Marianas Variety

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    Friday, September 21, 2018-2:43:10P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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OPINION: Hong Kong’s Fragrance Harbor

I REMEMBER the Chinese Methodist congregation between Wan Chai and Argyle when it was but a quaint British structure along with the then new tenement houses of the island.

Yinghua Yuan of Oleai, Saipan, and I, stayed in one of the buildings to before we could secure a train berth to Beijing and it was quite a lengthy ride of some 30 hours in 1980 from Hong Kong to the primal Municipality of China.  But chugging through the rails was a good introduction to China; at the time, it took some 28 hours.  It has since been cut down to 24.  When we got back in Saipan, there were intruding factors that were cultural; Yinghua’s elder sister got Yinghua and I apart in spite of the wonder-filled train trip.

This write-up was about Hong Kong, which included the new international airport at Lantau, Victoria of Jardine Davis, Kowloon of the old rickshaw that had since moved to the Museum, and the New Territories where I once joined the human development project at a fishing village in Ship Kip Mei up towards Shenzhen.  At the time, Jackie Chan did his movies next door to the village.  The 52 story-high Connaught tower near the Star Ferry with its circular looking windows, was the tallest building on sight for a while.  The tower was actually Jardine Davis’ owned and it had not been built yet on my first foray to the colorful night lanterns in 1965.

Ten years later, it was the gathering place of the famous HK group of Philippine maids, and like trips later to London and Madrid, Paris and Rome, I pointed to the maids that theirs was a critical service and should not be weighed down by the demeaning status symbol European culture placed on “house maids.”  The Connaught yard on Sundays in HK was once the gathering place of Pinay maids.

In 2018, I no longer had to take the Ferry to cross the Channel as the subway provided the transport across from Kowloon where I stayed in Tsim Sha Tsui near the end of Nathan Road, the famous persons park with Bruce Lee and Company near the Museum, to the old Star Ferry wharves that housed international fancy boutique stores, with names famous in Paris, London and Rome.

The wealth of Hong Kong was on its limited real estate so what used to be lush hills through Pok Fu Lam Rd to Aberdeen, Repulse Bay and Stanley, have all but grown concrete giants so that space for rent was multiplied in tall buildings, exceeding the floors of the old Connaught like the BOC, HSBC, and Cheung Kong Center.

Of course, the Victoria Harbor had to live up to his reputation as the fragrance harbor in the neighborhood, and compared to old Manila Bay and the Pasig River of my familiar, the channel separating Victoria and Kowloon was remarkably clear and clean.  The Brits trained the Asian folks (those of Imperial India and China were already Anglicized) to live like the disciplined folks of Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland — of the United Kingdom, including the curled upper lip and raised eyebrows.

I crossed the Victoria Harbor every day, to the Immigration Towers at Wan Chai and the offices that recommended visas to the mainland.  While it was automatic to get into Hong Kong with a U.S. passport, it was not so for getting on a train to Shenzhen and Beijing or Shanghai, then onward to Shenyang, as I had planned to do.  Buying the train ticket was a breeze.  I actually got a round trip ticket to Shanghai until the seller at Hung Hom realized I had yet to get a visa into China, so he had to return my 1,000 HK dollars  (about 123 U.S. dollars) and gave him back his coins.

My time in Hong Kong was spent mostly at the Immigration visa offices on Gloucester Road on Wan Chai, specifically the 20th floor of the building on 151.  From the Wan Chai train station on Hennessey, I walked to Gloucester on an elevated footbridge, then, got down to the street level to the building.   The Immigration Towers were tall and they looked new and imposing.  The footbridges leading to them maintained a hefty traffic.

The visa section to China was strict with its rules, and though I had letters of invitation from two former students in Ningbo, Zhejiang, and Taiyuan, Shanxi, I made a mistake of mentioning that I was married to a Chinese who lived with me in Saipan but went back to Shenyang to care for her aging mother.  I was to surprise her with an appearance but the Immigration officer not only was adamant in his book requirements (my wife’s China ID did not have a back picture), but also would not consider any other invites than that of my wife.  He refused to grant me a visa.  Eight days of the ordeal, with my spouse also traveling with mother outside of China, and Kowloon not exactly a breezy walk in the Park on cost, I decided to fly to Honolulu.

It was a mid-day flight to Shanghai from the HK airport in Lantau, and I took the early morning bus ride to the airport lugging three pieces of luggage, plus a hand-carry of two laptops.  I would have preferred the train to Shenzhen and onward to Shanghai, but it the Immigration guy would not issue a permit.  That put me into the Pudong Airport a few hours later to wait out the connecting flight to Honolulu.  The transit time was not discomforting, and a few English speakers were on the full flight of young Chinese students (Caucasians got an upgrade, I discovered later, and though I was not Chinese — I looked like one of the natives — I did not make the grade), some on an adventure to Hawaii and the U.S. of A., and others, getting an early start to settle for schooling on the Fall.

The writer is a former Saipan resident.