Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Building Juice (and Aberdeen)

In Central, I have become intimately acquainted with the quick pace and building juice of downtown. Building juice - in case you were wondering - is the phenomenon whereby an assortment of condensation and other questionable liquids drip off of the sides of the massive buildings in Central, and land on you. Building juice only preys on you if you’re foolish enough to be on a sidewalk instead of a raised walkway. It’s a phenomenon I have yet to experience in any other part of the world, and it is a special kind of gross.

As cool as the north side of the island, Central, and Kowloon are, I wanted to see more than just the big-city side of Hong Kong. Key thought: I wanted to see if there was a part of HK where I could escape the building juice. Here’s the secret about that though guys… HK is kind of just a collection of big cities in close proximity to one-another. So, as much as I thought I was being very clever in heading down south to Aberdeen, and through places like Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay, they’re not really ‘more than just the big-city side of HK’.  I mean, they’re not Central with its glitz and shopping and endless food options, but by Canadian standards 80,000 people is still a city.

I will take this moment to point out that even in Aberdeen, Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay there were massive high-rise condo towers. Like… serious high rise condo towers. HK island is all about that population density.

We don't have high rise condos like this in Kamloops, and our population is supposedly a bit larger than Aberdeen. 
Anyway, my biggest goal of the day was to take a sampan tour. This was to entail hopping onto a tiny boat, and puttering around the harbour to see Aberdeen and the neighbouring island Ap Lei Chau from a marine perspective. I have to admit, I was expecting a different sort of watercraft than what is actually considered a sampan. For whatever reason, I thought a sampan was more like a gondola. A narrow, skinny little boat without a top-covering, that might have a small outboard motor on the back.

A sampan! Admittedly, not the sampan I took, which had a black hull, a red covering, and notably more decoration on the inside. Pinwheels and roosters were a particular theme.
Yeah, not so much. Turns out sampans are like the dune buggies of watercraft. They all sort of look the same, but none of the parts or components involved in making them appear to actually be the same. They’re similar in that they’ve all sort of been cobbled together from bits of other boats, and then painted and wrapped in a skirt of tires to mitigate impact damage. Also, all the ones I saw had little roof coverings on them. (Roof coverings are a good thing, the sun is serious business over here!)

There was a fleet-style sampan tour from one of the other docks, but the first tour I found was with a more independent fellow who took tourists that were caught by a middle-aged lady in a straw hat on the pier. For the record, I am noticing a trend in HK. That trend is that little middle-aged and elderly women are not to be messed with, or underestimated, under any circumstances. They get shit done!

So once I’d been caught by this middle-aged lady, she pointed me to the next sampan in line. We haggled over an appropriate price, and I hopped into the sampan for what I consider the most awesome private sampan tour ever! The perk of doing the tour this way was that I definitely ended up not sharing my sampan with 15 other people. I also ended up going literally all over the harbour, and being able to ask the captain all sorts of questions. (Although captain sounds overly official for this vessel. Pilot? Sure, we’ll call him a pilot.)

The front side of Jumbo, the floating restaurant. 
The back side of Jumbo, the floating restaurant. 
The first thing we did was tour past a set of docks specifically for outrageously expensive-looking yachts, which were on our way to the floating restaurant ‘Jumbo’. Seriously, one of the big tourist attractions in Aberdeen is a massive floating restaurant. It looked like the whole thing lit up in lights at night, and I’m told it consists of three levels of different food venues. It hosts everything from dim sum and a cafeteria to swanky high dining on the top floor. It was also kind of entertaining to swing around the restaurant in full circle and note that the polished side faced Aberdeen, and the backside facing Ap Lei Chau was… a little ghetto.

These buildings have holes in them because legend has it that there is a dragon who lives in the mountains behind them. The dragon goes from the mountain to the ocean each day, and if there weren't holes in the buildings to allow him a path, he'd just knock down the buildings to get to the water.
Once we’d seen the restaurant we headed back, deeper into the harbour. I’m going to go ahead and call what I saw next ‘neighbourhoods’ of boats. It was like the harbour itself contained another city that sat, floating, between Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen. Several neighbourhoods were devoted entirely to different classes of fishing vessels. I say vessels because some looked to have a uniform paint job to them, and so might have been part of a fleet of some sort.

Standard black-hulled fishing boats. Excellent for pre-lunch drinking and fish BBQ's. 
Others were… well, they stayed afloat? I’m sure they also had functioning motors that moved them from place to place, but being as I didn’t see them move, I can’t guarantee that statement. Also my marine vessel knowledge is very limited, aircraft are much more my speed. The boats were stuffed to the gills full of character though! I’m not much of an artistic photographer, but I enjoyed zipping around between them, taking a ton of photos. Most of the boats that weren’t the standard black and maroon- or black and teal-hulled were painted other bright colours. Some had people on them having barbeques, others had a group of men happily drinking at about noon, and some were so derelict they appeared to have been abandoned.
A fishing vessel all tucked in for the day. Please note the wonderfully bright yellow hull, which I am very partial to.
When I asked about a particularly large, rectangular vessel that looked like it hadn’t moved in months, the sampan pilot pointed us towards it and explained that it was a houseboat. So I was right about people living in a sort of floating city between Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen, but it looks like it’s a last resort place to live. As we got closer to the rectangular houseboat, I realised that there was actually a whole neighbourhood of them all roped together. Some were large, like the rectangular one, others were very, very tiny. Most of them had some sort of dingy attached to them, which I imagine would be used to get to shore and back.

The rectangular houseboat in question. As we came around the front of it, there was a fellow hanging his laundry out to dry. So... not abandoned after all. 
To be fair though, depending on where your houseboat was anchored, it didn’t look like you’d necessarily need a dingy. Once we were out of the houseboat neighbourhood, we came into the fish market.

There is a whole network of vessels that are all roped together to sell fish, and the network is large enough that it has a whole side of the neighbourhood that is connected to the docks on the Aberdeen side. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there on a market day so I couldn’t explore that. Once I was off the sampan though, I did take a wander along the dockside of the fish market. There were a few dockside boats that were open, and one even had an iron barbeque out front that was cooking whole fish wrapped in tinfoil in the embers of a fire. I did go look at the final, cooked product. It was displayed on a stick, skin and eyes still attached, and I confess that I have no idea how one would go about eating it.

A hat for the tourist and everything.
Also fish skin is gross.

Towards 2:30pm I was starting to melt. Ap Lei Chau is known for its vertical mall, which primarily sells furniture and housewares, but also does discount fashion like Hugo Boss and Alexander McQueen. I need you to know that there are worse places to seek refuge with AC than an outlet mall.

Also, there are malls literally EVERYWHERE in Hong Kong. I may actually have spent half of my vacation navigating through malls, specifically because they have AC.

Watching the cargo ships over dinner.
It’s kind of funny being in a vertical mall. I hadn’t ever really thought about it, but our malls in North America are basically all horizontal. Chinook Mall in Calgary, for example, is only three long floors stacked on top of each other. Space is way to valuable in HK for something like that, so instead everything is done vertically. Horizon Plaza was the name of the mall, and it was a cool 28 floors or so. On the very top level is a furniture store called Tree that I’m sort of in love with, with its very own window-side cafĂ© where I had dinner. It was wonderfully scenic, I ate dinner and watched the huge cargo ships come in and out of the harbour one ‘city’ over from Aberdeen against the sunset.

(If you're interested in taking a look at Tree, which you totally should be, there's a link here. It's particularly fun because it was started by a lawyer, who decided that law was much too stressful, and went into furniture design instead. Here's hoping that ends half so well for me.)

There was an MTR station under construction not too far from where I ended up catching the bus back to Central at the end of the evening. I have to say that once it’s connected by rail to the rest of HK, Aberdeen actually looks like it might be an awesome spot to live. In particular, it had a notable lack of building juice.

The bridge connecting Aberdeen to Ap Lei Chau at night, form the bus stop.

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