Left Hong Kong the next day, but not before paying a visit to one of its most iconic landmarks: the Lantau Island giant Buddha. It was built in the 90’s and sits next to a beautiful monastery and some great trails. Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures of the monastery’s interior, but their hall of 10,000 Buddhas is breathtaking. Floor to ceiling is Buddhas with five massive golden statues sitting on the altar. Apart from that there’s not much to say. I didn’t have time or the knees to do the hiking, so I went back in time to catch some dim sum lunch at Tim Ho Wan in Kowloon which was one of the highlights of the day. The place has a couple locations in Hong Kong, but we went to the one in Shum Shui Po, a neighborhood that has yet to experience the gentrification that has occurred in other parts of Hong Kong. Public housing from the 60’s and stalls selling cheap clothes and electronics stretch as far as the eye can see.
Of course, like every other major city in the world, Hong Kong is getting gentrified out the wazoo. Hipster/general high-end western coffee shops, restaurants, bars etc. are all over the place and driving up the cost of living I’m sure. The very odd thing that took me a while to figure out though is why I don’t mind it in Hong Kong. The same things happening in the Bay Area, DC, and mainland China all make me feel rather sad, while in Hong Kong I find it perfectly natural and even enjoyable. Perhaps it’s because the process probably started back in the 1840’s when Britain first got the territory, perhaps it’s because I can see Hong Kong’s local non-Western aspects coexisting fairly peacefully (at least I think, I could be completely ignorant). I think the most likely reason though is that I have no attachment to the original culture of the gentrified areas, unlike in the US and mainland China. I’ve seen people get pushed out by gentrification in the Bay Area and DC, and I’m intimately aware of the great disconnect between the more nice areas of mainland China and the style of living experienced by the majority of its citizens. Or perhaps I’m becoming numb to it all and/or am abandoning my principles to enjoy the benefits of my privilege. I sincerely hope it’s the first case.
Back on track, Ho Tim Wan caught my attention because it has a Michelin star, but is known for refusing to raise its prices regardless of rent hikes and other factors, meaning I got a substantial Michelin meal for less than $10 that knocked me on the floor. The winner dish was definitely the buns, filled with sweet and savory pork, roasted to be slightly crunchy, and covered on top with something sweet that seemed to be sugar. Served piping hot and ready to satisfy your every desire. The rest of it kicked ass too (including the tea), shu mai, beef wrapped in tofu skin, steamed veggies, and some sort of beef and shrimp pancake thingy. I also learned that unlike Mandarin, Cantonese has two different ways to say “thank you” The first “唔該” (mh goi) is to thank someone for a service and doesn’t translate very well into Mandarin, literally it would mean “oh, as it should be” which I find kind of weird. The other, 多謝 (daw jeh) is thanks for a gift for a gift, and translates from Mandarin as “many thanks” and is used in Mandarin as well, slightly more formal than the everyday 谢谢 (xiexie, she-ay, she-ay, draw out the sh (and make the sound somewhere in the middle between sh and s) and very light on the ay).
Hopped on the train over to Shenzhen to meet up with one of my classmates from Harbin, and immediately felt like I was home. Just being back in an environment where I knew the language and how things work was way more comforting than I would ever have imagined given that it’s China, it’s really become a second home I guess. Funny how that works. It’s also funny that this change occurred across a border that didn’t exist less than 200 years ago. We met up and then went to sing karaoke with two of her coworkers, classic Chinese nightlife despite all of us being foreign. Had fun, got a spot of street food, and crashed as soon as the fatigue hit me.
Day one of Shenzhen:
It’s turning out to be a very artsy trip. We (one of my Harbin classmates and I ) started off by going to OCT, the more centrally located of Shenzhen’s two modern art districts. It’s full to the brim with cafes, trendy restaurants, cool sculptures and similar places. Also going on was an exhibition called “Digging a Hole in China” which dealt a lot with themes of land ownership (a big deal in Chinese society and history). From there we went to F518, the other district, which is more of a startup incubator, with some art as well. China wants to make Shenzhen a “city of makers and innovators” which is all well and good, but the reason China has problems innovating are their overly lax intellectual property laws and their overly strong censorship laws. So to achieve that goal truly some changes might need to take place, I won’t say any more on the matter.
Following that, we went to 白石洲 (bai shi zhou, bye sure joe) which is famous for being a pretty sketch area of Shenzhen. Parts of it resemble warrens out of the best Hong Kong gangster movie, with buildings so close you can stick your hand out the window and shake your neighbors. Due to this fact, they’re called 握手楼 (wo shou lou, wo sho lo or “handshake buildings”). Electrical cables tangle above your head like bird’s nests as you walk through the alleys and internet cafes, ma jiang parlors and random shops abound. The area is also somewhat infamous for a child abduction that took place several years ago and was dramatized in the movie 亲爱的 (qin ai de, cheen aye duh, Dearest), a film as equally heart-wrenching as it is well made.
On to the beer! Shenzhen surprisingly has a fairly large craft beer scene. We went to two breweries that night, Bionic Brew and Peko, located right next to each other and somewhat small, but brewing about 12 beers between them. I had a lovely oaky porter at Bionic that wasn’t too smoky and light on the tongue, and then the Red 88 at Peko which wasn’t too hoppy either, way less hoppy than most of the reds I’ve had, which put it right up my alley. The rest of their beers were of a hoppy variety as is popular right now in the craft beer scene; Bionic had an IPA, a pale and two saisons, while Peko did a strong English (9%) and various pales and Indian pales, nothing I terribly felt the need to try.
Funnily enough, apparently the brewer at a Xi’an brewery had stopped by the previous week and when I mentioned I was living in Xi’an the bartender gave me his WeChat info, so very much looking forward to checking those breweries out when I get back home. We then went to a friend of my friend’s place to eat muffins and play video games :D. Great great night and an experience hard to find in China.