January 7, 2020

Lisa Ray’s Hong Kong

In my stubbornly nomadic personal history, Hong Kong feels like my last frontier. I’ve moved for adventure, and for work, but coming here is the first time I’ve moved for love— earlier this year, my husband accepted a new position in Hong Kong while I set about renovating a home and career in Mumbai. Before actually setting foot in the ‘Fragrant Harbour’, my perception of the city was of dense, conformist crowds in banker’s grey, Louis Vuitton shops aplenty and an unremitting concrete landscape just a generation away from dystopia. 

Unspoken anxieties, emotions running high, my friend Charlene came to meet me at the Mandarin Oriental to show me around. Char had moved from Toronto to Hong Kong recently. She met me in the glittering lobby in yoga leggings and running shoes, informing me that we were going hiking. It was revelatory how lush Hong Kong is. It’s a tropical island with an abundance of biodiversity and 40% of the land is designated as country parks. Green and serene were words that flitted through my mind as over the next few days we hiked up to the peak, ran Bowman’s trail and took a stab at Dragon’s Back trail, ending in Big Wave Beach. Were this island not the site of one of the world’s maximum cities, it might have become a tropical resort destination, with its sandy beaches and luxuriant foliage. On my second trip, Thomas Friedman, an artist and bon vivant of German origins who was a long time resident of Hong Kong shared his views on the draw of the city, ‘See the only problem with Hong Kong as far as I see…is that its too easy. Everything is so efficient it makes life too easy to live here. So people never leave’.  What he meant by easy is that most things work frightfully efficiently. My electrician was waiting by the door of our new flat as he arrived a full 12 minutes before our appointed time. Never happened anywhere else in the world. You sign up for yoga classes online and a no-show makes you a persona non-grata for your next booking. You’re expected to be on top of your schedule that way. 

I can do this. World class shopping and an afternoon nature walk appeal to my contradictory nature. As a Bengali-Pole with roots in Canada and Mumbai, there’s very little that appeals to me as much as a city with multi-personality disorder. And maybe that’s why I’m growing to love a glittering city with conservation on its mind. I was ‘re-Orienting’ myself. So, while, I did, in my first week of living in HK get both a Harvey Nichols AND Lane Crawford gold membership card (much to my husband’s alarm)… it was when I found out the Star Ferry was started by a Parsi… that I felt more at home than ever. There is also sense when I’m walking in Sai ping Yun that I’ll never fully understand the local nuances-it keeps me an observer. That’s what I love. The chance to observe without penetrating the language and local traditions fine tunes my imagination. I get a glimpse of a tableau- a wizened man doing his calisthenics in his antique furniture store while his cat looks on- I get to spin my own endings to these ceaseless street stories in HK, which is essential to my next creative phase: writing. I’m in the last stretch of work on my memoir and there feels like no better place to work on it than HK. This constant soundtrack written in scents and snippets of life is perfect fuel for my creative process as a writer.” 

What to do  

Stay: I’d pick from the Mandarin Oriental, Ritz Carlton, The Upper House, The Four Seasons, Conrad or The Langham.;;;;; 

Supper: I would recommend Bibo for its quirky French food and ABC kitchen. You could stroll through Poho, lunch at Grassroots Pantry or Classified café. Brunch at Upper House is great. Try the Lock Cha vegetarian dim sum teahouse in Hong Kong park or Dimsum at Michelin-Starred Tim Ho Wan.;;;;; 

 Shop: IFC mall or Central Road and definitely visit Sogo, a Japanese-style department store in Causeway Bay.; 

Saunter: Head down to Kennedy town which is at the western end of Sai Wan on HK Island, do the Dragon’s Back to Big Wave Bay hike if you’re a nature enthusiast (or open to exploration). For historical sites, definitely see the Mano temple and saunter around Temple Street, the old red light district, that even has a night market. If you’re interested in art exhibits, head down to Duddel’s and FCC (The Foreign Correspondents’ Club). Clockenflap is Hong Kong’s annual music and arts festival and there’s a Hong Kong edition of Art Basel for those who’d like to really absorb HK’s cultural scene.  Hollywood Road is where you’ll find art galleries and cafes. And for those you want to sit back and relax, head down to Gao’s Foot Massage Co.;;;; 

What to feel  

“While it’s easy to feel anonymous while on vacation in an unfamiliar city – Hong Kong with all its contradictions and ‘work hard, play hard’ entrepreneurial spirit is a remarkably free and non-judgmental city. You can don a cape and a Bruce Lee mask and drift comfortably down the streets of Central without so much as a side glance — so enjoy this freedom. 

In Hong Kong, one always gets the feeling there are cities within cities. When I walk around my neighbourhood or wander into Poho in search of tea in Teakha or to a pottery class on Hollywood road, I keep my gaze at street level. There is so much to discover. I love finding new shrines by the side of the road or perhaps in a stairwell- these are small, colourful offerings with fruit and incense. There’s a story to be told- who sets up these offerings, as I’ve never come across anyone. More than people, I feel the densely packed stories and personal histories intermingling in the sky.  

And speaking of the sky, getting a view from on high is an essential part of the Hong Kong experience, whether from Ozone in the Ritz Carlton at the top of the ICC or Upper House or the Peak because there is something deeply important in gazing at the entire glittering skyline. There is a primal recognition of the glory and ambition of humankind and yet the transient nature of greatness- this impressive skyline was spun in a few mere decades from the dreams of pirates and hustlers and traders and their offspring.”  

What to take back with you  

Double Happiness picture frame from Goods of Desire, which is a quintessentially Hong Kong brand, in PMQ or Hollywood road. For something kitschy you can take back a Mao doll or a Chinese watercolour from Hollywood road.


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