Day 6: The Mad Hatter

Feeling disoriented from an abundance of rest, I decided to take life relatively easy today. My main goal was to find a nice cafe to attempt to blog. Thus, I spent a good hour in the hostel browsing for atmospheric cafes where I could sip on an overpriced latte and fancy myself as the modern-day Peter Fleming.* So which quaint hole-in-the-wall coffeeshop with did I find myself in? None other than Starbucks, sipping on an iced frappuccino nonetheless.

If any coffee snobs specialists are reading this, please stop shaking your head at my distaste. Meanwhile, the rest of you please stop rolling your eyes at my being the “typical American” who goes overseas only to spend my time in a Starbucks. In my defense, this was a very atmospheric Starbucks: an airy, two-story bastion of caffeine capitalism offering stunning views of Victoria Harbor and excellent people watching at the end of the Avenue of Stars, offering stunning views of Victoria Harbor. So much better than any cafe hidden in some department store, thank you very much.**

In fact, while typing away, I managed to see a parade of sorts: dozens upon dozens of Muslim women waving Indonesian flags passed by me announcing the start of Ramadan.*** The women walked in groups, presumably based on their mosque of worship. All were dressed rather colorfully, and the groups blasted different songs and sang along as they strolled by, some even including subtly choreographed dance moves. I have never been in predominantly Muslim areas before, so it was my first time witnessing the start of Ramadan. (Certainly a far less hedonistic celebration than how Fat Tuesday is celebrated prior to the start of Lent. No Mardi Gras beads in sight!) I will be visiting three Muslim countries—Malaysia, the U.A.E., and Turkey—during the course of the next month, so my Ramadan observations are just beginning, but I am definitely intrigued and hope to deepen my understanding of how Islam is practiced in these locations.****

Following the parade, the rest of my day was spent predominantly writing while luxuriating anywhere with an A/C. I finally dared to brave the heat and humidity once the sun went down to go explore night markets, of which Hong Kong is home many, several of which are rather unique. For example, I managed to pass by a street full of fortune tellers who eagerly waved at me with promises of health, fortune, and good English. I instead opted to visit the popular choices of Temple St. Night Market and the Ladies’ Market, which supposedly got its name from all of the female vendors.

Similar to Stanley, these night markets also seem to specialize in tatty souvenirs and faux-designer goods, not exactly my cup of (Hong Kong-style milk) tea. However, I did spot a gloriously wide-brimmed, straw hat that stood out to me immediately. (Partially because I had foolishly neglected to bring any headgear with me but mostly because I relish any attempts to look as similar to Indiana Jones as possible.) Knowing that anything in these markets would be highly overpriced for tourists, I decided to try my luck at bargaining. The only problem is that I am an absolutely terrible bargainer with no poker face whatsoever. Thus, my instant liking to the hat was immediately spotted by the stall-keeper.

You can try it on. Only $95. Completely uncertain as to how low people bid out, I offered a tepid $50. Hah! I tell you $95, and you say $50? No. Try that small one over there, that you can get for $50. This one, I’ll give you a discount. Only $80. She could have won an Oscar for her apt portrayal of an outraged woman. Making the mistake of not sticking to my ground, I offered to hand over $60. Oh no, no no. You are not being fair. $70 that is my final offer. I paused for a moment, debating on whether to make a feeble attempt to walk away, but instead of doing conversation calculations, my brain immediately jumped to the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones deftly rescues his hat from an untimely squashing. I fork over the $70, and as I continue strolling through the markets, I overhear one tourist brag to another that they managed to score an eerily similar cap for a measly $50. Damn you, Harrison Ford.

Following my hapless haggling, I decided to call it a day and make it back to my hostel. Even on her tame days, this city certainly offers up memorable experiences!

14 June 2015

*No, not the James Bond author, but his less remembered, yet still very accomplished, older, travel writer of a brother. Oh the pitfalls of choosing to report fact—or some variation of it at least—over fiction.
**This is an assumption on the location of independent cafes. My apologies to the local baristas if that is not the case. If it makes a difference, I assure you that I will not be returning to Starbucks for the rest of my trip as their beverages retain the independent quality of being absurdly pricey. Instead, you can probably find me in another fine American establishment: McDonald’s. (Once again, please hold the eye-rolling.) McDonald’s is not only highly reliable due to often staying open for 24-hours, but thanks to the implementation of McCafes, they also offer affordable–and dare I say delicious–hot beverages, often including regional specialties. Might I recommend the Earl Grey Tea Latte whilst in Hong Kong?
***The Internet tells me that Ramadan did not officially start until 18 June. However, I presume Sunday morning was probably the most convenient time for these women to gather together. I have been told that several (im)migrant workers hail from Southeast Asia, and most of them get Sundays as their day-off. I walked past several parks and plazas today, and groups of women from the Philippines, Indonesia, etc. can frequently be seen chattering away while conducting outdoor picnics. It is definitely worth a stroll in the park to observe.
****Although I am not a terribly devout practitioner of religion, I do find faith really fascinating. Visiting temples, churches, and other places of worship is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. A forewarning that an excess description of such visits will soon dominate this space!