Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dispatches from Middle Earth, Part I: Hong Kong Prologue

(alternatively titled: Never Give Interviews While Jet-Lagged)

(This post is the first of a five-part series on what I saw, experienced, and learned during mine and Carrie's honeymoon to New Zealand by way of San Francisco and Hong Kong.  Yes, this was a time of rest and vacation for the both of us, but it is in fact quite difficult for someone who deals in profoundness for a living to escape such depth of meaning simply because he is off relaxing in another country.  I was moved in many ways during my short time away, and I hope at least a faint morsel or two of that impact shines through in my words to you here.  Finally, all pictures in this series are taken by me unless noted otherwise.  I'm not a great photographer, so be gentle. ~E.A.)

It so happens that when booking air tickets to New Zealand, you have two main options: book a flight to somewhere in Asia or Australia and then a connecting flight to Auckland, or you can book a rare nonstop to Auckland but pay a lot more money.  Carrie and I decided to do the former, which meant a 12-hour layover in Hong Kong after our red-eye out of San Francisco.

Because I'm a history and architecture nerd (as opposed to being a historian or architect, both things I am emphatically not and would likely be horrible at), we took the train from the airport to Kowloon to visit two major sites: the Kowloon Walled City and the Wong Tai Sin Temple.

Getting there took, as I mentioned, the train, which was one of the best I've ever been on, and then a double-decker bus, which might have been one of the worst I've ever been on, as C and I spent the next several minutes sitting atop this monstrosity as it careened down Prince Edward Road in the hands of a madman driver who I am convinced thought the Hong Kong rush hour was simply a gigantic game of bumper cars.

It was all worth it, though, because the Walled City park is breathtaking.  The Walled City itself has its roots in the Chinese middle ages, but more recently served as a British military fort, leaving behind artifacts like this cannon:

Other artifacts abounded throughout the Walled City, but what really was stunning was the architecture and foliage:

Behind this particular building is a garden with statues of varying sizes of each Chinese zodiac animal.  I tried to capture images of each, but made sure to capture my own zodiac animal, the ox, up close:

Among the many pavilions in the Walled City was one in which the floored panels were composed as giant Chinese chessboards:

And on the walls surrounding gardens like these were fantastically beautiful flowers:

While Carrie and I were busy admiring the south gate of the Walled City, we were approached by a pair of very earnest secondary school students who asked us in English if they could interview us for a school project they were doing (was it really that obvious that we were tourists?  Yes, yes it was.).

Now, I don't know if you know this, but flying halfway around the world somehow manages to throw your body's internal clock completely out the 100th-story window so that you barely know up from down and right from left, much less day from night.  I know, shocker, right?  I think I'll call this phenomenon I have discovered here "jet lag."

The pair of students erstwhile were asking us serious and meaningful questions about whether our interests in Hong Kong and in the Walled City were historical, cultural, or more, and of how much of the Walled City's story we were familiar with, and all I could do was grunt and point to my dear wife who gamely tried to answer their questions far more articulately than I could have, but that still came out the way most politicians answer questions: using lots of words to say really very little.  Because at least in our case, very little was all we could come up with.

So, somewhere in Hong Kong, there exists somewhat embarrassing video footage of the two of us in which I sound, look, and probably smell (hey, it was a 14-hour flight with no showers) like a caveman.  I clearly need to find these students, bribe them for the footage, and destroy it before my nonexistent enemies can use it to blackmail me somehow.

From the Walled City, we eventually made our way to the Wong Tai Sin temple, where our jet lag was instantly compounded with the fierce and pungent perfume of roughly twenty quadrillion sticks of incense, all carried by devout pilgrims to the temple plaza as a part of their ministrations for their respective spiritualities.  I don't say this to denigrate the use of incense as a religious practice--after all, a great many of us Christians belong firmly in the "smells and bells" camp as well.  But holy cow, there needs to be a maximum occupancy on incense sticks just like there is with people.

Nevertheless, it always amazes me regardless to see so many people, all at once, acting our their faith in prayer in so devoted a manner.  Every time I worry--and this worry will at times seem to be popping up with increasing frequency--that we as a world and as a people are losing faith in those things greater than ourselves (especially that thing I call God), I get the immense privilege to bear witness to our capacity to have faith anew, and for the first (and not even remotely last) time on this trip, I found my own spirituality encouraged by the surroundings in which I had placed myself.

Between the incense, jet lag, and general fatigue, I didn't have the energy to snap as many pictures here as I did at the Walled City.  I did, however, come across this really cool fountain in front of one of the shrines, proof that even my beloved hometown of Kansas City doesn't have a complete monopoly on being the City of Fountains:

With our visit to both sites finished (we actually tried to visit a third--the Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral--but it was closed when we arrived), we beat a path back to the Kowloon train station and then back to the Hong Kong airport.  Along the way, we also stumbled completely accidentally onto an upstairs restaurant in which we had some of the best dim sum of our still budding lives, but that is the subject of another post--of my next post,in fact, entitled "What We Ate (Or, An Ode to Lamb Burgers)."

I am in fact completing this post from the Hong Kong airport, but on our return leg back to San Francisco, ten days after our visit into Kowloon.  While altogether brief and obscured by the fog of physical limitations as well as the requisite atmospheric smog in China, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which would prove to be the first of many on this trip.  I am, and will continue to be, immensely and profoundly grateful for that reality.

Yours in Christ,

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