From March 10, 2010
I worked Saturday at my office in Kwun Tong, joining friends afterwards in rural Sai Kung for dinner. We walked to a small shop selling fine Italian cheeses, meats, olives, oils, and wines and enjoyed a light snack of prosciutto, formaggio con tartufi and marinated garlic, with home-made bread and a bottle of prosecco. We sat at a tiny table outside the shop in the midst of a hutong-like lane, not wide enough to accommodate a car, as Sai Kung locals walked by, regarding our food warily. Offshore at night, smugglers moved all manner of contraband goods between Hong Kong and the PRC.
My Thai friend speaks perfect English with an Italian accent, having lived in Italy for years. Her husband is an Italian-American New Yorker, speaking much like my culturally ambiguous Irish-Americanese.
Our host is Thelma, a Filipina who’s lived in Hong Kong for years, married to an Italian man. She also lived in Italy and is fluent. Thelma and her husband run several businesses and she races Dragon Boats on the international circuit. She speaks with her hands.
Within steps, you can purchase and offer huge fistfuls of incense, buy a cell phone or rice cooker, get a foot massage, arrange for any manner of Chinese herbs and roots and barks to cure what ails you, or attend your violin lessons focused on the western classics. I watched all this go by as Thelma and Tam spoke rapidly and musically in Italian.
I paused for a moment to savor this cultural cioppino.
Later, Tam cooked us a stunning Thai meal and I cabbed back into Tsim Sha Tsui.
This morning I got out early and took the MTR to Central on the island for about a buck. I wandered for hours on Hollywood Road, in Soho, Lan Kwai Fong, and around the US embassy, which is right across the street from the PRC Central Government building, so they can keep an eye on one another, these capitalists and communists. Though, these days, it may be harder to tell them apart.
At the corner of Lower Albert and Garden streets, near the embassy, the intersection’s railings were festooned with a dozen banners explaining the sad story of how the US CIA has been using electronic technologies to control the thoughts of a hapless resident and her family and friends. This should be of concern to the resident since the CIA has a less-than-stellar success record.
Hong Kong is a living museum of old South China Cantonese culture and English colonial domination and more recent economic mega-success. There are workers, ex-pats, refugees, and highwaymen here from every country in the world. The streets hold secrets and stories, more being written daily with the Triads spilling blood, local corruption and rampant real estate speculation. “Where the bodies are buried” is a real thing. Beverly Hills meets the Middle Kingdom meets Piccadilly Circus meets Jack Sparrow. Handsome Oxford-educated English gwai lo race about the steep hills in Porsches and Ferraris, Blue Tooth ear pieces carrying instructions to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Hang Seng, the NYSE and HSBC. High tea at three has been replaced by martinis and blow at one of Central’s spectacular rooftop bars.
I rode the historic tram to the top of Victoria Peak and was knocked out by the view and the rampant commercialization. Not willing to queue up another hour to ride back down, I walked the trails and lanes through a jungle environment, descending to the train and returned to what I call home on Mody Road in Kowloon, encamped at the Intercontinental.
I was ready for a break from Asian food, so I found a quite competent penne bolognese and insalata cesare with real anchovies and a glass of Chianti in one of the hotel’s restaurants. After, I repaired to the bar and a lovely bottle of Sangiovese and listened to the Filipino band do competent covers of Hotel California and Sweet Child O’ Mine, while elegantly dressed working professionals chatted up the clientele.
Now I’m ready for work tomorrow morning, off to the north, through customs into the PRC.
I’m ready to come home now.
I’m ready to stay here a long time.