Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hong Kong:Crossroads of Ancient & Modern

Hong Kong is constantly full of people run-walking towards destinations unknown. They do not bump into one another, they are polite and the public transportation is efficient and clean. This is a modern, humming city where towering apartment buildings crowd the sky and neon shops tumble down city blocks. The energy here is consumerist and frenetic. Yet there are parts of Hong Kong that depart from the flash and thrum of industrialized society completely. Jewel box-sized tea houses and ancient places of worship encourage the preservation of culture and tradition in the face of futuristic shopping mall complexes. With slick skyscrapers and salesy billboards soaring over temples from the 1800’s it is as if Hong Kong is constantly at a crossroads of old and new, young and old, history and possibility.

We spend the morning eating dim sum at Luk Yu Tea House, a local’s hangout in the Central District of Hong Kong. Nearly a century old, it’s crowded with women carrying trays of steaming dumplings in bamboo baskets, crispy spring rolls and juicy meatballs. Ceiling fans spin above us and the ambience of the outdated spittoons and Art Deco stained-glass windows makes it feel as though we’ve snuck into some sort of secret Hong Kong world of the past. We indulge in nearly all of the offerings, sipping jasmine tea while trying to not to drop dumplings into bowls of soy sauce with our chopsticks. I do this a few times, sending a group of gossiping old men into fits of hysterical laughter. Yet my mild humiliation is a small price to pay for the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten and at $30.00 for two people it’s a real bargain, not to mention the atmosphere.

Matt and I decide to walk off our immense breakfast with a stroll down Hollywood Road searching for reasonably priced treasures on this street crowded with antique stores, inexpensive boutiques and curiosity shops laden with fun junk. Black sesame soap, hand-carved perfume bottles and bamboo salad tongs are just a few of the finds of the day. Further down the road sits the 19th century Man Mo temple, an ancient Taoist structure painted in vivid reds and greens. The inside is thick with smoke from rows of burning incense coils hanging in canopies above my head. I find myself thankful for this quiet, dark interior and watch as worshippers leave their offerings to the gods on altars crowded with oranges and candles. It is such a peaceful respite from the bustling energy outside that I find myself completely entranced by the sounds of the gong, bell and whispered prayer. Feeling as though I’ve traveled back in time I employ an elderly fortune teller outside to use his I Ching coins to tell me what he sees in my future; he assures me I’ll have a job quickly upon returning home from our travels.

That afternoon we pause all cultural pursuits for ice cold beers in Lan Kwai Fong, the hard-drinking party district. Copping seats outside the Hong Kong Brew House we down half liters of beer, soaking in the frat-party atmosphere of empty kegs that line the narrow streets. As 80’s music blares from the pubs and patrons start putting back what appears to be only the first in a long line of drinks we head out for more adventure, leaving the ex-pats to party on into the night.

A few hours later we find ourselves hopping the Star Ferry for a breezy cruise across Victoria Bay to eat Cantonese at Spring Moon. Crispy Peking duck and sautéed Waygu beef spoil us rotten and we know that eating Chinese take-out at home somehow won’t be the same after this. Waiters carve the duck tableside, wrapping the meat into lettuce cups and mini-wraps filled with hoisin sauce and crisp veggies. After dinner we take the elevator upstairs to The Peninsula’s trendiest restaurant, Felix to see its high concept design. It’s all towering glass walls, glamorous people and Hong Kong Swank with a decidedly contemporary flair. I feel like I’ve been swept into some elegant city aerie as we end the evening staring at the neon signs across Hong Kong’s bustling harbor from the 28th floor of this fabulous bar, sipping cocktails and enjoying the bird's eye view of this spectacular city.

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