Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Personal Jade & Noodle Tour

Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Snake, the black water snake to be specific, and will be a time of attention to detail, ambition, and responsibility. When I was in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago, the city was in full preparation for the holiday. Lanterns and dragons and money envelopes and plush snake toys, all on display for purchase. Red and gold as far as the eye could see.

My ambition was to get a few choice items as souvenirs to bring home, and I felt it my responsibility to pay close attention to detail when making my selections. Obviously, I was already in the New Year's spirit, but as a stranger to the city and meaningful local purchases, I was at a loss as to how to achieve my Year of the Snake goal.

Peter Ng to the rescue!

The best way to get the feel of a new city is to have a native as your guide. In Hong Kong, I had my most excellent colleague, Peter, Asia/Pacific Partnership Officer of The Episcopal Church. One afternoon, we had a little free time, and he offered to show me around his old stomping ground in Kowloon. I readily accepted, and we were on our way.

We turned left off Nathan Road and started threading our way through tight alley-ways, street markets, and Saturday shopping crowds. We worked up to the Jade Market, where Peter assured me I'd find all sorts of interesting things. We entered the market, heading for his favorite stall to sit and pick through a tableful of trinkets at our leisure.

Peter greeted the stall owner in Cantonese, and the man offered us two low stools for our comfort. Neither Peter nor I are spring chickens, but we managed to flop down on the short plastic step-stools pushed under us, postponing concern about getting up from them until after we'd had our search through the thousands of jade, metal, and who-knows-what objects before us.

It was so helpful to have Peter with me to explain the meaning of things, interpret writing, and guide me to the really cool stuff. Thirty, forty-five minutes went by before we knew it. Do you know how much you can learn from sitting and talking about shapes, colors, and symbols at a table in the Jade Market for a little slice of time?

Anyway, we finally settled on our objects of desire and hoisted ourselves up off the stools to make our purchases. I bought five various jade symbols, including a snake (for "year of"), a feng shui pendant, dragon, and a couple with good luck calligraphy; I also chose five large old Hong Kong coins, which I plan to turn into necklaces for friends.

All that treasure hunting made us hungry. While tempted by the interesting food in the street markets, our ambition was a backstreet noodle shop. Peter knew just the right one, of course, and we elbowed through the crowds and found a spot in a tiny, busy establishment. Again, I let Peter do his thing, ordering our plates of noodles, beef, and dumplings. Glasses of hot tea were kept topped up as we shoveled noodles and soup into our hungry selves. The cost? Next to nothing. Even in Hong Kong. Delicious, all round.

Next, we headed for the department store Yue Hwa to finish my souvenir expedition. While I wasn't interested in clothing or perfume, the store had floors of local crafts to explore. Another hour slipped away and more little bags added to my purchases. Peter was a great help, reminding me that many of the items could be purchased more cheaply and conveniently in Chinatown/NYC (how true!), so I focused on what couldn't be so easily found right under my nose in New York.

It was time to get back to the hotel and rest up a little for an early evening social 'do. On the way, we stopped for a mango drink and Peter picked up some hand-made jerky. We'd both earned a rest after Saturday shopping in Kowloon.

An afternoon of responsibly attending to the detail of reaching my souvenir-purchasing ambitions let me get a jump on the Year of the Snake, all good practices that I hope I remember throughout this year.

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

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