A global soul in Hong Kong.
WHEN YOU go to Hong Kong, you'll start seeing a flying lizard -- a creature you aren't likely to run into on a normal day -- in a completely different light. As it stares at you balefully in its state of rigor mortis, you'll wonder why in God's not- so- green earth it was waiting to be eaten, tied on to a stick in the most insulting manner to another unfortunate member of its species.
We were at Hong Kong's famous dry food market on a teeming thoroughfare named Des Voeux Road West. Giving us company were various parts of various sea creatures, from fish maw ( the air bladder that helps fish to maintain their balance in the sea) to duck gizzard.
There were also what looked like clumps of hair, but actually were a vegetarian delicacy named fat choy. I was halfexpecting to see a snake's gall bladder, but our gregarious guide spared us that stomach- churning experience, though he insisted that the collagen- rich fish maw was the secret of his youthful skin.
As you must have guessed by now, he was quite popular among the girls. They kept calling him " 42, going on 28". Fish maw, and that other unmentionable thing -- frog's placenta ( which I had had the last time I was in Hong Kong), has turned the Chinese into a nation of ageless wonders.
There's something addictive about Hong Kong. It draws you into its mysterious layers springing a surprise each time you think you've had enough of it. It's a city where contradictions co- exist without any clash of civilisations or anything like that. My moment of truth came when an SLK vroomed into the narrow Gough Street, a tony neighbourhood with fashionable restaurants, disgorging a couple flashing designer labels ( the woman's skirt couldn't go up any further).
I expected them to go up to the chic burger restaurant in the neighbourhood, but they stood patiently for their turn in a lengthening queue outside a beehive of a dai pai dong ( a Chinese dhaba) managed by an elderly woman, whose temper kept pace with her efficiency. It turned out later that she wasn't ill- tempered as I thought she was -- she was just being Cantonese: even when they exchange sweet- nothings, they sound as if they're engaged in a cross- fire.
These decrepit places, where everyone sits outdoors on tables they share with strangers, attract Hong Kong's elite. As the afternoon progressed, the street metamorphosed into a display of luxury cars -- an S- Class, in this lineup, seemed like a poor cousin. Imagine this happening in Delhi -- the richie rich queuing up for tomato soup noodles dolled up with generous chunks of beef, pineapple bun in condensed milk, salted lime and Sprite, and voluminous glasses of yin- yang ( an iced drink with tea and coffee in equal measure).
That's Hong Kong for you. A city completely at ease with itself, without false pretences, or any cultivated inhibitions. And it's Asia's truly international city. In four days, I met an American woman from the frosty state of Vermont who taught English during the day and made some extra doing a particularly bad job at bartending in the night. Then I'd dinner with an Indian woman who had trained to be a chef ( she had even completed her industrial training at Mumbai's Indigo restaurant) but chose to become a development communicator in South Africa, before moving to Hong Kong to manage the media for an Indo- Italian restaurant ( imagine!) named Duetto. If there's a culinary equivalent of Indian politics, it's Duetto. I discovered uncanny similarities -- as in India, it's the Italian part that's the crowd- puller, especially now that they have a Florentine chef whose dishes ( I have never had tastier bruschetta) are as pleasing to the senses as his arias ( yes, he's a singing chef).
It was a Sindhi businessman, Ravi Gidumal, who made it a point to drive home Hong Kong's global, all- embracing character at what wine aficionados call a glass tasting -- actually, it is a marketing exercise to promote the ultrachic Riedel glasses. At one such tasting at the plush J. W. Marriott, Gidumal couldn't help pointing out that a person of Indian origin was talking about Riedel glasses, which are made in Austria, to journalists from India, France and the Philippines in the only hotel in Asia to have a dedicated Riedel Room. You can't get more international than that ( though, I must add, Gidumal blew it by confusing a Shiraz for a Cabernet Sauvignon).
Hong Kong's transnational character was in full flow at a lunch that the Four Seasons hotel had hosted for us at Lung King Heen, the world's only Michelin three- star Chinese restaurant. Our host for the day was a young woman from Yorkshire -- our guide insisted that she looked like Julia Roberts -- who was tickled at my imitation of G
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|Publication:||Mail Today (New Delhi, India)|
|Date:||Nov 8, 2009|
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