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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kowloon Walled City park

A great place to sit outside all morning at CityU with Chi

Chi and us, along with Simeon, Chi's son

Thursday night we went to Shatin and met Doyle and Dori Carlblom for supper at Ruby Tuesday's. We enjoyed American food and meeting such friendly relatives. We went to their home afterward and had American muffins and American chocolate brownies and called home with an American phone. Dorothy was happy.

Friday noon we had lunch with Polly at Dan Ryan's restaurant. We had American food again and speculated on who Dan Ryan was who had both freeways in Chicago and restaurants in Hong Kong named after him. We knew he was a politician--governor of IL? Senator from IL? Chicago politician? Anyone from IL would be corrupt. Afterall, the last two governors are in jail. This was appropriate speculation since the Hong Kong elections happened this week--no democracy there and one candidate was in trouble for illegal building. Sounds like Chicago! It all made us feel like home. Dorothy was happy.

[The Dan Ryan expressway was opened in 1962 and named for Dan Ryan, Jr., the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners who had worked to accelerate construction of Chicago-area expressways--I have no idea who named the restaurant Dan Ryan and Ruby Tuesday's.]

Saturday morning was spent with Chi, the mother of a friend of Karis's who goes to Calvin and is from Hong Kong. After a morning of conversation, she bought Maralyn and Dorothy lunch (Jan was off doing a workshop). When Jan arrived home she went with us to Kowloon City on the little green buses that go everywhere in Hong Kong. (We have gone on ferry, little green bus, train, subway, boat, car, taxi, open-air bus while here). Because she went with us we could go to a local Chinese dessert restaurant. Dorothy had trouble deciding what to order (it was a list with only Chinese characters). We finally looked in the refrigerators and picked out banana pancakes and mango pancakes which were delicious. Jan liked her mango and coconut red bean soup. Chi got something that looked like black jello and did not taste all that good. We ended with hot sesame soup which Dorothy said looked (and tasted) like mud. We wondered how she knew what mud tasted like! After Chi left we went off to the Kowloon Walled City Park which used to be the place where all things bad happen. Sounds like Chicago to me! I wonder what happened to all the politicians when it was razed to the ground and made into a park.

We finished off the week, and Dorothy and Maralyn finished their trip to Hong Kong, by going to St. Andrews Church with us for Palm Sunday service and then in the evening we went with Brad Miller to an American-type restaurant on the 29th floor of a building in the Midlevels on Hong Kong Island. This all was in a very Western and trendy part of the city. It had a great view and the food was fabulous! Dorothy had beef tenderloin and was happy! She chose to not have a coke. She liked all the food, even the dessert. She chose not to try Jan's sesame mud dessert. We then experienced the last thing Jan had on the list for us--the escalators on Hong Kong Island. Actually they are a series of escalators going up the side of the mountain that are used for commuting to the central business district of Hong Kong.

The suitcases are packed and weighed for the flight home. The taxi has been called by a Chinese friend who can tell it where to go. We are good.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cheung Chau Island: The Mackinac Island of Hong Kong

I normally live in Michigan. Almost every Michigander has visited Mackinac Island that sits just east of the Mackinac Bridge in the straits the connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Mackinac Island was an important cultural cross-road in the history of the Great Lakes region of North America. It was a Native American-French/Western meeting point around the economic activity of the fur trade. Today it is a tourist spot, but no motorized vehicles are allowed, so horse and buggy and bikes are the mainstay for transportation once you arrive on the ferry.

Recently I visited Cheung Chau Island which is one of the many islands that is part of Hong Kong. Like Mackinac Island, it has no cars, and it also played an important role in cross-cultural contacts between Europeans and Chinese.

Most people know of Cheung Chau Island from its famous Bun Festival which draws thousands of people, usually in early May. The most popular story around the development of the festival relates to the island being spared the devastation of the plague. Thus the festival celebrates the deity's protection of the island.

The event that draws the crowds is the bun-snatching event. A tower of buns is constructed and young men race up the tower putting buns in their bags. while we were there, the bun tower was being constructed for the upcoming festival. Much of this has Daoist origins.

But Cheung Chau has other aspects to its history. Early European missionaries were not allowed to set foot on Chinese territory, but Cheung Chau Island was just far enough away to allow missionaries to use it as an outpost for their incursions into China. It also drew pirates for the same reason. One of the major missionary groups involved in China were the Christian Missionary Alliance. I grew up hearing about Hudson Taylor and his early missionary work in China! The Chinese friend who took us there was the wife of a Christian Missionary Alliance pastor. The Alliance seminary and college is located here as a reflection of this history of Cheung Chau. And staff of the Worship Institute at Calvin College where I teach have been there for conferences! There is also a strong Catholic presence with a Catholic retreat center there. But finally, there is also a Buddhist high school, representing yet another cultural influence.

We had a wonderful walk through these cultural spaces, all co-existing in the small space of the island. Roads that looked like highways on the map turned out to be mere walking paths the wound through the island highlands with narrow streets branching off.

The final cultural artifact was a village called the Care Village. It was built as the result of Canadian and US funds in the late 1960s. It also illustrated the contrasts between some very expensive homes and shacks made from sticks. In the midst of it all there was also an artist colony.