Red Circle Tea

If it isn’t your home what is it?

How is it that it’s so familiar here? Hong Kong is familiar the way I know my way around my house at night with the lights off. I can feel my way through, instinctively I know north from south, my internal compass is on instant activate. If I were a mobile device looking for wi-fi network, I’d be set to automatically connect when I’m here. And I do. When I’m away, it draws my attention, any mention of it, in conversation, on the radio, on tv, piques my interest; unavoidably demands my attention. It calls me back when I least expect it. Doing the dishes? Suddenly, I can smell the diesel from the double decker buses on the street mixed with the sweet smell of fresh pork buns. Walking past a Dim Sum restaurant? I know it’s a pale shadow of her culinary power and intensity. So if Hong Kong isn’t my home, then why does it feel like it is?

We landed late. That’s pretty shabby for an airline I’ve known for 7 years to be spot on time. Spot. On. 6:08 is normal, 6:28 isn’t. My pilot was Captain Steve Jolly. I love that. I wonder if he knows Captain Jeremy Pickles, the pilot who flew my flight from HK to Shanghai two years ago. (I’d still like to meet him: How do you do Mr. Pickles?)

We were so late I opted for the high speed train from HKIA to Kowloon, to make up for lost time. At 100 HK dollars one way, that’s three times the price of the city bus, which is just as clean, has the same views but rambles along the highway at it’s leisure. If you have the time, I do recommend the A12. It’ll drop you right in the center of Kowloon. But the high speed train is glorious. A testament to the modernity and fashionably techno-centric city of Hong Kong. Today I had to make up for lost time, so I’m treating myself to this ride. But I still missed my 8:18 am KTT to Guangzhou. Now I’ll take the standard train with dingy windows and smelly carpet and seats so old they still have ash trays in the arm rests (remember those??). We’ll stop at every village, watering hole and rice paddy from here through Dongguan, the cousin city to Shenzhen where all fake Christmas trees and iPods come from, and then on to the next metropolis- my destination, Guangzhou. (Secret: Dongguan terrifies me. I actually hold my breath going through there. I’ve been told the water is so toxic, the municipality buses in distilled water from around the country but their people still die of cancer at an alarming rate. Urban myth or truth? I don’t really care, the thought of it is horrifying.)

So I’m on the 9:25 milk run instead. I have time for noodles and Ju Pa (noodles and a pork chop in chicken broth). My favorite dish, #2 on the menu, from Maxims. And look what’s arrived: well, if this morning isn’t full of surprises. My noodles have been replaced by macaroni (?!), and my pork chop has been replaced by ham strips. Please. The Australian Dairy company in Hong Kong can pull this off, (and do they ever, anything they make is delicious and worth the wait and price) but really Maxims? This is just silly. You were doing fine with the pork chop, why did you have to mess with a good thing? Luckily, my milk tea is still the same, with an entire packet of sugar (normally I wouldn’t dare) to give it a gentle sweetness, it hits the spot and is comforting and filling. I pack up and head downstairs to catch my train.

This is still my favorite train ride in the whole world. Silly Chunnel…. That’s for kids. The Pearl River Delta is arguably the fertile crescent of China and its insistent lushness and fecundity always leave me in awe of how nature reigns supreme. Even in a country where sometimes it feel like they’re doing their damnedest to fill its once-sweet waters with reserves of DDT left over from the 70s, and whatever red-dye-of-the-month is being used to make this year’s fashion must-have. Still, the Delta shines with green palms, red fertile earth and a soft grey wooly cloud cover hugs the fields. Hello China, it’s good to be home.

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