Friday, 1 July 2011

Market Forces.

A day to acclimatise before work begins on Saturday so I took the opportunity to explore, starting by taking the ultra efficient metro to Prince Edward station at the top of the Kowloon peninsula and then making my way back slowly through the markets and busy shopping streets on either side of Nathan Road.

The walk started sedately with a visit to the Yeun Po Street garden where every day a group of elderly men bring their caged birds for a 'walk.' They hang the cages on specially constructed frames and sit, tears in their eyes, listening to the birds as they sing. Perhaps the music recalls a freedom that they themselves have lost? Perhaps it brings reminiscence of a faded beauty? It's a highly melancholic scene. Around them are market stalls selling more birds in bamboo cages; as well as juicy caterpillars and grasshoppers to feed to their pets as a treat.

I continued on through the flower market to Tung Choi Street where birds give way to every kind of exotic fish you can imagine - all hanging in little bags of water. I'm not sure Hong Kongers love their animals in the way we would understand in the West, but it's clear that they're highly prized. Birds I was told bring good fortune. Goldfish bring great wealth.

Onwards through the cheap clothes in the Ladies market and on to the incense suffocated Tin Hau Temple - dedicated to the God of seafarers - a tiny oasis in the bustle of the city. It was only noon by the time I got here and the Temple Street area only really springs into life after nightfall so, after a swift stop in the Jade market, I headed through Kowloon Park to the harbour and caught the ferry across to Hong Kong proper.

I hadn't realised until I got to the other side that today is the 14th anniversary of the handover of the colony from the United Kingdom to China. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day (HKSAR for short.)

As part of that settlement it was decided that Hong Kong's capitalist system would be free from the Chinese government interference for a further period of fifty years. A 'One country, two systems' principle was agreed. There are 36 years to go.

Each year on July 1st around 200,000 people take to the street to demonstrate, amongst other things, in favour of civil liberties, freedom of speech and universal suffrage. I spoke to one protester who explained that whilst the Chinese had honoured the agreement, meaning these kinds of protests had never been clamped down in the way they might have been on the main land, there was no doubt that slowly the character of the place was changing as each year many thousands of Chinese citizens come and settle in the territory. English is losing its currency as the dominant working language.

'Change is creeping in,' he said 'and we have to ensure that our rights are not swept away.'

I watched for a while and then climbed a steep path in Hong Kong Park for a quick look around Flagstaff House, one of the oldest colonial administrative buildings, and now, fittingly, a tea museum. A short detour took me to another relic of former times - St John's Cathedral - incongruously modest when surrounded by the metal and glass of the modern Mammon worshiping skyscrapers.

The demonstration was in full flow now, filling the streets with people, colour and noise. Tired, I caught the ferry back to Kowloon and from the water watched the impressive pro-Beijing firework display light up the sky.


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