Witchboy's Cauldron

Witchboy Goes to Honk Kong

Day Two

We eventually made our way into a restaurant favored by Bernie and ate some really good Chinese food, which tasted very much like the Chinese food in San Francisco and almost nothing like the Texas variety. Bernie, a New Yorker through and through, ordered our food badly in either Mandarin or Cantonese -- the waiter was old and impatient and would occasionally burst into English, repeating a phrase like "CHILI GARLIC PRAWN" five or six times in a matter of seconds. To me, it sound like he and Bernie hated one another, but our food came out just fine.

Afterward, headed to the markets, we walked down the very narrow sidewalks under countless neon signs. This was similar to other urban downtown areas, but thicker. Something like eighty percent of the HK population lives in 10% of the space; the land is so precious that everything is jammed together and pushed upward. Despite the crowds and constant activity, walking around there felt about three times safer than Houston, and far, far cleaner than urban cities in Mexico (like Monterey).

Under Construction
Whenever a structure is under construction -- even the tallest skyscraper -- the workers in HK erect *bamboo* scaffolding around the site. This looks really odd -- a very modern building, reaching up toward the clouds, encased in a latticework of bamboo. At the interstices, the bamboo is held together by black plastic bands (which I initially mistook for black electrical tape). Apparently, the bamboo is faster to erect that metallic scaffolding and it fares better during heavy weather. (Hurricanes are a concern.)

Witchboy at Night
When we finally reached the section of town dedicated to the night markets, I took a bunch more photos: This was the genesis, I think, of the classically cyberpunk future as we see it. The cityscape here contained very literal elements of Akira, Blade Runner and Neuromancer. Jam-packed streets set down in the deep, deep pit created by rings of megalithic buildings. The old world and the new world, forcibly thrown together by commerce and need like lovers from different classes. Decaying apartment buildings leaning against translucent, interior-lit corporate office towers. Endless shopping stores, all brightly lit in pink or yellow, intermingled with locked garage-style delivery doors, and ringing the bottom of enormous slate-gray buildings.

All of this was aglow from the thousands of signs hanging above us at numerous angles -- neon in every color, but dominated by red and orange. Among this criss-cross of glowing letters and symbols, I instantly picked out a 7-11 sign. The smells of rotten garbage, sweet candy, leather, girlie perfume, exhaust and human sweat all alternated past as we walked down the street. At one point I looked up and saw a park overhead, trees leaning out over concrete walls on the terrace above. HK is like China's answer to London, Frankfurt or Paris, doubled in effect due to its compressed nature. I saw no stray dogs there and no cats.

Layered Traffic
Seemingly, one could find anything in the night markets: A lighter in the shape of lobster claws, sex toys, the Fellowship of the Rings on DVD (for about $3 US), ultra trendy shoes, leather goods, NFL merchandise, porn, food, jewelry, bad knock-offs of Star Wars action figures. (In other words, looking back over this list, all of life's greatest treasures.) All of this sat side-by-side in carts, on benches or stretched out over tarps and blankets on the cement, according to nothing more than the pattern of human chaos. For this reason, we eventually dubbed the market area "the physical Internet."

The ferry ride back across the harbor was one of the most beautiful urban sites I've seen: The coastline of the island was now visible, from our Kowloon vantage. The sky was very black and most of the fog was gone. All of the buildings were illuminated. They stretched as far as I could see to the left and as far as I could see to the right. A monstrous wall of black glass and fey colors, they towered like some synthetic stretch of mountains made of living, glowing coral.

Nice and clean
During the ferry ride, Doug, Bernie and I had the kind of insanely jubilant Lord of the Rings discussion that can only come when members of the games-comics-fantasy subculture are hopped up on stimulus, surrounded by verbal members of the same tribe and delirious from exhaustion.

Back in my room, we turned out the lights and watched the Moria scene from my new pirate copy of Fellowship of the Rings before saying goodnight and crashing out, all circuits blown.

Next: Day Three...




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Content 2003 Harvey "Witchboy" Smith     Design 1998 TheZealot