Following a “nap” back at the hotel, we took the nearby Metro for the waterfront. First stop: the famous lounge at the Intercontinental, right on the harbor. We should’ve ducked into the even more famous Peninsula Hotel for a drink too because I love pretending to be rich. I expected the Intercontinental would be crowded, though, so we skipped it.
Comfortable cocktail couches. Piano tinklings in the background. Twenty-foot high windows. The most impressive skyline in the world on display outside. Darkness falling. And somehow the place wasn’t packed — only about seventy percent. We enjoyed five-dollar coffees, finger food, and Sprite in which to dump some tequila. Darkness descended and our buzzes kicked in.
Soon we felt the urge to roam from our comfy perch. We headed out to a huge patio, right on the water. No windows for lounge lighting to reflect off of out there. This spot provided a spectacular low view of Hong Kong, in contrast to the high view on Victoria Peak. Both are truly breathtaking. If I had to choose, however, I’d go with this view.
A seemingly endless line of brightly-lit skyscrapers reflected off the water, punctuated by colorful watercraft floating by. Only one other couple wandered out the whole time we stood there marveling at the view. We swapped photography duties, (alas, they screwed ours up). The Intercontinental beat the crowds of the Peak any day.
Ever in fear of missing out, I felt compelled to move on to the nearby Avenue of Stars before the show started. This is also on the water-front and a gathering place to take in a skyline light show synched to music. Sadly, the lack of people on the hotel patio made me forget I was in one of the most populous places in the world. The Avenue of the Stars reminded me.
We fought through the crowd and climbed up a barricade to gain a reasonable view of the show, but it was underwhelming anyway.
Shoe Shopping Time!
Full-on Lily Time came next. We headed back uptown to Mongkok for the famous Ladies Market and the myriad shops in between. Lily sought a new pair of kicks and all kinds of other shit. Her hometown of Shenzhen has leaped into the 21st century in a lot of ways, but they’re still short on quality shops that cater to women.
We exited the Metro into a night turned into day by bright store signage and billboards everywhere. People out living it up on a Saturday night packed the sidewalks. Energy filled the air, which I found to be a welcome change from the boredom of the Cotai Strip in Macau.
A number of streets were blocked off for street performers and impromptu DJ sets. People bustled between shoe stores, retail outlets, and endless stretches of street vending stalls. Folks danced, frolicked, and smiles were everywhere. Finally a party! So of course Lily decided this would be a great time to stock up on skincare products.
I reminded myself that this was Lily’s night — she could do what she wished. I took video of the scene as I waited.
Later rather than later, Lily emerged loaded down with two big bags full of beauty products. Just what you’d want to schlep around for a street party and checking out Mongkok.
I became used to carrying a twenty-pound bag of moisturizer everywhere soon thereafter. I guess that was when the ecstasy kicked in (don’t worry, I didn’t travel from America with it.) Not a huge dose, mind you. Probably less than 1/10th of a gram. In other words, just enough to smile a lot despite lugging around a huge bag while shoe shopping.
Lily was oblivious to my slightly altered state, and what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Especially given any long term thing between us seemed kaput anyway. In any event, she seemed to enjoy the back rub I gave her every time she came up for air from shopping.
I captured video of my most memorable episode of this part of the evening Happy as hell, leaning against a pillar at the entrance of a shoe store, grooving to light rap music. My senses gorged on all the pretty lights and passersby, none of whom looked anything like me. What a trip, both literally and figuratively.
A nice, cool Saturday evening proved not the best time to check out the famous Ladies Market. We made it about one row of seemingly thousands before we GTFO of there. I got a taste of it, and that was enough. Lily had found her shoes and was sick of crowds. I really wanted an I (Heart) HK shirt for cheap, but c’est la vie.
The next day was our last together. As such, I expected something special in the bed that night. And boy did I get it: Lily emerged from the bathroom wearing a “mask” of green lotion (or something) she had just bought. You know, for younger and more healthful skin. This foreplay was new to me.
“No sexy time?” I asked.
Lily shrugged, confirming our fizzled “thing”. This was sad, but hardly a tragedy. No one needs a long-distance relationship on the opposite side of the world anyway. Besides, the ecstasy had worn off, and exhaustion set in as soon as I hit the bed. A kiss goodnight, during which I carefully avoided green goop, was soon followed by heavy zzzz’s.
My final scheduled day in the Orient proved to be my favorite, by far. This probably had something to do with the LSD taking hold around two in the afternoon. Not coincidentally, this happened while we visited PMQ, a small art shopping/cultural center back on Hong Kong Island.
I spent nearly an hour in a shop full of amazing photography prints alone.
The place as a whole underwhelmed us. Next time I’m looking for art in HK, I’ll check out the Museum of Art, which was in the middle of a three-year, full renovation during my visit (re-opens in 2019). Go big or go home.
Next, I accompanied Lily on another shoe search, in which she ended up with a pair that suited her perfectly. I was enthralled watching her interact in Mandarin with the saleslady. If I had to guess, at some point the lady said: “Gee, your friend sure seems fascinated by that multi-colored scarf for some reason!”
The craziest scene of my whole visit followed a short Metro ride away in Causeway Bay. As I stood in the middle of the train car, I tripped out on my view through the cars ahead of me. No doors blocked my line of sight. On a straight-away, I couldn’t see the end of the train, probably twenty cars long. The real fun came on curves, hills, and valleys, though. I felt like we were all in the belly of a serpent. I laughed heartily, and those around me probably thought white guy was crazy.
The train delivered us to an ultra-modern station, complete with an escalator that felt like being in a commercial. A soundtrack of soothing music played as I floated by a couple dozen small video screens touting the virtues of cosmetics. Lily looked at me like I was crazy when I repeated the ride in order to get video.
We spilled into Causeway Bay and felt real population density. Since this is the exact opposite of my current suburban Richmond lifestyle, I was fascinated. Rising at least a full head above the crowd (I’m six-foot-five, remember) made the sensation even more enjoyable.
Lily, on the other hand, soured considerably upon this development. She is surrounded by people everywhere she goes in her hometown. This was no vacation for her; it was another day in the grind. And she’s only five-foot-five. I felt like an awful host. Something had to happen, and fast.
The raves I’d read about a Sunday afternoon in Causeway Bay proved true. A bizarre celebration was underway. First, a disorganized parade ambled by. Or at least part of one. I got the feeling parade permits in this part of the world don’t necessarily involve closing streets off, so they get interrupted.
“You can march if you want,” I pictured the authorities saying, “but you know there’s way too much traffic around here to shut it down for your third-rate parade on a non-Holiday.”
My favorite marchers were a senior citizen organization. Their pluck in hitting the town was inspirational. They couldn’t necessarily hit their tambourines in time with the music or walk in-step, but this made it more charming.
Eventually Lily and I waded through enough humanity to find the outskirts of Victoria Park — an oasis in the middle of mega-urbanism. The space offered multiple asphalt soccer “fields” and basketball courts, painted green like a tennis court. Before we reached these, however, we encountered the real reason for our visit to this part of town.
Hong Kong’s wealth, coupled with its population density, means domestic helpers number in the thousands. Sunday is their day off work, and Causeway Bay is where they rendezvous with friends, usually based on nationality or religion. Since the available green space of the park is limited, these gatherings spill onto the surrounding sidewalks.
Seemingly endless groups set out blankets on which to commune with their friends. They spent time on picnics, doing each other’s hair and makeup, singing, or praying.
Some even played in drum circles. It felt like the parking lot at a Phish concert, only with no men, white people, beer, or drugs around. The drum circle on blankets drew me in. Ten or twelve ladies sat on the sidewalk, pounding away in rhythm. They stopped when I approached with a big smile on my face. I asked if I could film them, but instead of playing something hot they just waved and smiled.
After seemingly a mile of ladies lounging on sidewalks we came across kids shooting around on a basketball court. I walked up to them with confidence. “My country invented this game. Give me the fucking ball!”
Just kidding. I’m not a dick. Instead, I wandered out there and shot air-ball after air-ball. I showed off only my poor cardio health, and that I can dribble well. I also drew laughs by holding a ball out of reach from a little kid. I only spent a few minutes there so I didn’t end up drenched in sweat. I sweat a lot.
Next, we found ourselves back near the waterfront in Central, heading to a food and wine festival. On the way, we stumbled upon a remarkable two-story Apple store. My acid trip was peaking, so I was all smiles and snickering. Apple really understands retail design, too. Lily agreed, the views out the window were extraordinary, even without acid.
Soon we drew near the site of the festival and encountered a fashion show audition. The young ladies looked appropriate for walking around on the most expensive real estate in the world. Drop-dead gorgeous. Hips swayed and hair tossed as a song called “She Likes Fashion” accompanied strolls down an imaginary catwalk.
Much to my delight. the models were in full look-at-me mode. They played to my camera as the followed prompts from the queen bee, who made notes on a clipboard. Lily seemed to enjoy herself as well and showed no jealousy. We both repeated the “she likes fashion!” song refrain for the rest of the day.
We finally made it to the food and wine festival, staged right on the waterfront next to the piers. Tripy visuals greeted me right away. Alas, this was the best part of the festival.
The festival played up a national theme, with tasting areas highlighting what each country is known for. The US area featured Jack Daniel’s and barbecue, for instance. England offered up cardboard as cuisine. Just kidding. All of the hospitality areas offered wine tastings and native foods. Unfortunately, none of them provided tables or chairs.
Leave it to the French to get the party started. Each group that scored a table in the tiny food court area appeared to be camped for the day. They enjoyed prime real estate on prime real estate. Weary, well-heeled pedestrians circled the area, plastic wine glasses in one hand, flimsy plates full of food in the other, and ready to pounce. Everyone seemed to glare at the campers. People staked out spots near likely candidates to vacate a table. I was reminded of trying to get a cab in NYC on New Year’s Eve.
My urge to sit forced my throw decorum to the wind. I sat on the edge of a carpeted platform for a lightly-trafficked display, and Lily happily joined me. We enjoyed watching the competition for tables from there. I’ve never felt so privileged to basically be sitting on a curb.
This humble spot proved to be one of my fondest memories of my time with Lily. We finally slowed down and got close after running around the whole day. I can still hear Lily’s sweet voice in my ear and probably always will.
Dusk descended on both HK that evening and the affair of Lily and me. After five naturally -lowing days together, our goodbyes approached.
I barely fended off bawling on the Metro ride back to the hotel. Once we got there, the floodgates opened. Lily didn’t seem to understand. Then again, she didn’t know I was tripping, and how psychedelia taps hard into my emotions. I wept for the death of the idea we could ever be a couple. Too many obstacles. This was it.
The sense of purpose in rolling Lily’s suitcase to the station for her train helped me get it together, a little. Parting ways at the escalator proved easier than watching Lily pack. At least I didn’t cry like a baby. Still, I was numb on the walk back to my hotel. My sadness stuck out amid the thousands of people I passed just as much as my tall Caucasian body.
The night was still young, but doing anything seemed out of the question. Then I remembered HK’s ViuTV6. I turned to the TV on maybe four times the whole trip, but each time this was the channel I chose. Good news shows or documentaries always seemed to be on. So I gave it a try; anything to take my mind off Lily leaving.
First, a video of a plastic grocery bag mesmerized me. No narration or explanation — just a bag floating around against a plain background, accompanied by soothing music. Next what appeared to be a white liquid filled the screen, and drops of oil squirted this way and that in the middle of it as a chill piano piece played. After a quick pic of a dog next to a “Dog TV” logo, I was treated to a hippo standing around, surrounded by those little white birds that always seem near them.
Soon the video switched to a “relaxation for dogs” segment, featuring two small canines frolicking in a field. I couldn’t take this seriously. One characteristic every dog I’ve spent time with shares the ability to relax. They’re experts at this. They relax effortlessly. I decided this program was not for dogs at all, but intended for HK tourists with minds reeling from a week of sensory overload. I laughed. Hard.
Next, I made my weakest judgment call of the trip: A walk to a nearby Ritz-Carlton to check out more skyline views. The walk was not all bad, however. First I strolled through a lovely park, where I saw yet another exercise/Tai Chi gathering. These groups of ten or twenty people stepping and stretching are almost as common as luxury malls in HK.
Another part of the walk took me straight through a loading dock area for a massive produce distribution facility. Even large operations spill into streets for lack of affordable space.
The Ritz occupies the top floors of the 118 story International Commerce Center, which is among the world’s 10 tallest buildings. As such, typical signage making the hotel easy to find didn’t exist. Like it was the biggest secret club imaginable. While lost, I enjoyed still more space-age sights like the Kowloon metro station and the plazas all around it.
Once I finally found the hotel, I headed for possibly the peak of my trip — both the acid one and the traveling one. Ozone is a nightclub on the 118th floor, featuring views like one is on a stationary airplane. How high could I get? The stylish door chick must’ve sensed my excitement as she prepared to extract the twenty dollar cover charge. Until gender discrimination. My shorts failed the dress code, despite being appropriate for a golf course. Meanwhile, two women wearing skirts up to their asses waltzed right by. Who says it’s a man’s world?
I took this L with good humor and, hardly defeated, settled for the bar lounge on the 108th floor. Given the twenty I saved, my beer and burger cost only thirty dollars. How thrifty.
I easily secured a seat directly in front of floor-to-ceiling windows and took in a ridiculous city and harbor view through a clear sky. Piano music tinkled into the room, and I felt rich for a while.
Time To Go?
When I entered the airport departure terminal twelve hours later, I paused. Spread below me a massive ultra-modern, shiny atrium-style room bustled with people, preparing to head to their flights. I had no choice but to stop and take a pic. The architectural marvels of Hong Kong get you coming and going.
I soon learned my United flight was canceled. Worse, the Cathay Pacific substitute flight had no premium economy seats available — unacceptable for a tall fella like me. I had a free hotel room and meal vouchers for another day in the bag, so fuck it. I could be a day late back to work. They’d get over it. Bonus Day!
As luck would have it, one of HK’s top tourist attractions was a short bus ride from my airport hotel. This is the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha), reached via the Ngong Ping 360, “the world’s most amazing cable car experience.” Before I enjoyed this, however, I pulled a rookie move.
Instead of booking the cable car online ahead of time, I just went there. This earned me an hour-long wait as people in the express line blew by me. At least I wasn’t on a plane headed back to real life yet.
I paid extra for the glass-bottomed cable car because looking straight down on trees from above made for a cool video clip. And what’s ten bucks anyway at a time like this? I ended up in a car with two attractive young French girls and a Thai or Cambodian family of four, the father of which used an outdoor voice despite being in close quarters with others. Perhaps being sort of outside threw him off. Fuck that guy.
The ride drew us up a small forested mountain and back down the other side. Included in the scintillating scenery were a big lake below and a complete view of the HK airport island, the aforementioned engineering triumph. I watched jumbo jets perform entire takeoffs every minute or so, and loved it.
The cable car’s path followed a trail below that included thousands of steps to assist intrepid hikers who chose that route to the Big Buddha. Perhaps weekend days inspire people to walk it, but no one did when I floated by.
As with seemingly all HK infrastructure, they did not fuck around moving the masses headed for the Big Buddha. Wide, smooth walkways led from the cable car terminal to the site. Newly-built tourist trap shops beckoned on either side, including a Starbucks. I’m guessing a few luxury stores like Gucci wanted in too, to keep with modern HK tradition.
Always reluctant to follow the crowd, I instead followed a bull. Or a steer. Or a sacred cow. I’m not sure, but the thing standing behind a shop building had horns. I slid over to say ‘sup and ended up on a side journey through a mostly dilapidated little village, populated by additional free-roaming cattle. They had taken a vow of silence because they didn’t reply when I asked what they are called. They just kept chomping weeds like I wasn’t even there.
I may have been trespassing on this side jaunt, but no one was around to say. I felt like I was getting away with something.
Eventually, I found my way back to the main drag to find these damn bulls were everywhere. A couple dozen of them, just hanging out. My little secret off the beaten path was nothing of the sort. To prove I was American, I loudly complained to anyone nearby. I even cursed some bulls to their face. One of them let me know what he thought of me. . .
I found the main approach to the Big Buddha, which stood perfectly-aligned with a nearby monastery. Feng Shui at work. The sun’s phases probably figured in too, but I never confirmed this.
Soon I felt like I was walking from the parking lot at Red Rocks to the entrance. Up and up, two hundred and sixty-eight steps I climbed, blowing past tourists in worse shape than me along the way. My job, that keeps me on my feet all day really paid off.
Six elaborate statues circle the base of the Big Buddha, along wide walkways. These are known as “The Offering of the Six Devas,” giving flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. They symbolize the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.
Numerous people sat in meditation poses here and there around the statue, I assume in search of said enlightenment. I’d be amazed if they achieved any peace of mind, however, given the bustle of tourists in their midst. A small drone hovered about as well, sending off a whine that could keep the dead from finding serenity.
The plateau offered views of the monastery and park on one side, and a sweet overlook of the South China Sea on the other.
I tried to climb higher, hoping I could enter the Buddha’s head, as it were. Denied, I settled for a trip through the base of the statue, where I found a small museum. Even though photography was prohibited, I managed a pic of the Big Buddha under construction and didn’t feel bad about it.
Next, I wandered to check out the ornately-decorated monastery. Security guards kept tourists from entering until a prayer session for actual monks finished. I found a relatively quiet spot at which to record chants and drumbeats that carried outside the walls. I felt especially glad to be there on such a low-traffic day because the sounds were faint. Sadly, an ear-splitting masonry saw sound intruded now and then. Workers were installing a stone patio a couple hundred feet away. Perhaps these sounds ripping into the soothing tones of Buddhist prayers effectively sums up modern society.
The ceremony soon ended, and the monks filed out right past me. I felt like each of them was a mini-celebrity and I wasn’t worthy of breathing the same oxygen. Like they possessed something I could never even dream of. Then I remembered I’m an atheist and I have an amazing stereo in my nice, late-model car.
I later learned they accept tips, so to speak. They will never ask, but they are obliged to accept anything that’s offered to them, even from sinners like me, on sacred-ground drinking a Sprite with a ton of tequila in it. They can’t hold on to cash, but they have a system for making it useful besides burning it along with their incense. Live and learn
Dusk began to kick in, so I made my way to the tram for my return trip. A thirty-minute wait for it allowed darkness to fall and made the views more spectacular. The planes taking off and landing were more fun to watch, and the scale of the island airport became more clear. Multitudes of high rise apartment building glittered in the distance once the tram car began its descent.
Upon return to the airport, I headed to the food court to use the voucher the airlines gave me. Turns out I had a surplus of funds available, so I offered to buy the meal of an attractive young lady in line behind me. Alas, the cashier called foul. “Meal for passenger only!”
And I didn’t even get points for the effort, because the lady in line didn’t understand English. Or that was her way of getting me to go away, of course. I have a way with the ladies like this.
Sadly my flight back the next day was not canceled, so I had no excuse to avoid returning to real life. My mundane day-to-day routine proved easier to take having been on such an adventure, however. Lily and I have remained in touch as friends. She tried to gain entry to the US for business, as a sales rep for a cosmetics manufacturer but was denied a visa.
“U.S. government shit!” is how she summed it up.
I may see her again anyway because I can picture myself back in Hong Kong someday. There is far more to explore in that part of the world than I managed in nine days.
Finally, one of my favorite videos, but it didn’t fit into the story. I’ll remember to get them all to wave next time.