Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mind wandering as I wander.

So, landed in Hong Kong well rested, 200 some pages into Harry Potter 7- which I had been promising myself I would get to as soon as finals ended, um, five weeks ago (thanks Melissa for the nudge!)- and headed out for fun in Hong Kong. I had 17 hours to while away, and I was rarin’ to go. First stop: Temple Street Night Market. When I was in Cambodia on the Mason Center for Global Education program there this January, one of my favorite places was the night market in Phnom Penh. Live ‘American Idol’ style karaoke competitions AND cheap t-shirts? Yes please!

Being the good nerd that I am, I had hit the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website over breakfast last week and mapped out what I wanted to do. The night market was great, bustling activity, which I found after traversing the crazy MTR (metro/subway) stop closest to the market. When I hear night market I think, ‘locals, tourists, inexpensive local cuisine, knock off purses, screaming children, street performers,’ and me, profusely sweating. Coach, Gucci, Prada and Zara do not, however, readily come to mind. And yet, stepping out of the Kowloon MTR stop, I stepped into Tysons Corner II: Hong Kong Edition. Toto, I think we’re back in D.C. After escaping the Elemis mall which sits upon the Kowloon station, I hitched a cab to the night market. I found out (much) later that night that it was walkable…more on that to follow in upcoming posts.

The night market was bustling, fun, and filled with haggling customers and shopkeepers alike. One of the things that struck me as most different from my experiences in the markets in Cambodia was that the shopkeepers were 1) not accosting me to look at their wares, and 2) not super interested in haggling (which, I admit, is my favorite part…that and talking about the deal I scored, which is no doubt about triple the actual value and nonetheless still probably taking huge advantage of every member of the production chain. Capitalism. Le sigh).

So here I am, making my way through the long, one street market, taking in the cheap plastic goods, fake watches, knock off Hermes and Jimmy Choo bags, and wonderfully embroidered Chinese silk scarves and bags, and I am really having a chance to look at things and let my mind wander. In Cambodia walking through a market was a constant dance of avoiding engaging with a shopkeeper until I knew if I wanted to buy something, being pressured to buy something (often many somethings) that I didn’t have any interest in, all while trying to stay in motion so as to avoid being thronged by children carrying naked infants asking for money.

If this sounds insensitive to the struggles of the local merchants and underserved populations, it probably is. I come from a (often too) well-fed, luxurious, (mostly) safe area with enough of everything. Contrasted with about 97% of the world, I have not one problem, and trying to avoid being run over by children clamoring for “one doooooollar” (as Dr. Fuertes would say) is really fairly shitty of me, given the wealth and privilege I enjoy. Yep. It is. And I also came to the conclusion a few years ago when a friend worked for a homeless shelter was that giving a few dollars to each and every person I met in need was far less helpful that using my skills and talents to turn the larger tide. Sooooo…that’s a long way of saying, while it is perhaps shitty of me to think it, I really enjoyed getting to wander the market last night and let my thoughts wander with me.

It always shocks me when I land in a new place- especially somewhere so far from home- I keep thinking to myself, ‘wow, one minute I was home, so real beneath my feet, and now I’m on the other side of the world’. This foreign place that yesterday seemed so, well, foreign, is now beneath my feet, as real as home was yesterday. Perhaps this sounds dumb, but really, it amazes me that we can move from country to country with such ease and intermingle with people from all over the globe. I was grateful to have the time to let my mind mull over this as I browsed.

Well endowed goods on Temple Street. Good for company. No judging: James Franco says it's ok.

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