Saturday, March 16, 2019

Big City Livin' (Manila and Hong Kong)

You ever walk into a place and go "oh, this is a brothel?"

I arrived in Manila with enough time to explore for a couple days before heading to Hong Kong, due to some scheduling issues (my hosts would be unable to host me in March). Manila is alive. Pulsing, pounding, grinding, and gritty - I loved it the minute my shoes hit the streets. It's a book whose stories are written on the walls of the buildings - and I mean the latter literally as the decorative aesthetic of any alleyway is painted text on every square inch.

After some small exploration, I needed to find a place with air conditioning and beer, so I went to a "Bar & Grill" that seemed more western than the small fenced-off dens I had encountered along the way. Hot, tired, and head drooping, I opened the door, stepped inside, and was assaulted by a "Hello Mister!" from a dozen girls wearing matching dresses. Startled and wide-eyed, I tried to make sense of the scene - it was like entering another dimension compared to the dark, dusty street I'd just walked down.

The madam saw my confusion and came up to me, though my brain was still in the process of rebooting, so I have no idea what she said. Despite the noise, despite the general sense of the place, it still had air conditioning and beer, so I made my decision. The beer was cheap enough and I didn't mind talking with the girls (and helping a bit with their English).

My time in Manila quickly drew to an end, and, after an incredibly frustrating experience at the airport (the first time I've been told to bribe someone), I got on a plane to Hong Kong to go stay with some friends.

The taxi from the Hong Kong airport was like the opening scenes of Blade Runner (except from ground level). Buildings and cranes near and far, their lights muffled by the mist. I'd recommend it as a theatrical experience any day of the week.

To introduce the I-- family, I must back up to my trip to Europe in 2016 (detailed elsewhere on this blog), where I stayed with my friend in Frankfurt. As part of our general roaming, she introduced me to a few of her friends, including GI, a huge Star Wars fan whose family had just just grown from three to four only a month or so prior. We got along well enough, but didn't spend more than an hour before she had to go back to being a mom. I'd like to think it was enough time to recognize we were both decent people and maybe we'd meet again.

Having stayed in touch, well, we did just that on the 21st of February, and I'm so glad it worked out. MI, GI, and the kids are all such wonderful people. MI's work had put the family up in the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong - a great spot to explore, with endless places to get lost and have fun. Over the next week I explored, I wrote, and I relaxed and felt like I was a little part of the family - a rare but important feeling for this weary traveler.

Hong Kong was beautiful and lots of fun. Expensive, sure, but I knew that going in (pro-tip for currency conversion: don't round 8:1 up to 10:1, else you'll spend too much when you divide by 10. You're better halving the number three times - e.g. a 260 HKD bill becomes 130 -> 65 -> 33 USD, not $26 as I made the mistake of doing for the first few days). The food was great, the beer was decent (including local breweries), but really it was the views and the exploration that make Hong Kong unique.

I climbed up the Peak to take a glance at the city, as it seems I've tended to do this trip (see: Mt. Royal). I wandered around a fair bit, I wrote poems in the library and fictions at the dinner table, and I spent a half day feeling spiritual at the Chi Lin Nunnery (and gardens).

After too short of a stay, it was time for me to head back to the Philippines to explore and save money while I anticipated spending too much in Japan. On the 27th I flew back to Manila to make a mad dash to El Nido, but that will be covered in the next post.

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