Aware from previous overnight flights to Asia that we’d wake up starving at 4 a.m. if we didn’t eat before we slept, we walked a few blocks to Spring Deer, a restaurant known for its crispy duck, always brought to the table whole. We gorged on papery pancakes stuffed with savory meat, splashed with hoisin sauce and spiced with green onions, greasy and delicious – enough for at least four diners — before trudging back to bed.
We were both up at 8:30 a.m., ready to take on the city.
First, a trip to the tailor, housed in New World Centre, a shopping complex the size of Lichtenstein. Hong Kong and Kowloon are stuffed with tailor shops, but a young man-about-town we know from New York had directed us to Tommy Hui’s place, Du Pont Plaza. Hui greeted us like old friends, and then set to measuring Avery for his new sports coat and slacks. For the jacket fabric, they selected a gray and black glen plaid, shot through with a streak of orange. They agreed on a boyish silhouette that Hui assured us was very Barney’s. With sleek charcoal slacks also made to order, the tariff was $600.
I gasped and informed my rail-thin son that he was not to outgrow these fancy duds for at least four years. No problem, said Tommy Hui – he visited New York and San Francisco every year, and could perform alterations. We were to return in the late afternoon to try on the linings and facings.
Within minutes of leaving the tailor, we were standing on the Star Ferry dock, tickets in hand for the 10-minute trip to Central, on a boat that is a perfect reproduction of the one that plied these waters in the 1920s. In Hong Kong, where side streets and alleys wander at violent inclines, taxis are the best and sometimes the only way to make sure you actually reach your destination. I pointed to the characters in my guidebook representing Lin Heung Tea House, tucked away at the rag-tag end of otherwise fashionable Wellington Street.
How To Eat?
Upstairs, past the aquariums stocked with huge, peering fish, we walked into a restaurant jammed with a few dozen large round tables, bare except for bowls, plates and spoons. Every seat was taken. Office workers joined crews of jump-suited laborers, while waitresses navigated carts down tiny aisles. It is true that I prefer to avoid tourist joints, and go out of my way to eat with the locals, but this time, I was lost, without even the protocol for sitting down.
Eventually, a waitress pushed us into two chairs. A kindly woman, about my age, observed our confusion and explained: If you like what you see coming out of a cart, you race over to alert the waitress. There were no napkins; you had to bring your own. The first bowl placed in front of us was full of hot tea, which was not, we learned just in time, intended to be drunk; it was for washing your chopsticks, bowl, teacup, spoon and plate.
‘Mom, You Need to Focus’
The afternoon would encompass stealth sightseeing – sneaking “must-see” places into the itinerary without turning it into the forbidden forced march. Our formal destination was Victoria Peak, but first, there was a climb through the lanes I’d loved so much on my last visit. Smack in the middle of a posh neighborhood, I found them, packed with noon-time shoppers, crammed into every nook and alley, a vendor of vegetables, of brooms, of seafood, kept fresh on ice or very much alive under coursing water. It was as odiferous as I remembered, and I was unreasonably happy that it had not been sanitized out of existence.
We were on our way to the mid-level escalators, evidence of an exercise in urban planning unique to Hong Kong – a sort of commuter rail encompassing 20 outdoor escalators and three moving sidewalks, a total of 2,624 meters long, that transport you, depending on the time of day, either up or down the mountain, from the density of Central through the hip reaches of SoHo.
I could have ridden it all afternoon, hopping off to browse enticing boutiques and relax in coffee houses. But Avery is a deliberate guy, not inclined to browsing or sipping. “Mom, you really need to focus,” he said, retrieving me from a shop full of elegant silk jackets. When we ran out of escalator at Conduit Road, we took a cab to the Victoria Peak Tram. (We could have taken the No. 15 bus straight from the ferry, but then we wouldn’t have learned to wash our dishes in tea.)