Sunday, June 22, 2014

Asleep in Hong Kong

Getting to Mongolia was somewhat circuitous. Hunnu Air, one of two Mongolian Airlines that fly international routes, reaches Ulaanbaatar from Hong Kong, and the cheapest way to get to Hong Kong from Sydney is via Singapore on the Singapore Airlines-owned budget carrier Scoot. This does entail a seven-hour stopover, though. The night before leaving on a trip I inevitably don't get a full night's sleep, what with last-minute packing and planning, so by the time I made it to Hong Kong I was a zombie with nine hours sleep in the last 48.

I touched down at 6am and my hotel room wouldn't be ready until two, so I went for a walk through Kowloon. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, like a massive Chinatown. Air conditioning units stuck out the windows of sooty buildings with peeling paint. Neon signs in cages were cantilevered across the road, looking grimy and desperate in the daytime. Clatters of signs confounded the eye—Blue Girl premium beer, parking signs, direction-of-traffic arrows, "McBarron Book Company Medical Books" plastered across a second-storey window, and dozens more announcing indecipherable things in faded Chinese characters.

Hong Kong smelled to me like Kuala Lumpur: steamy, with a fragrance of Thai mint (what the Malaysians call dawan kersum) and Chinese wet-markets.

I sat on a stone bench in a small, roadside public garden in the grounds of Tin Hau Temple to rest. Decorative stone bridges crossed a narrow pond of fish. Trees that looked to pre-date the temple provided shade with their leafy parasols. Others sat here, too. Some talked with others, some read, but most just sat, almost meditative. I was so tired I was having waking dreams; the moment I closed my eyes my mind drifted down some bizarre path. It surprised me that even with the roar of accelerating buses and the staccato of a nearby jackhammer that we all found some peace there.

At the nearby Mido Cafe I ordered milk tea and a pineapple bun. There's nothing delicate about this style of tea: served in a cup (never in a pot), it is strong and cloyed with condensed milk. I like it.

I liked the Mido. A corner cafe up a flight of stairs, it dates from 1950 and has never been refurbished, only patched. The walls bore two completely different styles of tiles, the pillars a third, and two more distinct patterns graced the floor and ceiling. Every stick of furniture looked original—from the round, laminated plywood tables, each with a single stainless steel column bladed with four feet-fins like an Exocet missile ready to launch through the ceiling, to the laminated wooden booths. I ordered toast and another milk tea and whiled the hours here until I could stumble back to the hotel and climb into a bed.

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