After my blunder yesterday, I only had one plan for today: travel to Tsuen Wan and meet my pen-pal Iris.
As a result, from about the time I got up at 9 AM until 2 PM, I did nothing in my hotel. After traveling to so many different cities the past few weeks, I needed a day. I unpacked my clothing, repacked it neatly, organized all my papers and souvenirs by city, checked on my wax hand to make sure it didn't break (it hadn't, thankfully) and got ready. Because we were meeting later in the day I wasn't as worried about the heat, but I knew it was still going to be another muggy day.
Two o'clock came, and armed with my gifts and tablet, I left my hotel and headed towards Olympic Stadium. I went North like yesterday, switched trains at the Lai King station, and headed West to Tsuen Wan. The whole trip took about a half hour.
My knowledge of Tsuen Wan and the surrounding area is very limited. I had hoped to get to the New Territories in Hong Kong sometime during my trip because that area is less developed and thus, more "authentic Chinese", with Hong Kong being more "British Chinese". I believe Tsuen Wan is in the Southern part of the New Territories, but it's close enough to Kowloon that it's considered part of that section. I'm pretty much on the border of the N.T., so I was pretty excited! You could also tell we were leaving the urbanized area because the surrounding forest was much more prominent and many of the roads and skywalks seems to be absorbed by them if they got too close.
Iris had asked to meet her at the Tsuen Wan Public Library. While traveling along the skywalks around the train station, I found a sign for it, but never saw where it went. Still having much more than an hour to wait, I took my time navigating the skywalks and seeing what there was to see.
After a bit of walking I came across the Discovery Park Shopping Centre which was both an apartment complex, a shopping center, and a public swimming pool. I went to the registration to the swimming pool and asked for help to find the library. The receptionist, who seemed happy and surprised to see me (was it my skin colour, or my English, I don't know) quickly brought out a map and showed me where it was. She then took me to the glass wall of the building and pointed the way I came. That wasn't necessary, but was a nice gesture so I thanked her for her help and left.
I wandered back, went down a flight of stairs, then back up, then wandered around some more (because the main door said to use the side door) and found my way in. It surprised me how busy the library was! The children's section was overflowing with toddlers, children and parents, while the adult section was so full of people there was no place to sit. Even the aisles between the bookshelves were busy, with people sitting against any available wall or window. I've been in libraries in North America many times, and they're never busy. I have no explanation for this, other than the art of reading lives on in Hong Kong.
I had my tablet with me and hooked onto the "community wifi", and talked to Iris. She asked me to meet her by the stairs. I went down the stairs because that's where I still had stable wifi, and saw her as she went up the stairs on the other side. I messaged her I was downstairs when I could and eventually we met. She didn't have much time to spend with me, which is fine because I was just happy we got to finally meet.
She knew this area of town fairly well, so she quickly led me through the winding streets to an ice cream shop, that I believe was Chung Kee Desert. Being just after 4 PM, the place was packed full of people and we got a table near the door. We exchanged gifts, and I got some mooncakes and two different kinds of mochi, along with many other cute stickers, bookmarkers and pens.
I looked at the menu and mentioned that it was all in Chinese, and I couldn't read it. Iris ordered for me. I got three scoops of ice cream, all unique flavors on top of fresh fruit. It was very good, especially since all I had had since waking was the last of my Aquarius Water.
Once done, we went back outside and walked to an area full of bright red and gold cloth. Had I paid more attention to the cultural part of the Hong Kong Museum I would've known what was going on. I asked Iris, and she told me they were getting ready for the upcoming Ghost Festival. I asked who these ghosts were, and what they wanted, and she told me they were evil ghosts that wanted harm. I assumed these ghosts were more playful spirits and this festival was to welcome them and help them pass on to the "other side", but Iris informed me that the festival was to keep the spirits away. With my limited knowledge, it seems as if these spirits were more or less demonic entities. There were many people setting up chairs and blessing the relics they were going to use in the ritual, but I wasn't allowed to take a picture of the area or else the spirits would "follow me home".
We left then, and walked past an area that sold fish and fishing tackle. I saw strange orange-transparent frogs, little baby turtles, and a tub full of worms. These are things you would never see back home! While I was fascinated by the tackle, Iris was grossed out, so we quickly left the area.
We then arrived at a pedestrian square that had dozens of restaurants, some that looked good and some that looked terrifying (like the one with pickled snakes in jars). Iris asked me if I wanted to try some fish balls. I was told on my trip to Japan I would get the opportunity to try octopus balls but I didn't, so I said sure. We got them and let them cool off, and ate them with toothpicks. They were essentially spicy, non-sugared donuts. I asked why they were called fish-balls if there were no fish in them, and Iris said the fish ones were so disgusting that people stopped adding them to the recipe (makes me wonder why they were there to begin with...).
Before I knew it, we were back at Tsuen Wan station. I was having so much fun with Iris I had completely lost track of time. I didn't want our time together to end, but she had to head home. I apologized for the 400th time about messing up yesterday, we hugged and said goodbye. She went one way on the station, and I went the other.
I arrived back at Olympic Station, took some final pictures of the bustling Hong Kong city and returned to my hotel. My trip to Hong Kong was over. I only saw a fraction of what I wanted to see, but also felt I could have spent a week there and not seen enough. Today would have been the same day Steve arrived from Japan. I wonder what he did. I wonder what Iris did when she got home. I wonder what everybody is doing now, while I pack my bags and reminisce about this trip.
Today wasn't very eventful, but it was my favorite day in Asia: it was the reason I came to Asia, and although a day late, I finally got to meet my dear friend Iris.
I leave early tomorrow to catch my plane, so I have to end this entry now.
Goodnight journal. Tomorrow I'll be back home, 11,000 kilometers away from Asia's World City.
And what a trip it's been!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Imagine the bustling streets of New York, then times it by ten. Add a dash of Chinese culture, a wallop of nature and half dozen fish balls that don’t actually contain any fish, and you have the beautiful city that is Hong Kong.
At 7.2 million people, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with an incredible history, towering skyscrapers and a unique mix of English and Chinese that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While Hong Kong has existed for a millennium, it was officially founded in 1842 to solidify a truce between Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China during the First Opium War. A decade after the British took control of Hong Kong, the Black Death swept into China, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It would remain part of Hong Kong’s life for a century.
During World War II, Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. For three years and eight months the British-Chinese culture of the city was destroyed, replaced with Japanese text, language and art. The booming city of 1.6 million people was slashed to only 600,000. Japanese occupation was incredibly harsh for the Hongkongese, being the darkest part of their history. Japan ceased occupation on August 6th, 1945, in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty-two more years, Hong Kong was controlled by the British, with the reunification between Hong Kong and mainland China finally occurring in 1997.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.
A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.