Sunday, April 22, 2007

What a long strange trip it's been on the Central Mid-Levels Escalator

Hong Kong is pretty busy and we do our best to get into the mix with everyone else. We have done our errands and seen the sights via shuttles, buses, double decker buses, ferry boats, sampans, taxis and of course our own minivan (now known alternatively as both "greased lighting" and "silver-y"). This past weekend we ventured out into Central, once again lured downtown by Tori’s ballet rehearsals, and traveled for the first time via the Central Mid-Levels Escalator.

Hong Kong Island is steep. In addition to hills, it is also humid. What looks like an easy walk can turn brutal quickly, with or without the twins hanging on you. Completely in keeping with its technological leanings, Hong Kong ingenuously eased some of the major hills for its people with a large scale escalator system. In 1993, Hong Kong opened the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world. Starting at Queen’s Road in Central, the system takes one over a half mile up 135 meters of hill to Conduit Road in the Mid-Levels. It is primarily a commuter escalator, running down the hill until 10 am and then switching direction and taking folks up again for the rest of the day. Approximately, 45,000 people use the escalator a day.

After exploring a little in Central and not getting much kid interest in another look at temples or antiques, we headed for the escalator, which we thought would be a sure fire crowd pleaser. It was, despite a modest start with a series of three moving sidewalks (like the type you see in airports). We then emerged from the upwards sidewalks into SoHo, a trendy neighborhood of cafes, bars and shops, south of Hollywood Avenue, a major by-way. From there, a series of short but real escalators took us up and the fun began. I enjoyed looking into the little restaurants, built up to the escalator level and pondering where we might stop in. Of course, we found a Krispy Kreme, brand-new, clean and at the escalator level and this is where we re-fueled.

Basically, the little sections of escalator just kept going and going. At one point, we came to a mosque. We got out and looked around, discovering a mosque which was built in 1915 and maintained in a picturesque green and white minaret style. We were all welcomed in and shown around. Tori was put in full covering garb and of course pictures were taken all around. On other escalator sections, we saw art galleries and musuems. And a grocery store. Our large chain grocery store on the south side has a little shop just off the escalator. All in all, an interesting and literal cross-section of Hong Kong society.

Being us, we did manage a minor injury on the escalator. Somehow Adam stuck his shoe, not once but twice, into the escalator. And being a Hong Kong escalator, akin to the dreaded Hong Kong elevator that does not bounce back when closing on human body parts, it chewed up his shoe and spit it back out. Adam was not hurt, only scared and a little indignant. Perhaps not unlike a little pint sized commuter on his way to and from the office.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Po Toi: an outlying island to leave out there

While we have had many great adventures here, some do go awry. Sadly, our last island hopping venture, with my visiting and good spirited Mom in tow, was one of them. While we have great views, beaches and pools, and the American Club (our private club with restaurant and sports facilities across the street) here in Hong Kong, we also have crowds, apartments, heat, extreme humidity and Po Toi.

The standard way to reach any of Hong Kong’s islands is via the central ferry terminal in Central (downtown Hong Kong.) As that involves a 30 minute drive downtown, parking at the Consulate and then a short taxi ride to the ferry, it is not a real attractive option for us. Better are the ferries that leave from the south side of Hong Island, the side we live on. We have the Aberdeen ferry on the south side that goes to Lamma Island, which we have used extensively. Also in the Aberdeen area, there are numerous sampans (small fishing boats) that can be hired at little cost to take you to or from Lamma if the ferry schedule doesn’t suit.
There are also a few ferries that leave out of Stanley, the small town closest to where we live, on a pretty limited schedule. With the vague idea that scarcity increases value, we opted for the Sunday only ferry out of Stanley to Po Toi. We happened to run into a woman expecting twins who I slightly know for that very reason. She mentioned there were no sampans for hire on Po Toi. Despite this last minute warning, we pushed on and soon found ourselves stranded on Po Toi for a three hour tour.
Speaking positively, one could say that Po Toi was like Hong Kong was hundreds of years ago- deserted, no electricity and little commercial overkill. But somehow that doesn’t translate into a pristine natural getaway or at least not in 2007, with a family in tow and a humidity index reaching 100%. Po Toi does have hiking trails that cover the island and in fairness to the island I feel compelled to go back and give them a try. On the day we were there, it was just too hot to even consider making it beyond the one restaurant and the one temple.
The restaurant was packed and whirling with conversation, fans and the noise from its own generator. We ate as best we could being a non-seafood family. Roycie loved the garlic broccoli and of course our kids can now eat white rice with the best. Far surpassing the food, the restaurant highlight was definitely the kids running to the back kitchen and watching with a mix of awe and horror the scaling and cutting of many many fish.
We pushed forward through a little village of sorts to the local Tin Hau (goddess of seafarers) temple. Most villages have a Tin Hau temple and I have yet to see two temples that are alike. We could not get a good look at this one however as it was under construction. The worker men were gracious, stepping over drying cement and two by fours to point out the new ceramic figures that are being placed on the temple. Still, a temple shrouded not in silence and reverence but scaffolding and the sounds of drilling seemed an apt symbol of modern Hong Kong for my Mom to witness.