For the last two days, we have been hosted royally in Hong Kong by friends and colleagues. They have given us glimpses of Hong Kong we would likely never have found on our own. And they have shared their friendship which is always welcome when traveling.
On Friday, Shing-wai Chan, chief curator for conservation of the Leisure and Cultural Services department of Hong Kong, took us on a tour of three major museums. In the process, we had a chance to see some of the neighborhoods on the Kowloon side and get a sense of the city beyond the harbor. We first toured the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, including the conservation labs in the basement, labs overseen by Mr. Chan. The museum is an impressive structure designed by Barry Lord, though Mr. Chan was the first to acknowledge that there were several unwieldy architectural features including a massive and slippery processional staircase which is now rarely used, and a vast interior courtyard that emulates a traditional Chinese structure but which in fact is usually too hot for anyone to venture into. The museum houses the design collections, some of the history and antiquity collections, and a recent gift from T.T. Tsui, a remarkable collector who recently passed away. It also has an extensive toy collection which anchors the children's area. Alas, this museum, perhaps because of its location, seems to be under utilized.
Mr. Chan then paid us the extraordinary compliment of taking us to lunch at the Jocky Club at the Sha Tin Racecourse in the New Territories. One of the world's most modern horse racing tracks, the course has grass, clay and dirt tracks surrounding a public park in the center. Lunch was a deliciious dim sum feast--dim sum being a Cantonese invention. We enjoyed various dumplings, a lovely soup, and wonderful tea in an elegant dining room overlooking the track.
Then we whisked back into Tsim Sha Tsui--the neighborhood where we are staying--to visit the Hong Kong Cultural Center and in particular the HK History Museum and the HK Museum of Art. The history museum focuses on the story of Hong Kong and is well worth the time. It is engagingly organized and recreates the ambience of a number of periods in Hong Kong history while providing good information. It was a real model of what can be done with relatively few artifacts but excellent teamwork between curators, designers and educators. There were loads of school children but even they seemed to be much more engaged than the kids we saw at the Heritage Museum.
At the Art Museum, we were introduced to one of the curators and toured a special exhibition of art by Wu Guanzhong, an influential 90 year old artist who has donated 50 of his pieces to the museum. Trained in Paris in the 40s, Wu has a wide ranging body of work that blends Chinese and Western art traditions. He has taught art for decades at Beijing University. How he managed to hang on and continue his work through the Cultural Revolution is truly a feat.
Yesterday my niece took us in hand and showed us Hong Kong island proper. We took the venerable Star Ferry across the harbor, dodging all manner of water craft. Victoria harbor is bustling with everything from cruise ships to fishing boats. Three tunnels run underneath for auto traffic but they are apparently often backed up and quite unpleasant. Gwen met us on the elevated walkways that snake all throughout "Central" as the main commercial heart of Hong Kong is called. We wandered them deeper into the city, admiring the gleaming office towers driving the commercial engine of Hong Kong and peering down into streets crowded with stalls. Gwen told us that Hong Kong is a city where you can get anything though you need the inside information to know where you can get quality goods you can trust, or even to find the really fine restaurants. It's a city that keeps its secrets.
We strolled along Hollywood Road, lined with boutiques and galleries, though they weren't set to open till noon on Saturday, alas. We visited the oldest temple in Hong Kong, with dozens of huge coils of incense burning overhead, and a number of people making offerings of incense, candles and fruit to the deities. For luck they would make a donation, bang the drum and ring the bell. I hope all their wishes are fulfilled.
Gwen treated us to a lovely foot massage, one of the "things to do" in Hong Kong. We then took our happy feet off to find the bus and traveled across Hong Kong island to the southside and Gwen's home in Stanley. We had lunch with her family. Rod runs a hedge fund, which is what brought them to Hong Kong. Their kids, Jack (10), Zoe (7) and Ethan (3) are thriving in a land of high rise living, a far different world from their former life in Santa Monica, where we last saw them.
Some of our lasting impressions of Hong Kong will be: outrageously expensive watches sold by the dozens, mall after mall filled with luxury goods (purchased primarily by mainland Chinese), happy crowds, and a penchant for brand names and status. Gwen mused that there doesn't seem to be much of a heart to Hong Kong. We'd have to stay a lot longer to test that hypothesis. Soon we head for the airport and our Nanjing adventure begins. As soon as I have secured internet connectivity in Nanjing, I'll post again.