I’ve Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers

Especially when I don’t have data service on my phone with access to the little bouncing ball of google maps. Or any money.

It was like deja vu all over again yesterday afternoon as I was going to my  eye doctor appointment. Once again I found myself penniless in Hong Kong. In the morning when Andy left for the airport we carefully went over all the things he needed to give back to me: the hotel key, the Hong Kong sim card in case the phone stopped working, the special iphone key so I could get to the sim card, my purse, etc. I paused, thought. Seemed like there might be something else maybe, but it just wasn’t coming to me.

We said our goodbyes at the taxi and as Andy drove off I thought, “I hope he has enough money for the ride to the airport.”

Snap! I didn’t take any money from him!

No worries, there are 7-11’s every 20 feet here and they all have atm’s. I’ll just stop in one of them. The hotel had said my eye appointment was 10 minutes away on foot and it was better to walk than to drive because of the congestion so I set off at 12:30 for my 2:30 appointment with the intention of wandering through the market that is around the corner, and on the way grabbing a bite to eat and then heading over to the doctor.

The streets near my hotel, Lan Kwai Fong are reminiscent of the streets of San Francisco in their steepness, although this picture doesn't show how steep this street really is

The area around the hotel is a warren of tiny hilly narrow streets crammed with vendors selling their wares.

The first one I came upon as I turned the corner was a fishmonger who had an asian favorite for sale: fish heads. Are those tongues hanging out the back, there? Do fish even have tongues?

How about some dried squashed chicken legs?

There were a lot of these places selling meat. Customers would point out what piece of meat they liked, and the butcher would take it down, chop off a lot or a little, put it in a plastic bag and return the rest on a hook back up to the rack.

This place has Wal-mart beat--you get your ears with your pig snout here! Are pig noses really this long? I'd always pictured something a little more Miss Piggy-like.

Cartoon fruit, perhaps?, Macy's Day Parade Balloon Fruit? Hello Kitty Lemons?

By this time, I’ve wandered through one street of the market and gone into a couple of 7-11’s and none of them have an atm. Weird, but, hey there’s 7-11’s everywhere here, I’m sure I’ll run into one very quickly. I head off in the direction I was told to go: 3 streets over from the hotel and then up about 3 blocks.

I decide to consult my map to see if I’m on the right track. Woah! Definitely not! I’m about 3 streets wrong in the opposite direction. How did I even get that far? I only went down one block of the market and then walked for a couple of minutes. I see I can continue on the street I’m on and eventually run into the street I was hoping for.

Pretty soon I realize that all the buildings have disappeared and it’s starting to look a bit “nature-y.” Time for a map check. Oh dear, I have really gone astray now. I’ve almost walked to the botanical gardens, out of the center of “Central”. But if I continue on the street I’m on I can loop back around and run into the street I was heading for, but from the opposite direction. Great. And I still have lots of time. No worries.

Now I’ve reached the point where I have to basically do a 180 and head in the opposite direction. Yikes, you should see this place though. It’s literally a tangle of highways and walkways joining and leaving each other at multiple levels and odd angles. If I could just find a street sign I might get my bearings, but all I can find are signs to destinations. If you ever come to Hong Kong, I can tell you where the marriage registry and the Tea Ware museum are, aren’t you glad? Suddenly I walk past this lovely garden:

Great! It's the Bank of China and it's on my map!!

It’s very distinctively tucked into the “v” of two roads and if I follow the right side of the “v” I will be at my destination, the Prince’s Building, in 2 blocks. And my appointment is still a half an hour away. I am so the bomb at this navigating gig!

Hmm, it seems a little odd that I’m passing government buildings which aren’t on my map, but there is a big empty green spot where they are supposed to be. Maybe it’s a secret because they’re government buildings. Wow, look at this big fancy mall; must have been a lot of development since this map was printed. Ok, so the building should be right here, but…it’s a lot of little stores. Well, it is on the 14th floor, I’m probably just missing the door. I’ll go in and ask.

It’s 2:15, my appointment is at 2:30 and the sales clerk informs me that I have managed to walk about 25 minutes in the opposite direction from the Prince’s Building. How? It was so clear on the map! Well, she explains you can just take the tram and you’ll be there in a couple of minutes. Yes, I say, but I have no money (because I still haven’t found an ATM. If  I had, I’d be calling a taxi!).

Was it the big bandage on my neck from my nerve block? Was it the glazed look in my eyes from my pain meds? Or was she just a really kind soul?

I don’t know, but she turned around and reached for her purse and took out the coins I needed to take the tram back in the opposite direction. She didn’t even know I had an appointment to make.

She told me I had to walk back a block, up the stairs and go down to the middle of the street and take the tram 3 stops. Clutching my coins like a small child, my first attempt got me on the wrong side of the street. My second attempt plopped me out, right in the middle of a crowd of people who were boarding the back of what I hoped was a tram. The buses also run along the same route and look quite similar.

The tram was packed and while I was figuring out how and when to pay, I realized that the tram had possibly stopped and started up again and a single girl had gotten on. But was that an actual stop or did we just stop for a stop light and the girl decided to hop on because she’d missed the previous stop? It seemed like we’d hardly moved 2 feet. We stopped again and a huge number of people got off so I was able to see out of the windows. I decided to ask the girl if she had gotten on at an actual stop or just gotten on at a stop light. She looked at me like I was a mental patient (perhaps it was that bandage?) and said “I don’t understand you” and moved away like she was afraid I was going to attack her.

Well, in that case, I better figure out if the next stop was indeed stop 3. If I was in New York City, I would ask the bus driver, because they always know where everything is. Let’s ask the tram driver. Mr. Tram Driver, is the Prince’s building at this stop? Again, I get that look of horror (maybe I have spinach in my teeth?), like, lady I just drive this little bus up and down the track all day long, I don’t know what’s in my peripheral vision.

After a long pause, a voice behind me says, “Yes, it’s here.”

Great. I get off.

And realize I still have no clue where the darn building is.

“It’s down that way,” the same voice says.

According to my map, the Prince’s building is also snuggled into the bottom of the “v” of two roads, (you know that square grid thing worked really well for New York City. They should look in to it) which is just across the street. So why does it take me 10 minutes to find the building and the doctor’s office?

Because, it actually wasn’t snuggled into the bottom of the “v” like my brain kept telling me. It was across yet another street, just like the map showed, but my brain refused to acknowledge that fact. And you know the Bank of China I found on the map? There are two Bank of China’s that happen to be across the road from each other, both snuggled into “v – like” highway structures. My brain just didn’t register that fact. And I should have turned left out of the hotel, not right, at the very, very beginning of my journey. My sense of direction is never very good, but apparently if you add some codeine derivatives to it you’ve got a compass on… well, codeine.

Perhaps the warning on the bottle should say “Do not operate heavy machinery or navigate with maps in foreign cities while taking this medication.”

Fortunately the area, Central, we’re talking about is tiny. It’s literally only a few streets/highways wide in parts, so you can’t get lost for very long. It reminds me of a badly written computer program, with sub-programs sprouting out all over the place. We would have called it “klugey,” back in the day. In an attempt to make it safer for pedestrians, in some areas they have added skywalks to help you get over and around the highways.

some of the sky walks in the distance over the highway

However, the skywalks are just as complicated to use as the highways and just when you think you’re getting to where you want to go,  you’re suddenly blocked by a chest-high fence and you have to retreat.

I’ve actually really had a great time in Hong Kong. But I’ve just had it with overly complicated roadways and side walks and buildings. Even the buildings are oddly shaped and difficult to navigate. What’s wrong with squares and rectangles? And don’t even get me started on the elevators! Who’s designing these places?

Next post I’ll show you some of the beautiful things I saw in some of these irregularly shaped buildings. Right now, I’ll close with my dinner from last night.

On the right, a wax apple--a recommendation from Andy. On the left a salted caramel chocolate cupcake from Sift, and on the bottom some pork barbecue from a place that Anthony Bourdain had written about in the New York Times

I thought this place looked good, but I didn't know how to go about ordering. While I was reading the NY Times article on the window, some people came in and ordered, so I watched what they were doing and then copied them!

You pick you're piece from the ones that are hanging just at the top of the picture. The guy weighs it with a counter weight and then rapidly chops it up for you with the huge cleaver

There were lots of desserts to choose from at Sift in the Prince's Building

All the pretty cupcakes. However, Poppleton's Pastries in Corning has them beat.


On the medical front: no news is good news on my eye. Every day my retina doesn’t detach, the chance it will do so continues to go down. The greatest chance was in the first week and that’s past. I now have to wait for all the floaters to settle and my brain to adapt so that I can see clearly again.

Had physio, as they call it here, with Eddie, who was oh, so cute. I have my range of motion back, but it is incredibly painful reaching it every session and my arm is as weak as a baby’s. It’s really pathetic.

No pain, no gain. Perserverence. And all those other inspirational quotes.

Speaking of which. Time to go do my home exercises.



About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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2 Responses to I’ve Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers

  1. Heidi Gerth says:

    Another amazing time in the East by Miss adventure! (or is that misadventure?) I didn’t know you had an eye thing going on. Looking forward to seeing you soon in metropolitan Corning.

  2. Sue says:

    We need to get you a t-shirt that says “Asia Adventure Survivor”!

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