my trip, I realized that it wasn’t the skyline, or the food or the Chinese made Rolex ripoffs that will define Hong Kong for me. For my generation, it will always be this man.

I grew up bang in the middle of the Karate craze in India. Every Tom Yum, Kick and Cha Lee was teaching Karate in those days. I had friends in Vidya Mandir who referred to the Maths teacher as “Miss” and their Karate teacher as “Sensei”. Skinny, malnourished kids wearing Orange belts broke pre-broken blocks of wood and learnt to count in Japanese. For this crowd, Bruce Lee was god, and Hong Kong was Mount Kailash, from where he flexed muscles that I never knew existed and demonstrated basic geometry by showing us obtuse angles and reflex angles between his legs. My schoolmates often claimed to have secret knowledge of unknown sequels such as  Return of the Entrance of the Second exit after the first right entry of the Dragon where they claimed that Bruce Lee unleashed new and secret karate styles like the Cobra style or Duck-billed Platypus style. Yeah, it was the good old days before Wikipedia and IMDB when kids could make shit up without being caught out.

So as a finale to my Hong Kong trip, as a tribute to Hong Kong martial arts movies*, I present to you, scenes from Sholay, subtitled by those good folks who wrote them for Bruce Lee movies

PS: Hong Kong movies were martial arts movies. Yash Chopra on the other hand makes marital arts movies

PS 1: My wife’s GTalk status message read “King Kong has gone to Hong Kong” for the duration of my trip