Hong Kong – Thursday, October 31, 2013 – Central, Soho and the long escalators

Just before my brief but harrowing morning interview, the office administrator recommended I go to Tsim Tsa Shui at the ferry docks, the historical heart of colonial Hong Kong. When I got there, I found it had been turned into a giant mall. I’ll leave you to parse this terrible, postmodern pastiche of redevelopment for yourself. But although I’d imagine no one has hunted with hounds in the hills of Hong Kong for decades, enough people want to imagine that it represents luxury, rather than British aristocratic cruelty, that it’s been embodied in paper mache:
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Just to the side, some floating prisons for rich pensioners:
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I fought my way up nearby Canton Road looking for old buildings but it had been turned into a wasteland of high end stores. It’s terrible and fascinating to consider that the high-end areas of every major city look exactly the same. The marketers and nouveau rich don’t want diversity or authenticity: they want a safe, sanitized few blocks to buy the exact same overpriced shit they can get in Tokyo, Seoul, New York, Toronto, etc. I got out of there as quickly as I could, had some passable tofu & vegetables & rice at a nearby diner (finally, a city where they understand what vegetarian is!), and moved across the road to the cultural centre. It was almost as sterile, but at least there weren’t any stores, just a preserved clock tower and some inoffensive statuary:
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Inside the cultural centre was a less-offensive postmodern pastiche – are these guys Egyptian?
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I took the ferry to Hong Kong Island – it cost 50 cents. I ignored barely-remembered stories of the ferry disaster last year:
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What can I say? I appreciate industrial aesthetics. And the iphone has an unexpected benefit of blurring light sources into fiery bursts:
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If anything, Hong Kong Island was even more developed than Kowloon, even though it was older. Here’s a giant Apple Store. Note the reflexivity, as that’s my Starbucks coffee. I’m implicated in my own critique! Someone give me an arts grant:
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I really enjoyed ‘Central’, if I’ve got my neighbourhood name correct. Past giant narrow office towers, the streets began snaking upwards, so steep that many had stairs. The buildings got smaller, the roads got narrower, and I found myself in Soho, an old area full of restaurants, bars and boutiques. I found a small stairwell behind some buildings and followed it:
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It led to a dead end. But sandwiched between a concrete hill wall and 40 storey buildings were restaurants:
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And liminal space. I like how this seems to be becoming a face but hasn’t quite made it:
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Back on the street, Hallowe’en decorations were up:
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And saucy 1970s humour:
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Hong Kong really began reminding me of New York City at this point:
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Just to the right, a judicious use of space to create a city park. The guy standing with his hands up kept standing like that, not moving, the whole time I was there:
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Yes, let’s:
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I’m familiar with tower blocks being bland and finished, but this penthouse – 20 storeys up – appears to have been renovated with scrap materials:
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Nearby Hollywood Street had antique shops. Is this Zhou En-lai and a giant rabbit?
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Construction lattices are made of bamboo here:
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Roads end at giant tower blocks, behind which are more tower blocks:
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I’m a good walker, but not everyone is. That’s why there’s the Central escalators:
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According to the local free paper, the escalators (and before that, the steps) used to surrounded by markets. Those have been pushed out by restaurants and pubs. I got that uncomfortable thrill of familiarity: the pubs looked great, and at 5pm they were opening up to well-heeled businessmen and women (a far cry from the scruffy, lost ESL foreigners in Seoul). But I didn’t see any locals stopping to drink:
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At the top of the escalators, a sign of Hong Kong’s colonial past. Nostalgia sells:
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I was raving to my girlfriend about the British cheese, chocolate, beer and Waitrose organic lentils for sale, and she said, “No wonder you felt comfortable there – you love Britain!” Which is true and, as an anti-colonialist, puts me in an uncomfortable spot. But the above commodities are excellent quality. So I was chuffed to see a fishmongers, even if I understand the geopolitics that led it to being there.

A little further on were the Botanical Gardens. The air suddenly smelled sweet, and the temperature dropped a couple of degrees – although the infamous Hong Kong humidity was nowhere to be felt.
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I was quite surprised to find the park filled with Filipino nannies and their Chinese and white charges. I didn’t know that industry existed here. I collapsed in the park until dark, when the peacocks started to wake up and then started looking for a nearby vegetarian restaurant. But without 3G, I quickly got lost and ended up traversing the swooping parkways between the apartment buildings:
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I did find this little piece of van der Rohe – on this scale it’s homey, not monumental:
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I eventually found my way back to the escalators or, more precisely, the steps down. I hadn’t realized how high up I’d gone. This is looking up the mountain, from an overpass:
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And this is looking down:
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I had given up on finding the vegetarian restaurant when I found Shelley Street, which was the street it’s on. And Shelley Street turned out to be the same as the escalators. So I went back up, this time taking photos as discreetly as I could:
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At the top, there was still no veggie restaurant. So I took the stairs back down:
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Until I found a little Pakistani diner on Mosque Street, close to an art gallery selling graffiti-painted heels…
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… and The Phoenix, a pub selling bottles of Samuel Smith, possibly the best British beer I’ve ever tasted, and that’s not a claim I make lightly:
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Suitably fortified, I headed back down towards Soho, where Hallowe’en was well underway, though this photo just shows the crowd and not the costumes:
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The signage that made me feel I was in a dryer, friendlier version of Bladerunner. Actually, It’s unfortunate that the subway public address announcements in Cantonese also gave the same impression – that movie was formative in my youth:

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I took the subway back across the bay to spend my last ounce of energy wandering Tsim Tsa Shui’s shopping district, which hadn’t been completely gentrified. This is probably my favourite photo of the entire trip:
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It also featured vicious gangs of Keep Left signs:
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Hong Kong felt more cosmopolitan and liberal than Seoul in a number of ways. Men have long hairs and tattoos, women smoke in the street. It’s hyper-capitalist but not monolithic: even the high rises look different. And of course everyone speaks English; even the fruit sellers know a few numbers. I saw internationals everywhere, not just in the centre. Also, I saw a single delivery scooter and it stayed on the road, unlike the hordes in Seoul that speed by/through you. Maybe it was the organic IPA, or the release of pressure after my interview, but the city was definitely growing on me by this point.

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