Friday, June 25, 2010

HONG KONG: (an old post I found lying around, forgotten)

I saw this post sitting in my 'unfinished posts' section, so I'm putting it up now.

Other than the occasional family outing, however, I didn’t have much time to relax during the first month in Hong Kong. In addition to our work and study, we had to find an apartment for ourselves. This proved to be much more difficult than I had expected. It turned out that our price range left us with very limited options. Apartments are nauseatingly expensive in Hong Kong. We spent the first couple of weeks using online agencies exclusively. The owners of the apartments featured on these sites were pretty flaky and the pictures ended up being far from reliable most of the time. We visited some pretty shady places, becoming more and more discouraged with each disappointment. After a while, I started getting a bit anxious. Having no job, no social network in Hong Kong and no way to invest myself much beyond my studies, I became a little fixated on trying to find an apartment, thinking that this would solve my restlessness. But I couldn’t do much to contribute to the search, being unable to speak Cantonese. Furthermore, it became pretty frustrating trying to study in Tai Wai with the baby screaming all day. Even though his parents had their own apartment in Hung Hom (across the hall from Yan’s parents’ old apartment, which they still own but don't use), Hinhin (the baby) and his mother spent most of the week in Tai Wai (maybe 4-5 nights a week). The only way I could work with all the noise (and that kid screams like a baby, despite being 2 years old) was to shut the door and hole myself up in Yan’s small bedroom, and that didn’t do much to help my livelihood.

I didn’t care much for Hinhin at first. It’s true, he was spoiled by his parents, his nurse and especially his grandma who gave in to his wishes every time, but I now think the kid was also just responding to the fact that his mom had just started a new job and wasn’t around to spend time with him during the day (not to mention his father being MIA most of the week). Well, I can say now that the baby’s gotten a lot better, likely due mostly to his mom making a few priority changes and stepping up tremendously to the role of ‘mom’; he doesn’t scream or hit as much, and I’m actually able to play with him for a while when we go to Tai Wai to visit (having worked a lot with his age in childcare jobs, I don’t have much patience when kids try to ‘dominate’ me, and since disciplining the kid would be stepping outside of my role, my only recourse is to just ignore him when he’s being a stinker – this largely defined our relationship while I was living in Tai Wai). Now whenever I see him he keeps saying "Petah Gogo" (meaning 'Peter - older brother') over and over again, staring at me. Unlike many little (>3 years old) Asian children, he never cried when he saw me. So I speak to him in English (which he has gotten better at) or sometimes Cantonese (when I know what to say) and we play games or I pick him up or read to him until he starts complaining or throwing something or hitting me; then I leave him and do something else. He's not a bad kid - just hadn't been disciplined much for a long time.

Eventually Ginny and I decided to narrow our apartment search to the neighborhood of Ma On Shan (the characters literally mean ‘Horse-Saddle Mountain’), a relatively new suburb northeast of Tai Wai and Shatin. It is located between the waterfront of a large reservoir and its namesake mountain – a quiet, pleasant community with convenient access to some nature and a lovely park that runs around the perimeter of the reservoir. It’s only a little more than a half hour away from downtown Kowloon (nothing’s very far from the city in Hong Kong) and 15 minutes from Ginny’s parents’ apartment in Tai Wai. We visited every real estate agency we could find in the area, determined to find something less than $8,000 HKD ($1,000 USD) a month and not crawling with cockroaches. Eventually we found a place for $7200 HKD in Sunshine City, an apartment complex that rests practically on top of the train station and a stone’s throw away from both the mountain and the reservoir (not to mention a decent public library and sports complex). Small (~400 sq. ft.) but clean (occasionally), our apartment is on the 22nd floor (higher than I’ve ever lived before by a long shot) and has two small rooms (with the kitchen and bathroom as an afterthought) adjacent to the living room, one of which has a great view, lots of light and is perfect for a little painting studio. We moved in just in time for Ginny’s birthday (April 6th), for which I bought her a mini bar, expressing my full support for her bartending studies (perhaps the best gift I’ve ever gotten someone – the gift that keeps on giving). Short on cash, we didn’t invest in much furniture. Instead, we bought a futon (a little roll-out Japanese mattress) for a couch that can double as a bed for visitors (see? we’re already prepared for you to come out and visit us!). We pretty much live on the floor – eating, reading, watching movies, playing cards – just like when we lived in Fairbanks, AK.

Now there are a couple day trips in April that are worth mentioning (other than the one i wrote about in the last post).

One was an exploration of the mountainous area on which Yan's parents live in Tai Wai. While staying there i would occasionally take a bus to or from downtown Hong Kong. This bus goes over the mountain and is a nice, quiet ride with nothing to see but trees (so i thought), so i usually read or daydream and dont really look out the windows. well, one day the bus was chugging along and I was chilling out on my way to meet Yan after she got off work (at this time she was still working as a tour guide trainee in Tsim Sha Tsui). The light was going away as it was evening and so i gave up on reading and turned my gaze outside. the bus jolted suddenly as the driver applied the brakes, and I saw something scurry off the pavement to the side of the road. As the engine revved up again and we drove by, I saw a couple of monkeys scamper off into the roadside forest! I practically shouted aloud with surprise and delight! For the rest of the trip, i could think about nothing anything else, and as soon as i could, i jumped on a computer. I found out that the monkeys were a kind of macaque, either Rhesus macaques, longtailed macaques or a hybrid of the two species. My curiosity and adventerousness aroused, the hunt was on! I was determined to search out these macaques again at the next available opportunity.

Ginny and I soon found the time to go for a hike around Lion Rock country park (named for its characteristically-shaped outcropping that overlooks Tai Wai). We took a bus to the trailhead, and as we started up, I began looking around enthusiastically for monkey signs. But what disappointment! Nary a macaque was to be seen! After a while, our hike ambitions were completely overruled by a pressing need to see monkeys. We abandoned the Lion Rock and decided to go back and search farther up the road for another trail. Ginny was certain there was a better place to look for monkeys and I readily submitted to her instinct.

Well it didnt take long to discover she was right! We approached some roadside construction area, and lo and behold! - monkeys chilling out by the bus stop!

We continued along the roadside, seeing a footbridge and another park-entrance-like area on the other side of the road (and walking right under another fella sitting on the road barrier!)

On the footbridge were more macaques enjoying the afternoon sun and watching the cars go by. The guy below (who seems to be about to throw something at Yan) got pretty miffed when Ginny tried to approach him, and I explained to her that to primates, showing your teeth (as when smiling or laughing) is an aggressive and challenging display. (Yay OREGON ZOO CAMP!) So we tried to talk and laugh the rest of our visit with our lips over our teeth (not easy to do).

Maybe he's calmed down a bit.. Lemme snap a picture...

Nope! There goes after Yan again! She just cant keep those teeth sheathed...

Man they're all over the place! And what better place to find tasty human food than in the trash.

Try the other end...

No. Not that one...

Bored waiting for the bus...

The reception we received at this park's entrance was a pretty good indication of what was waiting for us down the road. After walking a little farther down the path... WHAM! Macaque heaven. It was like the whole extended family was out for a picnic and just chillaxin' in the sunshine. Mothers feeding or carrying around babies clasping on to their backs. Youngsters frolicking amongst the trees and brush. Old farts lounging around. Fights in the street. Group napping in the shade. I couldn't get enough pictures. It was exhilerating!

Now, it doesn't take a biologist to realize that this is hardly a natural environment or niche. And in fact, although Hong Kong is considered part of the Rhesus macaques' natural range, these forest are hardly natural due to deforestation (as I described in the last post) and it is believed that Rhesus macaques were released into these forests sometime in the early 20th century. The longtailed macaques come from either farther afield, their homeland being primarily Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippeans.

Another day Ginny and I went down to a fishing village area in the east part of Hong Kong. It was a nice change of pace and scenery from the 'urban jungle'. Plus, seafood.

Some huge friggin tasty prawns fried in garlic and butter. It's always fun when you can choose your victims from a fishtank.

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