This was my first trip outside the continental United States in years, and it was truly a renewing experience!! I had never been to Puerto Rico before and was curious to see how their rebuilding was going after the hurricane in 2015. We stayed at the Dreamcatcher Hotel which was a short taxi ride from the airport, but even on that short ride we were able to see the beauty around every corner! There was rubble here and there, but the high spirits of the people made it feel like the most luxurious place in the world. We only stayed a couple of days, but we were able to make a fantastic trip to the Old San Juan Farmer’s Market where they had many fruits and vegetables that aren’t available here in the continental United States. They also had soursop juice, vegan tamales, and vegan empanadas, all of which I have a special place in my heart for. After painstakingly reading up on which fruits and vegetables are able to be brought back into the continental US, we were able to bring back some manzano bananas (only $1/lb at the market), alkaline watermelon, and a few other snacks. We didn’t make it to any waterfalls this time, but those are on the list for the next visit.
Visiting the Mongkok Goldfish Market, Flower Market, and Bird Market were some of our last stops in Hong Kong before wrapping up exhibition presentations and heading back home to Georgia. These markets, which open to the streets throughout the city, span quite a distance and attract both tourists and locals. The goldfish market was remarkable, it included an array of goldfish spanning from the size of a thumbnail to half a foot across. The smaller fish were displayed hanging in water bags along Tung Choi Street in the entrances to the shops, with the larger fish in tanks in the exterior. Aside from just goldfish, reptiles, crustaceans, and any other kind of aquatic species you can think of can also be found here, as well as numerous shops solely dedicated to aquarium care. The flower market, easy enough to find with it's location on Flower Market Road, was full of locals buying flowers for graduations and summer weddings. The quantity of florals to choose from was impressive as well, ranging in every color and texture you could imagine. Our last stop, the bird market, was located in a garden adjacent to the flower market. Here, vendors sold not only birds but exquisite cages, food, and toys.
The neighborhood that we are staying in, Sham Shui Po (which is on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong), is definitely one with color. Now that our group has had a chance to explore the area a bit and venture outside of the comfort zone of tourists, we are better able to make observations and comparisons about the different neighborhoods. Sham Shui Po is definitely one of the poorer districts, and with some online reading I found an unusual article by CNN that describes this neighborhood as the "murderous psychopath" to the more sophisticated Hong Kong Island. Far from the tourist's eye, Sham Shui Po provides some interesting insight into Chinese culture that is lost in the more polished areas of the city. The specialty markets and food in this area are some of the best examples. The food is inexpensive, often no more than a few USD, and the variety ranges from traditional Chinese cuisine to Vietnamese and Taiwanese. One Chinese Dim Sum restaurant that is within walking distance from our hotel even has a Michelin star, an honor reserved for only the best restaurants throughout the world. Along with the Michelin star there are also numerous food carts out on the street, and with careful guidance from a friend who has much experience picking out the trustworthy stalls from the suspect, we are able to try a few new dishes. A few favorites so far include BBQ Pork Buns (of course), Lo Mai Gai (a rice cake stuffed with meats and spices, steamed in a lotus leaf), and Stir Fried Ho Fun (a rice noodle dish).
Aside from exploring the city, our team continues to work hard to put together our group exhibit. Our days are split between studio hours in the morning and afternoon, and excursions into the city later in the day. After a morning of printing in the photo lab, our excursion today was to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. While ten thousand seems like a steep number, after visiting the monastery this estimate seems quite generous. The temples are elevated with life-size golden Buddha figurines lining the entire staircase that leads to the top. My pedometer reads that I've climbed the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs today. The interior of the temples were of course filled with Buddhas as well, these ranging from a few inches to what had to be about 40 feet high, all covered in glittering gold.
Recently I was lucky enough to be selected for an exclusive artist's trip to Hong Kong, somewhere that throughout all of my previous travels I had never set foot in before. The beauty of the city instantly hit me. I had imagined that although larger in scale, it would be more or less similar to the experiences I had in other cities such as New York or Berlin (like the overwhelming traffic on the streets and in the subway and general city grime). I was surprised to discover that this was barely the case- what struck me first was how outstandingly kind and polite the people were and how clean the city was by comparison, as well as the ease of getting around. All of my expectations immediately went out the window, leaving room for refreshing new impressions to take their place. After being here just under a week, I can confidently say that I've only become lost once!
One of the treasures I value most about the city is the balance of the urban bustle and serenity. While this is something that can be found in many places across the globe, I find that in Hong Kong this balance does not have to be sought out, and instead it presents itself minute by minute. A 7-Eleven can be found on most any street corner, busy or not, but gardens and temples are also nestled throughout those same streets. The beaches are beautiful, peaceful, and tropical, but even on the surrounding islands there is still free Wi-fi to be found in local cafes and cityscapes that can be seen in the distance.
To see what my teammates are doing search #HKX15 (Hong Kong Experience 2015)! Check back soon for more photos and updates.