Slow down & smell the bauhinias

Day 2 – CNY holiday – Hong Kong: Central, toward Admiralty

Today I continue my journey around Hong Kong by going up another steep road (with steps) toward the Fringe Club and Lower Albert Road. It is this road I intend to follow on my way to Hong Kong Park.

Fringe Club/Lower Albert Road

I woke up aching because, 13,500 steps later, my body felt like I’d beaten it up. I forgot how many stairs or inclines I climbed the day before, but it had to be a lot. A lot more than I was used to on my daily walk to/from work.

Whatever. I shook it off and made my way up to Lower Albert Road (I’m guessing named after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband?) via a street with yet more stairs. I followed the narrow sidewalk, crossed the road (the sidewalk literally stops), and followed it toward the Peak Tram terminus. I ignored the line there, walked up past the American Consulate, and was able to get pictures of St. Joseph’s Church – unmistakably light blue with sloping curved windows – very 1960s chic. The Helena May Building, a surviving relic of Hong Kong’s colonial past and connection to improving the condition of women locally (and now, more internationally), is right next door.

I was thankfully avoiding that long queue at the Peak Tram, and instead, I crossed through the sea of humanity and wandered into my favorite park – Hong Kong Park. It is so serene in the middle of the city.

The beautifully fragrant Bauhinia – the symbolic flower of Hong Kong.

I ventured into the Edward Youde Aviary at Hong Kong Park – a completely free stop. The bird calls are noisy and musical all at once – I recommend having a seat outside the aviary and listening to the sounds with your eyes closed. You won’t feel like you’re in Hong Kong – instead, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a jungle paradise. A paradise, that is, until a child nearby erupts into a screaming rage.

Some of the birds in the aviary have the most stunning colours – scarlet, verdant green, bright white, peacock blue. There was a moody pheasant who looked like he had better things to do, and the white birds with blue smears of eyeliner were curious as hell, landing right next to me as I tried to get pictures of other birds. Emerald doves whipped around, cooing their song. Absolutely awesome and worth at least 20-30 minutes of a busy day.

From the Aviary, I wound up some stairs to the Memorial to Fighting SARS. In 2003, SARS erupted with Hong Kong at its epicenter. Seven doctors and civil servants died in Hong Kong fighting the disease and caring for patients. Patient Zero was eventually identified as a person staying at the Metropole Hotel in Kowloon and the common link was the floor he was staying on – people likely contracted SARS from touching the same elevator button. Then, of course, they touched their faces, their mouths – so on. It goes to show how care we must be no matter where we live, but especially in high density, highly-traveled locations.

I ambled through the park a bit, enjoying the relative quiet, before sorting out a raised walkway over Garden Road and walked around some very tall buildings populated outside by smokers.

I “discovered” another park called Cheung Kong Park before heading into the din and bustle of Queen’s Road Central. Looking up as you exit the park, there is the Former French Mission building and the multi-part HSBC Building, which, according to one documentary I’ve watched, can be dismantled and shipped away if necessary. Why would it want to do that? Well, with the coming of the handover to China in 1997, financial markets were worried. After all, if Hong Kong went immediately into Communism, the free market banking would sort of be kicked in the teeth. So, rumour or not, it is a fascinating little tidbit.

Down the road is the Jardine Building, which has windows that look round – like a lot of coins. I can imagine playing Plinko with it, or trying to win a stuffed toy. Well, Jardine was one very rich man, one of the original warehouse (go-down) owners/operators in Hong Kong who specialized in tea, silk, cotton, the casual opium, and other items. Opium? Yes, the very item the wars were fought over. First setting up shop in Canton (now Guangzhou), Jardine and his associate Matheson moved to the very newly-minted British colony in Hong Kong, which would be a safer location. The Chinese weren’t very happy about the opium dealing, for very obvious reasons. Now, there are many other commodities and holdings the company has taken over.

Jardine Building

Around this mass of humans – most of them in suits and heading to lunch with very purposeful steps – I wandered to Landmark Prince’s Building, which was where one of my favorite bookshops – Bookazine – resided. It’s not like I could afford anything else in there (Van Cleef and Arpels, anyone?), including the macaroons. I’ll just stick to books and Starbucks.

I took my time in between the books, picking up some titles for my Popsugar Reading Challenge, and then headed outside to Statue Square. With a water feature by Casadei, something that looks quite like a standout of colours among the granite-coloured walls and floors – not unlike Gaudi’s houses in the middle of the classic Barcelona districts. There are also the bits of tile on another water feature. Above that, near Three Garden Centre, are the rocky “Tai Chi” series of sculptures. They look infinitely more graceful that I would doing tai chi.

Hungry now (about 2 PM), I headed to Sai Ying Pun for Uncle Padak’s Korean Fried Chicken. Luckily, I made it there before it closed, so I could enjoy my favourite KFC in Hong Kong.

The sweet ‘n’ spicy!

Finally, I bring you the Pottinger Street steps, home to a lot of little shop stalls selling red packets for the Lunar New Year, ribbon, iPhone covers, masks, and costumes. You can’t miss the fake horse’s head and the fidget spinners, unpopular with teachers the world over. Thankfully, my hotel is only up the first set, right on Stanley Street.

Pottinger Street stairs

And now? I’m hiding in my hotel room, exhausted and really unwilling to go back outside again. Ugh. It’s also Valentine’s day, and I’ve already been slapped in the face by lovers who forget they have enormous bouquets of flowers in their arms who stop, turn at the last second, and hit multiple people with it. One poor old man almost got garrotted by a shiny helium balloon string with the words “You’re my favourite” on it. Favourite of how many, I’d like to know?

Can I be tempted outside by Wang Fu’s dumplings, which is only about a 3-4 minute walk away?

Only time will tell.

And, perhaps, my stomach.

Update: I ate some Pret’s in my hotel room and watched Crime & Investigation murder series all night, featuring such notable titles as Mail Order Murder, Pizza Shop Murder, and the Scott Peterson trial. With a hearty/cheap bottle of red wine from 7-11 (I couldn’t be bothered to spend my whole paycheck at a wine shop), I survived just fine. All of shows had something to do with murdering for love, out of love/jealousy, etc. In between these shows and reading Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman before going to bed, I can safely say I didn’t sleep very well.

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