Sunday, November 28, 2010

四龍 - Central, Mid-Levels, Causeway, and Happy Valley

-- 4 --

Mong Kok, Kowloon

Today's going to be early and late: early to hike down to the Star ferry pier, late getting back from the races at Happy Valley. My feet have regenerated from Monday, and I'm ready to finish up my planned points on Central and the eastern end of the island. Just need to do it without losing all my money.

133. St. Andrew's, under reconstruction.

134. Christmas ninja turtle on the promenade edging Kowloon Park. In traditional Chinese geomancy, the turtle is associated with the north, and Hong Kong is still north of the equator, so north is the 'wintery' direction, despite the fact that it does not get cold here as such. None of this explains this poster in any way whatsoever.

135. Santa display under construction puts this entrance out of service.

136. Minaret at the Islamic center just south of the park.

137. Chungking Mansion goes high-tech. Like I said, the Southern District has gotten really cleaned up, with gentrification extending into the mid-200s of Nathan. Side streets are less affected, but the change is still evident.

Star Ferry

138. Star Meridian riding at anchor as we prepare to sail.

Do you hate crowds? Do you have too many weird bumpy coins in your pockets? Do you have tough feet and 15 minutes to kill? If so, the Star Ferry is your best way across the harbor. At $2/2.50 for lower/upper decks, it's probably not cheaper than the TST/Admiralty link and will involve more walking, especially if you're staying a decent distance up in Kowloon like I am, but it's not absofeckinlutely mobbed, and you have a view of things other than black hair and tunnel ads.

It also helps to not be vulnerable to motion sickness; these are small ferries in a restricted, heavily-traveled, deep-water channel that is still an arm of the Pacific Ocean. This is the long way of saying that they roll like a motherfucker, so those with inner ear problems AND claustrophobia are kind of fucked.

139. Across the harbor to Central.

140. Sand barge going east.

I didn't get a super seat for photography purposes, but there you go, traveler not tourist again. Maybe do the harbor tour after lunch; I've got a lot of time before the horses start running.

I Hate People From My Country, Part 89:
A tremendous belch tears across the waterfront. An American accent replies "Brandon, knock it off." No komennto.

141. Kowloon through the haze. I had to move seats about halfway through my SCMP due to the maintenance guys spraying down that part of the waterfront, and ended up sitting just straight across from this. As ever, no framing required.

142. Tramp freighter with the same background. I didn't get the registration, but it's probably not the Sea Girl. It's also dead empty; the bulb on the bow is nearly all the way out of the water.

143. Junk with its sails in, same background. If this was staged, it wouldn't be running on its engine, but there's like no wind this morning, and the dudes on the boat actually need to get somewhere.

144. Construction barge, same background, going the other way. This one's probably headed for the TST typhoon shelter.

145. Another oldschool boat. Hooray spawncamping. Let's hope it works as well for lunch as it has for photography.

146. Tug (?) under absolutely ridiculous load. Either this is a monitor build or it's carrying far too much weight, to the extent that the bow is all but under water. What the hell?

The weather's a lot better today; cooler and more cloud cover. We'll see how that holds up, though, when I get off the waterfront in the afternoon.

147. Skyline and peak, coming out of the piers.

148. Towers bracket the colonial admin office. I had to wait about two minutes to get this in a five-second gap in a parade of buses.

149. Plinth and colonial building, again shot quick due to bus traffic.

150. Greenery in the memorial garden.

151. Color composition shot; probably didn't come out.

Tick tick tick...only a few more minutes (and a quick shot of the old British colonial crest on the gates on the way out) and I can go inside and camp Maxim's opening up without looking weird. Well, weirder than generally allowed for gwailo around here anyways.

152. Tree in the corner of the park.

It's a good thing I've got time to burn in Victoria and Causeway; I'm still a long way from figuring out how to bet the races for loss limitation. Between Race To Win last night and the SCMP this morning, someone is selling punters a bill of goods -- I'll have a better idea of who that is after race 4, but that's half the meeting gone by then. That is, of course, why they call it gambling, and how the HKJC manages to stay in business and fund their purses.

153. Dragons on the grill.

I was the 13th customer into Maxim's as it opened, which turned out not to be necessary, as people were getting seated immediately even when I left. Abstractly, I'm not a fan of this $300 lunch thing that's been going on, but I got good dim sum, decent views despite all the window tables being reserved, and that's seven dishes plus a whole pot of tea, service charge inc, split with nobody. Obviously, if you're not trying to solo this, it's going to be cheaper.

The downside, though, is that I'm stuffed now to the can-barely-move level. The upside is that after I digest for a bit, I should be good to hike to the escalator, muck around in the middies, and not need to eat anything till I get over to the track around 7. Gorging oneself on steamed pastries isn't and shouldn't be the recommended course of action, but if it's going to be necessary, it should at least be useful.

I think I ate shark parts by accident. The server offered "siu mai? siu mai" and I said yes. However, on biting in, something 'popped' in a way that you don't expect pork to. So that I could pay my bill and get hiking towards a hospital if it was scallops, I cut into one with my chopsticks to check. The crunchy, cartilagenous bits were neither scallop nor shrimp, and had gray outside edging. When the cart came back, I saw the placard on the front advertising siu mai with shark fin. So I eated it after all, and am sorry. That being said, I have no idea why this is a delicacy, except for the part where you're a giant asshole to the shark by chopping off its fins while it's still alive, then throwing it back into the water so that it can suffocate on the way to the bottom. Hooray, you can make a fish drown, awesome. It still doesn't taste like anything.

Wind Climbing - Up The Escalator And Down

For Bostonians, the description of the Central-Mids Travelator as the longest covered escalator in the world may conjure up images of something like the infamous Porter Square riser, but stretched out to go all the way up the mountain from Monday's shots. This is not the case; there isn't a single belt going all the way up, so there's no epic view up/down as you deal with a Frankfurt Airport tunnel belt that some genius decided to run up a grade. Like many things in Hong Kong, the escalator is a cobbled-together sum of many parts, having its own advantages and tweaks arising from the mix.

154. Silver and gold; towers shot while mistakenly walking into Wan Chai. (The escalator starts around Jubilee Street, which is in completely the other direction from City Hall.)

155. Population density; still going the wrong way.

156. Old sign still valid. This is by Fenwick Pier, an indication of how wrong-footed I got.

157. On the escalator; one wonders exactly how an organic sleeping place differs from an inorganic one. I mean, are we talking gorilla nests here or something?

158. Gate to the Jamia Mosque, unsurprisingly coming up on the Mosque Street crossing.

159. Street view, almost at the top. It's like a whole different city from Central.

160. Banyan after running out of escalator. Going back the way you came is for lamers, so I picked a direction on Conduit and went looking for a downward grade.

161. And boy, did I find it. This is a 1m in 5 drop -- hardcore.

162. And here's the actual grade down.

163. Shot between buildings -- the views coming down here are class, as long as you don't need to watch your feet to keep your footing.

164. Same aperture, three steps later. This is worse than Alexanderplatz for continually having to haul the damn camera out. Fortunately, there is like no foot traffic at all here, so I'm not blocking the road for anyone by stopping to shoot.

165. View up to Glenally.

166. Habitrail-like interchange going down towards Central.

167. Swooping walkpath and unexpurgated graffiti.

168. View towards the IFC with amazing sky.

169. Slightly more north-facing from the same spot.

170. Greenery in a roundabout/loop. (Not sure if the roads connect.)

171. Shadows and foliage under the carriageways.

172. Same spot, different frame.

173. Older stone arch.

174. View up from the bench. Since there was a place to sit, I took a rest to write these up. And no sooner do you sit down at the leftmost end of this bench and look up than this view hits you in the eyes. The quality of scenery and composition around here is just ridiculous.

175. LOL ART. Road signs against the sky; no idea if the colors match how it was live.

176. Up the culvert, moving out.

177. And down the spillway. This kind of structure is also called a 'nullah', a word taken over from Hindi during the British occupation and now used exactly nowhere else in the world.

178. Ozymandias. Worked stone amid the more natural rubble lining the path.

179. More greenery under the arches.

180. Palm tree, after taking the zoo exit.

181. Church front, a few steps later.

182. IFC even in the damn zoo. There were some other nicely composed shots after this, but I decided I'd had well enough of skyscrapers over tropical foliage for today.

183. Tortoise turning around.

184. Portrait; curious about the visitors.

I wasn't crazy about the zoo, and moved mostly through, on and down. The green space is nice, but in a lot of cases it's too many animals in too-small, older-style habitats. For the setting, though, it's pretty decent -- you can't really fit a San Diego into a city like this -- and let's face it, a lot of the habitats provided for H. sapiens around here are no great shakes either.

185. Bamboo by the reptile house.

186. Skyline climbing out into the lower mids.

187. I've got a lot of buildings, but you just can't ignore composition and light like this.

188. Greenery on Albert Road.

189. Oh sure, I bet, just like that Scots dude 'built' the tramway.

190. (not germane)

191. Model boat smoking up Victoria Park.

When you see a sign for "Model Boat Pond", maybe you think of kids pushing about toy sailboats on a string. No. This is HK. What you get is middle-aged dudes, gas engines, and extreme speed. What, you thought there were leisure activities free of smoke and noise around here? (;P)

192. Boat NASCAR, part 1. These dudes are racing, but the pool is so long that it's practically impossible to get both in the frame.

193. Boat NASCAR, part 2. There were originally another three or so attempts at this, but they didn't end up having any damn boats in the frame.

Still like three or four hours before the racing, but I also need to establish where I am and how I need to get to where I'm going. Every step I take is new ground, and after Monday -- and writing off Tuesday -- I need to be conscious of conserving steps.

194. The track has its hazards -- a sunken boat and one that went into the wall.

Moving on now -- if you sit listening to this noise for too long it will drive you fucking spare.

195. Times Square, on the way to the track. This display was in the SCMP this morning as an example of ever-earlier Christmas decorations to pull out the shopping season and milk the recovery.

196. Are you a dirty no-good 2dcon? No? Then prove it! Rock these awesome 3D underpants or you're a loser who wants to bang animus.

197. Dragon statue by the complicated Leighton/Aberdeen crossing.

198. Subway curb. The pedestrian underpasses go up before they go down to prevent flooding in the rainy season.

Jockey Club and Happy Valley

199. North stand from the racing museum, showing the track and one of several fitba pitches in the infield.

200. Old sweeps tickets.

201. Program with hand-painted silk cover. Either Chinese labor was disgustingly cheap, or colonial wives had way too much spare time.

202. Hippie sandals for horses, so residents wouldn't complain about constant clip-clop, clip-clop at 4AM every day as the horses were moved from the barns to the track.

203. Up into St. Michael's cemetery.

204. A dark and foreboding graveyard behind the track; dunno if this is still Catholic or Parsi already.

205. Highrises over the track wall.

206. Parsi cemetery gates. Non-Anglicans have to play the hand they're dealt.

Folks are lining up here, but the track aint open yet, and I don't expect it to be till like 6:30 or 7. I just wanna get a beer and some snacks and watch the action; haven't decided whether I'll be throwing my money away or not yet.

207. West end of the main stand.

I've got in, I've got my beer, I've got a seat, at least for now, and the food options look decent. Let's drink lager oot a bucket and watch the horses!

208. Dusk view across from my seat.

209. More good HK ideas -- $115 pitcher ($10 nonrefundable container charge) = win. It is literally a no brainer: if you are going to drink more than 3 beers, the bucket is cheaper, and it has almost 5 in it. And plus you get an awesome beer bucket for like a buck fifty.

Löwenbräu is doing a speed drinking game tonight, but it's not worth participating in. Draining a pint is a 5+/-1 second endeavor for anyone remotely skilled, so the margin of victory is going to come down to timer error. The proper trip (look, I can read racing words in the newspaper in the morning and casually drop them in to make it look like I know what I'm talking about!) is 1L at the minimum. Unfortunately in this part of the world, that would really chop down their entrant pool. As it is, they limit their losses to Irish-descended, German-acculturated metalheads far too confident of their chugging abilities.

210. Rich-people stand lighting up.

211. Flags; the butcher's apron gone from the middle.

In the US, the crowd for horseracing consists mainly of Dave Barry's "bad word horse bad word" dudes, or for major races (ok, mostly Kentucky), rich assholes and women in atrociously stupid hats. Here in HK, though, you get a lot more of a cross-section of society. A lot of older people (who have the time to actually do their own handicapping instead of watching the late racing show and picking up a paper), but more than a smattering of young folks as well. This may have to do with a greater social acceptance of gambling (a bunch of Chinese people formed by British administration, whoda thunk?), but a bigger piece is probably the racing being right there, here in Causeway and up in Sha Tin on the northern outskirts of Kowloon, and the industry realizing that it lives and dies by customers, so it has to keep relevant and keep punters coming in to the race meetings as well as buying the lottery and betting on the football results off-track (which I'd feel a lot better about putting actual money on) in order for the sport of kings to continue to survive and thrive.

212. The sun goes down, the lights go up.

213. Cat on the track.

The dark, the drink, and the contrast lent by the floodlights to the bright green track lends the scene an air of hyper-reality -- and your financial position isn't even riding on an animal's athletic condition yet.

214. Golden arch with the club's blazon.

215. Beer games stands.

216. Church overlooking the track. They don't race here on Sundays -- otherwise there might be a problem with this arrangement.

As it turns out, I got into the speeddrinking stakes after all. The men's numbers posted when I went to refill my bucket were fecking insulting; I easily got into the #2 slot with a 6.6, an improvement by about four seconds on the previous #2. Since performance in this event is limited primarily by poor judgment, I have a fighting chance of being in the last six at 9:00, despite gunning two liters of beer before putting up that number. Any real metalhead should head down next fall -- this was a special Oktoberfest promotion that got extended -- and fucking destroy the opposition.

That seven-second chug is doing a number on my cognition -- better rest up as long as I may have to gun another free pint in competition. And if enough of HK mans up to push me out -- well, then I still have another two liters to finish before I split.

Yes, I did get a refilled bucket even after going into the contest. This should not be surprising; I'm pretty sure I drank more than two liters at breakfast several times at Party.San.

217. Lights up, ready to go.

218. (not germane)

219. Race 1, #1.

220. Race 1, #2.

221. Race 1, #3.

222. Race 1, #4.

Q: Is it really OK to drink a half gallon of beer, plus another pint or two in drinking games, at the race meet?
A: When 275lb and 6'2" you reach, do whatever the fuck you want you can also.

223. Jockeys bringing their mounts in for race 2.

224. Part the second.

225. Race #2!

226. Guy next to me's coupon isn't busted yet.

In race #3, Blade Force busted a lot of coupons by finishing second. As I noted eight hours ago, that's why they call it gambling.

227. Race #3 start!

228. Redcoated jockeys take a canter as the race hits the other side of the track.

229. Race #3 heads for a photo finish, with several unexpected contenders.

Having a bad seat, I didn't shoot race #4. However, had I bet, I would have got decent picks from Race To Win and completely busted on the SCMP. Their best bet scratched! Who knew -- except to know enough to collect 10,000 $10 flyer bets and watch the punters scramble. Game's a bogey.

Until 20:38, just outside of 20 minutes before the actual drinkoff, I was still in the top six. This is unacceptable for someone who was already 2L in before hitting his time; bad marks for the rest of the audience. On my account, though, I can pipe down my second bucket, eat my kebab, and give the cameras a pass. Medetashi medetashi.

When you need a special announcement to explain the parlay combos in the event of a double favorite scratch to Hong Kongers, you know the carnage has been wide and deep. Something like 9 in 10 coupons bet with the paper's tipsters are probably completely screwed. Chinese dudes are chucking their racing forms in the trash halfway through. Diamond Rainbow scratching in the fourth race was really that big. However, Race To Win, the English-language tip show I happened to catch last night, had the winner of race 4 picked correctly on 2 out of 3 lines. If I'd paretoed their tips, I'd be making money while everyone on the course was dying. Something to remember for the future.

This is followed, of course, with a horrible theoretical bust on race 5. The reasoning remains: if you smell a trap (like 7/8 tipsters in the paper marking the same horse as a best bet), pareto the independents. You may lose money on the whole, but HKJC doesn't finance half the social services in this city by losing money. Damage limitation is the name of the game; let some other sucker back the lion's share of the free clinic.

Clarification: the "game's a bogey" on race #4 implies that the following calculation is taking place:
if((#bets) x max-payoff less-than-equal money in) scratch;
As always, the algorithm to apply is "once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action". However, I'm only in town for a maximum of two race meetings, which kind of demands erring on the side of damage limitation when making decisions on limited information. It's not sure that there's collusion between the HKJC and SCMP to hoover up best-bets -- it's just that jumping to that conclusion, so far, keeps more money in your wallet.

The super jackpot got pushed out this week, not because nobody hit it, but because the pot divided by the accumulated odds of win-place-show on all races, as they came out, went under the minimum bet. Surprise surprise, considering that disaster in race 4. This, though, was pretty much the last of the action; after race 8, it was right out, right onto one of several trams drawn up on the track outside pointed generally west, changing at Central for the MTR, and on to Mong Kok, with an actual seat for once. I did get lost coming out of the station again, and hiked nearly all the way over to MK East by mistake, but that's to be expected coming back after so much beer...and that the station is confusing anyway. After this, I started coming out at YMT as policy and stopped getting lost all the time.

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