In the Lhasa airport I ran into the amusing Philly-NYer who was also headed back to Kathmandu. By her arrangement we sat in the same row with an empty seat between us on the right as you face front. This turned out to be the Everest side.
It is many years since I have seen such magnificent views of Everest from the air. Everyone was excited. Philly-NY had a young friend from her tour group, a professional photographer. She yelled over people´s heads in her best NY-hailing-a cab-voice, “Daryl! Daryl! Get up here!” Indeed, Daryl came, took lots of photos, including one for me, much better than I could have done on my own.
Once back in the KTM Guest House, where to my relief I realized that the blood scabs in my nose were disappearing, I emailed her asking if she wanted to go with me to Babar Mahal Revisited and then did all those necessary things—handed in laundry, got out the blocked blog, etc. Sarosh came to visit and I gave him my walking sticks to hang onto for next year. I´m not likely to need them in Spain and I am tired of having to talk them onto every flight I take.
When I told Satish that I thought I would try to circumambulate Kailash next year, doing the pilgrimage, he said nothing but I saw a satirical gleam in Sarosh’s eye which means he thinks I may not be able to do it. I have to say that I agree. I may not.
At breakfast the next morning an Australian man, in my age group, shouted excitedly across the garden to his wife, “Emily, there are omelets and they are free!”
Philly-NY and I went off to Baber Mahal. She was entranced with the place and I was delighted to show it off, taking us around the shops and lunching at Chez Carolina. I took her down a passage I had been in before I went to Tibet leading to a tranquil patio with pools with water lilies. It seemed to me it had to be a hotel but before I hadn´t had time to look around. However, she is really good at this sort of adventure, and on her initiative we saw, I think, every single room in the new boutique hotel that is not an old structure but a new one built in the old style by brothers, descendants of the Rana´s who owned the palace. It is a luxurious place, expensive, small but it would be the perfect place at the end of a Tibet trip.
Coming out of Tibet after doing the Kailash pilgrimage in a tent is usually, for me, a gradual return to comfort and even luxury. First KTM with hot showers, a first shampooing of my dust filled hair, (it takes two shampooings to get all the dust out), better food, followed by BKK with a better shower, a facial, excellent food, materialistic temptations and finally HK with a luxurious shower, facial, manicure, pedicure, equally good food and materialistic temptations on a very high level.
We took a taxi to Philly-NY´s hotel because she was enthusiastic about it but I found it a bit dark compared to the KTM Guest House.
The night before I left KTM the Thai King died. Philly-NY kindly emailed me the news so I was prepared. I am so grateful she did this. I arrived in BKK in time to go to the Paragon to buy food for breakfast. Most people were in black or black and white, even foreigners. That didn´t mean that legs, arms and midriffs were covered. But what impressed me was that throughout the Paragon—Chanel to Prada, H & M to Zara—ALL window displays were in black—dresses, suits, shoes, purses. All the many TV screen and digital displays inside and out I found the next day, all over BKK, showed only pictures of the King at various ages against a black background or a message which I presumed was a eulogy. This was also against a black background. The TV screens in the Sky Train showed a loop of the King at various ages.
People were subdued and serious, not frightened, although a bit worried. The government had acknowledged the Prince as the King´s successor. Recent pictures of him show a man who looks ill and a bit disoriented at times. Unfortunately he will like sitting on the throne wearing lots of jewelry and the pretense of power, but only the pretense.
My landlady’s comment was, “He´s a man and they have to ask the man first.” She sounded resigned but disgusted by this necessity. I could almost smell the hunger for the Princess and the feelings of trust and stability she brings with her. In the newspapers, the left hand, front-page column was often about the Prince but the right hand column always told of some altruism of the Princess.
I told T and W about the Ganesh mask and asked if they would help me purchase it. To my great excitement they agreed. For lunch, this is not a complete list, we had, deep fried banana blossoms, eggplant and squid with chili, green curry with fish balls, chicken roasted in banana leaves, tiny deep fried fish (heaven), somtam with something. I´m missing one or two dishes. For dessert there was a fruit I didn´t know (I´ve been going to BKK for 30 years plus and still find fruits I have never eaten) durian and sticky rice with coconut milk and bananas fried in pastry.
We drove to the Paragon, which was angelic act one on their part since, particularly in the rain, the traffic was glutinous, then up to the 4th floor, angelic act two since with the rain the Paragon was crammed. As soon as W saw the Ganesh in the widow his face lit up and I knew I hadn´t been wrong about the quality of the mask. The owner was there without his son and being accompanied by T and W made for a different experience. Before the starting price had been 50,000 Baht. Now the price was 40,000. W and the owner talked about how expensive it is to have a shop in the Paragon, how they would like to turn it into a restaurant as their son is a chef, about how much it would cost to rent a kitchen. While this went on, Thai words swooping around me in their tones, I tried to look intelligent, walked around, occasionally suggesting a lower price. The store is a sort of attic, an eclectic collection of some good things—pieces from old temples, Lladro figurines, some very fine Thai china, and bits of total junk. We finally agreed on 38,000, which was spectacular since I had been hoping for 45,000. The wrapping up process was ceremonial and took a long time but it was important that it be done right.
We then investigated a part of the Paragon where W is going to take classes in digital design. This is not due to necessity, just curiosity. They are such wonderful people.
I flew to HK the next day on Hong Kong Air. The food was gruesome—pork with noodles in a sauce like mucous.
I came in early enough to go to the new gym that has taken over the space of my old gym. When paying the bill I just closed my eyes and grit my teeth. Everything in HK is much more expensive than any place but London and New York. I then went on down hill to Great Food in Pacific Place, a grocery store that has been characterized by a friend as, “Fast food for the rich.” That´s a fair definition.
To go from Tibet to HK is to journey from the intently spiritual to the massively materialistic. I come here to play with my friend Sue, an English woman married to a Chinese man with two sons, one married to a Chinese woman, the other involved, in California, with an American.
I find HK a bit unreal. People have money on a scale that is to me incomprehensible. Also they enjoy flashing it. Stand on a corner in HK and count Rolls Royces. After a while you may want to break them into two categories—those with gold flying ladies and those ungilded. I presume we are talking about gilt, not solid, but I could be wrong.
Sue and I had a lovely ten days together, frequently getting rain sodden. I arrived in time for the end of one typhoon, through which we fought our way to an audiologist as I had a malfunctioning hearing aid. The next day, rain still pouring down I had a luxurious and thorough manicure-pedicure with Kitty, the best in her field on three continents as I listened to news of her tuba playing son, now a college graduate who has moving on to Germany either for employment or more education; I am not sure which. We waded through puddles to the Luk Yue dim sum restaurant for lunch, an old and revered institution whose waiters are usually cross, as though they all have painful feet, but that day they were all immensely cheerful and supplied two kinds of mustard with smiles. Since our feet were soaked through, our trousers baggy with damp, the dim sum in hot broth was very reviving.
The next day in a continuous downpour that left the windshield totally obscured between wiper swipes, we drove to the Heritage Museum in the New Territories. It was disappointing that their old tearoom has been replaced by an awful western restaurant, all surfaces glaring and nothing but burgers and pizza.
We spent hours, Sue is very patient with me, on the Cantonese Opera floor. It turns out that Cantonese Opera is comic and, therefore, looked down upon by Beijing Opera fans. The comedy is of the Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy variety—the drunk official pretending to be sober while swaying at unlikely angles. Having gymnastic talent can be important. As in Western opera the voice production is trained and artificial. It is the first time I´ve had even a slight grasp of Cantonese Opera.
Since neither of us were interested in burgers or pizza, Sue drove us to Sai Kung, where in a seaside restaurant, in pailfulls of rain, under a sort of tent of clear plastic we gorged on seafood, shrimp and vegetables, clams, scallops, and crab. Unfortunately, Sue´s good umbrella was coopted by some mean, light fingered customer. The waitresses were so appalled that one of them gave us her excellent umbrella. We returned it after picking up the car.
We spent most of the next day without rain but with friends, first Naomi from Kenya who is about to go home for a visit, with whom we wandered around the endless interconnected malls of downtown Hong Kong. Then we drove out to see Diane, an American, who lives outside central Hong Kong in an apartment with an amazing view across bays and islands.
The following day was totally eradicated by a force 8 typhoon. This meant I was incarcerated in the Helena May, a 19th century mansion which was turned into a women´s residence at the wish of its owner when she died at the turn of the century. The HM is across from the American Consulate in a sort of trough formed by Cotton Tree Drive and Garden Road. That sounds rather bucolic, doesn´t it? In actuality those two roads are four lane highways roaring with traffic. One of the pluses of the typhoon was to stand at my window in utter silence only occasionally interrupted by a private car or taxi, no buses, trucks, school buses.
There was very little staff at the HM and food was restricted to scrambled eggs and toast or sandwiches. There was no question of going outside, although one American woman in residence thought the whole thing was foolishness and that it would be all right to go out. However, a man was killed by flying debris that day. In our trough we were not open to the winds that were whipping around Hong Kong but the rain was heavy and incessant. We were taken care of by Anna who came in although she has children at home and two men who managed to come to work.
I spent the day on my blog, mourning the massage, facial and Mahler concert that the typhoon was depriving me of. The silence was eerie.
The next day a Saturday was bright and sunny for our trip to Stanley Market that is still a diverse place but not the bargain it once was. We had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, so busy it was like eating in the middle of an airport, but the food was heavenly. Part of the fun of eating with Sue is she will try anything. We had a couple of experimental dishes that were a success, although I can´t remember now what they were. From there we went to Michael´s on Square St. behind the old Man Mo Temple where I looked at about twenty embroideries trying to find the right piece for a friend. I finally decided on one that would have been hung in a door. It celebrated a graduate in the family with cocks crowing and butterflies of happiness dancing. Michael´s wife kindly came down 20US.
We went from there to the building that houses the Mandarin Hotel. There is a shop in one of the corridors that we always look into but never has either of us bought anything there. It´s owner sets prices very high and then waits for the customer who ”has to have it.” We spent a number of years gazing at a hand-carved, wooden, articulated dragon who was amazing but hugely expensive. Finally a woman from New York took him home.
To our surprise the owner was there with his wife, usually his son is on duty. A cloisonné lock, it must have been a lady´s boudoir lock, with exquisite blue and white patterns, which I have wanted to buy for years was there as always, waiting for the person who would spend $500 for it. I have given my son a lock every year for about twenty years. I would love to give him this one but not at that price.
The owner took me around, showing things he was particularly proud of. One was a piece of old jade with a cat and kitten carved into it. Another was a necklace of old white jade “pebbles”. These, which do not look particularly “white,” are not polished or shaped but have their natural pebble shape with imperfections, lines and cracks. I fell for them. The owner quoted a price that seemed reasonable rather than his usual over-the-top quote. My ears and my acquisitiveness sensor began to vibrate.
Sunday is, in Hong Kong, the day all the Philippine maids have off. They have no place to go, nothing to do. Therefore, they set up camp all over Hong Kong, on streets, on walkways, under pedestrian bridges out of the sun and there they do each other´s hair and nails, share food and talk. They were all along Cotton Tree Drive except at Saint John´s, a protestant church, however, at St. Josephs, a Catholic institution, just above the HM they were camped out all over. I watched them at the grotto of the Madonna as they brought flowers and prayed. Meanwhile the Rolls Royces sped in silent elegance down Garden Road.
I talked Sue into going to the zoo because there is an orangutan there I am fond of. He is unusual because one does not often see in captivity a fully mature male orang with what are called cheek pads. These growths change the look of an orang from rather oriental redhead, sleepy-eyed innocence to something you would never want to meet in a dark alley. We spent a half hour or so watching Orang Sr. and Wife as she reached through the bars to pull off palm fronds with which to make a nest, but when Sr. came to join her she draped them around him so that he would have shade. It was touching. When the lunch wagon arrived, however, all palm fronds drifted down to the ground as Sr., with deliberate, swaying, hand holds that made clear his enormous strength swung down for lunch, followed at an appropriate distance by Wife.
The first time I visited this pair they had two little ones, now grown and in another cage. Sr. was lying on the ground on his back with a palm leaf over his face while the family, quite obviously, tiptoed about him. “Don´t wake Papa. He´ll be cross.”
Tuesday we went to visit our old friend J on Cheung Chao, a nice ferry trip. J is an Englishman who came out here, worked as a writer and editor for many years before he developed a congenital disease that has bent him double. He still translates French medieval poetry from time to time. We sat at a restaurant looking out at the harbor and the fishing boats and talked away the afternoon.
I had been discussing the necklace with Sue. When we got off the ferry we went back to the shop. The owner´s son was there and wanted a higher price. I was adamant about the price his father had given me. When his father came in we agreed on that price and I took my “pebble” treasure home with me to the Helena May. Time to pack up.
I had very little time in BKK before catching my flight to Barcelona, but N, T, W and I had one more meal together. This one was reached through a labyrinth of lanes that led to a building in a garden that backed onto Klong Sam Saab. If you have ever been to Bangkok with me you have taken a boat ride on Klong San Saab. It is a canal that runs through Bangkok to the Chao Phraya River. I love that ride.
We had a huge lunch with dishes not usually made outside of the home in Thailand. The woman who runs the restaurant is an old school friend of W´s and this is her new venture that she is rightly very excited about. It is called Sansumran at San Saab and is off Sukhumvit 31. Good luck finding it.
N, T and W took me back to the A One. I am always melancholy at leaving BKK, leaving SE Asia but this time with the King´s death the sadness was deeper. We were an American and three Thais at the end of an era.
N said to me, ”When you leave I feel the way I used to as a child when summer was over and I had to go back to school.” I feel the same.
But next year….