“Contrast” this was what Chris and I dubbed our attempts to do things differently and not simply stick to the things we knew and liked while we were in Hong Kong. We spent 25 days in Sheung Wan then decided to mix up our HK experience by moving to another neighborhood four subway stops away. At the bottom of Happy Valley, Wan Chai is a very wet neighborhood steeped in liveliness. In the past it was nick-named Hong Kong’s red light district. I wouldn’t have guessed from my experiences there, but I was not out and about late into the night. Not every image in this post was taken in Wan Chai, some are from nearby places like Aberdeen and Central that we walked to during our contrast stint in Wan Chai.
In Shenzhen, there is Dongmen Market and then there is OLD Dongmen Market, which is where we went in search of some eats, knowing we would find much more than that. Every stall on this loopy street had a personality of it’s own. Some were entire families, others young male duos listening to electronic base beats acting unapologetically affectionate towards one another the way I’ve often seen male friends do in cultures other than my own. It felt as if a part of the scene was shutting down, giving way to another more nightly domain. There were still the outliers, a late night dentist with windows open to the bustling streets, a man collecting remnants of lettuce from the days sale, and kids playing in the dimly lit streets. I had some of the best garlic roasted eggplant I’ve had in my life while watching life in Dongmen unfold around me.
I went to Dafen Village in search of the the highly regarded Oil Painting replicas that have been done there since the 90’s. I did not find them. Walking up and down multiple streets half heartedly looking for the painters, my attention was stolen by the lives unfolding around me. I watched a group of women playing mahjong, which for all I know is some kind of complex Chinese dominoes, was momentarily involved in a game of pool and explored what is technically a suburb of Shenzhen, but bared no resemblance the suburbs I have known in the United States. The streets were occupied by their residents, people spending time together outside of their seemingly cramped homes.
Shenzhen is a place of industry. With Skyscrapers going up around you and electronic markets occupying 10+ floors of some of the already existing ones, the place is nearly vibrating. It is far easier to find yourself at the top of a 40+ floor edifice in Shenzhen than in Hong Kong. No one seemed to care what I did, so I made it to the top of both skyscrapers I attempted to ride up. Just outside the main stretch of the city was a verdant park rich with bamboo and grassy areas. I crossed a small urban stream into a ‘village’ on the edge of the park that felt like a small town packed into a dozen 10+ story buildings that gushed with signs of life, clothes hanging from every window, toys littering the courtyards. The variation of lifestyle in Shenzhen was more apparent than anywhere else I’ve travelled to. It was immensely interesting, and I can’t wait to go back.
Mui Wo is a small village on the less developed Eastern side of Lantau Island. You take a 40 minute ferry from Central Hong Kong, and debark in a small windy fishing town. We stopped at a seaside market where we chose our own fish to be fried and 10 minutes later we were eating fish, prawns, and fried eggplant, and washing it down with cold Tsingtao. We hiked up in to the mountains, passing a rather unusual graveyard, multiple racks of fire beating sticks, and many tropical plants that reminded me of Hawaii.
The walk back to the ferry led us though the main part of town which seemed desolate in a way after Hong Kong, in the way that a seasonal town is in the off season. There were fancy-ish three story houses mixed in with dilapidated shacks and overgrown banana trees. Perhaps for no other reason than my growing up in a small beach town on a tropical island, something about Lantau felt not barren, but warmly familiar to me.
If you take a bus towards Shek-O, the semi-fancy beach town on the South East side of Hong Kong Island, you will pass numerous signs for small villages dotting the windy coastal road. These signs ignited my curiosity, so I jumped off the bus a few stops before Shek-O and made my way down a steep incline to the tiny village of Lan Nai Wan Tsuen.
An irrigation trail lining the coast led me past abandoned homes covered in Banyan roots and meagre spray paint. The only other people I saw was a group of men working for the irrigation dept. fixing a pipe and an elderly couple watching over the town temple – the only well-preserved building to speak of.
There were signs of a life left behind, surf boards and kayaks decaying beside the cracked cement docks, small buildings being taken over by Mangrove, the mattresses still inside the rooms. The place seemed to have been abandoned in an instant, yet a few simple houses across the bay were clearly still occupied – dogs on the roof, smoke coming from the backyard, and a flourishing garden irrigated by the nearby stream.
Until a few months ago I had been a vegetarian for about 14 years. Upon coming to Hong Kong I have eaten things like steamed pork buns, Yakatori chicken, and various dumplings I was sometimes unsure of the content of.. Being in a place where these things are a part of the culture, the way of life pulsing around me, I feel more okay with consuming it than I have before. Every street I walk down here has flesh hanging in some window, maybe an entire goose, maybe fish swimming in a tiny tank. People live in tiny apartments here. They eat out. They eat in parks, they eat together. These are the markets, as vibrant and social a step as any. The wet markets are loud and colorful, and they go well into the night as the city does.