Kowloon Walled City park

A great place to sit outside all morning at CityU with Chi

Chi and us, along with Simeon, Chi’s son

Thursday night we went to Shatin and met Doyle and Dori Carlblom for supper at Ruby Tuesday’s. We enjoyed American food and meeting such friendly relatives. We went to their home afterward and had American muffins and American chocolate brownies and called home with an American phone. Dorothy was happy.

Friday noon we had lunch with Polly at Dan Ryan’s restaurant. We had American food again and speculated on who Dan Ryan was who had both freeways in Chicago and restaurants in Hong Kong named after him. We knew he was a politician–governor of IL? Senator from IL? Chicago politician? Anyone from IL would be corrupt. Afterall, the last two governors are in jail. This was appropriate speculation since the Hong Kong elections happened this week–no democracy there and one candidate was in trouble for illegal building. Sounds like Chicago! It all made us feel like home. Dorothy was happy.

[The Dan Ryan expressway was opened in 1962 and named for Dan Ryan, Jr., the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners who had worked to accelerate construction of Chicago-area expressways–I have no idea who named the restaurant Dan Ryan and Ruby Tuesday’s.]

Saturday morning was spent with Chi, the mother of a friend of Karis’s who goes to Calvin and is from Hong Kong. After a morning of conversation, she bought Maralyn and Dorothy lunch (Jan was off doing a workshop). When Jan arrived home she went with us to Kowloon City on the little green buses that go everywhere in Hong Kong. (We have gone on ferry, little green bus, train, subway, boat, car, taxi, open-air bus while here). Because she went with us we could go to a local Chinese dessert restaurant. Dorothy had trouble deciding what to order (it was a list with only Chinese characters). We finally looked in the refrigerators and picked out banana pancakes and mango pancakes which were delicious. Jan liked her mango and coconut red bean soup. Chi got something that looked like black jello and did not taste all that good. We ended with hot sesame soup which Dorothy said looked (and tasted) like mud. We wondered how she knew what mud tasted like! After Chi left we went off to the Kowloon Walled City Park which used to be the place where all things bad happen. Sounds like Chicago to me! I wonder what happened to all the politicians when it was razed to the ground and made into a park.

We finished off the week, and Dorothy and Maralyn finished their trip to Hong Kong, by going to St. Andrews Church with us for Palm Sunday service and then in the evening we went with Brad Miller to an American-type restaurant on the 29th floor of a building in the Midlevels on Hong Kong Island. This all was in a very Western and trendy part of the city. It had a great view and the food was fabulous! Dorothy had beef tenderloin and was happy! She chose to not have a coke. She liked all the food, even the dessert. She chose not to try Jan’s sesame mud dessert. We then experienced the last thing Jan had on the list for us–the escalators on Hong Kong Island. Actually they are a series of escalators going up the side of the mountain that are used for commuting to the central business district of Hong Kong.

The suitcases are packed and weighed for the flight home. The taxi has been called by a Chinese friend who can tell it where to go. We are good.

>Cheung Chau Island: The Mackinac Island of Hong Kong


I normally live in Michigan. Almost every Michigander has visited Mackinac Island that sits just east of the Mackinac Bridge in the straits the connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Mackinac Island was an important cultural cross-road in the history of the Great Lakes region of North America. It was a Native American-French/Western meeting point around the economic activity of the fur trade. Today it is a tourist spot, but no motorized vehicles are allowed, so horse and buggy and bikes are the mainstay for transportation once you arrive on the ferry.

Recently I visited Cheung Chau Island which is one of the many islands that is part of Hong Kong. Like Mackinac Island, it has no cars, and it also played an important role in cross-cultural contacts between Europeans and Chinese.

Most people know of Cheung Chau Island from its famous Bun Festival which draws thousands of people, usually in early May. The most popular story around the development of the festival relates to the island being spared the devastation of the plague. Thus the festival celebrates the deity’s protection of the island.

The event that draws the crowds is the bun-snatching event. A tower of buns is constructed and young men race up the tower putting buns in their bags. while we were there, the bun tower was being constructed for the upcoming festival. Much of this has Daoist origins.

But Cheung Chau has other aspects to its history. Early European missionaries were not allowed to set foot on Chinese territory, but Cheung Chau Island was just far enough away to allow missionaries to use it as an outpost for their incursions into China. It also drew pirates for the same reason. One of the major missionary groups involved in China were the Christian Missionary Alliance. I grew up hearing about Hudson Taylor and his early missionary work in China! The Chinese friend who took us there was the wife of a Christian Missionary Alliance pastor. The Alliance seminary and college is located here as a reflection of this history of Cheung Chau. And staff of the Worship Institute at Calvin College where I teach have been there for conferences! There is also a strong Catholic presence with a Catholic retreat center there. But finally, there is also a Buddhist high school, representing yet another cultural influence.

We had a wonderful walk through these cultural spaces, all co-existing in the small space of the island. Roads that looked like highways on the map turned out to be mere walking paths the wound through the island highlands with narrow streets branching off.

The final cultural artifact was a village called the Care Village. It was built as the result of Canadian and US funds in the late 1960s. It also illustrated the contrasts between some very expensive homes and shacks made from sticks. In the midst of it all there was also an artist colony.

>It isn’t Vegas, Dorothy, but it’s close


I have been to Macau before, but never experienced the casino-culture. Macau is an old Portuguese port–close to 500 years old. So an old section of town has been maintained–primarily for tourists. Today, the Portuguese population is about 10,000 out of a population of 500,000. There is also a small Macanese population (Chinese-Portuguese).

The economy of Macau is gambling. This is the main employer. Most of the people come from around Asia.

So we went to Macau and stayed 2 nights at the Venetian–yes the same as Las Vegas.

The trip started with a ferry ride from Kowloon to Macau–a 60 minute ride. We caught the hotel shuttle to the hotel.

Dorothy was our expert in gambling–so she was the one to experience that aspect of Macau. Dorothy proceeded to double her money at the casino. Well, let me say–doubled her $100 HK to $200HK so she made about $12 US. The exchange rate was something of a challenge for her in terms of keeping track of her winnings. She came back to the room a bit disturbed by the people who invaded her personal space. She had a personal stalker. She also concluded that in comparison to Las Vegas, people in Macau play at the tables rather than the penny machines. This fits with some figures I’ve seen that show that more money comes in through gambling in Macau than Las Vegas, but fewer people go to Macau. People who go to Macau spend more money. Dorothy stayed with the machines. We never could get Dorothy to explain what coins she used.

The first night we also went to a big show–Dancing Waters. We figured out how to take one hotel bus to another hotel to go to the show–this is a free public transportation system in Macau. It was pretty much over the top in terms of special effects and the physical gymnastics and diving. And then totally out of context, motorcycle daredevils entertained us.

The highlight of the day for Dorothy was finding the food court in the Venetian. Out of the 23 restaurants, there were 3 western–Fatburger, pizza, and fruit smoothy place. The rest were asian varieties. Dorothy had a fatburger and coke. In fact Dorothy is very talented at communicating her needs related to coke in almost any language. Getting ice into the coke or the lemon slice out are totally different issues…

The next day we took a open air tour bus and got off at the old part of town. Macau has beautiful old architecture with black and white tile plazas and old churches. After walking up to the ruins of St. Paul’s and eating egg tarts, we went to a Starbucks for coffee. Dorothy went across the street and picked up a coke at McDonalds and slinked in to sit with us. An Australian proceeded to chat with us for a very long time. We think he might have been lonely.

We then went to catch the tour bus again and ended up chatting with an Australian couple who is pretty much traveling around the world. They were also very friendly.

After we came back we again went to the food court to our special area–near the 3 western booths. Also we had pancakes at McDonalds every morning–all in the Venetian.

Dorothy went to the casino again and in the end was out $9 US in the end (she thinks). But came back to the room early because of invasions of her personal space once again.

We could not bring ourselves to take a gondola ride in the channel–they were vacuuming things up along the canal in the morning, it smelled like chlorine and it just looked silly. The street signs showed the way to the bathrooms and food court.

I think I don’t need to go to Macau again.

>This isn’t Kansas, Dorothy


My mother and a family friend have been with me in Hong Kong this week. We have had some interesting times. They arrived on a Tuesday.

On Wednesday we were stuck in the apartment for most of the day–the elevator was being repaired. We then went out and walked to the local wet market and grocery store. I served some Thai food for supper–Dorothy wouldn’t eat it. She ate rice.

On Thursday we took the subway. We visited a Buddhist temple on the way to go shopping at the Jade Market and a Chinese Department Store. Dorothy was accosted by two sales girls. Maralyn fell to her knees in the Buddhist temple. We finished the exploration with high tea at the Penninsula Hotel–a must for anyone who is anyone in Hong Kong, or wants to be. Dorothy did eat the cucumber sandwiches and the tea agreed with her. We made it home and nobody fell.

On Friday we took the subway back to TST and took a harbor tour, walking along the promenade, viewing the movie star walk. We tried to get Dorothy to have her picture taken with Bruce Lee but she refused. We then took the train to the bird market. We caught a taxi home. Dorothy finally ate since we went out for Italian.

Saturday we went with a geographer friend, Mee, who took us to Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill, run by a Buddhist nunnery. Dorothy wouldn’t eat the curry, or the mushrooms, but found the fried sweet potatoes, rice, and cheese cake to be OK. Mee then took us to pick up her in-laws at HK Institute of Science and Technology to take them to their apartment. We went and had tea at their apartment and Danish cookies with led to a digression on Danish open-faced sandwiches. Mee then took us to Sai Kung, a former fishing village that is now quite a busy place with restaurants along the waterfront. It is also “dog friendly,” meaning that people sat in the restaurants with their dogs sitting on chairs. One dog was being fed out of a baby bottle. Dorothy looked at all the tanks of different sea creatures that you could choose for your meal. She had soft serve ice cream, and came home and had toast for supper. But she rejected the peanut butter–it didn’t taste right. She has also been complaining about the Sprite and coke–it just isn’t right.

Sunday was spent first at a benefit luncheon and entertainment event for several charities at the HK Marriott in Admiralty. This event went over 4 hours with different dishes brought at intervals–7 courses. Dorothy practices using chop sticks and drew applause from the table. Dorothy didn’t like 6 of the 7 courses. She ate the sweet and sour pork. She didn’t even try the dessert which was red bean soup. YUM! After the 7 course meal of which she ate very little, Dorothy went with all of us as my friend Lillian took us to the Peak. It was a beautiful clear afternoon. We had coffee, which Dorothy does not drink. She had a type of ice tea of which she drank half. We then walked over and saw the view. Later we went to a bar and grill and had hamburger’s and fries with a coke. Dorothy ordered a second order of fries. By the time Dorothy was done with her second order of fries, it was getting dark and we got to see HK city lights.

Dorothy has lost a considerable amount of weight (much needed I might add when compared to people that are 4 foot 8.

What an adventure. I wonder what Dorothy will eat in Macau?

>Absolute and Relative Location and Distance


In the field of geography we distinguish between absolute and relative location and distance. I did a workshop with a colleague from the field of art and design on developing interdisciplinary courses. Our approach was to each pick one map to talk about.

My map was one of absolute location and distance at street level. It was a street map of Kowloon that hangs on my wall. I put stickers on the places where I have walked. That way I can see parts of Kowloon that I haven’t visited and explore further. Distance on the map reflected distance in reality. Directions were accurate as well.

My colleague put up the MTR map that showed the various stops. It was a map of relative location–points relative to one another. Cardinal directions and distance were not accurate to reality. Graphically it is an example of excellent design.

I take a detailed book of streets maps with me everywhere. My colleague takes her MTR map and gets a general idea of direction from a particular stop. Both of us come from visual disciplines, but our perspectives are different.

OK–so these are interesting ideas, but what is their relevance to negotiating daily life?

I had to participate in a video conference between a group in the U.S. and myself. Since it was a larger group on that end, they wanted to use a system that would be flexible enough to let me see the entire group but also zoom in to one person at a time–skype was out. The organization on the other end requested that I go to a local facility. (Hong Kong is high tech and using this type of technology is part of regular life here.) They sent me a list of 3 sites that were quite close in absolute distance from my apartment–

Option #1: Central Hong Kong Island–8.8 miles away
Option #2: Shenzhen–10 miles away
Option #3: Macao–33 miles away

In absolute terms, these seemed like reasonable choices, other than taking into account that it would be 9 p.m. for me while 8 a.m. for those in the U.S. But then driving home at 10 or 11 p.m. for 8-30 miles is not such a big problem.

It is a short train ride to Shenzhen. However, going to Shenzhen would require a visa since it is across the border in mainland China–border crossing leaving Hong Kong and border crossing entering mainland China. It would take me one afternoon to stand in line to apply for the visa on Hong Kong Island and another afternoon to pick it up, plus the two border crossings each way. A VERY long 10 miles.

Macao may be only 33 miles away, but it is 33 miles of water that requires a 90 minute ferry ride. And while you don’t need a visa, you do have to go through immigration for Hong Kong and Macao. A two day adventure for a 9 p.m. meeting of one hour.

The Hong Kong Island option could have worked–but it would take me 45 minutes each way to get to Hong Kong Island with the subway and walk to find the right building at night–I live on the mainland side of Hong Kong. But at least it would be within the same political boundaries, even if across the harbor.

I downloaded the software and had the video conference at my dining room table. Absolute and relative location and distance: 0 miles

>Sources of Authority

>When I became a dean, I was struck by the authority that I obtained by just holding a position. I was the same person, but the office held particular authority. And of course, as soon as I was a “lame duck” I lost the authority overnight, even before I left the position.

I have been contemplating sources of authority. My sense is that when I was a dean I had authority that came with the position and so I could exercise it quite independently as long as it was within the scope of the office. My authority was grounded in my placement in the office. I have been asking people in Hong Kong about this because my sense is that office does not have the same sense of authority tied to it. Authority seems to come from the person above you in the bureaucracy. It means that decisions have to be checked with those above before any decision can be made. There is some sense of this in the U.S. of course, but there seems to be some difference. Your ability to make decisions if you are in middle management can be more independent of the changes above you in the U.S. In Hong Kong this doesn’t seem to be the case. It means that in Hong Kong change in direction happens regularly. You change someone in the bureaucracy and then everything is reshuffled down the bureaucracy.

OK. I’m not sure this is all true, but it is something to think about–what gives us authority when we hold positions in middle management? The appointment to the position, or our relationship with those above? or both?

>Excited Insects Awakening Day

Chinese Insects Awake Day or Excited Insects Day is one of the 24 Chinese solar divisions. It is associated with the arrival of spring. Somehow this has also become associated with the White Tiger Festival. I went to Canal Street on Hong Kong Island to view a ritual associated with this day. It involved some practitioners who would help clients take revenge on their enemies. The clients draw a picture of the person they want to curse, and then the practitioner put the picture into a piece of paper and then beats it with the heel of a show. If you really don’t like someone, a sharp-heeled show is called for. After it is well beaten, it is put in a paper white tiger—its mouth wide open and then put in a fire. The only thing I can find is that this is related to a Daoist practice among rural women who worshiped the White Tiger. They kept images made out of paper of the White Tiger in their homes to keep out rats, snakes and squirrels.

As I watched this I kept thinking–what would be equally mystifying to someone visiting the U.S. I decided it would be the Autumn and Halloween. I remember New Zealand visitors wondering why our neighborhood business district was putting out scarecrows and corn stalks along the light poles. They were expecting some deep meaning. After some thought, I offered an explanation–it is harvest season so these are decorations. Then we were driving out in the country and they saw a massive field of pumpkins. One of them commented on how he had grown pumpkins to feed to pigs when he was growing up, implying that pigs were going to eat these. “Oh, no,” I said. “Nobody eats those. Those acres of pumpkins are going to be sold so that we can scoop out the insides and then carve scary faces on them. We will put candles in them and put them on our front steps. Silence and a total look of mystification followed.

>More on the layered city


As we went out to an island yesterday, Karis commented on the dramatic Hong Kong skyline. The high rise building march up the side of the mountains. Manhattan is impressive, but there is something about the changing topography and high rise buildings that is even more dramatic.

Yesterday we also had quite a challenge being able to get to the ferry terminal, finding our way from below ground in the subway up to the level of the above-street walkway. This led me to once again reflect on the layered nature of the city–so here are some images from my bedroom window that looks out on the university, a shopping mall with 7 floors, and the mountains behind. From my bedroom window you can also see the green roofs and roof-top clothes lines.

>Vertical and Horizontal Layers of Place

>I went with a friend on Saturday, to ride on the tram whose route extends most of the length of the Hong Kong Island, east to west, on the harbor side. It is the only double-decker tram in the world, so the publicity says. I had always wanted to do this and found out that this friend had wanted to do it also. Both of us had proposed such an outing to our respective family members with similar responses–“And why would I want to do this?” Alas, some people have no sense of adventure!

We made sure we were on the top level and had a great view of the urban streetscape as we slowly went along. It took more than an hour each way, and the slow pace allowed us to actually observe the changes in areas of the city as we went, building my mental map of this part of Hong Kong island. Up to this point my mental map was primarily of regions around individual subway stops–points rather than a line.

I was struck how Hong Kong is a city that is layered in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Horizontal lines–the underground subway, streets, walkways, and entrances to buildings at different elevations–form the horizontal lines of the city. Vertical lines–buildings of different heights–make up the vertical structures. Yet these vertical structures are horizontally layered as the base of buildings rise from different elevations. Often it is not enough to know the address of a building, or where it is. You also have to know how to approach the building–what level and from which direction, in order to find your way.

I share views of the streetscape and this horizontal and vertical layering along the tram route. The images are “typical” images of the street–Wellcome grocery stores, 7-11 stores, Chinese medicine shops, etc. What is missing? We saw very few gas stations.

Horizontal and Vertical layering

Wellcome has a monopoly on grocery store business

The layers of the city

Dispensary’s are everywhere. I’m not sure what they dispense
The symbol for the MTR (the subway and train system–never far away
Gambling around horse-racing

Everywhere, clothes hang outside widows to dry

Cardboard recycling

Small household shops that are packed, leaving only a small isle
Bamboo structures for constructionMarkets
Chinese medicine shops
This looked like a sewing machine repair shop

Single purpose shops–this one was for mental doors and shades

Light buses go between points that are relatively close

Small local grocery stores

Small restaurants
A park crowded into the urban setting
7-11 is ubiquitous to Hong Kong–used to recharge your octopus card
for transportation, to pay bills, etc.

Sounds of construction–always
Church in a commercial space
Attempts at “green”
Watsons and Mannings are the pharmacies that are everywhere!

Occasional Green Space

The harbor side of HK Island backs onto mountains

Lady shoes?

Busy market streets in Wan Chai