01 December 2008

Hong Kong: Kwan Yin Overload

I don't think it's ever possible for me to get too much of my transgender matron saint. But I think I got pretty close today. This happened in the early afternoon hours of this very long, exhausting, yet fruitful day, one that let me really get to know Hong Kong (as much as possible in a 3-day timeframe, anyway). I have 65 photos to show for my troubles today.

Familiar sight with a pleasant surprise. I see Yoshinoya restaurants in Los Angeles all the time, but they tend to offer little more than cheap beef bowls. Hong Kong also has Yoshinoya locations - run by the exact same bosses from Tokyo - but the menu is far more varied. I had a late breakfast here, for just $18, consisting of very nice beef ramen; it was an excellent value.

My first destination, near East Tsim Sha Tsui: Hong Kong Museum of History.

Actually, this banner belongs to the neighboring Hong Kong Science Museum, which has a special exhibit coming up to deal with China's first spacewalk, which should be very soon (if it hasn't taken place already).

Due to time limitations, I stuck to just the history museum. Admission cost me only $10 - excellent value. Even at USD $10, it would've been good value.

The museum has eight halls, dealing with Hong Kong from 400 million years ago, when its rocks were formed, through 1997, when British colonial rule ended.

160 million years ago, Hong Kong was an active volcanic region, as these volcanic rocks attest. Terrain here was extremely rugged then; even now, it's rugged, though today's hills are too new to be from these volcanoes. The volcanoes replaced the shallow ocean that covered Hong Kong until then.

100 million years ago, it appears that Hong Kong looked a lot like Death Valley, California - a barren desert. Very little life appears to have existed here back then, as few fossils from that era were found.

The above are dinosaur eggs from the desert era, though they come from nearby Guangzhou, where the climate was a bit more hospitable, and there was a sizable dinosaur population.

Something more recent. Here are skull and jaw fragments from the earliest Hong Kong inhabitants. Human habitation began around 4000 BCE.

This is a replica of an actual burial of a prehistoric woman, found within Hong Kong.

Here's a replica of some stone markings from the prehistoric era, found somewhere on Hong Kong Island.

Civilization eventually came this way. Shang, China's first dynasty predating the Christian era by about 2,000 years, already had some presence in Hong Kong.

The above map shows China's territory as it was during the second phase of the Han. The Han was an interesting dynasty, as it was interrupted for a few decades right around the time of Jesus. It's notable that while China did not cover Hainan, Taiwan, Tibet, and Manchuria then, it did cover northwestern Korea and northern Vietnam. For comparison, the inset shows the present-day boundaries of People's Republic of China - including Taiwan, in accordance with official Chinese government stance.

This is a model of the Kowloon Walled City, where the Manchu Dynasty maintained its presence after Hong Kong Island was lost to the British in 1842. Even after the British expanded to Kowloon, this area remained in Chinese hands. The Japanese destroyed it during their 1941 invasion, and after some time as a slum, now the site is a park.

There were four key ethnic groups throughout Hong Kong's history. They were the Punti, the Hakka, the Boat Dwellers, and the Hoklo. Here are traditional outfits as worn by different members of these four ethnic groups.

Unlike in Korean museums, I've had no problems using flash here, and I am grateful. Tripods and commercial photos are NOT permitted - but that's about the only restriction.

The Boat Dwellers are believed to have been former social elites from elsewhere in China who came down to the Hong Kong area to escape political persecution. They lived out their entire lives on boats like this; the only time they ever went to the land was when their boats needed major repairs. This boat has a small, but nice, living room inside.

The Punti, or the Mainland People, were the primary demographic group in historical Hong Kong. They were refugees from the Jurchen invasion of central China in the 12th Century, and formerly prominent members of society.

Here's a Taoist altar of the Punti, similar to the ones I saw yesterday.

Confucian moral code dictated that the most important event of a person's life was marriage. A marriage was not legitimate unless it went through three letters and six rites; the six rites started with the marriage proposals from the two families involved, and ended with the wedding. The three letters refer to some of the documents used to bring about the six rites, and some of them are shown above.

Remember that in China, as in Korea, marrying out of love was historically unthinkable.

One difference I see here in China is that anything of significance uses the lucky color - red. Red is an extremely good color in China. After a few months in Korea, where red is the color of death (and in South Korea, of Communism) and therefore usually taboo, this is a very striking difference for me.

Maybe I do need to ensure that my Hyundai Genesis will be red as well - partly to piss off the Korean-American McCarthyists, but primarily to also give a nod to my Hong Kong excursion and my own partial Chinese background.

Here is a statue of Tin Hau (天后), or the Heavenly Empress. She was an actual supernatural woman who lived in Fujian Province, and after her death, was given her title. She brings good luck to the South China Sea seafarers. It also appears that in some cases, Kwan Yin and Tin Hau are merged into one depiction.

The Hakka were primarily rice farmers. They lived in small homes, primarily dedicated to farming tool storage and livestock. This is a tiny bedroom in a replica Hakka house, though there is some nice attic space above too.

Cantonese opera. It kept the masses entertained.

A Taoist shrine with tons of portraits. Love the color theme and the delicate details. In any case, I love seeing so much red - something I am not used to.

As the Western powers started coming east, however, things started to change. The British started trading with China, and at first China enjoyed a huge trade surplus, as Chinese tea, pottery, and silk were in demand in Britain while very few British goods had any demand in China. Then the British started cultivating opium in India to sell to China, where it had been used as medicine for centuries; the Chinese bought tons of opium, got addicted, and started racking up trade deficits against Britain instead. The Manchu Dynasty outlawed the importation of opium, but corrupt officials looked the other way. Several negotiations took place over opium trade, without success. When a corruption-free Chinese official came down to Guangzhou and destroyed the British opium stock, and when a Chinese child was killed in Kowloon by drunken British sailors, tensions ran very high. British traders in Guangzhou had to leave town and live in their ships offshore.

This ended up with the British invasion of various Chinese coastal towns in 1841, starting the Opium War. China couldn't put up much of a defense, and the next year, the Treaty of Nanking was negotiated to end the war. This was an unequal treaty that forced China to pay massive reparations to the British, open up several extra ports to British trade in addition to existing Guangzhou, legalize importation of opium, and most importantly, cede Hong Kong Island to Britain. Both the Chinese and the British were upset; the Chinese hated giving up territory to foreign barbarians, while the British were upset that all they got was a lousy island with next to no population or resources.

This is a replica of the 1898 treaty between China and Britain, which extended the British rule to Kowloon and the New Territories. This treaty was written to expire in 1997.

And this is the replica of the Treaty of Nanking, which gave Britain control of Hong Kong Island. The British immediately developed the area into a busy trade port, due to its location on the mouth of the Pearl River and easy access to Guangzhou.

Land has always been at a premium in Hong Kong. Lots of land reclamation projects have taken place over the years. The above map shows Hong Kong shoreline before World War II, showing successive reclamation areas. The light blue areas have also been filled in since.

These are some Hong Kong Dollar coins over the years, showing the portraits of successive British monarchs, from Queen Victoria to King George VI (the late father of the current Queen Elizabeth II).

The British also put in banking into Hong Kong. This is an old sign marking a branch of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC).

Sure, there was almost nobody in Hong Kong before the British takeover, but the Chinese did arrive into British Hong Kong. Most were those who had been under some sort of threat or another within China, and therefore supported the British invaders; now, they were considered treasonous, and had no choice but to come to Hong Kong. They had their own culture, as evidenced by these newspapers and a map of China in the background. That map shows Mongolia (Outer Mongolia, as called by the Chinese, to distinguish from the Chinese province of Nei Mongol, or Inner Mongolia) as Chinese territory.

Later, Hong Kong turned out to be a great refuge from those opposing the Chinese imperial government. There was a lot more freedom in Hong Kong, allowing anti-imperial activities to take place. The British colonial authorities had to be careful, ensuring that while these activists had their place, relations with the Chinese imperial government wouldn't be strained either.

Here are some calendar posters, showing various images of women, dating from a number of years before World War II. Lovely images.

When the Westerners were coming to Asia, Japan made sure to learn lots of Western ideas and technologies, then decided to go on its own expedition. This resulted in Japan taking over Taiwan and the Ryukyus in 1905, Korea in 1910, and Manchuria in 1931. In 1937, Japan started invading the rest of China, sacking many Chinese cities; the most infamous of such sackings was the Rape of Nanking, which claimed over 300,000 lives. This was part of Japan's plan for the so-called "Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere," where the less-than-enlightened people of East Asia could choose to enlighten themselves in one of two ways: either under the auspices of the barbaric racist Westerners, or under the "benevolent" Japanese.

Hong Kong provided a refuge for the Chinese fleeing this madness, and the refugees took part in many anti-Japanese activities and operations. But Hong Kong was thinly defended, and Japan wanted to take it too. In 1941, this propaganda leaflet was dropped by the Japanese onto Hong Kong. It states that Japan can pulverize Hong Kong, and asks Hong Kong's British military commanders to surrender, so that their men would not be harmed. But then, after the Rape of Nanking and other documented atrocities having taken place already, I don't think many people actually believed Japan's promises of mercy.

Japan did attack, and while the British fought valiantly, Hong Kong fell on Christmas 1941. The Japanese instituted harsh military rule, and enlisted the help of those Chinese residents who were sympathetic to the Japanese rule. As Hong Kong was overcrowded, Japan forced many residents to move to mainland China against their will. The Japanese did a very poor job of running Hong Kong - rampant issuing of the Japanese colonial currency resulted in hyperinflation, while basic supplies and services were hard to come by.

The Japanese also planned this huge stone memorial, dedicated to their soldiers who had fallen during the invasion of Hong Kong. It was to be built on a prominent hilltop on Hong Kong Island. Construction did begin, but it was never finished due to Japan's surrender in 1945. Demolition started shortly thereafter, but what had already been built was so massive that it took two years for the demolition to be completed.

Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945, after two American nukes incinerated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This treaty of September 16, 1945 formally surrendered Japan's Hong Kong forces, and restored British control. By this point, Hong Kong's infrastructure was in ruins, and population was only a third of its prewar levels.

Due to Japan's numerous atrocities in China and elsewhere, the Chinese still have a negative impression of Japan. Right-wing Japanese leaders, such as Junichiro Koizumi, were not even welcome in China. The negative feelings have also strongly persisted in other parts of Asia that Japan occupied during its imperialistic expansion; the only exceptions are the South Korean colonial government and some of the earlier Taiwanese politicians, both of whom have completely bent over to the Japanese, including the current crop of right-wing ultranationalist revisionists. Granted, Japan had the money that both needed, but this is still unforgivable.

With the Japanese gone, the Chinese Civil War resumed. In 1949, the Republic of China fell and had to exile itself to Taiwan. Mainland China now had a Communist government in its place. Rail service between Hong Kong and China was cut; crossing the border now meant having to go through the checkpoints on foot, as shown above. Lines were very long.

As China started opening up, things improved. Direct train service to Guangzhou resumed in 1979. In 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China, direct train service to Beijing also resumed; it is a 30-hour run, and is named Jingjiu (京九), referring to Beijing as the capital and Kowloon by its first character.

The people formerly forcibly moved out by the Japanese now returned to Hong Kong, but due to wartime damage, housing was in extremely short supply. Many lived in shantytowns, which were very susceptible to fires. A particularly vicious 1953 fire left tens of thousands homeless overnight. After that fire, the colonial government started building low-cost resettlement towns, consisting of 11-square meter apartment units with up to eight people crowding into a unit. Schools were built as rooftop tents as afterthoughts. Bathrooms and toilets were communal. It was miserable, but the $14 monthly rent was unbeatable.

The above is a replica of one such apartment unit.

Hong Kong's water supply also was a problem. Twice in the 1960s, prolonged droughts resulted in mandatory water rationing. The above is a re-created scene from the water rationing days.

An early postwar Hong Kong grocery store. In Cantonese, such stores were simply called "store" - written as 士多 and pronounced "sze dor." They were the earlier, smaller version of modern supermarkets, and residents loved them.

In other developments of that era, widespread radio service became available in 1949, though for a subscription fee of $10 per month. In 1957, as transistor radios became commonplace, commercial broadcasting began. Soon, the Beatles visited Hong Kong in 1964, and started a pop music revolution that consisted of local cover bands at first, but resulted in native Cantonese pop music starting in the 1970s. By then, television and movies also started taking off, with almost everyone having TV sets. The stage was set for Hong Kong's dominance of popular culture. I almost want to listen to some Leslie Cheung and Andy Lau songs again.

A typical elementary school classroom in Hong Kong. There is a piano in the back. Songs are playing in English and Cantonese; while Cantonese was a mere vernacular language up until the 1960s, it became an official language and started being taught in Hong Kong schools thereafter. Of course, since the Chinese takeover, Mandarin has also become an official language, and now, I can expect to hear public announcements in three languages - Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, all official languages.

Mercifully, as written Chinese is more or less identical across all dialects, written signs are only bilingual - Chinese and English. Hong Kong, unlike mainland China, also uses traditional characters, which are also used in Taiwan, Korea, and overseas Chinese communities. (Japan's Chinese characters are slightly simplified, but still much closer to traditional than simplified.) As I tend to use Chinese characters in Korean and Japanese contexts, I am glad to be working with traditional characters, as many simplified characters look way too strange to me. Of course, traditional characters are extremely difficult to write, but as I am doing all my writing in English anyway, I don't have to worry about that.

Speaking of written Chinese, the local word for public toilet is 洗手間, or Hand-Washing Partition. That's another new word for me. I am more likely to recognize the Beijing version, 衛生間 (Sanitary Partition), or the Korean version, 化粧室 (Makeup Room), as proper labels for a public toilet.

Hong Kong's textile industry drove its economy in the early postwar years. To compete with cheaper mainland Chinese labor, workers had to put in long hours at low wages. Those conditions resulted in riots in 1966 and 1967, and labor codes had to be improved as a result in the following years.

At the same time, tourism started picking up in Hong Kong as well, as its east-meets-west setting featured prominently in many Hollywood movies. Tourism remains a major industry in Hong Kong, and now I am doing my part to fund it. :)

Another major Hong Kong industry is banking. Three banks are authorized to issue currency, and their historical and current banknotes are featured above. The top features banknotes issued by the Bank of China. The lower left has those of HSBC, whose banknotes are the most common. The lower right has the banknotes from Standard Chartered Bank, whose banknotes tend to be rarer than the other two.

Of course, coins and the $10 note are government-issued. I also got a $10 coin today, which I hadn't known of. And the newest $10 banknotes are not paper, but rather plastic, with a transparent watermark section, though most in circulation today are still paper.

To befit Hong Kong's status as a business hub, transportation links were improved. The infamous Kai Tak became one of the world's busiest airports, and it had to be closed in 1998 and replaced with the current airport, Chek Lap Kok, a much larger facility on Lantau Island. Meanwhile, the MTR subway system first started running in 1979; it's positively the greatest subway system I've ever ridden on, even better than the one in Seoul (which I had considered the best until now), though due to Hong Kong's compact size, the cumulative network length stretches only a third of Seoul's.

Investors got quite nervous as the 1997 expiration date of the 1898 Kowloon Treaty approached. To resolve this, China and the UK spent several years for a solution, and came to an agreement in 1984. The British could have kept Hong Kong Island and returned only Kowloon, but chose to return everything. In return, China agreed that Hong Kong's democratic system and capitalist economy would remain intact until 2047. The handover happened on July 1, 1997, turning Hong Kong from a British colony to a Chinese Special Administrative Region.

Shortly before the handover, Jiang Zemin, the then-Premier of China, is pictured above holding his handwritten message wishing for a prosperous future of Hong Kong.

So far, China has kept its end of the bargain when it comes to preserving Hong Kong's status quo, and I am pleased.

The gift shop had this wonderful limited-edition head of my transgender matron saint. Cost: $20,000. Too large and too expensive for me! Buying it would've also meant having to declare it at South Korean and US customs as I make my way back home, and paying sizable duty.

At the gift shop, I did find keyrings showcasing the 100 most common surnames in Hong Kong. The four most common are 王 (Wong/Wang), 李 (Li), 張 (Cheung/Zhang), and 劉 (Lau/Liu). I picked up a keyring for #14 - 朱 (Chu/Zhu), which is my mother's lineage and indeed hails from the Chinese province of Anhui. I couldn't find my father's lineage, 徐 (Tsui/Xu), which wasn't in the top 100, and as it's Seo and purely Korean in my family's case - no links to Tsui/Xu in any way except for the character - it wouldn't have made sense for me to buy it anyway.

I am still in the East Tsim Sha Tsui area, and about to enter this mall. It's got Indian, Japanese, and Korean restaurants, as well as McDonald's and 7-Eleven.

Japanese food is extremely easy to find in Hong Kong. Indian, Korean, and other cuisines - I do need to look a little harder. I'm staying away from Korean food in Hong Kong, as there are lots of other weird dishes for me to try out here already, and I can get my Korean food after my return to Seoul. For now though, as Yoshinoya had filled me up nicely, I went for a light McDonald's meal, consisting of a Big 'N Tasty (different, and nicer, compared to the Big 'N Tasty sold in California) meal for $26.50. At McDonald's, I noticed that I could pay with an Octopus transit farecard, as well as with the Chinese renminbi at the exchange rate of $108 for every 100 renminbi (a bit lousier than at currency exchanges).

This building demonstrates Hong Kong-style flooring convention. Back in Seoul, I found building floors numbered American style, but here in Hong Kong, most buildings use the British style, with first floor being above the ground floor. This particular building is one of many that actually has two ground floors, one upper and one lower; the lower ground floor is partially below ground, and depending on which side of the building I enter, I may end up entering into either ground floor.

From East Tsim Sha Tsui, I took the East Rail Line, which heads for mainland China. Subway trains run on it, and service all stations up to the border. At the border, the line splits into two, one to connect to Shenzhen's subway Line 1 and the other to Line 4; I must cross the border on foot. Mainline trains operated by China's national rail system share the tracks (though not platforms), and offer through service into Guangzhou and beyond.

Unlike most subway lines that use standard 8-car trains, this line uses dedicated 11-car trains with Car 3 being the first class car with plush airline-style seating. My unlimited-use Octopus does not include first class fare, and does not include the border stations, but includes all other travel on this line.

I traveled to Sha Tin district, for a few interesting sights. Here is one of them - a crematorium. Its white pagoda is visible at the top of the hill, and I can use the escalator to the right to climb the hill.

There are a number of altars inside, dedicated to various religious figures. This is a Buddha that looks less Chinese and more Southeast Asian.

Actually, that is what I want to see - the Monastery of Ten Thousand Buddhas (萬佛寺). Coming into this crematorium is a good look into Chinese spirituality, but is otherwise a mistake commonly made by tourists who would rather get to that monastery instead. I had to ask a janitor for directions, and he was very helpful despite speaking no English. I had to go all the way back down the hill.

The monastery was featured in a very early Andy Lau movie from his younger days, according to my guidebook. Of course, as my guidebook (which is excellent and right on the money, by the way) is in Korean, Lau is always referred by his Korean name, Yu Deok-hwa.

The trails leading up to the monastery are found on either side of the crematorium. The crematorium itself has no through access to the monastery.

I'm back down at the bottom of the hill. Here is a pond full of turtles. I'm pretty sure DiAnne Grieser in Seattle would love this sight.

I am finally on the correct trail. The gold-plated statues are beginning here, and continuing all the way to the monastery, hundreds of stair steps above.

Even though it's only in the low 20s Celsius (low 70s Fahrenheit), the Hong Kong humidity is taking a toll on me. It feels a lot like Seoul in late September and early October, especially with dragonflies around and green, leafy vegetation. By contrast, Seoul now is freezing, and with all the leaves gone, is brown and almost lifeless. Glad to be in Hong Kong now - but would hate to come in the summer.

At the trailhead, I am greeted by another sight. Here are dozens of porcelain statuettes of various Buddhist figures, the overwhelming majority of them being Kwan Yin. And this is only a hint of what awaits me at the top of the hill.

Along the trail, this is the only female statue. And sure enough, the caption identifies it as "Bodhisattva Guanshiyin" - the full name of Kwan Yin.

The temple courtyard has a Kwan Yin Pavilion. Lovely statue of my transgender matron saint in her trademark white robe. Honestly though, I'd love to see a Kwan Yin clad in a pink miniskirt suit someday! :)

The main hall is named Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Its ceiling is very high, and it feels airy inside. And all the walls are covered with thousands of small golden Buddha statues. Very awe-inspiring.

Here is the stunning Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, showing off its traditional Chinese design consisting of red wall tiles and gold roof tiles. After a few months of Korean architecture, this is a very nice change.

There is a tea house in the courtyard - and it is named after Kwan Yin. I can also have soft drinks here as well.

I am now taking another uphill trail, following a large sign that said something about Kwan Yin (but I couldn't read it fully, given my limited knowledge of Chinese characters). It is lined with these painted guardians, representing the twelve icons of the Chinese Zodiac in various forms. This is the first of the bunch - the Rat Man. His eye sockets have little arms, and their hands have the actual eyes. Very interesting!

I am nearing the top of this trail as well. The golden statues start here again.

Here is a very popular theme - Kwan Yin of the Safe Voyages. Kwan Yin is supposed to protect the sailors of the South China Sea from harm.

Two more Kwan Yins. The right one is the Eleven-Faced Kwan Yin, while the left is something I can't identify.

Notably, both statues are exposing their breasts. The left one has both exposed, while the Eleven-Faced Kwan Yin exposes her left one. At least the breasts are feminine - though a bit smallish, which is realistic for a transwoman. Also, nipples are not depicted.

Two more popular Kwan Yin depictions. The left carries a fish in her basket, and stands for abundant fishing. The right carries a baby, and stands for fertility and protection of children.

Some more Buddhist statues on the hill above this upper courtyard. I decided not to go further up, as I had better things to do with my time.

A look at the upper courtyard. It's lined with Kwan Yins as far as I can see, and certainly more than I can count. What a sight - and I am very inspired. While all statues are unique, they are variations of the several basic themes, such as eleven faces, fertility, safe voyages, and abundant fishing.

This view alone is worth all the money I spent for my Hong Kong travel expenses.

And yes, every single Eleven-Faced Kwan Yin has her left breast exposed. Maybe once estrogen does some work on my body, I do need to pose for a photo in a robe with left boob hanging out. Or commission Christy Cole for a portrait of me right now, with my left boob hanging out.

In honor of my visit to the monastery, I took out my gold-plated Kwan Yin statuette, which I had bought in downtown Seoul for 20,000 won two months ago, and always carry with me when I travel as my own icon of safe travels. And sure enough, this Kwan Yin is also exposing a breast - though she exposes her right one, and it's flat and masculine.

I'm returning to the subway station. But I have to stop here first.

Back in Seoul, I can find Costco, but I can't find the Swedish furniture store IKEA. Here in Hong Kong, it's the opposite; Costco is not present, but IKEA is. This mall may be under renovation, but it's open, and IKEA occupies the third and fifth floors, though the fifth floor, which houses the store's meatball restaurant, is currently closed for the mall renovation. The showroom has the exact same products I find in IKEA's US stores, with comparable prices, though the showroom itself is definitely much smaller. Entry is through escalators, while exit is either through the same escalators or through elevators (called "lifts" here in Hong Kong, following the British convention). Pay parking is available, of course. Inside, the slips provided for jotting down the product numbers and locations are available in English and Chinese versions, and rulers for measuring come with two units - inches and centimeters.

Another interesting Chinese language usage... Bilingual signs say that if I change my mind, I can bring my purchases back for exchange or refund. The Chinese portion of the message started with something along the lines of "having third thoughts?" As the English expression uses second thoughts, seeing this expression was pretty interesting.

With some time and daylight remaining, I proceeded over to Hong Kong Island afterwards. The most direct route takes the East Rail Line (baby blue) back to East Tsim Sha Tsui for a transfer to the Tsuen Wan Line (red) across the harbor, but the transfer is not free (even though this is not a problem with my special Octopus pass), and requires a very long walk. To cut walking distance, I transferred at Kowloon Tong to the Kwun Tong Line (green), then made a second, cross-platform transfer at Mong Kok to the Tsuen Wan Line.

At Admiralty Station, the first stop on the island, I decided to give the double-decker tram another attempt.

The above is the fare chart posted inside the tram. It tells the whole story. Fare, coins only, is $2 for adults 12 and over, and $1 for children, as well as for seniors 65 and over with proper Hong Kong IDs. The fare chart above is bilingual, and the Chinese portion uses legalese characters. By now, they are becoming second nature to me. Now that I actually had some $2 coins in my possession, I did take a ride.

I must get in through the rear door, where turnstiles prevent me from exiting. I must get out through the front door, where the farebox is located next to the driver. Trams can only be boarded at designated stops, which are a bit difficult to get to due to their positions in the dead middle of the street. Fortunately, stops are less than a quarter-mile apart.

Tram service intervals are uneven, kind of like San Francisco MUNI buses. I may have to wait for an eternity for a tram, then three trams show up at once - the third one predictably empty.

Here's a busy street scene. I am entering the older Wan Chai district.

Trams have rickety-looking wooden bodies, and offer no climate control at all. Windows do open, however, and it is indeed necessary to open them for fresh air. Even the front-facing windows of the upper deck open, allowing me to get this wonderful shot. Yes, I am in the very front of the upper deck - the most desirable riding position.

It's an extremely bad idea to let anything hang outside the windows, however, as between passing buses, trams, and building structures, it's possible to lose those objects and body parts at any time without notice.

Another look to the front, showing two double-deckers: a tram and a bus, both sporting full-body ads.

Just like San Francisco's cable car system is a tourist trap limited to three lines, Hong Kong's tram system is a tourist trap that is very slow and limited to a single line (though there is a short clockwise spur loop that also exists). No tram runs the entire line; each tram displays its final destination where it will turn around and reverse direction. The tram is much more practical than the San Francisco cable car, however, primarily due to its cheap fare. I do believe it costs at least USD $5 to ride a cable car - that can buy twenty rides on a Hong Kong tram.

I could've gone on much farther, but I decided to alight (that's get off, in British) at Victoria Park. Sure enough, I can see this statue of Queen Victoria.

Victoria was known for her ridiculously conservative social views, which made their mark here in Hong Kong as well; homosexuality was a criminal offense for a long time. While the British did lots of good during their time here, they did have lots of negatives too.

Here, I found another thing about life in Hong Kong. I went to a vending machine to buy a can of soda, for $6; however, the vending machines all require either coins or an Octopus, so I had to walk away. I was running low on coins, and my unlimited-use tourist Octopus has no cash value stored on it. Fortunately, a streetside vendor just outside the park sold me the exact can of soda for $5, so I saved money. Also of note is that Hong Kong's soda cans are of the fatter 330 mL variety, similar to the 355 mL cans in the US. Back in South Korea, 330 mL cans do exist, but the vast majority of cans, and all the convenience store and vending machine cans, are the skinnier 250 mL models. And the smaller can of soda in Seoul costs more.

I walked back to Wan Chai, which has much of the feel of the old Hong Kong. This is an apartment building with laundry hanging out the windows - very reminiscent of the bygone days.

Wan Chai used to be on the waterfront. During the Vietnam War, American servicemen on leaves crowded this area, and visited its wild nightclubs; prostitution was a big business on these streets then. Even now, I can visit these nightclubs, some of which are strip clubs, and all of which serve alcohol (in other words, nobody under 18 may enter).

I did a quick snack at a Delifrance restaurant, taking in a $26 French cheese dish. I then decided to backtrack east in the direction of Victoria Park, taking the subway one stop to Causeway Bay, which is connected to a humongous mall named Times Square; that was my final stop for the day.

Times Square has some shops on the second basement floor, a food court on the first basement floor, a flagship department store on ground and first floors, various retailing shops on second through ninth floors, and a full-service restaurant zone for four floors above that. All floors can be accessed by escalators and elevators, while the restaurant zone has a dedicated bank of express elevators from the ground floor.

Here's a look at modern Hong Kong fashion. This is a Jessica store; Jessica is a trendy local clothing chain catering to teenage girls and twentysomething women. I'm a bit too old to be Jessica's target audience, but the styles are classy enough that I won't look like an aging teeny bopper wannabe in the products shown here.

Speaking of Hong Kong fashion, the fashionistas are dressed much like their Seoul counterparts, though legwear choices show more lace-trimmed leggings and fewer stirrup tights. One key difference, however, is that physically, Hong Kong fashionistas on average are less attractive than their Seoul counterparts. But this is actually a good thing, as back in Seoul, looking attractive is a requirement for getting a job or getting married, so everyone has had some work done on her face. It's nice to know that here in Hong Kong, people can get away with their natural beauty.

And here is an Episode store, which is a sister brand to Jessica. Episode is for an older, more mature crowd. I like them both.

While the lower floors feature fashion, the upper floors feature other stuff. Here is a PageOne bookstore, with a very good selection of reading material in both English and Chinese. I looked at a magazine rack inside, and sure enough, I could find the US edition of this month's Vogue magazine, which features my idol Jennifer Aniston on the cover, and contains an interview where she talks about many things, including that homewrecker bitch Angelina Jolie. I almost wanted to buy the magazine ($56), but decided against it, as it'll just be more baggage for me to haul around. Either I'll have to pick it up in Seoul, where I'll be paying a 10% sales tax to the colonial government, or wait until my return to the US and hope that it's still available then.

And on the subject of Korea... Even though I'm in Hong Kong, right now at this electronics store, I am looking at the latest model LG television sets, which are showing a Rain concert. Rain, of course, is a top-notch South Korean singer/actor, in the tradition of Hong Kong's own Leslie Cheung and Andy Yau from before. This concert footage is captioned, and while I took the photo when Rain was singing an English line (therefore the caption is English), the song is in Korean, and the caption is indeed in Korean otherwise. The only indications that I am outside South Korea are that (1) the TVs use the standard LG brand, whereas they use the XCanvas brand for the South Korean domestic market, and (2) their tuners use PAL for conventional video, instead of South Korea's NTSC. Of course, PAL is illegal in South Korea, as it is North Korea's TV format too, and PAL TV sets can pick up North Korean TV.

Other electronics goods around me include more LG and Samsung products, including cameras and cell phones. The Japanese are also well represented in the camera section as well, while the iPhone 3G is a prominent offering on the cell phone displays. Other Apple products, including the iMac and MacBook Air, are also around.

I checked out the restaurants on the top floors, but decided against them due to the cost. I headed down to the basement food court and ended up with Szechuan-style bean curd over rice, which was oddly served from a Japanese food stall.

I then returned to Kowloon and my hotel; I got to experience the true fury of Hong Kong's rush hour, which is anything and everything beyond what I experience in Seoul, even on the notorious Line 2, the most overcrowded line, run by the hated Seoul Metro. The Tsuen Wan Line, especially from Admiralty (the last Hong Kong Island station), gets so packed that the lines of passengers cannot even enter the trains, due to lack of room. I had to wait and let three trains go by before being able to cram into a train. Fortunately, a train runs every one minute, so the wait wasn't too bad. A very good idea would be to take some other cross-harbor route - probably the Tseung Kwan O Line (violet) well east of the core areas, even though it's a substantial detour.

Tomorrow, Ocean Park and Lantau are on my agenda. Ocean Park shouldn't set me back more than $260, so I'll make it a quick stop - sort of like Everland back in South Korea, which Ocean Park appears to resemble. Buses leave from Admiralty starting at 9AM, and I can buy admissions and bus tickets right at the bus stop. Ocean Park is in Aberdeen, which is in a less populated part of Hong Kong Island, while Lantau is way out there. It'll be a busy day, much of it spent as travel time. I will hopefully finish off with a night view of Hong Kong Island from the Avenue of the Stars. In any case, this will be a trip to go down my memory lane, and I look forward to coming back to Hong Kong in the future.

And once I get back to Seoul, I will probably cut down on sightseeing, and limit my activities to the bare minimum required for my meditation and treatment. I can't take the propaganda in the subway and on the streets anymore. Plus, the less money I spend, the less sales tax I pay to the colonials. Slowing down, most importantly, will give me enough time to do some reading, writing, and other activities that I need to do, as well as sharing artwork on Christy's Art Blog. I guess that's how I will subsist until my return to the US.