Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hong Kong: The Wisdom of Crowds

It’s been a while since I last blogged: I can go on and give you a list of reasons excuses, but then again, that’s all they would remain: reasons excuses. The truth is it’s been a fairly stressful phase in my life: call it an existential crisis, call it a case of an empty mind being a devil’s workshop or call it a writer’s block, I have barely slept, let alone think creatively or put my thoughts on paper.

May be I just needed a vacation or may be I just needed some time away from work, away from the daily humdrum, or simply away from Mumbai. But I didn’t really have the luxury or the frame of mind to plan an elaborate summer holiday like I usually do, even though there are so many places that I wistfully look up on the net, hoping against hope that I would go there soon (think Sri Lanka, think Egypt, think Greece, think Kenya, think Andamans, think New Zealand, think McLeodganj, think… you get the drift). So given my current state of volatility and anxiety, I did the best I could: pile on my cousin brother’s generosity, book a ticket to Hong Kong, get visa on arrival and plant myself close to his place for a week, so that I would get an obliging family who would show me around town, without having to use my brains, research, decide an itinerary and look for the best deals, i.e. things that I usually enjoy doing, things which make the travel experience so much more enriching and things which make me remember the subtle nuances of my trips all the more vividly.

But this time it was different: it was not so much about traveling, as it was about family, about rediscovering the joys of being together in a foreign country or sharing the foreign cuisine while getting on one another’s nerves.

As a city Hong Kong is like any other global financial capital, with its cosmopolitan culture, busy streets, tall skyscrapers, impressive infrastructure and vibrant nightlife. We did the usual touristy stuff: visiting the Tian Tan Buddha (The Big Buddha) by cable car, getting a bird’s eye-view of the city at night from the Victoria Peak, relaxing on the beach at Shek O, trying out a new dish by the waterfront at the picturesque little town of Stanley, going around the city on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, trying the different modes of public transport (MTR, trams, buses, ferries), walking along the Avenue of Stars in Kowloon, bargaining in the night market at Mong Kok and window shopping at the glitzy malls, wishing we had more money or less propensity towards maths (as an Indian, we invariably end up multiplying the figure on every price tag to calculate the value in INR). Time and again, I was taken back to the memory of reading "Tintoretor Jishu", one of my favourite Feluda stories. Written in the backdrop of Hong Kong, it was later made into a movie as well and shot in Kowloon.

But we also explored the less commercial aspects of Hong Kong: like taking an early morning ride to Discovery Bay for breakfast, walking down the fishing village of Lama Island which also served up the most delicious variety of seafood I have ever tasted and taking a long bus ride to Tai Po and cycling across the scenic coastal area.

However, not being amusement park or gambling enthusiasts or five-year-olds, we gave the Disneyland, Oceanpark and Macau a miss, though some day I do hope I get to visit China and sneak a day into Macau too, even if it’s for the sake of experience!

So if I had to choose the top five highlights of the trip, I would go with this list (in no particular order):

1.Quality time with family
2.Cycling after almost ten years at Tai Po
3.Seafood at Lama Island
4.Taking the wrong line in MTR and then figuring out our way
5.Being stopped by three Chinese ladies on Avenue of Stars and asked to pose for a snap with them, like I was an alien from The Planet of the Apes

Hong Kong may not be the city of my dreams, but as a place which offers a eclectic blend of Oriental and Colonial culture, a charming landscape of the hills and the sea, a delectable array of cuisines to choose from and an impeccable combination of the life in the fast lane along with the slow relaxing pace of sleepy towns and fishing villages, it’s quite a fascinating destination which doesn’t require too much of advance planning.

I came to Hong Kong as a skeptical traveler, still enamoured by the tragic history of Cambodia or the sheer diversity of Malaysia, but I left, reassured that there is indeed some sanity in mundane city life as well…

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