Saturday, 25 April 2009

Starting down, ending up

We wake to a deep grey sky, booming thunder and flashing lightening. A storm is spreading over the harbour, and we watch it coming. It is spring in subtropical Hong Kong, and the weather, we are learning, can change hourly from humid and warm, to wet and warm.

From our safe air conditioned view, thirty floors skyward, the children watch the storm. Squirrel says she likes watching the rain fall down into the mist below, and it is fun. She doesn't yet know about summer. A subtropical summer brings the oppressive humidity that can weigh down heavy on our shoulders and exhaust our energy. It brings the punishing typhoons which would hurl pellets of rain beating on our heads like fists if we dared step out to the flooding streets. It's not fair at this moment to ask Squirrel if she'd like to live here longer. In springtime Hong Kong, we are getting off lightly.

As the rain hammers against the wide windows of our flat, and we all stand to watch the harbour below take a beating from the rain, now I begin to appreciate the Hong Kong obsession with falling over. Wherever we have walked in the last few days on this northern strip of Hong Kong Island we have seen the same public sign: a little person falling over, a sparky set of lines drawn between the floor and their bottom. Along with the picture, a public injunction to be careful on slippy floors and wet surfaces. The sparky bottom could happen to us they say, and then we'll be sorry. But we can't say we weren't warned. We have laughed about this public sign. As I imagine those treacherous streets and marble stairways, I silently promise not to laugh.

Then the morning drags on. Dig leaves for a quick meeting with Jaz. That means three hours alone, but in this weather I'm not inclined to start a street tour. After half an hour, the fun of watching the rain subsides, although the rain beats on. After an hour, I'm feeling the pressure of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, locked in a flat thirty floors up, complaining that they can't go swimming.

After two hours the flat is looking a lot smaller than it did when we arrived. It is also looking trashed. Papers, crayons and clothing are strewn over the floor. I would take recourse to comfort eating, but now there is nothing from our initial supermarket shop apart from a mountain of foul tasting seaweed that Shark is crunching through, and a pack of butter. Neither seems like a viable solution. Give it another fifteen minutes and both will be a godsend. And as for Shark eating those revolting strips of seaweed, tonight I am checking her for fins.

Soon there is only one solution. The TV. We stare blankly at Cantonese language cartoons. I announce it is time well spent because this is a lesson, and will be useful should we need to learn Cantonese. Then Squirrel settles down to write her diary, Shark reads, and Tiger plays with a small pack of cards, donated by an airline, should we wish to teach our children poker in anticipation of a visit to the gambling dens of Macau.

When Dig returns, the day seems to turn. The weather clears, the humidity lifts, the mood lightens, we all become jovial, and we look ahead to escaping the flat and taking the children to the zoo and botanical gardens in the central area.

We're determined to use local transport, so we're avoiding taxis as much as possible. This means tram, footbridges and, in Hong Kong, the mid levels escalators. I have never been in any other city in the world which eschews streets in place of escalators. In Hong Kong at least I can see the need for it, because I do not fancy the thousands of steps up the vertical urban mountainside. And it's something to be proud of. We are welcomed to the Mid Level Escalator Alley like it might be the triumphal arch through to a passage of honour.

The zoological and botanical gardens are a short walk from the escalators. They were set up in 1871, probably for the colonial dwelling Victorians to think fondly of Kew. They must have wandered about the globe with saplings and shovels. They have done a particularly fine job here, although some of the trees are sited on a mountainside slope of a 45 degree angle. Some of the trees are rather helpfully now held in place with a ton of concrete.

Squirrel, Tiger and Shark run up the paths and think it all tremendous fun, finding this vertical garden in a vertical city. So does daddy Dig, mostly because for this zoo there is no entrance charge, so looking at a gibbon is free, and possibly makes up for Grit's en route expensive sandwich, which at a discounted $30 sent daddy Dig's face crumbling in pain. 7/11 do sandwiches for $9 he says. Yes Dig, they do. But they are crap, whereas mine was delicious.

He is not exactly in a position to talk, let's face it. Because when we have oohed and aahed at gibbons, lemurs and raccoons, Dig says now he would like to go souvenir hunting for Shark, who has pocket money to burn. He drags us all to CAC. I choose that verb wisely. Tiger's feet are putting up a shout again once she is removed from the gibbons and the playground, and Squirrel is drawing up a list of complaints, so after another hour beating through the footbridges above the roads, no-one's walking willingly. Squirrel says she won't forgive daddy for taking the steps yesterday when she could see the escalator and he is supposed to be the grown up and what is the point of a blind grown up leading everyone around Hong Kong? After another hour of pounding pavements looking for CAC, Tiger is all for mounting a rebellion and lying down. Shark says she wishes Hong Kong was flat. I am gracious, and don't say anything. Call me diplomatic.

Eventually, when the sky is dark and the skyscrapers bursting out thousands of lights we find the place Dig's looking for. CAC. That's Chinese Arts and Crafts, and it is located in one upmarket shopping mall, the Pacific Place.

Imagine smoked mirrors, shining glass, the click of Blahniks on marble floors, a pianist rippling through gentle notes in brilliantly lit halls. Chanel and Marc Jacobs sit sedately here alongside Armani and Versace.

CAC is located next to Diane Von Furstenberg of New York. Dig's face falls. I laugh, because I am unkind, and my feet hurt. But I do sympathise with Dig's dilemma a little, because he has made a promise to Shark about her pocket money, and the Lonely Planet guide book reads quality bric-a-brac and other Chinese trinkets... an Aladdin's cave of souvenirs. Nick nack shop it is not. There's no price on the jade necklace gleaming under the crystal window lights. I refuse to go in. Not only because of the location and the stock, there's a woman patrolling the door, and she might not let me pass. Shark has $30 to spend on a souvenir, and she's desperate. The cheapest thing Dig can see is around $175,000.

It is a day starting low, but we are determined not to end it there, even though all our feet hurt. Shark is consoled with the memory of a gibbon and the idea of a sit down on the tram back home to Kennedy Town. And tomorrow, we say brightly, it might not rain.


Rubberbacon said...

Awww Grit, you have to find a street market for some cool cheap souvenirs. I can't remember where they are, I always seem to stumble upon them when I'm not looking.

sharon said...

I'm surprised Shark isn't using her cash to liberate some of the fish from the not-pet shops! sure you'll find somewhere to spend those $$$$ soon though.

The Gossamer Woman said...

All I can think of is your poor feet and how they need tender loving care in the form of a foot massage. Surely that can be done there?

Find trinkets in the street markets and the little souvenir shops. Be brave and pound the pavements once more.

Wife in Hong Kong said...

Of course I'm reading with a whole new perspective now! Stanley Market is where you must go for cheap souvenirs. Get a bus or a taxi. Stanley is on South Side, still quite a pretty fishing village. The girls will love it. Or you could try The Lanes which run between de Voeux Road and Queens Road Central behind Pedder Street although I think it's mostly clothes and fake bags rather than kids stuff. I remember thinking that apart from the swanky malls it was quite hard to find shops - often they are tucked away at the top of tower blocks and you'd never know unless someone gave you the address. As for a massage, try Happy Foot at 1-13 D'Aguilar Street or in the Jade Centre, 98-102 Wellington Street. You may need to book but it's well worth it!

Wife in Hong Kong said...

P.S I've tagged you over at my place.

Katherine said...

I'm loving your travel commentary Grit! Thanks for taking the time for it/ us!

Ruth said...

Sounds like you are going to move there:)

ummrashid said...

A good long bus ride to Stanley is a must, but the Gritlets will need to be quiet if riding on the top deck, so as not to wake the sleeping passengers. Maybe they'll take a nap too!

Mud in the City said...

Phew - triplets and Asian markets? Sounds exhausting! But what an adventure!

Grit said...

hi rubberbacon! we will no doubt take home some treasure trash. i have my eye on a pad of paper money for $1.

you are right sharon. if shark had her way she would have that fish in her suitcase in a purpose built tank.

hi irene! my feet have never hurt so much!

hi wife in hk! thank you for the shopping tips. shark says she wants a set of little bowls. i have no idea why. i guess the local supermarket household section will do us nicely! i will try to do the tag. i have to confess to a bad track record. (but i can hope to improve.)

thanks, katherine!

ruth, i will let you know on that one.

hi ummrashid! we'd like to go to stanley, but we're going to be timed out - one week isn't long enough, clearly.

yes mud! and as they get older, it is becoming a lot lot easier!