Thursday, September 28, 2017

Time Warp

It feels as though I've been in Hong Kong much longer than two days, partly because my body insists on two wake-up calls, one at 1 a.m. and the other at a more conventional waking time. The real reason however is that I'm disoriented by traveling between two parts of the same city, with my first day spent in an area that I've stayed in since 2009 and the second moving to a place where previously I had spent only two nights.

One city, two cultures--Kowloon is raffish, Hong Kong sophisticated, and that's the best I can manage at 6 in the morning. I don't know enough about the island of Hong Kong to make anything other than superficial observations, except that yesterday, after walking less than a mile, I had to return to the apartment I'm renting for the next two weeks.

I'm in a building with a doorman and an elevator, one that is in the middle of a block that is surrounded by market stalls. My apartment is on the 12th floor and has a magnificent view of many windows, with more market below. Hong Kong's famous trolley ends within steps of where I live and I can see it crawl down the street when I sit on my bed to read.

Within another block, a street is lined with places that sell everything needed to turn a barren space into a home of modern design from furniture to carpets to bathroom fixtures and from there it turns into the urbanity for which this island is famous--Starbucks, wine bars, restaurants.

The coherence of this part of the city is one that puzzles me, unlike Kowloon where the districts are both distinctive and related. I'm going to spend the next five weeks walking the island's streets, forgoing the subway as much as possible, trying to fit it together in a way that might tie it together for me.

Yesterday I sat in a Starbucks and used their thirty minutes of internet time to find out the password for my apartment's wifi. When I left, I asked for the restroom, was handed a huge green cardboard card, and was directed to walk halfway around the block. Up a staircase was a restroom with a keypad; when I touched it with the green cardboard, the door opened. Then I walked back around the block to return the oversized keycard, For some reason, this mixture of inconvenience and technological expertise embodied in a piece of cardboard undid me, and I'm sure there will be many similar moments ahead.

The saving grace is this apartment with its abundance of windows, its kitchen area in a separate room with a door, and the smallest bathtub that I've ever seen. It's probably four times the size of the hotel room where I spent my first two nights, a place that had barely enough room for both me and my suitcase. This room is long and narrow with a bed wedged into the space between the windows. There's a washing machine in the kitchen that I'm afraid to use for fear that I'll break it and a drying rack out on a miniscule balcony. In the main room, there's a refrigerator, a desk, a wardrobe, a shelf unit, and a rack for shoes, along with the bed. Because of the windows, it has a dimension of space that I've never felt anywhere in Hong Kong.

The silence is astounding and last night, a tiny bit unnerving. After living for years on this continent, I've become addicted to what a Thai writer called "the human noise," the murmurs of voices, the sounds of footsteps that let me know that I'm accompanied in the world. It's a bit bizarre to be surrounded by walls of windows and to feel as though behind each one lies an empty room.

In a little while I'll get dressed and hit the streets, beginning my slow and personal mapping of this unfamiliar city, and I'll do my best to forget that only a few subway stops away is ground that I've already covered and absurdly feel is mine.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled

My second place to stay during my weeks in Hong Kong is along what has become a highway. Connaught Road West may sound as colonial as the term “Crown Colony,” but that time has passed. I will be in an old building overlooking heavy traffic, but it is after all a mere 29 USD a night. All reviews say that the room is clean, and it does have its own water closet, Chungking Mansions style, or Casa Hotel for that matter, in which the shower does much to clean the toilet.
I’ve done this often in my Hong Kong visits, where luxury is never a keynote. But this is the first time that I’ll be sleeping in one of the island’s old buildings, without wifi.
If I ever lived in this city, this would be the only sort of domicile I would be able to afford, so my final eleven days of my five week stay will be an exercise in local living as I’ve never done it before. Even Chungking Mansions had internet, and so did my house on Monkey Mountain.
Before I booked it, I checked for that water closet and for a window, both essential to my sanity. Airbnb is very protective of addresses so I had no idea about the highway setting, but since it wasn’t mentioned in any of the reviews, apparently that was outweighed for other travelers by the stunningly low price.
It has four windows and good water pressure. The water closet is actually pretty with new fixtures and the bed looks very Ikea. There’s both a fan and air conditioning, an iron, and a hot pot for morning coffee. There’s maid service with bedding changed weekly. The building has been described as clean and safe. What more would I need?
As long as there is no vermin or junkies lurking in the hallway, I’ll be fine with this. It’s centrally located and I won’t be spending much time in my room during the day. I’m sure I’ll feel nostalgic for my North Point room with its bathtub and washing machine and gigantic windows surrounding the bed but contrasts are what make life worth living. The Connaught Road place is something I’ve never done before, and never thought I would have a chance to do. Viva la vida loca!