Saturday, 4 December 2010

Shoe shopping, Aberdeen

Sorry if you're keyword searching on Dolcis, Aberdeen, Scotland. Blame the Empire.

More specifically, blame George Hamilton-Gordon, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen. Wikipedia gives him special mention for donating his place name to this part of Hong Kong Island, where we've found a run of accessible shoe shops.

I wonder why I want to like George's part of town. In some ways I do, without having to pretend.

Aberdeen's choppy waters are an inviting, colour filled fusion of living and working. In happy movement and sea swell, you can watch seafood restaurant rub along with scrap metal, old tyres, nylon net and boat dogs, chasing their dinner bowls as they slide around tilting wooden decks. It creates a lively culture worth investigating, and I think you could probably wander through this watery world and find a niche and live here content for years and never feel the need to land, or pop to Central, 20 minutes away by bus.

The long stretch of harbour front is busy and purposeful too, with people chatting and doing intriguing things with bamboo and net and tables. I wanted to peer into their laps as they sat concentrating by the waterside, scrutinise their interesting plaited baskets, handle their tools and rope, and poke my nose on board their bobbing boat houses and sampans.

I started to think how it would be to live other lives, stay on a boat, move around by sea. There's never an opportunity. There never is. Before I can convince an elderly Chinese man that he really would like to show me round his old fishing boat, we have to leave the harbour side. My accompanying aquatic activist has eye-spied a forlorn eel, nose to tail with itself in a tiny polystyrene box, and is quickly stoking up the outrage needed to swing the first punch in the fight for fishy rights. I lure her with promises of cake to cross the footbridge, where we are grabbed by a tiny, gentle elderly lady who might have been demented or just lonely and lost. We smile and she left us to hold on to someone else crossing in the other direction.

I want to like Aberdeen even when we've shifted place in that transition from sea to land, crossed over the footbridge and stand in the noisy town streets. I think there is a different feel between here and the east or north city sides of Hong Kong Island, but I can't make that palpable; I can't find what it is in my hands. It just feels different. Perhaps it's the buildings or the alignment of roads or the compression of roads under the mountain.

The tower blocks look the same, wherever we are. The residential blocks that rise over all Hong Kong suburbs. Peeled away from the centre glitz of the mirrored skyscrapers, these settlement blocks are once painted, faded pinks and greens, hanging with dripping air cons and flapping washing. Many are part of previous government waves from the 1950s and 60s to place people in low-cost affordable housing. They're grubby, past their prime, and steadily being rebuilt with newer constructions of modern towering apartments, offering loans to residents able to purchase their dream house with sea view. Some, higher up over the hill - upmarket, feng shui'd - are carefully placed; through them, we're told, the dragon comes down from the mountain to lap at the waters. Without the water, it would die.

Anyway, we're in Aberdeen for shoes. And cake. The shoes will take us, and land us in England for our too-short visit, spanning one year end and the beginning of the next. The cake we need to sustain us in the search for shoes.

I'd like to, but there's no one to turn to and wonder about the relationship people have with the sea and the land, nor how Hong Kong manages the transition from boat to house, the place of the Vietnamese boat people of the 1980s, nor the histories of the Hoklo and the Punti.

I ask these questions of Squirrel but, quite rightly, she is all shoes

and cake.

So I never get any answers to Aberdeen that I can make sense of.

(But shoes, two pairs.)


nappy valley girl said...

I'm glad to see something of the old Aberdeen still exists. When I was a child it was all sampans, houseboats, and mangy dogs. We would go there to get on my Dad's company Junk on Sundays- a little sampan would take us from a rickety pier to the Junk. The tower blocks I remember well - there was a road we always drove on to get to the harbour, a sort of flyover with grubby tower blocks on either side. Yes, they looked grubby even in the 70s.

Gweipo said...

pity you didn't get up to the country park - it's glorious!

sharon said...

Off to the frozen north for Christmas then Grit? Hope the trip doesn't set Tiger off again...

Retiredandcrazy said...

grit I just loved the video clip you sent me. It has really restored my love of humanity. Thank you so much and merry christmas to you and your beautiful girls.

Grit said...

hi nappy valley girl! sounds similar! i quite like going over there; it has a different feel from the rest of hk island, doesn't it?

i think you are right gweipo. it's surprising how much green there is in hk, and some of the views are breathtaking, right?!

i agree, sharon. i am right to be nervous. whose idea was it to go back for 2 weeks, huh?

hi R&C, i'm glad you enjoyed it. and if anyone's wandering by and wondering - it's the celestial junk food choir!