A quick note about Vietnam and Tet, before we move on to our time in Hong Kong: hotels and businesses buy the orange trees and peach trees, and keep them year after year. (What we thought were cherry trees are actually ornamental peach trees, we found out.) Anyway, the hotel or business owns the actual tree, and keeps it year after year. However, they only have it on site at the hotel or business from just before Tet until several months later. The rest of the time, the plants are housed at huge warehouses and gardens, where gardeners take care of all these plants. Each one presumably labeled, and spends the rest of the year being cared for at one of these facilities. Now, just a week or two before Tet, the hotels and businesses call and get their trees returned (by truck or scooter delivery) back to the hotel/business, in time to be decorated for Tet. Plus, the orange tree brings good business, good fortune, and wealth. The peach tree or peach blossoms are for happiness, health, family, and relationships.
And that's our Vietnam update.
Okay, we flew to Hong Kong, arriving mid-evening. Caught the convenient airport express train, transferred to our neighborhood train, and confused a taxi driver with the address. Eventually found our place - an apartment we found on airbnb.com - and met our hosts. Settled in, all that, had a good night's sleep. And got directions on the easiest way to get from here, the Wan Chai neighborhood on Hong Kong Island, over to the ferry and cruise ship area in Kowloon. I know, it's a little strange - Hong Kong refers to both the island of Hong Kong as well as the Kowloon peninsula and outer territories, which are in fact attached to the Chinese mainland. It all goes back to the area being a British "rental" of the land from China. Anyway, we're staying on Hong Kong Island, and needed to get to Kowloon to meet our friends when they got off their cruise ship. So it was an easy walk to the nearby ferry terminal, a quick ride across Victoria Harbour, and there we were, holding up a sign along with several tour guides meeting other cruise guests.
We walked all over, making our way through part of Kowloon, the park, over to Nathan Road, one of the big shopping areas - just walking around talking and catching up on each other's adventures, you know, the normal thing you talk about when you only see someone every couple of years.
We all had a good time, talking and browsing and enjoyed exploring a new area.
Because we're heading into the Year of the Goat, goats are featured in many forms - on walls, in merchandise displays, plush toys, fancy jewelry, gold ornaments, store displays - you name it, there was a goat in that.
We were surprised to discover that lion dance figures were also a major part of store displays and decorations. Happy to discover this, because we really like the lion dancing! And the lion dancing is a major part of any Chinese celebration, so if we're lucky we'll see some dancing going on while we're here!
In our walking, we stumbled on the Hong Kong Avenue of Comic Stars. I know, very strange, very confusing - statues of "stars" from comic books. That we've never heard of. Because these are Asian comics. Statues of animation. It boggles the mind, doesn't it? And then, just to round off the picture, there are signs on the statues saying "Respect the art; do not climb on the sculpture." I kept thinking, there was an artist who created the comic. And then another artist who copied the comic to create the sculpture. Ummm, did they get permission from the comic artist, who (one hopes) holds the copyright to the image? Did they give permission? Plus questions such as who are these comic stars? Does the guy with the falling down jeans turn into the painted face kabuki looking guy? Who is the blond dude in armor, Thor? What about the archer guy? Unanswered questions, as always. (This is when I need my students!) But the images were pretty funny - manga (or anime) as sculpture!
As with many winter holiday celebrations, lights are important - so there are festive neon and LED light displays for the upcoming New Year celebrations.
The various buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbor are lit up every night, and there's a laser light show at 8 PM (which we missed). But we saw the buildings all lit up as we took the ferry back from Kowloon - it seems as if each business tries to out-do their neighbors in lighting up their building! Kowloon seemed to go with more cartoon figures, such as Hello Kitty and maybe some video game characters. The Hong Kong side had more New Year-themed decorations, as well as traditional Asian designs - chrysanthemums, koi, and a dragon or two.
Some of the lights were static, as in staying one color. Others rotated through a rainbow sequence, one color morphing into the next. Or the koi swam up and down the side of the building. Flowers grew and faded, lights flashed, the whole thing was an amazing experience, especially coming across the harbor!
Today (Wednesday), we met up with our friends and had a wonderful lunch at their hotel, then headed out, braving the double-decker trams that run the length of Hong Kong city on the island side. (I'll find a map and post it, but most of the city is located along the north side of the island. Thus the major streets run east-west, with smaller cross streets running somewhat north-south.)
There are normal double-decker buses, and then the unique double-decker trams, or trolleys. We haven't quite figured out the routes, but other passengers were very helpful telling us which tram to take, and even when to get off. Getting off is a bit tricky, especially if you're on the top level - because people board at the rear, head upstairs, sit until the stop before they plan to get off, then go downstairs where you wait for your stop, pay, and then disembark. A little confusing, but the views from the upper floor are absolutely worth the little bit of hassle!
There were little alleys full of market stalls, which we'll explore later in the week. Random statues, lions outside hotels or banks, and just crowds of people everywhere.
And buildings being built, or renovated, or painted - all with bamboo scaffolding. Yes, that's bamboo!
We ended up in Soho, for south of Hollywood, an area with trendy eateries and artsy shops. And periodic dance shoes embedded in the sidewalk.
This area is very hilly - there are areas with covered escalators for going up the hill, but only stairs or ramps for the walk back down. (Hong Kong, like many places in Asia, has quite a number of elderly citizens. The older men and women who look like they're 300 years old. While the escalators help all of us get up the hills, I suspect they're fairly essential for the 300 year olds.)
Along with the artsy theme, there was a restaurant with hundreds of waving lucky cats on the wall. Not waving in unison, but each cat waving to their own internal rhythm. I think this is my favorite photo of the day - just bright and shiny and whimsical and a little bit zany! Or almost film noire, or nightmarish, depending on your point of view. (I loved it!)
We found the PMQ building - this was once the housing for married police officers, but the building has been renovated to house studios and shops for artists in Hong Kong. Not sure what the PMQ stands for, but the purpose is to promote "creative industries" - so there are various businesses producing and selling design products such as handbags, clothing, prints, housewares. All designed and produced in Hong Kong. Our friend Dori looked at backpacks and handbags that looked like owls, or cats (including saber-toothed tiger packs) - though I liked the sharks. My favorite were the molded rubber cat handbags, shaped like cats.
One of the resident artists created the geodesic goat sculpture that was in front of the building (Year of the Goat, right?). But the best sculpture was hanging above the courtyard - a huge goat formed of hanging strands of gold origami cranes!!!!!! This is one of those artistic puzzles that takes all kinds of planning, to creating strands of folded cranes and then some spaces, all hung together to form the shape of a goat, with horns! It was amazing, and of course I had to go upstairs and view it from a different angle (and with different lighting). Just a confusing and incredible piece of art!
Our friends headed off for a business dinner, and Richard and I walked a bit more - and found stairs with knit and crocheted cozy covers, including a few creatures. Lavender cats. On bannisters. Why not?
The Lunar New Year's decorations and gifts were being sold along the way, almost always in yellow, red, and gold. Lovely bright paper cut designs, accordian folded dragons, pouches to symbolize bags of money and good fortune - all for sale on the streets of Hong Kong!
We managed to find our way back to our apartment, via tram again. Public transportation in Hong Kong is quite inexpensive, with the trams and ferries priced at $2.30 or so in Hong Kong dollars - that's not quite 30 cents US. (The current exchange rate is $1 USD = about $7.70 HKD.) Plus the ferries and trams are just fun, and are good ways to see the sights! And while most of the ferries are green and white, there's the occasional rainbow ferry. Trams, on the other hand, tend to all be rather decorative - some are solid bright colors, others have animals all over (maybe for the zoo route?). We saw one today that was red with bright flowers in fire colors, all hot pink and orange and yellow on the red background. And of course the ever popular leopard spotted tram, which is rather elusive and tends to only be seen behind another tram.
Tomorrow's plan is to explore our neighborhood, see what events are scheduled for the New Year celebrations, and figure out what else we'd like to do during our two weeks in Hong Kong!
And my apologies, the photos are refusing to line up tonight. It's going on 1 AM, and I'm giving up. Enjoy, and I'll try to do better next time.