Monday, 25 February 2013

Adventures in Hong Kong: Chinese Surveyors, Basement Food Courts, Mongkok Police Station, and Kowloon Walled City Park

Recently TEAM FIRE visited Hong Kong, a foggy grey city that for the most part, of which many parts smelled a lot like fried fish and stinky tofu shops, and other parts looked like they came out of some part of Grand Theft Auto (like the very generic sounding "harbour city"). It was generally a leisurely exploration, in which we mostly meandered around parts of Tsim Sha Tsui, occassionally wandered up to Mong Kok, crossed the waters on the train or ferry to eat lots of egg tarts near Central/Soho. Here are a couple of the highlights:

Chinese Surveyor Markings


This being the first chinese country I have ever gone to, I am delighted to report that construction workers / land surveyors / civil engineers in HK sometimes actually use chinese characters in their markings on the ground! Here is one exemplary example that seems to be saying "400 BAMBOO", spotted near the waterfront along Tsim Sha Tsui.

All Shopping Malls Have Food Courts in their Basement Floor


Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade

It was near lunch time when we encountered the "400 BAMBOO" marking above along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, but we were already starving, and there were bleak prospects for finding cheap roadside food places in that area. Not far from that point, I saw what appeared to be a mall-type departmental store in the distance. Despite never having been to any buildings from that chain, I felt compelled to make a beeline for it. And I was gratified that my hunch had been correct - that here in HK they also had the convention of installing a food court at the lowest basement level (much to G's amazement). I realised that this is something so predictable in Singapore that I instinctively expect every shopping mall and multistorey department store to have a food court at either at the very top roof level or the bottom basement floor (or sometimes even on both!). Can anyone explain why this convention is as such?

Unfortunately, we could not find any vegetarian options at the aforementioned food court. The only "vegetarian" dish there was not really vegetarian either. This was to be the running theme throughout our food adventures through Hong Kong. To be affixed with the puzzled stares of random food sellers and waiters scratching their heads in confusion and muttering in chinese, "WHAT??? YOU DON'T WANT MEAT OR FISH? HOW ABOUT THIS LITTLE MICROSCOPIC PRAWN ON TOP OF THIS VEGETABLE? OR THIS FISHCAKE??? I MEAN, THAT'S NOT MEAT, RIGHT??!"


Speaking of vegetarian options, for any vegetarians or vegans visiting HK, I'd recommend Kung Tak Lam Shanghai Vegetarian Cuisine (功德林上海素食) at located at the 7th floor of 1881 Heritage (1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui). Even people who eat anything and everything will find this restaurant very fascinating; its menu has hundreds of items, and we went back twice and ordered completely different things but everything we tried there was really exciting and exceptional. I think a lot of the best vegetarian restaurants are like a lot like food/flavour labs; forced by necessity to innovate in order to compete with the maddening hordes of meat dishes (especially in Asia where seafood and the use of ground prawn paste as an seasoning ingredient is virtually ubiquitous). Above is a picture of their classic Cold Shanghainese Noodle with seven sauces from Kung Tak Lam.

Mong Kok Police Station



According to the Guinness Book of Records, Mongkok (旺角) is apparently the most densely populated place in the world. Just north of the Tsim Sha Tsui area, this was certainly the most crowded area we saw in Hong Kong. The one thing in my mind was: WHY IS EVERYONE ON THE STREETS INSTEAD OF BEING AT WORK? Were a lot of these people standing around Mongkok also tourists like we were? (There sure were a lot of PRC tourists) I mean, population density could refer to towerblocks with more cramped dwellings than usual, like perhaps due to buildings housing "cage people", but the roads themselves were indeed crazy.


Of course, for all you aficionados of Category III Anthony Wong type films, a trip to Mongkok would not be complete with a souvenir photo outside the Mongkok Police Station...

Kowloon Walled City Park


We visited the site of the Kowloon Walled City (九龍寨城), which was completely demolished by 1994 and replaced by some sort of a landscaped park. From documentaries I had watched in the past, the idea of a "vertical urban village" built out of super-dense city of interwoven high-rise tenements that had developed without real foundations and without centralised authority was of mythic proportions.


List of things you can't do at the Kowloon Walled City Park

Sad to say the park that has replaced it was not in its best condition when we visited it, thus making it feel slightly like the Kowloon Walled City's demolition was all for naught; like an administrative exercise that had cleaned it up but left it with a gaping, unoccupied hole.


This is a picture that I had taken on the way to the park - a mossy stone with the words "Kowloon Walled City", with a huge crack over the word "city". I wondered if this crack over the word city was intentional, so I set about looking for other pictures of this particular stone plaque to see if it had been cracked in other photos.

Stone Plaque - Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (2006)

Stone plaque of "Kowloon Walled City"

Stone Plaque - Image Credit: asianfiercetiger (2011)

I didn't actually find any other pictures of that particular stone I had seen, but whilst searching on Wikipedia and Flickr I did find a picture of a different stone plaque with a crack over the exact same word - right over the word 城 ("city")! The above pictures are of the main stone plaque by the South Gate. I like how it hasn't been moved in all this time although in all possibility these fragments might not have been cemented down to the ground.

Because of this, I think the cracks on both stone plaques are very much intentional: maybe a bit like how when chinese graves are exhumed, the gravestones must be broken into pieces so as to symbolise that whatever the stone once stood for is no longer there... A symbolic memorial for a broken city.

Here is the first of a great four-part documentary on the Kowloon Walled City:

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