Thursday, March 27, 2008

City of Lights

I have nothing but respect for Paris, the "classic" city of lights (and love), but think that Hong Kong can as easily wear the appellation - this city of towering office and apartment buildings glows at night with the soft hues of a million neon signs, a million lit windows and a million headlights. To appropriate a line from Milan Kundera, this agglomeration of soaring concrete and glass adds up in the end to an "accidental beauty"...

My 26 hours in this hybrid of London and Tokyo makes my heart warm and exercises an amazing draw on me - it seems that it is easier to take the man out of the North-East Asian mega-city than it is to take the mega-city out of the man! It warms my heart and brings a smile to my face just walking these crowded Asian streets with their aforementioned riot of light and color, shops and restaurants of every persuasion and - in sharp contrast to my experience in Seoul - people from every corner of the world speaking every language imaginable!

The Quintessential Tourist
I have done a lot here in 26 hours! Arriving yesterday afternoon, I soon met a young South African and the two of us hooked up to do a whirlwind tour of a few highlights.

First order was to get into the city and find a room, which was accomplished in short order with the help of a businessman from Botswana who introduced me to "Chun King Mansion," a 12-15 story tower crammed floor by floor with what can best be described as "micro-motels." Semantics aside, I soon deposited my luggage in a cozy 1.5 x 2 meter room that contained a bed and a full bathroom (including hot shower) - this was smaller than any room I have ever slept in in Tokyo!

And off we went, first heading to the world's largest seated bronze Buddha, where we rode a cable car up the mountain to gaze at a 25 meter or so statue that stunned us both to silence with its serene presence - despite its towering dimensions, the figure maintains a meditative aura that calms the spirit. Now I don't know my Guinness Book of Records, but can only assume that, as the name suggests, there are larger Buddhas in the world that are either: a) not seated; or b) not bronze. Oh well...

Speaking of The Guinness Book...

While we are on the subject of the Guinness Book, we next shuttled back into town to ride the world's longest escalator through the area of Hong Kong known as the "mid-levels." This brought us to the "Soho" district, aptly named after a foreign neighbourhood considering that there is NOTHING Chinese about this area, not even the people in it! This was seriously the most Caucasians I have seen in 9 months, all chattering and quaffing ales in a myriad of pubs and fancy eateries.

So no Dim Sum, but some sumptuous Mediterranean fare!

Solo Again
And with that my South African friend headed to the airport, and I headed down to Hong Kong harbour for a ferry ride that gave me a magnificent view of the city lights at night, reflected on the water of the bay, and got me back to my bustling neighbourhood and my cozy little cubicle.

Morning in the City
Morning came quickly, with my first Starbucks Latte in about 9 months to give me a kick (pathetic, isn't it?) as I headed to the that carries tourist masses to the crest of Hong Kong Peak for a magnificent view of the city center. Now I don't know if my line of sight was obstructed by a romantic mist in the air or a vicious cloud of smog, but one way or the other, it was a peak worthy of climbing...

And here I sit, back at the airport barely a day later, waiting to depart for North America with a hurricane of thoughts in my head. The tug of the city I am leaving makes me nostalgic for life in Asia and all too aware of how easily I could have it back, but the lessons of life and of this journey simultaneously telling me my path lies on a different trajectory.

I will see many of you soon....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Around the Corner...

Kathmandu Calling
I am not yet back in Portland, Oregon - or, more generally, North America - but I am just around the corner, so to speak.

I leave Nepal tomorrow (Mar 25) and, after a hellish itinerary that involves sleeping and or lounging for extensive periods in not one or two, but three airports, will arrive PDX on Mar 27...

I don't quite believe that this trip is ending, but look forward to seeing family and friends...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lightening Crashes

Family Ties
Since last posting, my super cool and way-to-hard-working sister has been to India and departed. We spent most of her two weeks on the beach at Agonda, South Goa, which I believe I have raved about in previous post(s).

It was great to see Kristin, as we are pretty close but have few chances to meet face to face. It was especially cool to have her come to meet me at the tail-end of my trip - I return to North America next week, and this was a chance to think about and talk through some of the ideas about myself and the world that I have pondered in India, and how they may fit into my new life. This, of course, includes feelings of excitement and fear at the unknown vastness of it all.

Lightening Crashes
On the day after Kristin's departure, I returned to Agonda Beach and immediately walked down to the scorching sand to survey the endless sea stretching to the distant horizon. My adoration of the wonder was rewarded by the spectacle of a lone dolphin in the bay, leaping ecstatically in the air with an abandon that most of us can only dream of. My amphibious friend threw him/herself into the salt-tinged air once, twice, a third and a fourth time.

What a welcome!

Of course the whole day, like a whole life, cannot be made entirely of perfect moments such as this, a fact made clear in the following hours as menacing storm clouds built in the sky that had remained pristine blue for weeks and even months before.

The humid, sticky and dark day that ensued - more reminiscent of Portland at this time of year than my experience of Goa to date - heralded the rapidly approaching end of the tourist season ahead of the monsoon rains of summer. Indeed, the gray afternoon, as beautiful in its own way as the glorious sun that has since reasserted itself, was punctuated by the hammer falls of crews dismantling some of the resort colonies behind me, which are actually torn down and reconstructed every year to escape the wrath of the seasonal winds and rains.

By sundown the tension in the air was palpable, with low rolls of thunder rumbling from the next bay across a sea that was eerily calm.

Lightening Crashes
A child cries in a coco hut nearby and, as if on cue, dogs begin to howl.

A symphony of thunder begins to play directly above while the first fat drops of heavy rain pound on the palm fronds above my head.

Lightening Crashes
The world flashes incandescent as brilliant white light, diffused by low cloud cover, seems to come from every direction at once - a flash photo being shot of everything, from every conceivable direction, at once.

Lightening Crashes
The show has begun! With ferocity that is inconceivably just a foreshadow of the powerful monsoon season to come, the elements unleash themselves on the shore. While most of the flashes are strangely diffuse, the horizon serves a cinema show of electricity, with one, three, and even five bolts slicing the sky from heaven to sea simultaneously.

And I sit entranced as the seemingly inexhaustible fury play before my eyes for minutes and then hours. The elements, of course, ultimately prove to have more stamina than I, and I soon retire, drifting to sleep to the unseeming lullaby of the cataclysm outside my suddenly fragile hut.

Far from ruining a beautiful day, the squall crowns it with awe-inspiring splendour.

Rising Dawn
And the following morning? Brilliant tropical sun bakes several kilometers of sand, now a shade darker with the influence of torrents of rain absorbed through the night.

I spread my mat on the damp sand and begin to stretch and relax in the warm rays of sun piercing a sky that harbours light, fluffy white clouds that seem another species compared to the wrath of those that closed over us the previous night.

The Morning After
As I sat and wrote this post in my journal that same morning - literally hours after - banana lassi at hand and pen scratching feverishly, hoards of birds were squaking and reeling overhead as evidence of tension that is building once again. Ominously, dark clouds begin to gather yet again, harbingers of the next storm to come...