Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Tuesday 4th November 2003

Eschewing the delights of a Canto-Pop spectacular in Hong Kong stadium, with special guest Jackie Chan helping to welcome Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut, back to Earth, Saturday saw me heading up to Kowloon to wander around a couple of markets. Although the Star Ferry is up there in my three favourite things about this city, I chose to take the MTR up to Mongkok - I wasn't in the mood to negotiate the Indian tailors who descend on any male gweilo emerging from the ferry terminal on Kowloon side.

The MTR itself (Mass Transit Railway), Hong Kong's underground railway, is worthy of some comment. It is clean, efficient and fast. It's also air conditioned: at first glance it seems like every Londoner's dream for the tube. But it's a lot more expensive than the tube, and also has a major flaw that would make many Londoners reject it out of hand as an underground alternative: Not only does every one chatter throughout their journey, but somehow, deep underground, mobile phones also work. Here, the fundamental rule of silence on the tube is simply a myth of 6000 miles away.

The shop and advertising signs in Kowloon thrust from the sides of the buildings, stretching across the road, often meeting the signs from the other side, creating multi-coloured bridges of metal and plastic, peeling paint and neon lights. The further north I walked up Nathan Road the less bilingual they got, until I was surrounded by signifiers, which to me signified nothing. I found the remaining English letters leapt out at me: 'International Federation of Shaolin Kung Fu', 'Ja Wah Chinese Massage'. Luckily all the street signs have their English names on, and, as I was looking for the flower market, I was particularly grateful for the functional name of its main street, Flower Market Street. Here the heavy air of Hong Kong, often containing foul odours, is replaced by the smell of pollen and baby bio. I wandered down the street - every unit is a flower shop (oddly apart from one, trapped in the very middle of the street, which sells motorcycle helmets) containing anything that is greenish and growing, from miniature cacti to fully grown trees.

As I progressed down the street the traffic disappeared, its rumble replaced by the restless hum of the crowd watching a soccer match in Mongkok Stadium, adjacent to the market. Then towards the end of the street the pagoda like green roof that marks the entry into the bird market appeared.

I've been to the Hong Kong bird market before - but then, over six years ago, it was hidden away in a dark and narrow street. It has now been re-housed in a purpose-built Chinese style garden. Here, the football supporters have their work cut out. The air is full of the continuous high-decibel cacophony of discordant birdsong - whistles, squarks, telephone rings and occasionally a brief melody. Over twenty stall-holders stack their limited space with cages of birds - so many different types, I wish I could name at least five of them. Mynah birds, parrots, canaries...cockatoos? - and there my knowledge fails me. As well as functional wire cages, piled 10 high and 10 wide, more ornate wooden cages hang from the ceilings. It was up here I noticed one parrot, see-sawing on its perch, and chatting away in Cantonese - quite happily it seemed, until I noticed the chain attached to one of its legs. Feeling a faint pull on my shirt I turned to find another, quieter parrot, making tentative bobs towards me. Next to it, in a cage, was the most colourful bird I think I've ever seen - It had a blue-black head that merged into a vivid violet collar, which was fringed with tinges of yellow. Its face and breast were bright red while the bulk of its body (its wings and tail) were emerald green, except for a splodge of red in the centre of its back. The bird's legs were also violet and its beak, which let out a rather disappointing croak considering its appearance, was orange.

I headed out of the bird market, passing the stalls selling plastic bags of grasshoppers and maggots. Apparently these are fed to the birds with chopsticks - which, although I didn't see any evidence of it, considering some of the things they pick up with chopsticks here, doesn't surprise me.

A guidebook took me to my final market of the day, the Goldfish market. Although Tung Choi Street is dominated by shops with aquariums on the inside and plastic bags full of fish tacked up on the outside, it seems to be more of a general animal market. I meandered through some of the shops, debating whether or not to buy a fish to keep me company (I chose not to, doubting my ability to keep them alive - the flush on my loo is weak as it is and I don't want to break it through overuse) when I found the shops selling mammals. Glass tanks full of mice, rabbits, hamsters and chinchillas tested my resolve. The hamsters were so sweet and fluffy, and like their feed, bedding and cages, so cheap. I watched a shop attendant put a couple in a paper bag for a customer and imagined myself on the ferry going back to the flat, showing my new friends the twinkling lights of Central. Certainly a mouse would be a much more appropriate pet than the giant toads I saw l crawling around in a food market the other day. But, I'm such a terrible hypocrite. The next shop along the street brought me to the dogs and the cats, and I got quietly self-righteous, as well as nostalgic, staring at the morose spaniel puppy pretending to ignore me, the cats stalking up and down, the large husky - all encased. Short of buying them all, what was the point? In London it's dangerous for me to have a couple of drinks and stray past a record shop with money in my wallet. I'll just have to make sure that here, when drunk, I avoid the pet shops.

37 - posted at 04:58:41


Rob, sounds like you're enjoying HK, but why are you there?

1: (anonymous) - 12:29:36 on Tuesday 4th November 2003 (permalink)

Good question. I have no idea.

2: Rob - 01:53:38 on Wednesday 5th November 2003 (permalink)

I love it when you blog. Please do it more! :)

3: angel (tech writing hell) - 16:55:40 on Wednesday 5th November 2003 (permalink)

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