I´m on my final three full days in Hong Kong, and am taking advantage of the workweek by going out and seeing the New Territories, all the land between northern Kowloon and the border with China. Fast typing here, because I want to go see a 9:50pm Jackie Chan movie at one of the theatres of the Golden Harvest movie studio.... ;-)
I woke early, too early for the hotel breakfast, and was on the street by 6:15am, taking a stroll in the area. Went north up Nathan, with the goal of seeing if there was any predawn Tai Chi at Kings Park. There were some senior citizens doing the slow, gentle movements, and even some recorded music playing at the same time, but no fan dancers or sword dancers or stick manipulators or diabolo players or ribbon dances. There was one couple playing badminton though. (Not badminton with a net, just a dozen feet apart playing catch with a shuttlecock on two raquets, almost like taichi-style paddleball.)
Then I tried to head up Waterloo, to pass by Jackie Chanś headquarters at 145 Waterloo, but I got turned around somehow and ended up on Argyle. Made it back but was the better part of a mile away, and I turned back. Morning walk was about five miles, in a mist that turned into a light drizzle, and I played dodge-the-umbrellas on the sidewalk. A nice, relaxing walk, and I made it back in time for chow.
Spent some time in the room on the internet, then took the MRT north, for my first jaunt to the New Territories. (The name? Britain was ceded Hong Kong Island and the lower part of Kowloon up to Boundary Street about 1850, and then took a 99-year lease on the section to Shenzhen in 1898. They tossed in the lower portions when returning the NT to the PRC in 1998.)
The north is more mountainous, and has a strong Hakka history -- a little differently culturually than the Yue colonies along the lowlands and coast. Today I went to Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun in the west, and Iĺl go either east or nother tomorrow.
Both of these are ¨new cities¨, planned by the British in the 1980s, based on their experiences with planned communities in Britain. (Britain arranged a lot of investment in Hong Kong even during the final years before the handover.) Both are situated on existing villages, but neither is an organically-grown city -- a very different feel than the patchwork in the lower sections.
The big impression I have of what Ive seen of the NT so far is -- itś big. Lots and lots of empty space, green mountains, forest. Buildings are Hong Kong style towers, residential units going up many stories, each freestanding. I´m not sure how Hong Kong compares in total land area to the San Francisco Bay Area. But it´ś easy to see that Hong Kong is a whole lot more than just the sections tourists commonly visit.
Thereś´also an interesting dynamic between British Hong Kong culture and PRC culture. The scope of the building is definitely PRC-massive. Even though thereś a significant population now, theyŕé planning for the future -- transit stations are much larger than current situation would seem to dictate. Thereś´a lot of room for population growth across the entirety of Hong Kong.
The boarding area for a train is large, about a SF city block (1/8 mile), same as SFś´BART or the big transit stations in Hong Kong Island and Tsim Tsa Tsui. But the trains fill the entire length of the landing platform, and seats are only along the walls, leaving much more standing room. They run every seven minutes, even during offpeak hours. They can handle a lot of traffic.
Some quick random notes:
-- I walked through a set of interconnected malls at Tsuen Wan, and was astonished by the size and busyness of a food court. Many of the signs were in dual Chinese/English, but some were straight Chinese, no English. I think itś´a style thing, depending on the audience theyŕé attracting. Some places want to seem global, other places are homestyle. An English-only speaker could definitely get by, at least with written signage, and the spoken conversations I´ve happened across.
-- Tsuen Wan was originally a bucolic little coastal village, where streams running down through forested hillsides powered mills to grind incense. No trace of that now, nor of the tofu houses which were located here to isolate the stink. I saw some photos from 1975 and it was all two-story village houses. A photo from 1985 showed big buildings, and today itś´just a real big city, population much greater than San Francisco.
-- I visited a Hakka walled village which was turned into a museum. Sterile, but I got the spooks when visiting a room in which people were born, lived and died, back in the late 1700s.
-- The subway had two TV sets in every car, turned to local news, with station announcements as a crawl beneath the picture. Weird.
-- You cant´eat on the trains. But I saw a bunch of kids doing so. Some adults stared at them. Culture clash brewing.
-- On the way back I got some streetside spicy fishballs in Mongkok, really good. But I dont´want to think too much about the hygeine.
-- Stopped in the famous Wing On department store across from my hotel on the way back. Good to see a local upscale shopping for everyday people. The supermarket in the basement advertised ¨Taiwan Food, Safe!¨
Later: Okay, I did get to Golden Harvestś Ocean Cinema downtown on Canton Road, and I did sit through the entire showing of Jackie Chanś´ ¨The Shinjuku Incident¨. Itś rare for me to tolerate any movie theatre, and I did have to change seats once when the late-arrivers behind me kicked the chair once too often, and then again because the guy in the row ahead who laughed at the wrong places smelled so bad, but I did see it. Depressing movie; everybody gets killed, and Jackie tries to do good but really doesn´t. Still, itś a local chain, whose studio has produced many important Hong Kong films, and I did see it in Jackie Chanś´hometown. Tood bad I couldnt find his house this morning, but I tried. ;-)
Later I wandered around Tsim Tsa Tsui in the drizzle, smoking a pipe, marvelling at how it was still busy with foot traffic after midnight on a rainy Monday. Atmospheric. Felt much safer than in SF, too.