I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…fish
There is a comfort in knowing that wherever in the world I go, Chinatown will always look the same. The dog-eared laminated menus in greasy windows under neon signs, the lucky cats waving from every counter, the nail clippers and cell phone charms and red, white and blue striped plastic bags for sale. I tend to seek out Chinatown wherever I go, for its colourful street scenes and its promises of cheap late night food. Maybe that’s why I felt instantly at home in Hong Kong, despite it being my first time anywhere in Asia. It’s a never-ending Chinatown, broken up by lush public parks and shiny, modern malls.
Hong Kong is my kind of city – dynamic, colourful, kitschy, and proud. It’s the kind of place where I can feel comfortably alone in a crowd. I came here expecting it to be somehow more foreign than it feels, so I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone by doing things like eating jellyfish (it was less slimy than I imagined, light and refreshing, served in a salad with julienned turnip).
I arrived exhausted and found my way to Kowloon Bay, to my couchsurfing host’s apartment in one of the hundreds of highrise apartment complexes that crowd the skyline. Sam spoke perfect English, smiled broadly, and was always filling his tiny apartment with music – singing, playing cello or piano. He’s a low key PHd student who dreams of going to France and is booking opera tickets months in advance. I taught him how to pronounce “L’Orchestre de l’Opera de Lyon.” He’s got some – ahem -placticing ahead of him.
On my first night, Sam showed me around Kowloon. We had a perfectly divey dinner of clams in wine sauce, hot pot with salt fish that tasted like funky cheese, and crispy deep fried squid. I asked him what kinds of etiquette things I should be aware of, but looking around at the other patrons spitting bones onto the tabletop, I had my answer. The one thing he told me is that Chinese normally do not talk while eating – I observed this everywhere. Couples, associates, families sitting silently, barely making eye contact while the food is in front of them.
In my jet lagged delirium we wandered through the Temple Street night market and the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok, up and down aisles of umbrellas, sex toys, knockoff purses, and Hello Kitty everything. The streets were crowded and lit with rainbows of neon, and on one street a crowd gathered to watch four strangers dance badly but passionately to loud technopop.
I realized that I had left the Ziploc with my bras and underwear locked up with my luggage at the airport. My host was helpful in trying to haggle with a vendor but I embarrassed him when I eschewed the cotton granny undies in favour of something hanging too close for comfort to the sequined teddies in one of the stalls.
I didn’t hang out much with Sam the next day. I think I scared him.