Sunday, November 28, 2010

二龍 - Central and Victoria Peak

-- 2 --

Mong Kok, Kowloon

42. Classic Asia; Haier water heater with that logo.

Today's plan is pretty simple: train to Central after rush hour, find the bar that hosts or used to host the CSC, hike to the other end of the island and get dim sum, find the racetrack, fold over to Causeway, hang about, go up the Peak, shoot from the top, go down, take the ferry back, and sometime in there get dinner. Ok, so it's a little complicated, but it's a small island, and my legs should be up for it.

Subways in HK, at least at rush hour, are better avoided. The learning curve is immediate, the room for error zero, the crush hardcore. It wasn't so bad for me, but those closer to 5 feet tall than to 7 may have a different and more claustrophobic experience.

Accordingly, I got off at Admiralty, just across the bay, rather than sticking on to Central. After getting turned around a couple times, I successfully got out of the station area -- westbound and down.

43. No fear at the MK -- two fours and a 13. (Compare Beijing.)

44. The Bank of China tower, right over Admiralty station.

45. Literally overshadowed.

46. Up towards the IFC tower -- from east of the ferry piers. This is a huge fucking building.

47. Back across towards Kowloon. Kairitai -- the air quality this side sucks.

This turn through Central, I did a lot of walking by the actual roadsides. Because when you try to do this, the air quality is shit and crossing the street takes your life into your hands, most foot traffic in Central, especially along the axis of Connaught Road and for a few streets parallel to the north and south, is on elevated walkways running between and through buildings as well as across the street.

48. Old city hall nestled among the skyscrapers.

Keep on truckin' -- it's a long way yet to Kennedy.

Central to Kennedy

49. A city portrait, down Connaught to the west.

50. Yes, seriously. Any other Red Dwarf fans coming out to HK, this shop is on Gilman Road, west side, just before it intersects Connaught.

51. Colonial architecture housing the Grand Stage.

52. Renewables, renewing. In Hong Kong, scaffolding just about grows on trees -- no need for heavy steel frameworks when you can lash together cheap bamboo. Because it's less expensive, you can do more bracing, allowing a structure that is made basically of sticks and duct tape to bear the weights associated with modern construction. So it's oldschool -- if it aint broke, don't fix it.

Despite this, people do try to steal it every now and then; I saw some other bundles a little further down with a couple strands of barbed wire across them.

53. Cityscape, including shark parts dealers. This is a no-comment while you're here, but like whales and Japan, it needs the spotlight of the outside world.

54. Looking up.

55. Light filters down from the peak. It's impossible to shoot stuff like this properly, because the place to do it from is in the middle of the street, and stopping there gets you killed, seriously.

56. Mural at the end of De Voeux. Public art is not too common in HK (though the scenery kind of makes up for it), so if this is your bag, the hike is worth it.

57. Ruins at the end of Victoria Road.

58. Old gate, Victoria Road.

59. Banyans and old hospital (?), same spot.

Before I came out here, I checked where this place that allegedly hosted the HK and South China CSC was. The club's webpage is gone, and now it seems like not only the bar they were based out of, but the street it was supposed to be on, is just gone. Be aware of unreal things, indeed.

It's more likely, though, that the bar is still on the street where it's always been, and my map-reading skills are just that abysmal. (This turned out to be exactly the case.) But turning a real city full of real people into a Weird-Tales vision of the inscrutable Orient is a difficult task, and needs, really, all the help it can muster.

60. HK Street Numbering: It's Wicked Logical.

Street numbers in Hong Kong follow a simple algorithm, as displayed in the below flowchart. (Click to pop the chart out.)

I first really got a feel for this Saturday night, on the long hike up Nathan. Like back home, also a former British colony administered by people disinterested in local affairs for about 150 years before punting it off on someone else, and very few other places in the civilized world, Hong Kong uses serial house numbers rather than block numbers, for a nice East-meets-West medium between the American "number tells you exactly where you are" and the Japanese "fuck it, this is useless, I'll draw you a map from the closest train station" systems. Something you get used to.

I shortly afterward did find the bar, but realized while hiking over that Wednesday is a night game...dunno if I'll be up for a 2AM kickoff. After this, I hit up a 7-11: Pocari Sweat for hiking power, and a can of Tsingtao because you're allowed to drink in public here, and as it turned out, I had not only my beer but a nice harbor view to write these notes out.

61. Another great view up to the heights. Backlighting sucks.

62. The headland and...nothing. The views are awesome here, but would be mindblowing if there wasn't so much damn smog.

63. The skyscrapers cast shadows on the waves.

64. The Motif #1 of boats, at least off the Shing Sei park today.

65. A view over towards Kowloon.

66. The bridge in the haze.

67. Another attempt.

68. Along the waterfront to the east.

69. Boatif #1 again.

70. Hydrofoil outbound for Macau. 70 minutes on this baby to Stanley-Ho-land, but that's for later in the week.

71. An inland look, same spot. Like I keep saying, this place frames itself.

72. The expensive way to ex-Portugal. And before you ask, it's USD300 one way and helicopter isn't even on my list of crossings-means, so hell no.

73. Coming out of the Shing Sei bus turnout. When it looks like this coming out of the fucking bus terminal, is it any wonder that this city bleeds filmmakers?

74. Nose cone or something amid the greenery.

75. Barbed wire at the Western Street crossing, Connaught Road.

76. South up Western, same bridge.

77. More bamboo scaffolding, same crossing.

Civilized people take the tram from the end of the Island Line to get out to Kennedy. Visual maniacs hike out on Connaught, because otherwise it's a lot easier to miss the block of nothing but rope dealers, then the block selling nothing but dried seafood, and right next to that, a five-star hotel. This is a world that zoning restrictions have pushed us out of, for better or for worse, and it's only when it pops back up that we're aware of its absence.

I tried to get dim sup at Maxim's and failed it. Packed, 100+ in line. Of course, I wasn't the one day only in HK, so I could bail, which I did, and plan to spawncamp it from about 10:30 or so later in the week.

78. The first shot to take work framing. A nice line of sandpiles and skyscrapers, but it took some careful steps to get the lightpole on the right out of the frame.

79. IFC 1 towering over the memorial garden at City Hall. This, also, needs no framing, but a wider lens would have been nice.

80. Stacking up towards the peak. I climbed about 30% of this rise despite a fuel intake over the last 7 hours and six miles of two BBQ rolls, one can coffee, one can Tsingtao and one 16oz Pocari Sweat. Risk heatstroke and joint injury or you're a pussy.

Peak Tram

Do you come from a European-ethnic majority area? After a couple days in HK, do you miss seeing hordes and hordes of white people everywhere? Then COME ON DOWN to the Peak Tram and see busload after busload of white people queue up to buy an expensive short-track rail ticket! Thrill as they grapple with the price schedule and dawdle in line! No fee unless you actually go on the damn train! Shows all day!

The actual train, though? AWESOME. My ears popped three times going up; at times you go past buildings and wonder "why are these houses just lying into the hill?" They aren't, of course; the tram is just flying up a 45-degree grade of the kind normally reserved for cablecars and rollercoasters.

81. Whose burden again? Nilla aint carrying shit. When you look down from the heights of the peak, remember the coolies who made it possible, toting and laying the 300-pound iron rails of the original track by hand.

82. Down from the Peak Tower. This is one of the few open-to-the-public places in Hong Kong that is actually higher up than the top of the IFC, and that only barely.

83. Ships at anchor and in the Tsim Sha Tsui typhoon shelter. It's a little clearer looking down from here, but the haze is still there as well.

For lunch it was either Chinese or Japanese; I gave the place advertising shark parts a pass, and the unagidon hit the spot exactly. There's more to the peak than A/C, shopping, and Christmas carols, but I needed the time to cool down and rest up anyways.

Looking down from the Peak Tower, you see not only the commercial skyscrapers, but also the highrises, in various states of repair, housing the hopes, dreams, and mortal bodies of Hong Kong's people. You see pools at the foot of some and rust stains along the walls of others, and wonder just how many are even able to think "let's go up the Peak for lunch today and spent $300 a person." There is still a gap with elevation, just as there used to be, and nearly as rigid as when a 60-cent ticket was a better and more civil-seeming "no Chinese allowed" sign.

Lunch was good and all, but I'm not sure it was really ten times as good as the noodle bowl I had last night. Despite all the other gwailo around, I feel out of place here, and after I get some night shots will be heading back to Kowloon in a hurry.

84. Up to the governor/chief executive's residence; dude's Chinese now rather than British, but The Who wrote a song about that.

85. Looking down into the harbor, outside.

86. Back more towards Central.

87. A cool old outbuilding below the Peak Tower.

88. Right. As a Celtic fan, I'm getting fed up with this bullshit. Murray Building downtown, Findlay Road up here -- it's almost like there was an international conspiracy to get it up the timmies when and wherever possible.

89. Across to another peak to the east.

90. And down the slope from the same spot.

91. Buttress work under 8 Mount Austin. A development like this doesn't sit on the hilltop by magic, and they have to handle earthquakes too.

92. Ships out to sea to the south. Stirring.

93. Radar site. Highest point, not open to the public.

94. If you live up here, you can afford to climb the hills in style.

95. Development the other peak over; the buildings stand on piles for stability aganst earthquakes.

After getting down from this walk up, and looking for better angles to shoot from at night than were readily available around the tram and tower, I went down this green arcade. Things seem quieter when you get out into the dark green, faster than just by getting away from the mass of people.

96. Wall step. The polished metal looks cool, if completely out of place.

97. Down over the edge. Must do better when the lights go on.

98. Across towards some weird terracing on the Kowloon side.

99. Ships in the harbor, better view.

100. Graffiti; I'm guessing French.

101. End of the road, and a cool worked-stone retaining wall as opposed to the normal poured concrete.

Why is it that the only people you hear before they come around the bend are always from my country? Gottseidank, dass ich mich auch als Deutsch vorstellen kann.

Two more hours. Wait wait wait.

102. Not organic, but it seems to grow out of the forest as well.

103. Grass slope and lookout point.

104. Picnic leftovers down the slope; a wine bottle and a nice big leaf to sit on.

105. Welding, or an electrical fire? No idea if I got the sparks on this building in this particular exposure.

106. Sunset; not too much longer now.

Even up here, the city roars. A continuous, husting drone like a mighty wind, seeming to rise out of the center of Kowloon only because that's where the focal point is, but really also coming out of Central as well, from all around the territory. Down in the middle of it, you don't notice, because you're hearing each individual component noise on its own. Up on the mountain, in the expectation that things will be quiet, though, you hear it. Can you unhear it, once again down in the mix? We'll see.

107. Ring-fort-like development on a far hill.

108. The mix; crumbling and luxury cheek by jowl.

109. Aimed at the cultural center and the tower in front of it.

110. Shooting for a junk off the Kowloon shore. As the earlier bayside pics should have indicated, anyone who is expecting the harbor to look like the arrival sequence in Enter the Dragon is in for a severe, severe disappointment.

111. Earthquake pillars under the Lippo towers. There's just so much detail and cool stuff available here; absolutely amazing.

112. AoI = AoR. Bad vantage point + no idea of window pitch = don't know what's being reflected.

113. Cupola, probably on St. John's; almost lost in the crush of buildings.

As at Wacken 2008, the last time I stood on a rail for several hours after a final reward that would show up only after dark, the wait here pays its own wages. Now let's see the payoff deliver on the level of that set, and I can get dinner and go home.

114. Ships at anchor again, in what's increasingly looking like the last of the light.

Things seem to sharpen up as the light dies -- less light, less weird reflections off dust and soot. I dunno.

115. Test/comparison frame. Hurry up and get dark!

116. 18:00 exposure. I'm waiting till 19:00; if Bank of China isn't lit up by then, they can go pound sand.


117. Full intended version. Like 30 seconds after writing up 116, they go on.

118. From a slightly different angle.

Night shots in, let's go spend peanuts on dinner, get in another big beer with a new cap, and pretend the bars are on the schedule.

119. From the base, a different way up. Should have braced this. Shot from the base of the tram; because I'm a traveler, not a tourist, I had an Octopus card and got a head start. Eat it, can-afford-to-stay-on-the-island lamers!

120. Detail of the BoC tower showing the neon Xs, how do they work.

Despite getting lost in the Admiralty center, I still hit the end of rush hour getting on the subway. The crush wasn't as bad as in the morning, though; worse was getting spun around coming out at Mong Kok and getting lost for a couple minutes. Still, the fresh markets on Argyle Street were cool, and I eventually found my way back to Portland and into a nice little restaurant for dinner -- sliced cold beef on rice with chopped veg. Point and enjoy -- and I still spent more on lunch today than all my other sit-down meals so far combined.

Food score:
7-11 - 3
Pointed at - 4

Not going to the bars tonight; feet are dead. Maybe tomorrow; I was planning Lantau, but I may take a mulligan and go hunt for animangoes in the Haiphong, then rest more. Races and dim sum are Wednesday, and I need to get over to Macau at some point, but nothing so far is MUST DO MUST DO. Most of the week is still ahead.

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