Museums in Hong Kong
This is part of my travel memoirs from my year away. I stopped at Hong Kong on the way to Australia – my few days there were an inkling into the joys of world travel.
I had a looser plan than the previous day – I wanted street food, but I also had errands to run.
I’m not usually susceptible to street sellers but on this particular morning I had so much to think through that I was somewhat absent-minded walking the Golden Mile to where I wanted to eat, and I found myself being accompanied into a building by man who claimed that his brother ran a tailor that could make you a suit better than you can get anywhere in Hong Kong or Vietnam. Before I had time to process this bold statement I found myself in the shop, being measured for a grey and a blue suit with a trim fit and would I like to pay cash or card? Woah, woah, woah!
‘Erm, I’m just going to get my girlfriend so she can check it over for me’.
‘Where is she?’
‘Back at the hostel’
‘OK, you can go and I’ll make it up for you if you like’
‘No that’s all right , I’ll just be 2 minutes and I’ll bring her here’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I’ll only be 2 minutes’
‘Ok, you can get to Singapore hostel if you turn right through this door’
Obviously since I didn’t have a girlfriend and wasn’t going to the hostel this was not the direction I was heading, but I went anyway, turned round the corner and basically ran.
By the time I had rounded a block and was no closer to the street food market than I was half an hour ago, I was sufficiently hungry and peed off that I settled for a nearby Starbucks.
I was cheered up by the fantastic view of the street below me but had no plan for the day. I had heard about the Studio Ghibli exhibition running at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum so I thought I’d head in that direction, see what I could see.
Studio Ghibli are a Japanese Animation Production company that have created a number of modern masterpieces including Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and the recent The Wind Rises, directed by the visionary Hayao Miyazaki. The exhibition was on tour, displaying the original storyboards. This seemed like a unique opportunity for a film fan myself.
It was the hottest day yet, sizzling sun in addition to the heavy humidity, so I had barely walked for 5 minutes before I threw myself on a bench for a water break. A further 15 minutes and I’d reached another bench and checked my map – I was annoyed to discover I’d moved the equivalent of an inch on the map. I had dearly miscalculated the distance to the museum. However, there was both the History and the Science museum close by.
The science museum had an entry fee, except for its lunar exhibition, so I visited that. Plenty of Chinese planetary explorer robots and models of rockets but nothing too exciting. The history museum, on the other hand, was not only free but evocative and educational. The main exhibition is a chronological walk through the entire history of Hong Kong, from early civilisation, development of ancient China, the war with the British, Japanese occupation during the Second World War to independence from Britain. Each section places you ‘in’ the time by way of extravagant sets and sound effects, and ended with a short documentary film about the period.
Most of the presentation was pro-China in stance, which was to be expected. I’m under no illusions that the British were angels in their dealings with the Chinese, but I found the info-plaques’ claims that China was basically in ruin thanks to an ‘imbalance of trade’ and mass intoxication due to the import of opium, and was only remedied by strict prohibition and tariffs, a bit of a stretch. Despite that, leaving, I felt I had learned something as well as being emotionally moved by the way it was presented.
I felt like I was going on a bit of an adventure travelling out of town a bit. Quickly the view changed from modern looking skyscrapers to bland public-housing flat towers, backed by green mountains. Leaving the train I was even more aware of how hot it was. The museum was ten minutes walk from the station, and on the way I found a street-food stall. Yes! The girl at the counter knew no English (only a necessity in the main city), but I could get across the message by sticking one finger up: “1 stick of curried fish balls”. The Hairy Bikers had warned against putting too much chilli sauce on it – I didn’t put any on but the curry sauce was hot enough. But sweet Jesus it was good, and only a few pence!
The suburbs are logically designed for living as opposed to visiting. The flats are accompanied by regular food stops, playgrounds and temples, linked by pedestrian and cycle ways. But I did meet some tourists. Two bearded young Americans greeted me to “sup bro!” and complimented me on my Atari t-shirt. Other Asian tourists took photographs on the bridge.
The museum had an attached restaurant, who’s tables were mostly occupied by elderly Chinese playing card and dice games. I didn’t let them distract me from getting into the air-conditioned lobby.
The Heritage museum was packed, and I unnecessarily wasted half an hour in a queue for what I thought was the Studio Ghibli exhibition, to find that it was only for a photo opportunity with a giant Totoro mural. I did wonder why the queue was full of mostly young couples and families. I skipped that in favour of a selfie with a The Wind Rises poster.
The actual exhibition was a great way to appreciate the artistry of the films. I haven’t seen them all, but now I have to. There are, in modern times, the only real competitor to Disney, and one of the very few major animation studios to still hand-draw. It has always been a mystery to me why Japanese animation, ‘anime’, must use the same style over and over again – the big eyes, limited facial features. But save for human faces, Studio Ghibli are true originals. You have never seen anything quite like the various spirit characters that occupy the bathhouse of Spirited Away. And they all seem to work, despite how frightening they are, in that they are drawn from something familiar. The giant, rubbery pale creature seeking space in a lift, that so baffled us, does in fact look like a walking vegetable. Like the Xenomorph creature in the Alien film series, it is unusual, but is so vaguely familiar that we eventually accept it.
In turn, Miyazaki’s narrative method and characterisation can be difficult to appreciate at first, from a Western point of view. But multiple viewings reveal a classic story-telling principle with a strong moral sense. And what is remarkable and refreshing about Miyazaki’s works aimed at a younger audience is that characters rarely die in them. Even Princess Mononoke, which depicts a war involving thousands of people, somewhat surprisingly ends with a kill count of 0. His style is familiar theme with unusual presentation.
The exhibition gave me a chance to reflect on these films and inspire me for further viewings. It’s just a shame that since I have been travelling I have hardly the time nor opportunity to get into the film-watching habit again!
Leaving the museum it was mid-afternoon, but nonetheless time for eating. The morning’s hilarity totally mucked up my eating schedule. Going Chinese again, it was soup and dim sum. The elderly Chinese men were still at it when I was leaving, and appreciated being subjects for my photography.
Although I was having a fantastic day, all-in-all, I had a mild sense of dread in anticipation for the following morning’s flight, and wanted to get back early enough to pack and be ready. I started back to the station in a rush, but eventually calmed myself down – there was plenty of time, and I didn’t want to waste my last few hours in the country hanging around waiting and making myself nervous. In the principle of making the most of now, I took a detour towards the Buddhist temple I saw on the way there.
Wow, this is China! Although there were obvious tourists lurking on the grounds taking pictures, as I was, this was a real place of worship for HK citizens. It had everything one would expect – incense, large dragon sculptures and a big Buddha. Great foil for photography, but one lady lighting incense did not appreciate it, asking me to delete the video I took of her. For some reason unbeknownst to me, recording her spiritual practice was a no-no, so out of respect I obliged.
Living up to my reputation as a bit of a ditz, I had lost my room key at some point during the day, and I was working myself into a bit of a panic wondering how I was going to sort myself out in time for the flight. After I had found the receptionist to let me back into my room and figured out how to get to the airport at 3 in the morning, I was totally paranoid about missing it. I resolved to have a short nap only.
In effect I had 1 hour sleep. I got a night bus that got me to the airport over 2 hours too early – not only could I not check in, but there was no form of refreshment stand open. For the first time in my life, I was one of those people sleeping in an airport, using my suitcase as a pillow.
In the time I was awake, I could both reflect on what was sure to be a formative experience in Hong Kong, and look forward to my Australian adventure. Oh my goodness, it’s actually happening. Within a few hours I’d be in yet another country.
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