Monday, October 24, 2005

10/22: valley girls and boys (and buddhas)

We began our last day in HK at Hong Kong Park, where we frolicked with black-necked swans and fake rocks covered with real turtles and ponds full of coy that were bigger than the turtles.

We took the steep, slightly scary tram to Victoria Peak, where we watched the crowd of tourists and guys selling postcards, one pushy fortune teller and one self-proclaimed “Thai superstar” who was there with a camera crew. And beyond that, HK’s big, curved skyline, pastel in the smog.

There was also a mall at the top, of course.

We took a boat and one or two types of trains—so much public transportation here—to Tsim Sha Tsui East, one of the New Territories, meaning it was founded around 1897-ish. We decided that the New Territories are the Valley of HK, where things are a little cheaper and a little less cool.

Lunched at a dim sum restaurant on the top floor of a mall. There was a complicated system where one of the staff handed you a slip of colored paper printed with a number and you had to watch a TV screen for your color and number to come up. The place was a huge, low-ceilinged banquet hall with stackable chairs and women pushing carts of round bamboo containers. Jon says all the best Chinese restaurants are big—which definitely doesn’t hold true in the U.S. Think Soup Plantation, Claim Jumper.

Jon claims his Mandarin is crap and that he doesn’t speak Cantonese at all, but he managed to order us one of the most delicious lunches I’ve ever had: fish balls, tofu with potato, big flappy fried rice puffs drenched in honey, turnip cakes with plum sauce, steamed mung bean buns, mango pudding for desert. We ate these oblong fish ball-esque things wrapped in seaweed and fried.

“Think how many of our friends would love this, but turn their noses up at fish sticks?” Ryan said.

I finally got my chance to eat fish head, too, and I’ve gotta say that fish eyes are overrated. The one I had, at least, tasted hard and chalky, like the dehydrated peas in Cup-O-Noodles.

Bellies full, we took an escalator up the hill to what we thought was the Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas. It was a contemporary temple and cemetery, lovely and colorful, but there seemed to be no more than 500 Buddhas at most. More fun than the Buddhas, though, were the monkeys who kept stealing apples and oranges from the shrines. The groundskeepers shoed them away, but Jon posited that maybe they were the ancestors, reincarnated and claiming their rightful fruit.

Next door we found the actual Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas. I love being in a country where such an error is even possible. This place had cement steps winding up a steep hill, bordered by life-sized Buddha disciples painted bright yellow-gold, all wearing red, red lipstick. Some had beaded necklaces, some looked serene or angry or worried, some were surfing on the backs of sea creatures.

But once again, my favorite part was the monkeys, who crashed through the branches overhead and pushed each other down a sandy embankment. They reminded me that we were really, really not in America.

We ate our last HK meal at a Thai restaurant not far from the hotel. We debated whether to order mango sticky rice for dessert. Ryan saw the picture and said, “Oh, it’s on black rice. I don’t like black rice.”

“Are you saying that you’re judging rice by its color?” I demanded.

“I guess I’m a rice-ist,” Ryan smiled. We agreed that that was definitely one for the blog.

Back at the hotel, Jon perused the many escort options in the phone book (from the zombie-like Kelly to the friendly-clerk-like BoBo) while Ryan quizzed me on which 19 world cities boasted a Conrad hotel. I got stumped on Istanbul, Turkey.

Now I’m on the plane, happy with my trip and happy to be heading home. I’m reading a copy of Singapore’s Female magazine, which is even worse than Cosmo. There’s a whole article devoted to horror stories about how Filipina maids have screwed over their employers. Almost every single anecdote ends with, “I wasn’t about to put up with that, so I sent her home.” “That” being things like “trying to raise my children” (hello, that’s what you hired her to do!) and “sleeping with a knife under her pillow” (the chick is scared of you, lady, and I would be too).



kat said...

Cheryl--what a treat! I enjoyed reading this so much.

thelastnoel said...

Wow, such terrific adventures. I've had red, brown, and of coures, white rice. I've never had black. Sounds interesting.

Cheryl said...

It's sort of a purple-black. Good stuff.