Tuesday, January 31, 2006

sufficiently new year

4703 is the new 2006

I had my second foot massage in three days today, except this one was self-administered, at the Victoria Park foot massage garden. It is a brilliant, intricate path made of rocks stuck in the ground--one side (for beginners) with rocks arranged lying down on the surfaces, the other side of the path (for the pros) made with rocks sticking up on their edges. Whereas there was an Indian man nonchalantly strolling barefoot along the latter part of the path, I took the former side, with my socks on, and that suited me just fine.

Before that, I met David and Yumi and Hanna for a bit of sunbathing at the ifc mall, which is a shiny, sleek and sedate consumers' palace, perhaps the finest of Hong Kong's thousand malls. They decided to go prada-prancing (David had already purchased a tea pot at the ubiquitious lifestyle store Goods Of Desire, or GOD for short--a neat heuristic for Hong Kong's devout consumers). I extricated myself to Victoria Park, where I discovered many Fillipino housekeepers enjoying their days off (in one of the more sublime moments I watched a group of women dancing around a boom box) and found a place to read. Shopping and taking in green spaces. Aside from work, these are the two things people do in Hong Kong I'm told, and I haven't yet seen evidence to the contrary.

After the foot massage, I met David and his Hongkonger cousin John to watch the Spring Festival fireworks. It is only a myth that every Chinese person knows how to make fireworks, but it is not a myth that fireworks are a Chinese invention. These were good, but either they weren't that great or it is just getting harder to appreciate fireworks with age. I think every fireworks show will have to withstand comparison to the one I saw one January a long time ago in Aspen, Co. The fireworks were spectacular, and there was good music too (maybe it was playing in my head) but more spectacular was everything else that the fireworks lit up--that deep night sky and the epic, unfathomably-sized Aspen Mountain. For moments at a time its face was almost completely illuminated--unusually bare and thus even more majestic than normal: lit up by itself, without the skiers and the rest all over it, it took on the appearance of a sleeping monster, hiding in plain sight, as the guardian of the legion of princely, forbidding Rocky mountains. Like that monster in The Empire Strikes Back that doesn't just live in the tunnel, but is the tunnel. The mountain thankfully is nicer than that monster, and it doesn't have a mouth.

Fireworks over Hong Kong aren't as spectacular if only because the skyline always already looks like a fireworks show. Nightly, the billion-dollar bank buildings are lit up in some of the most inexplicable and sometimes delightful ways--from the HSBC's alternating colors rushing up and down its robotic facade, making it look like an 8-bit nemesis of Godzilla, to the pulsating edges of the Bank of China's right triangles, to the flashing lights of circular buildings that make up unreadable scrolling messages (most likely ticker symbols), to the the funny hanging light murals that show variations on Christmas scenes, even a month afterwards. Wait--it's always Christmas here.

After the show, we jumped on a bus to get to Kennedy Town (I think), where we met John's family for a Lunar New Year dinner. Okay, so dining is the third thing that people do in Hong Kong, and I don't just think its another form of shopping. David had not met most of these people before, and he had only previously met John and John's 80-year old mother when he was one year old, in Taipei. (Apparently, David was a quiet, quite agreeable baby.)

John's mother (David's cousin of sorts too) was a real sparkplug, and she knew enough English to talk to both of us about David's family and about how dirty is the mainland, especially her former home, Beijing. She said she loves Hong Kong, which seems so unlikely considering old peoples' tendency to favor some past over the present. But Hong Kong doesn't seem conducive to nostalgia. She's a real local.

One of her other sons was really interesting to talk to, a modest businessman of about 50 with three kids (all present) and lots of enthusiasm for European integration as the key solution to the world's "China problem." He even drew me a map to illustrate his idea, which I wish I had but suffice it to say it was a map of the world with America, Great Britain, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and China represented by globular shapes, connected by lines and arrows.

The dinner was as grandiose and interconnected, a real feast of everything from shark's fin soup to bok choi to sweet and sour pork to a diced up chicken to all sorts of other tasty, fleshy things whose ingredients I am unable to recount in Chinese or in English. (Whether the animal of honor was present at the table, I can't say.) Again, suffice it to say it was all yummy, and no rashes have yet to creep across my body, as happened to David the other night. For a good New Years meal and celebration it more than sufficed.

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