Now, there’s nothing to do but try to retrace my route from last night. The neighborhood appear to be stirring even at this early hour, but still I feel bad about the motorbike noise.
I buzz through a narrow gap between two concrete slabs – probably not more than a meter and a half. Large white eyes stare out at me from the near-total darkness inside one of the slabs.
A couple of scrawny little kids with wild hair sit on their mother’s lap near the ground. She glances out curiously too, stick legs folded under her knees on the hard swept dirt floor. The rest of the house looks patched together from wood and sticks and sheets of warped and rusty aluminum and whatever other materials might have been cast around left over in the weedy lots between the larger houses.
Income levels are all over the place in this city. Some houses stand strong and alone, made of brick and concrete with modern electrical work and even plumbing and insulation, and the roads in front of them are smoothly paved. But these others like the one I’m passing fit uncertainly in among the newer flats, squeezed against the wall of a big brother building, and appear to be little more than squatters’ residences. Natural light, maybe a gas hot plate for cooking, plastic green buckets for bathing water, and cotton rags hung in front of the doorway for privacy.
I wonder how these low frames and dirt floors handle even the slightest shower, let alone the monsoons that completely flood these roads during the long months of the rainy season. The people must just have to pick up and move every year, or they would constantly be half-submerged in mud and rainwater.
As I muse on these subjects realize too late that I’ve passed my turn. I was looking for the big Coke bottle billboard decorating the intersection, which without a street name is the only way I know the place.
But even as I pull up and turn around I can see that though we’re running very late – an hour at least – we haven’t actually missed anything. The wedding party is in a bit of chaos. And Stax is already in there somewhere with her camera, accompanied by Seiha with the sound recorder, getting it all down.
TO BE CONTINUED in the first segment of our series! We’ll premiere a sneak preview of the Khmer wedding segment very soon on matrimundi.wordpress.com.
But of course, in the meantime, there is much more to come of our exploits in Cambodia and beyond right here on the old blog.
A Note about this post: This isn’t a proper post about the project, but just something to let you know what we’ve been up to for the past few weeks. Greetings from Southeast Asia!
It’s been awhile since you last heard from yours truly – but there’s a good reason for that.
During that time, we sold off, stored with obliging relatives, or mailed all of the possessions save those that fit into two giant backpacks; gave two weeks notice at our cushy jobs in Manhattan; handed the keys to our Bushwick sublease reluctantly back to the owner (herself just back from Ghana); arranged to film a couple of traditional Khmer wedding ceremonies for our documentary project; and spent two weeks driving a Ford hybrid rental into the ground all around Oregon, mostly visiting friends and relatives (the highlight of which was watching our friends Brian and Heidi kill the room at Suki’s in downtown PDX with their dead on karaoke cover of the B52s’ “Love Shack”).
Then at the dawn of St. Patrick’s Day, we boarded the Bolt Bus from downtown Portland to Seattle, cruised to Sea-Tac on the airport tram, and flew 16 hours from Seattle – via Tokyo – to Hong Kong.
March 17-20, 2014
The cabin explodes in applause upon our final approach at Tokyo-Narita, because amid 20 mph crosswinds our Airbus 330 drops, twists, and fishes wildly as if in a seizure until right about when we touch the tarmac. Nice bit of flying.
Partly because of the winds tossing about everything with wings all over the Pacific Rim, we land very late (after 1 am) in Hong Kong International. The only option is to cab it to our hotel and hope they left the light on.
The cab driver barrels around 20km curves at a dead 60 km and strains up steep mountainsides in an old 1980s Chinese junker sedan. He almost leaves the engine block dropped through the chassis behind us on a few of his climbs.
A highlight of the ride: a giant black water buffalo with massive horns looms out of the darkness with his rear end to our cab, tail twitching, lounging and chewing his cud on a sidewalk in front of a darkened shop.
Then SCREEEEEEEEEECH we’re there. Luckily the hotel has anticipated our lateness and left the light on. We gingerly navigate a narrow alley strewn with boxes behind a restaurant, catching whiffs of fish and old vegetables and the unmistakeable tang of the salt sea.
So you may have noticed by now that we like to do things in opposite order. Call us contrary, but because of how the timing worked out with the first Khmer wedding ceremony (and the joys of nonrefundable plane tickets), we’re starting our trip with a vacation first – and not starting proper work until about two weeks in. I know, rough life, right?
Our first two days in Hong Kong are not actually in the towering, buzzing city everyone pictures, but in Mui Wo on southeastern Lantau Island. A town that not even many Hong Kong residents go (most of them head to Disneyland Hong Kong just north at Discovery Bay), Mui Wo doesn’t rate on most tourists’ to-do lists. But we end up digging the quirky village and its super-friendly locals, and of course its uncrowded and laid-back beach, Silvermine Bay.
, eat on the cheap in seafood restaurants overlooking the bay, enjoy sunny mountain views from atop Nam Shan
, and climb steep, ancient forest trails to a funky hillside village – where the architecture resembles shades of Dr. Seuss:
beat-up bicycles are the main form of transport, and amateur bird enthusiasts place cloth-covered cages up under trees so their budgies’ cries can attract flocks from all over the island.
But of the island’s famous resident water buffaloes, which reportedly cause traffic jams, are employed in various festivals and races, and otherwise wander anywhere they wish unimpeded by locals, we see nary a sign. The expat British owner of Caffe Paradiso – the best cafe in town, where gut-busting English style breakfasts and strong cappuccinos are the order of the day – disgustedly indicates a familiar culprit.
Eager real estate developers, Hong Kong dollar signs cha-chinging in their collective eyes, consider the buffaloes an obstacle and have won Lantau’s blessing to herd them out of the way to the marshy lowlands over Nam Shan, the southern mountain. And now even the marshlands are in their crosshairs.
The cafe owner sponsors a Lantau Buffalos youth rugby team:
He also sells T-shirts (Keep South Lantau Horny!) with proceeds directly toward preserving the buffalos’ habitat (for more info on this great organization check out http://lantaubuffalo.wordpress.com/). But sadly the prospects don’t seem good for the beasts.
Our final morning in Mui Wo we hang out on the ferry quay and wait for the boat to Hong Kong Island. We depart the lazy shores of Lantau knowing that we’ll see them again someday, whether in official capacity as filmmakers or as grateful return visitors.
But now it’s time to board the so-called “Ordinary Ferry” (read: slow boat) toward the craziness of Hong Kong Central. But that’s for the next post, which I swear will be more timely than the last….