March 24-29, 2004
OK, I'll admit it: I don't do well in the heat. In Cebu, Philippines, where I've been the past six months, the hot-dry summer season is roughly from April to June. According to the Chris Pforr Perspiration Index, by March 15, 2004 Cebu had reached Code Yellow which means sitting in a chair without a fan causes sweat to drip off my brow (code color scheme adapted from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; thank you Secretary Ridge.) I decided that I didn't want to spend the summer sweltering. Where to go for a few months?
My friend Lenny Williams in Seattle told me about the southern Chinese city of Kunming, where he has spent a lot of time. He connected me via email to Wenmei Kang, a Chinese woman with a translation service there. She and I traded several emails and she encouraged me to come to Kunming, suggesting that I could do proofreading for her translation service.
In Cebu I put my computer and other possessions into storage at Gary Forbe's house and bought a ticket to Hong Kong. Ana Flores rode with me to the airport. She did the same when I left the Philippines in 2002, but this time instead of a sad girlfriend/boyfriend farewell, we spent the taxi ride talking about her new boyfriend.
My flight to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific was uneventful and we landed to find a cool rain. I took a bus into Kowloon and headed for Chungking Mansions, a huge, seedy 17-floor firetrap full of small cheap hotels, Indian restaurants and hundreds of small shops selling bargain mobile phones and clothing.
I stayed at Chungking Mansions in 1974 during my year-long round-the-world trip, and then again in 1999 during my visit to Indonesia and the Philippines. My favorite lodging at Chungking is Traveler's Hostel, on the 16th floor of Block A. A single room costs 80 HK dollars, about $11 US. Like many of my favorite places, it's a dump; but also fascinating and a great place to meet other budget travelers.
Merchants from Africa, India and other third world countries come here for the wholesale deals; consequently the building is a rainbow of human colors. Strolling around one hears every possible language from Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the rest of the world.
I spent a couple days wandering around Hong Kong, eating / people watching / and riding the ferries.
There are several hundred thousand foreign women working as contract domestic workers in Hong Kong. Chinese families employ them as live-in maids to do cleaning, cooking and to take care of their children. This way, both parents can maintain fulltime jobs. The largest contingent of these foreign domestics, around 130,000, is from the Philippines. Sunday is their free day. There is a park in the Central district of Hong Kong Island where many of these Filipinas gather on Sundays to talk and share Filipino food. I was introduced to this phenomena when I met a Filipina penpal here in 1999, and she took me to the park. This visit I returned to there on Sunday, and again found several thousand Filipinas. I didn't walk around very long before a beautiful Filipina chatted me up and introduced me to her friends. Most of them are a little lonely living in Hong Kong and the ones that aren't already married to a guy back home, would love to find a husband to take them to the USA or Australia or Europe.
(Check out Maid to Order in Hong Kong: an Ethnography of Filipina Workers.)
That night, I discovered a similar gathering place for Indonesian domestics in the Causeway Bay district. Again, I shortly met a woman from Surabaya, Java who's been living in HK for two years but really wants to get married and go somewhere else. She confessed that her dream is to have a baby with white skin and blue eyes, but admitted that this idea is probably just a fantasy. She took me to a park where there were at least ten thousand Indonesian women milling about, and said that earlier in the day there had been many more. Pretty amazing.
Next morning I packed up my backpack and hiked over to the bus station to go to China.
Next: Train Ride in China
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