Ching Ming

Apr. 23rd, 2012 07:55 pm
nirinia: (Default)
[personal profile] nirinia
I'm supposed to be reading about causation (and I'm barely resisting a terrible quote about cause and effect), so what better time to update LJ? I think I've forgotten to mention that we went to Hong Kong over Easter. It's a strange city, they've built skyscrapers in the water. The city itself is partly on the Hong Kong Island, and partly on the mainland. By filling in the harbour, they've got additional space, but there is very little water left. I think there must be more skyscrapers than in Manhattan. And in-between all the glass towers there is an occasional market, with stainless steel outdoors kitchens in the street, fish in polystyrene tanks and derelict Chinese medicine shops.

Because there is so little space on the ground level, they've built into the hillside behind. The streets are often cramped and winding, which makes travel upwards difficult. In order to make things easier they built the worlds longest escalator. It is outdoors, moves between the houses and up from the lowest city level to the mid-levels. If you live in the mid-levels and work in the lower levels of Central, you could go out of your flat, take the escalators to work and stay dry most of the way. And there are elevated, roofed gangways between the buildings. You can get off the underground, go up to the gangways and walk through most of Central, I think. I felt disconnected from the city on the gangways, they were stainless steel and full of people, but you looked down on the traffic and the streets.

We lived in Sha Tin, at the Mission station my great great grandfather built, Tao Fong Shan, where my grandfather grew up. Sha Tin is in the New Territories, one of the cities the government built to house the masses of refugees after the war. It consists mostly of government housing projects, massive shopping centres and cultural buildings around the river. There's the same odd juxtaposition of very old and very modern. On the city's edge there are old houses, a Buddhist temple and small cemeteries in the hillside.

The Buddhist temple, Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, has become a tourist trap, despite some four hundred steps to reach the top. When we got there there were people queuing everywhere. Streets were roped off, police officers direct people through the throng. We were in the middle of Ching Ming, the Chinese all hallow's eve or festival of the dead. They burn paper money, paper food, clothes and incense as an offering to their ancestors. The Chinese are a practical people, they don't offer real food, everything is made of paper. All this is sold in temporary boots across the city on Ching Ming.

On the final day, After a turn on the escalators, we ended up in SoHo (South of Hollywood Street). There are a lot of expatriates in Hong Kong, particularly European bankers, and they've created a European refuge in SoHo. English pubs, Greek, Russian and Italian restaurants. We found an Italian place that was built into an alley, where the proprietor had never been to Europe, but played Italian opera and served Limoncello after lunch. Most of the customers were not Chinese, but the three who were sat next to us, and were fascinated by how we ate, it seemed. I had an asparagus soup as a starter, and the lady next to me watched in fascination as I used my spoon. I caught her mirroring my eating, though she was having pizza. I expect it's the first and last time I will ever feel exotic with a spoon. The roles were reversed, I spent much of the holiday looking covertly at the locals eating, trying to copy them.

We had drinks on the top of the Peak, ate living sponge soaked in a spicy sauce, fried squid balls the texture of bouncy balls, dried jellyfish and got caught in unseasonably heavy rain at the Ladies Market. The forecast promised a light shower; I stood in water to my ankles in the street. My umbrella developed a hole in the middle, we bought flip-flops and walked through half of Kowloon to the Jade Market. And I scared a local man to death on the way. My brother and I were both sick of complaints, I had had enough of the rain and he dared me to jump in a puddle. I ran towards it, and jumped squarely in, umbrella sticking out and flip-flops nearly flying off. Grandfather says they call whites 'sea-devils', and the poor man who stood across the road looked like he had just had all his worst fears confirmed. I should have grinned and shouted, 'Ching Ming!' Ching Ming turned into a greeting and/or an expletive after a few days of use.
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