Monday, June 25, 2012

Hong Kong

After a short night’s sleep in an airport hotel we pulled ourselves out of bed at five to get the quick leg to Toronto. I was more than a little daunted by the flight to Hong Kong. The prospect of 16 hours trapped in an airplane seat was a bit scary but it was totally painless. Giving up on the idea of getting any kind of sleep helped. The more experienced flyers were snoring away well before the plane took off, getting their Hong Kong night’s sleep in early. I nodded off once but as soon as my chin hit my chest I woke up with a start and was wide awake for the rest of the flight — three feature length movies, four episodes of Downton Abbey, a few chapters of my book and a couple of cooking shows later. Hong Kong has got a new airport (which, thankfully, no longer involves flying a hairsbreadth from towering apartment blocks and looking into people’s windows). It is still impressive to drop down into the South China Sea, chock-a-block with sampans and container boats. There were no questions at immigration, just a quick smile and stamp. Big James was there, behind the crowds at the arrival gate, standing a good head taller than everyone else. We stepped outside into a wall of grey humidity, the jagged, lush mountains hanging like a curtain around us.
We crossed over some of the longest bridges I’ve ever seen, past a sea of lego-like containers and a long line of the cranes required to move them from land to sea. In the New Territories James took us through the maze of streets that make up his neighbourhood. The white, narrow streets are all concrete and stone, metal gates and walls with the trees and gardens all tucked in behind the houses. Once we were settled in we took a short walk up a long series of mossy stairs leading up into the green hills right behind the house. We climbed past a garden carved out of the hillside by the Hong Lok Yuen elders where they gather in the morning to drink tea and play mahjong. Gasping in the heavy humid air we made it up the first peak, where the paths weave their way along the crests, reminding me a lot of the hills around Los Angeles. The slick terracotta-coloured soil is the only place not exploding with lush greenery. The views changed as we went — Hong Kong Island, Tai Po, and nearby Shenzhen. We wound down the day with a delicious supper and a long swim.
Everybody slept all the way through the night which, apparently, is a big deal. Frances is nine today! Abby drove us down to nearby Tai Po to the Mega Mall to get our pictures taken for our visas for China. The air is heavy with rain. The mall is actually a series of malls. There is some question about the format of the photos for the visa but after the question is setttled, we take turns sitting at the back of the narrow store posing for the young woman holding the camera. The man at the front of the store’s english is perfect. The woman taking the photo, on the other hand, mimics us and points to bra straps to get us to adjust for the pictures. Our mutual sign language makes me all the more grateful to be with Abby; a dozen Cantonese words is not going to get us very far. After the photos, we wandered around and then Abby took us into the mall’s Dim Sum restaurant. The massive room was all mirrors, crystal chandeliers and hanging red tassles. The big, round tables are all packed with Chinese families. There are no carts in this place. Abby pores over the all-Cantonese menu and chooses without a word. We sip our tea and watch the ladies in red jackets wander from table to table with little steam baskets full of goodies. Through the huge plate-glass window we watch the rain come down in buckets. Soon enough, the ladies are bringing the baskets to us. Barbecue pork buns, steamed dumplings with shrimp and pork, deep-fried squid, barbecued pork belly, radish cakes, green beans in a mushroom black bean sauce, Chinese broccoli in nuts and the lightest, freshest noodles I’ve ever tasted. Each dish comes with its own yummy dipping sauce. Everything is ho ho sek (really delicious!). We don’t even come close to finishing it all. We’re all completely stuffed. After lunch the girls find an arcade
and all the students that are just getting out of school. Pairs of girls in chinese-collared uniforms hold hands and clusters of students in matching pants and white shirts stand in circles giggling or bunched around the air hockey table. We pick up a birthday cake for Frances and head back to Hong Lok Yuen.


heather pepper said...

so excited for you! what an amazing adventure and great way to spend a 9th birthday, HAPPY BIRTHDAY Frances. lots of love from all of us. xoxo h,d,p,b,&o.

Nana/Mom said...

So great to see the blog up and running again. Happy birthday, dear, dear Frances and may your adventures continue -- all of you! We will be hanging on your every word, Sas, until you return.

ajm said...

What a treat to be reading your travel blog Sarah. Happy 9th birthday to Frances. xo

Annabelle said...

The comment above was me - Miss Clementine :)

Larry said...

I trust you did not pack the VW van... Have a great trip and please give litle Miss Muffet a biggggg birthday hug.