Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cyclone 8 Warning

Today we are under a cyclone 8 warning. There are four levels of warnings 1, 3, 8 & 9. Prior to this we have never gone beyond a 3 during our stay. Typhoon Nesat is actually about 350 km. south/south west of us and will not get any closer than it is now. 

Cyclone 8 means that schools and all public offices and consulates are closed. The ferries and the trams and the large buses are not running. Many businesses are closed and the city is very quiet. It also means my kitchen window is constantly whistling.

Around noon there was a lull in the action and I went to meet Ken and Rom for lunch. It is just a couple of blocks from here with much of it under cover. It certainly is an eerie feeling to see a city that bustles at all hours so completely calm and quiet. I took my camera along and got some very interesting shots - at least to us.

The building next to us recently had all of the bamboo scaffolding taken down and against the cloudy sky it looks stunning.

After walking down our hill, I came out on Hollywood Road. This street is one of the busiest in Central during the work day, especially at lunch time.

This particular section of Hollywood Road is lined with shops, restaurants, antique stores and galleries. It bustles...

...on most days.

We walked down beneath the travelator where you normally have to stretch out your elbows just to get some walking space.

Though many of the restaurants were closed, we did find Cochrane's (one of our favorite lunchtime haunts) open. 

After lunch I headed home (not wanting to press my luck since the skies were darkening up again). The old British prison that sits across from our apartment looked especially brooding and made me think of all the stories those walls could tell.

As I got closer to the apartment the skies grew a bit darker.

If the cyclone 8 warning goes beyond 1 P.M., which it has, workers who made it in are free to go home. Some of them may take a little break in their commute.

There is an escalator that helps us get up to the level of our apartment. The lower half runs all of the time and the upper half runs during business hours. Of course the warning trumps all and as the rain started to fall again, I had a bit of a climb to the dry comfort of my apartment.

We are actually very lucky in that this storm is giving us a glancing blow. Twenty-three people died in the Philippines as it crossed by Manila on Tuesday. The flooding was neck high in the streets of some areas and the U.S. Consulate was flooded. We are keeping them in our thoughts and hoping that the storm weakens by its next landfall.

Hong Kong Apple Store

This past Saturday morning was a momentous one in Hong Kong. The first and only Apple Store opened in the IFC Mall. This store has been credited as the largest one in the world covering 20,000 sq. ft. on two levels.

We had heard the store was opening this fall when we first arrived. What we didn't know till recently was that it would be in our local mall. The decision was made to be in the center of Central and that put it at IFC. On Friday night we were at the mall for a movie and decided to walk to the other end and see how it was looking. As one might expect there were people milling around (including us) and quite a few in the queue even though the store would not open till 9 A.M. the next morning.

We did not return on Saturday even though the first 3000 customers got a free T-shirt. The interviews in the paper showed how anticipated this opening was. Many were locals just happy not to have to go to a reseller any more, while others were groupies who have been to 40 or 50 store openings around the world.

We did return on Sunday to get a look inside. As you might expect, it was jammed. The store is long and narrow with a huge spiral staircase in the center.

Halfway up the stairs I snapped a shot of half of the downstairs selling floor...

 The other side looked the same as did the set-up area on the second floor. We were among the minority, non buyers. If you are a Mac person, you can see how this is a very big deal. Most of the store looks like any Mac store in any big city (just larger). But there was one detail added to this store that is fantastic. When you enter the doors, the far wall has been replaced with glass and views of Wan Chai and Victoria Harbor. Wow!

Shopping the Fabric Markets

There are two main fabric markets in Hong Kong that I have found so far. As many of you know, I love fabric and I have been buying some on all of our travels. So of course I couldn't pass up the chance to visit these markets.

The first is in Sham Shui Po and the experience is unlike any I have ever experienced. To get to the fabric area you have to pass through the regular stalls of what looked like the home repair market - thing Home Depot with each aisle as a separate stall.

Once you exit that market you enter the fabric market and the stalls disappear. Instead there are blocks and blocks of shop fronts. Each shop represents an individual manufacturer and sells only those fabrics. There are separate shops for trims, lace, buttons, ribbons, etc.

The most unusual part is that very few of the shops actually have fabric in them. Instead the walls are lined with sample cards of each of the offerings. There are many cards of each kind on a hook. It took me a while to figure out the system, but I finally got it by watching some young girls making their selections. If you like a fabric you take one of the sample cards. You can order on the spot or you can call in your order at a later time after you have shopped all the stores. The goods are on the mainland so in a day or two you can come back to pick up your order.

The first time you experience this system it can be a bit overwhelming. I didn't order anything at the time but I do have a few cards sitting on my desk. That is not to say I went home empty handed. I did find a shop that sold lace trims and did some damage there. I also made a few purchases at a trim and bead shop. Perhaps my favorite was one of the many button shops. It was a bit larger than many of the others shops and the entire walls and center cabinets were filled with tiny drawers of buttons.

There were buttons of every shape, size and color. Many had beautiful designs on them. I checked with the shopkeeper as to price and he gave me a few general rules. In the end I decided to buy some sets of really unique buttons. I actually chose a lot of unique buttons. When I went to cash out I was a bit afraid of what my total would be. He counted up the bigger sized buttons (missed a few) and then threw them all in a bag and told me $120HK which is about $15US. Believe me when I say I bought a LOT of buttons. It was definitely the deal of the day.

As interesting as Sham Shui Po is, I still love to hold a bolt of fabric in my hand and feel its texture and see how it drapes. That is a bit difficult when looking at a small square sample. So with Ken in tow we went to Western Market for a different experience. Western Market is in Sheung Wan quite close to Central and we only needed to go a few stops on the tram to get there. The building is old and has been restored.

In this building the ground floor is filled with small shops selling scarves and jewelry and such. The second floor is wall to wall fabric stalls.

We wandered through looking at the selections. I may go back again without Ken (he hates this kind of shopping but was was a good enough sport to go, so I didn't want to torture him too much). We did choose a couple of chinese embroidered silks, but our best find was a very friendly gentleman who sold fine English wool. He had bolts of these wonderful fabrics but he also had pieces cut into shorter lengths. There would be enough for a vest or a skirt and some even for a dress. We chose several pieces. In US dollars the bolts started at about $75/yd. The precut pieces were $15/yd. Our shopkeeper was so nice he even made some suggestions for me for making a skirt.

It was a fun experience. Now if I only had my sewing machine...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ana's 40th

Our friend Ana celebrated her 40th birthday with a party for family and friends at her home on Lamma Island. It was a fun evening and gave us the opportunity to meet the whole gang. Ana and Jem have three children and it was were to get to know them.

Ana's youngest, Aaron was born three years ago on a police boat in the middle of Victoria Harbor during a cyclone 9 warning. Think hurricane force 4. He is known as the typhoon baby. It is a great story and I am sure he will love telling it as he gets older.

Many of Ana's family were there including her mother, sister and some cousins. All are great cooks and the food was great. We especially enjoyed the freshly barbecued prawns and fish cooked over an open fire. And some of my favorite desserts were there - puto and leche flan. 

Ana manages one of our favorite bar/restaurants and several of the staff were also able to attend. I am always amazed to find hidden talents that people have that you are unaware of. Wella, one of the staff from Cochrane's, used to be a professional singer. Who knew? Once the karaoke was fired up, we were in for a real treat. She has a beautiful voice and we loved listening to her.

I feel very lucky to have been included in this celebration. It is a real treat to take part in such a happy event in a home setting when you are so far away from your own home. 

Happy Birthday, Ana.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Museum of Coastal Defense

One of the museums on our list of things to see was the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense. Lei Yue Mun Fort was built in the 1880's to defend the eastern approach to Victoria Harbor and was the most sophisticated coastal fortification in existence at that time. Now it is a museum showcasing many of the guns and vehicles from World War II. The Redoubt also houses several exhibits which change from time to time along with a permanent exhibit on the upper level. The grounds are huge and stretch along the seaside with various gun emplacements and targeting stations all along the sea wall.

Once inside the main building there are exhibit spaces surrounding a large central area. These small rooms were originally used to store ammunition and as barracks. The center area is highlighted by a staircase that features a replica of a battle from the dynastic period of China.

One special exhibit was on the Heavenly Kingdom while another told a most interesting story from World War II. 

On December 8, 1941 (one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor) the Japanese invaded Hong Kong. At that time there were only 12,000 troops in HK with most of them belonging to the Royal Hong Kong Regiment also known as the Volunteers because they were HK residents who trained themselves and helped with all those things today's National Guard may be required to do. The full force of the Japanese army quickly overtook the Kowloon Peninsula but the forces on Hong Kong Island successfully repelled them till Christmas Day. 

Christmas eve a most daring escape was executed in an effort to remove from the potential for capture the top British military and government leaders as well as a very influential Chinese businessman who had been instrumental in passing along information to the British. The entire story is fascinating but the short version tells of their taking several cars and heading to the south side of the island as the Japanese troops were approaching from the north. They took off in small boats under heavy fire and were forced to abandon these skiffs and swim to the nearest island. From there they were picked up by another boat and by then there were about 90 escapees who then had to maneuver through mines laid out in the coastal waters as part of the Japanese blockade which had been in effect for some time. They landed on the mainland behind enemy lines and then had to travel 90 miles on foot to get to the unoccupied territory. They were helped along the way by villagers who hailed them as heroes. Once they managed to fully escape, several took up new positions in China while others were sent back to England. Their journey lasted another five months with them taking a circuitous route through the mountains into Burma (narrowly escaping Burma in front of the advancing Japanese), through India on to South Africa and finally back home. The story is supplemented with artifacts and documents and photos from the personal collections of the survivors and their heirs. It was a very moving exhibit and I found myself feeling much as I did when I visited Pearl Harbor.

Once we finished the exhibits we walked the grounds. From the highest points we had incredible views of the surrounding hills in one direction, the city just next to us in the opposite direction and an old style fishing village across the harbor.

From this high point there are gun batteries and magazines sloping all the way down to sea level.

The path was shaded and the nooks and crannies interesting. It was a very educational and enjoyable afternoon.