Friday, August 24, 2012

Hong Kong and Bali

It was a good idea to travel elsewhere while visiting Singapore. GH and I flew to Hong Kong on August 13 for four days, and then to Bali immediately for another four days. Four days are not really enough time to visit both, but that time was all we had. Visiting these two places one after another accentuated their differences for us.

Hong Kong I remember for its crowds. The streets and the trains were crowded throughout the day, even as late as nine pm. Causeway Bay, where we stayed in a boutique hotel, felt like a real neighborhood, different from the downtown on Hong Kong island and from the fancy hotels in Kowloon, though not far from both on the efficient MTR. Hong Kong was well-organized, but organized in a seemingly more haphazard way than Singapore. It had the energy of private enterprise, not the predictability of Singapore's large-scale government planning. A colossal integrated development like Marina Bay might not ever happen in Hong Kong, but people initiative would ensure constant change. The Soho area, with its mix of fruit and vegetable stalls, Western-styled cafes and wine bars, art and antique galleries, was symbolic of this energetic adaptation.

From the promenade in Tsim Sha Tsui, the skyline was far more impressive than Singapore's. It stretched endlessly from one end of Hong Kong island to the other. We took the old Star Ferry back to the island. I liked the fact that the ferry was still used by locals, and not just the tourists. The next morning, we took the tram up Victoria Peak early, and so avoided the tourist hordes. The peak gave beautiful views of the harbor, dotted with ships. During the day, we walked around the flower and bird markets in Mong Kok. At the Hong Kong Museum of Art, I saw the show "Imperishable Affection: the Art of Feng Zikai" and liked the work of the modern cartoonist (1898-1975) very much. Each cartoon, whether satirical or compassionate or just observant, looked spontaneous and complete.

Victoria Peak - photo by GH

A highlight of Hong Kong was our massage at Shanghai Onsen. Shower, steam room, sauna, free snacks and drinks in a corporate-looking lounge. My masseur, who looked to be in his late 20s, came originally from farway Liaoning, to the north of Beijing. He had the pale complexion and tall frame of a northerner. He had a nice touch. At night, when he wanted to relax, he would pour himself a glass of wine and listen to old Chinese classics. On weekends, he would escape with his fiance and friends to Shenzhen to eat, drink and chat. He did not want to be working as a masseur forever. He planned to apprentice himself to a chef in Szechuan and return to Hong Kong to open a Szechuan eatery. His practiced hands moved soothingly and professionally. He knew the right words to say at the right time. We spoke in Mandarin. Did I say he had a nice touch?

Back in Singapore, we had to take a later Air Asia flight to Bali than planned. Since we had time to kill, we went to Little India. Migrant workers mingled with locals among the old shophouses. GH liked it quite a bit, as did I. I would live there if I had to go back to Singapore.

Our plane got in at midnight. We took a cab to Bali Garden Resort in Kuta, where we stayed two nights. Kuta was overly touristy and commercial. I liked the beach, however, and the hawker stalls at one point where I had a delicious soto ayam and fruit juice. I also liked looking at the surfer dudes wandering bare-bodied on the narrow streets in their flip-flops. A local cab-driver who called himself Hendrik took us to see the sunset at Uluwatu. Ulu, he explained, means the end of the road. Watu means stone. The town and its temple lay at the southernmost point of the island, on the stony cliffs at the end of the road. I was engrossed there, not by the temple, but by a dance performance of the Ramayana by masked and costumed dancers. To the chanting, whooping and tongue-clicking of forty half-naked men, Ravanna kidnapped Sita from Rama again. The Monkey and the Bears delighted the crowd with their antics, and the performance ended with Hanuman freeing himself from a circle of fire.

Uluwatu temple - photo by GH

Rama leaves Sita - photo by GH

On the way to Ubud, we stopped at two temples. Goa Gajah is famous for its bathing pool and elephant cave. After Kuta, Ubud was both classier and quieter. The town had more upscale shops, more art. We did not stop at the town but spent the day at the Payogan Spa Resort. It was a beautiful setting, among the mountains. We had a traditional Balinese massage, swam in the pool and drank white wine by the water. I don't think that I could do this for more than a day but for a while the sense of relaxation was very calming. We took our time. We will go back to Bali sometime.

Payogan Spa Resort - photo by GH

1 comment:

Ms. said...

Hoping for more photographs soon.