Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The USS Kitty Hawk and the Torch Relay

The sailors are in town. I was out in town for a coaches' appreciation dinner Wednesday night and saw them in all their glory.
The USS Kitty Hawk is here for a five day shore leave. In November, they were scheduled to come to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving, but just as they were sailing in, China said that they hadn't followed the proper procedures and wouldn't let them in. Spouses and families had flown to Hong Kong to celebrate Thanksgiving with the sailors, but they were all disappointed and the sailors spent Thanksgiving at sea.

Analysts suggested that the snub of the carrier was because Congress had just given the Dalai Lama its highest civilian honor. But early this year, China let the USS Nimitz battle group with its nuclear reactor, warheads and thousands of sailors to come for a shore leave. This week Kitty Hawk got to come to town after all with its 5000 sailors, cruiser Shiloh and destroyers Curtis Wilbur, Stethem and Lassen.

Tomorrow is the torch run. I'm sure that George Bush saying that, of course he's going to the Opening Ceremony and general US support of the Olympics has nothing to do with the Kitty Hawk's shore leave. Or does it?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Intrepid Sightseeing

Today is sunny with smog, warm and quiet except for construction and birdsong - the complete opposite of last Saturday. Last Friday started the wind a-blowing and after a play at the Fringe (in which we knew two of the principal actors) we hung out on the rooftop bar in the most delicious wind. It felt warm and moist as breath on the skin, but so enormous. The rooftop was closed because of the approaching typhoon and all the tables and chairs were roped down, but we stood there and drank in the wind.

Shannon arrived as the wind strengthened, and Saturday morning was blowing and raining like, well, like the front edge of a typhoon. The T3 flag was "hoisted." (See for an explanation of the signals. The short version is T1 - typhoon might be coming; T3 - tie everything down and watch signals; T-8 - stay indoors, schools are cancelled, tape your windows; T-9, T-10 - hope for the best and stay away from rooms with windows. Warning flags are so exciting! I just wish they still fired the typhoon gun over the harbor.) It was T-3, but Shannon's primary sightseeing goal was to go to the Big Buddha, so what could we do? We went. The big Buddha is at the top of the mountain and is as unprotected as anyone would imagine.

There were a lot fewer tour groups climbing the stairs than when we went on Easter Sunday. And the cable car up was closed. The kids and I retreated quickly to the vegetarian restaurant at the monastery, which is well-reviewed, but a huge disappointment. At least we had tons of hot tea until it was time to stand at the bus stop waiting for the next a/c coach to take us back down the mountain. Huge boxes flew by as we cowered behind posts and held our 7-11 hooded garbage bags down.

Here are two pictures illustrating the various opinions of the adventure:

We made it back, recovered our equanimity with ice cream and cocoa and ventured out again for dinner. By now there were thunderstorm and black rain warnings posted. We prepared ourselves with rolled up pant legs, the beloved garbage bags and loads of resolve. After all that, when we left the air conditioned restaurant, the rain and wind had stopped. Sunday was mild and calm. Just right for those less intrepid.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yesterday's commute

I haven't stopped taking pictures of the commute; I've just stopped posting so many. Going through the harbor out to Lantau is the most beautiful part of my day, especially in the past week when the air has cleared up. Partly it was the rains starting that washed the sky, knocking the particulates and leaving drops shimmering. Partly it's the run-up to the Olympics. I read in the paper that Beijing just issued a cleanup deadline for a bunch of factories that must shut down or cut output by July 20th, but rumors are that more factories than those covered by this announcement are being shut in the Pearl River Delta to clean up the air.

Whatever the explanation, the air tastes good and the light is beautiful. After nightfall I can see the glow of Central in the sky from my window, the lights of Pok Fu Lam, the darker outlying islands and the glow of ferries on a misty sea that slide across the water like a hand gentling across a bare back.

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Flowers

These flowers are growing in the hills all up and down the pathways of the water. I saw them on an almost-aborted hike on Sunday.

After getting to ferry I can see from my window (click on Hong Kong Daily Photos), finding out that I had the time 45 minutes off, returning home and coming back, we arrived one bike, one scooter and two hikers at the trailhead. But there was a tall flight of cement stairs. Back we went to the pier to lock up bike and scooter. Then back to the trailhead. Then Kestrel said that she needed a water bottle. Back we went to the pier to buy water. Then back to the trailhead. We climbed to the top of the stairs to find... a cement path. Back we went to the pier to get bike and scooter. Then back to the trailhead. After a few hundred meters the path became dirt, but we carried on half-way to Pui O, until the mosquitoes became too much for little ankles.Around a week and a half ago, the air suddenly became heavy with humidity. Even though it's only around 24 C, so not too hot, everything is thick and wet. To keep the bread from drying out, you leave it on the counter. It's almost impossible to tell if clothes on the line are dry or wet, mainly because they're still wet. Outside feel much better than inside because there the humidity makes everything smell alive. New flowers, honeysuckle, jasmine, the flowers leis are made of (plumaria I think), all kinds of smells that make you want to say words like redolent.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lost Property

Thursday, after a long day at school, I arrived at the ferry pier with my little associates and found out that they had lost the house key the day before. Since I'd misplaced mine somewhere on the weekend, we found ourselves locked out waiting for the only responsible one in the family to get off work and bring us a key.

It was a week for losing things. On Tuesday the littlest one had lost her ferry pass, so with all the time on our hands, I had the chance to ask after it in lost property. The ferry worker turned on a big smile because he'd found it himself. She was delighted to get it back, and luckily I made her go back to say thank you because then I discovered the phone I'd just left on the counter.

Then I tried to leave Circle K after topping up our all-purpose octopus cards without paying and the boy walked out with a Gatorade and realized embarrassed that he hadn't paid, just outside the store. Next I mis-counted my change and tried to push an extra $20 on the cooks for our supper of dumplings and sticky rice in lotus leaves. It probably was good and necessary to spend the hour and a half calming down, drinking a pint on the promenade and taking pictures of the evening coming on.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ferry food top recommendation

Of all the food I've bought at a ferry terminal, the best by far is the barbecue pork pineapple bun featured here. Sweet, but savoury and only $5 HK, it was great value for something to eat while waiting in the drizzling rain for the ferry to come to take us back to Discovery Bay.
What continues to amaze me is that a planned outing takes the time allotted and does not turn into a long, drawn-out agonizing adventure. Hong Kong is the place for someone who likes the new and exotic, but without the pain.
Here's the latest evidence: Monday afternoon I planned to take the 3:00 ferry to Mui Wo, buy my boy a bicycle and take the 4:45 ferry back. I'd been told the name of the bike shop and knew it was around the corner from where it was before. We found it, tried out 5 bikes, bought one and a lock, took it for a spin along the beach path, bought supper groceries, got some ferry snacks for the way home and sat waiting, watching the ferry come into the bay to pick us up. You know that would have been inconceivable in Turkey.

Bombax malabaricum

At the end of the cold part of winter, all over town these large, bare trees bloomed. The blossoms are huge and waxy, but become fuzzy as they age and soften in a warm, kid's hand.
I wonder if they are the flowers in the Korean go-stop cards. Common names are Tree Cotton and Red Kapok Tree.
I got these pictures on the Wednesday the kids were home because of the flu scare. We took the chance to preview a field trip properly and walked down from the Peak and through the aviary in Hong Kong Park. It's my favourite place in Hong Kong. These flowers have almost all fallen now, but since it's started raining, spring flowers are blooming everywhere like cheap lingerie.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Easter Sunday in Hong Kong

I have a friend or two who can manage Easter. They decorate the eggs, bake the goodies, organize the hunt and all. I even have one totally capable friend who goes to church on Palm Sunday and makes pancakes for Mardi Gras! Usually Easter finds me stapling construction paper swiped from school into a box-like shape to make a basket and going out to buy a candy bar or two to put in it. I've even had to use real grass for the lining. But this year Easter was done right at my house. It was because my mom came to visit with Cadbury eggs, baskets, cute Beanie Babies, fake grass, an egg-dying kit, plastic eggs, Hershey kisses and jellybeans! My sole contribution was buying the only white eggs in the store (imported from America) and boiling them.
After a sweet, two-kid egg hunt in the morning and coffee cake for breakfast, we continued to celebrate the occasion by going to the Giant Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and The Wisdom Path. Hong Kong is known for its very specific superlatives (e.g. the world's longest road-and-rail suspension bridge built in the last quarter of the twentieth century), so this Buddha is very precisely, the world's tallest outdoor, seated, bronze Buddha. It has two hundred and seventy-eight stairs to the base of it according my boy's count. Another fun thing about it is you can take a 25 minute long cable car (gondola) ride to get to it. Luckily for us it had re-opened in January after being closed for 8 months for repairs because a couple of the cars fell off last year.
You can only go to the base of the Buddha for free. In order to go inside to one of the higher tiers you have to pay. But the fee is not for going in; what you have to buy is a meal or snack ticket to the nearby vegetarian restaurant. We didn't buy a ticket, but I've read it's actually pretty good food.
While we were up there we started to hear chanting/singing from the monastery nearby. Though it wasn't nearly the call to prayer, it was still compelling. It was a beautiful monastery and lots of people were lighting incense of all sizes in the courtyards. I'd been to lots of temples in Korea and was bored silly with them, but with the prayers loud enough to feel in your bones and the heavy incense smoke, it was all quite other-worldly.
Nearby was the Wisdom Path which is described as "an outdoor replica of the centuries-old Heart Sutra, one of the world's best-known prayers that is revered by Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists alike. The sutra is displayed on wooden pillars placed in the form of an infinity sign to symbolize the immeasurable splendour of achieving emptiness." Despite that description, the pillars were dappled with moss and bark and looked like they belonged on those hills against that grey sky.