Ma Wan village
Ma Wan village
There wasn’t really a plan for this weekend, but as sometimes happens, that made it all the more interesting. My boyfriend was late for a swimming date which was commuted to dinner on Friday night so I ended up waiting in the re-opened People’s Recreation Community, a little upstairs bookshop in the hubhub of Times Square, specialising in Chinese language books banned on the mainland. These consisted of tomes on the ever-fascinating topics of (in order of popularity) feng shui, sex and politics. I was pleased to see the place open, its owner having only recently returned from his politically-motivated abduction and arrest on the mainland, and bought a book in solidarity, a Shigeru Mizuki comic. They actually have a small but quite interesting English selection, as well as (uncensored!) internet booths and a modest two-table cafe serving comfort food.
From here we set off to eat, and to celebrate – I hadn’t realised that the next day was a public holiday! Scouring the backstreets of Causeway Bay without much of a plan we ended up in a twenty storey-high office block into which I had never ventured but which turned out to be piled high with restaurants and thronged with customers. There were Japanese oyster bars, a vegetarian Sichian restaurant, a 1980s Guangdong-style BBQ place with luridly painted mural walls and a manequin of a girl in a leather miniskirt, and finally a rowdy Korean joint. Here, students snacked on fried chicken and squid’s legs wrapped in cheese and graffitied the bare concrete walls, while knocking back bottles of cider held upside down into large glasses of melon soda. It felt like a little slice of Seoul, totally unexpected, and it was called “Mr Korea Chicken”.
The next day, again unplanned, we got up early to head out for a hike and picked the Twin Peaks trail, which sets off from the Parkview housing estate and heads Southwest across the island to Stanley.
As we climbed up into the forested slopes along muddy paths, our voices echoed through the valleys and billowing white cloud wrapped around us. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities! Truly amazing. We passed the Tai Tam reservoir and vistas of rolling hills covered with trees and then began the grueling 1000-step staircase of the first of the two forested mountains, before tackling the final peak and descending to Stanley below us. Beautiful.
As we got down to Stanley, the cloud lifted and the sun came out. After a lunch soundtracked by Ella Fitzgerald at an idiosyncratic little cafe in a corner of Stanley Market called Lucy’s Kitchen, we headed down to a sunny, secretive little beach. We had seen this from above as we descended. It was near where a war cemetery sits on a well-manicured lawn and bright laundry flapped on the balconies of the correctional services staff apartments for the families of those staffing the nearby prison. Via streets of hundred-million-dollar mansions and thick green foliage we arrived at St Stephen’s beach and splashed about contentedly as the sun shone down, a few children played and the clear, warm water washed our tired bodies. Floating on the sea, we could look up and see the path on the hillside which we had so recently descended.
The final surprise of the day came back in Causeway Bay. After a cheap but hearty vegetarian meal and a massage in a little Thai place located semi-legally in a residential block, it was time to head home. But it was only then that my partner realised he had lost his housekey somewhere and we had to wait for him to pick up his spare from his mum, before we could finally pile into bed, worn-out after an action-packed and adventurous day, thankful for the incredible variety of scenery Hong Kong island packs into such a compact package.
Kam Mong, the Wong Kar Wai-esque late-night cha chaan teng I discovered recently in Mongkok’s seedy Portland street sex district has a new attraction: 1950s-style busty robo-waitresses! Expect a full report soon…
My boyfriend had been advised by somebody’s Taiwanese girlfriend in Hong Kong that while in Taichung we should go to the nearby Gaomei coastal wetlands to watch the sun go down. I was a bit skeptical, it sounded like the kind of thing you would do in a small town rather than a mid-sized city.Watching the sun go down in a swamp? O-K…. But then we had nothing else to do…
Approaching the wetlands – visible from far away because of the silhouettes of its huge, vaguely futuristic wind turbines – traffic slowed to a crawl. It seemed the whole town had turned out for the twilight show. Soon, we saw why.
With masses of spectators standing on an artfully designed bridge, we watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I can remember break over the wind towers, while flocks of birds, little sparrows and larger waders, drifted over the mud flats.
It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Synapticism is an interesting urban exploration/haikyo blog I stumbled upon, seemingly based in Taichung. The site has lots of interesting information on the background behind the decay of Taichung’s old downtown area with its dilapidated Qianyue Department store, as well as links to other interesting “urbex” sites in the city like the abandoned Jukuiju mansion and the “shark graveyard” below.
All pics here courtesy of the Synapticism blog.
The ‘Rainbow Village’ is one of Taichung’s few high-profile “sights” and probably the best known example of outsider art in Taiwan. The colourful, naive paintings are the work of one man, now 94, who drew them over the decades on the outer walls of a fairly grim public housing block for former Kuomintang war veterans. Once threatened with demolition, the block (not really a “village”) was saved by a public outcry and has now become an out-and-out tourist scrum, a jarring experience in otherwise-laidback Taichung. When I was there the site was so crowded with holiday makers armed with selfie sticks that I gave up trying to take a “clean shot” and just started taking pictures of the other tourists. “Papa Rainbow” was there too, manning the souvenir stall and looking mighty proud- as he should – of the colourful chaos he has created.
I ventured out on a Tuesday night to the notorious Chungking Mansions, the “ghetto at the centre of the world”. Together with some friends, I had decided to track down the African food that was reputed to be found there. We had been warned that many of the restaurants there, being unlicensed and therefore technically illegal, would be unwelcoming to outsiders, and we didn’t have so much as an address or even a phone number but we figured we would wander around and try to strike it lucky. Which we did, in a way.
Upon entering we were mobbed by touts of the famous curry houses on the upper floors – in all my trips to the mansion I have never experienced anything like it. But after we forced our way through the scrum and piled into an elevator, waiting for the previous occupant to lug out numerous bags of some kind of tradeable commodity, we got out at a random floor. Strings of green fruit, some kid of citrus and peppers, were hanging over the doorways (some kind of charm), and one door opened briefly to reveal a crimson-robed Bhutanese (?) monk inside, then shut just as fast. Black and Indian faces pressed past. Soon we were told that there was an African restaurant on the floor, behind a door with no sign, and on ringing the bell we sure enough glimpsed a room with Congolese music playing and tall African dudes sitting around chatting in a windowless room. The Filipina clerk who answered the door had a hasty conversation with an unseen boss (“There are some Chinese outside, they want to come in”) and we were told the restaurant was “fully booked” but we could sit in the Indian restaurant next door and order from their menu – which we did, supplementing delicious naan and paneer with fufu rice, a spicy fish dish and okra chicken stew from Tanzania, although they also offered Nigerian dishes like abacha and ugba, watching Kylie Minogue’s never-before-glimpsed Bollywood video on the TV screen mounted to the wall.
Just another night in the mansions.