Map-matically Challenged in Hong Kong

I suppose, really, I’m map-matically challenged in any city, but I was really, really hoping to do better as I navigated the busy and readily marked streets of Hong Kong.

In two weeks, I’m officially moving to this fantastical city – the mountains alone are worth the move – and I wanted to take some time from my life in Bangkok (grad school) to check out my future home. I lived in Shanghai for three years, and I never went to HK. HK is kind of the “I’ll go there on a long weekend that never happened” destination. When I had longer holidays off, I traveled further. I could have gone to HK over spring break, as was sensible, but I flew solo to Hungary instead, being insensible for once in my entire sensible life.

Anyway, HK, theoretically, should be easy to navigate. The MTR is clean, very well-labeled (along with every fine for every offense – love it!), and is simple to use. Trams are nice, and taxis are plentiful. I even had the Lonely Planet: Hong Kong guidebook to help me. Yet, I seem amazingly unable to figure out my position on a map so that I walk in the correct direction.

Case-and-point: I wanted to take the tram up to Victoria’s Peak to watch the sunset. I took the MTR to Central, the closest stop, walked out, and started following the blue and white “guy looks like he’s trying to hike a mountain” signs along the main road. I had my map open, helping me. It’s hard to miss the Peak, considering it’s the tallest peak in HK, but I’m me, and I’m map-matically challenged. I could miss the forest for the trees quite easily.

Obviously, the moral of the story is this: I walked the wrong way. When I finally sorted that out and walked the correct way, I was now followed the “Peak Tram” signs. They pointed up, then that way, then this way, then down, then around, into a rabbit hole, etc. Several fellow tourists and I were frustrated by sudden cut-offs in our slightly epic quest to find the Peak Tram terminus. Aiyoo.

When I finally did, the queue was so insanely long that I declared, “I’m moving here for at least two years and I shall return on a Thursday night in November!” I don’t know why I said that out loud, but I did, and I got a few snickers from tourists waiting in lines. It was Jane Austen who said it best: “What are we here for but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them, in our turn.” Word, Austen, word.

Thus, I began my downhill trek to the Star Ferry. Since the tram was too busy, I’d take the ferry over to Kowloon side and get some epic skyline photos from that vantage point. The ferry wasn’t all that crowded, and I managed to score some great photos from Kowloon. The night was clear, breezy, and the perfect sort of summer night.

In fact, to further enhance this posting, I give you one of my favorite (though underappreciated) poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her much-quoted poem, “Recuerdo”:

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.
I remember reading and dissecting that poem as an undergrad, and seriously, I think it was just about hanging out on the ferry and having a good time. But Freudian analyses tend to ruin everything, including the innocuous ferry ride. Better to just stick to the text.

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