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Congealed Congee and the Beast of Loch Ness

December 27, 2007 – A.M. – Hong Kong Island - Kowloon

sunny 69 °F
View The Scholar Ship on mpho3's travel map.


For some reason, my hotel room didn’t have an alarm clock, and I was so out of it during my stay, that I never bothered to do anything about it. Consequently, my sense of time was completely off. I posted the previous post around 3:30 am, thinking that it was around 11pm. Once I discovered my error, I was too wired to hit the hay. Instead, I went down the concierge and inquired about how to get to The Scholar Ship in the coming hours.

Then I tossed and turned until about 9:30am, which was when I was ready to sleep, but by then time was of the essence, so I took a hot shower and then ordered room service. The options were American-style breakfast (an omelet, two pieces of “meat,” orange juice, and a pastry); Japanese breakfast (an omelet, a piece of seared salmon, pickled vegetables, miso, green tea and choice of steamed rice or congealed congee); “Oriental” breakfast (I don’t recall the particulars but it was some sort dim sum and wok-fried dish); and Continental breakfast (pastry, juice, fruit). I decided to go w/ Japanese, opting for the rice. I’ve no idea what congee is but congealed anything sounded highly unappetizing at that moment. (Made a variety of ways, congee is quite good, actually, but I couldn't stomach the word "congealed" that morning). The meal, as delivered, was 50 percent edible. The salmon was great, but it was a smaller piece than I would have liked. The pickled veggies were incredibly pungent, with one being very sour and the other very salty. I forced myself to eat about half of each. The omelet scared me – even after tasting it, I couldn’t tell if the inside was runny egg or goopy cheese. The miso was okay. The tea was lukewarm. I couldn’t touch the rice. Somehow, I was still somewhat satisfied by the whole affair. It wasn’t as good as the wonton shrimp noodle soup I’d had for dinner the previous night, but I felt good about my choice.

Our instructions were to board the ship between the hours of 12pm and 4pm, with the caveat that the tendering vessel was scheduled at two hour intervals, starting at noon. The concierge told me that I could take a free shuttle from the hotel to the Star Ferry at 11:30am. At 11:50, the bus hadn’t yet arrived so the hotel prepaid for me to take a taxi, for which I was glad because nearly everyone else whom I spoke to had had a bad experience w/ their cab rides – being driven around in circles to run up the fare. It took only minutes to get to the ferry station once we got out of traffic, but then I had to find my way to the right fare entrance. It already felt to be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and clear as a bell, so I figured if worst came to worst, and I missed the ferry, I’d find a perch and people watch for a couple of hours. Nonetheless, I tried to race along w/ my backpack, computer bag and 30 lb. carry-on bag on wheels. At the ticket window, I noted the price was $HK1.7, but the smallest amount I had on me was $HK10. The ticket agent couldn’t make change at that window and insisted that I go to the upper deck and buy a first class ticket. Still recuperating from the airport debacle, I really, really, really didn’t want to hustle like that, so I tried to get him to take the $10 and keep the change. He politely refused, so I raced upstairs with my lower back screaming at me. I was the last one on board, but I made it.

The trip from HK to Kowloon was extremely brief – no more than ten minutes max, which surprised me. Disembarking, I experienced the kind of disorientation I had experienced in the airport. The directions seemed extremely vague to me, and I was mentally worn down by the backpack. I didn’t even have to put it on to feel like I could barely muster the strength to do so. I was also convinced that I had missed the tendering vessel, so the brief exhilaration I’d felt quickly ebbed. I wandered up and down the pier and didn’t see anything that looked like The Scholar Ship pictures I’d seen on the Internet, and I had no idea what the tendering vessel looked like or was called. Exasperated, I even began to think that maybe I had misread the instructions, and the ship was docked at Hong Kong Island, meaning that I’d have to take the ferry back.

I approached a tour excursion booth in hopes of getting some clarification of the directions, but as soon as I got to the window, the operator put up the closed sign. That pissed me off, but I decided that I couldn’t get riled. At that moment, a young guy tapped me on the shoulder and intoned something to me in which I supposed was either Cantonese or Mandarin. I gesticulated that I didn’t understand. He motioned with his camera. I thought he wanted me to take his picture, so I nodded. But then he quickly put his arm around me and held the camera himself. Ahh so! He just wanted a picture with proof of having met a real live darkie. Beautiful. He shook my hand and wandered off with the same expression I’d imagine having if I’d captured a picture of the Loch Ness monster.

I turned around and decided to head back to my starting point, which was when I saw a Tourist’s Aid station. Hurrah! I went in and the woman read the directions I had and said that I was very close – I just needed to look for the clock tower. She pointed the right way and off I went again, but this time I saw the tower that had been hidden from my sight moments earlier. And there I spied two men in blue shirts holding up signs that read “The Scholar Ship.” Yebo!

It turned out that I hadn’t missed the tendering vessel at all. They took my bags, and I immediately zipped around in awe, snapping photos and feeling delightful. It was absolutely gorgeous in any direction that one faced, and the weather was perfect. A band was setting up, and though there were people around, I didn’t have a sense of it being crowded. I looked down into the water and saw a little silver fish darting around and that made me smile until I also noticed the giant cockroach floating not too far from it and further still a plastic Asian-style soup spoon. That’s when an Indian man in a well cut Western suit tapped me on the shoulder.

He tried to do some swami heebie jeebie stuff on me, and I played along with him for several moments because I was feeling benevolent. He told me that I must learn to control my anger and that two friends whom I trust, one man and one woman, are not truly my friends because they are jealous. He also said that I should keep my desires secret because the jealous parties will sabotage me. He told me that in this lifetime God has chosen for me not to be poor and not to be wealthy but in the middle. He wrote down three monetary figures and asked me which I would like to have in the immediate future. I, of course, circled the largest one - 900. He then asked me for that same sum of money so that he could make an appeal to God for me. I cracked up because this whole same hocus pocus was tried on me years ago in Portugal. It could even have been the same man. He was sorely disappointed when I reached into my pocket and came up with 900 cents! He asked me not to be stingy, but I called him on his own game. He didn’t use the dollar sign in front of that 900. I told him that I was giving him the change because he had entertained me and that he could take it or leave it. He forlornly took it, probably cursing me. So much for having my own supplicant for God’s favors.

When I turned around, a small congregation of TSS people had gathered. We introduced ourselves: D., the Recreational Counselor from San Diego; T, a faculty member from UC Berkeley; K., another instructor, from all over – American, former military brat; and A. from Albuquerque by way of SF, who is an Intercultural Communications Consultant. Of the four, D. and I seemed to connect. We agreed that the two of us have the cushiest sounding gigs, but we also acknowledged that we’ve no idea what we’re in for. As it turns out, none of us do. Then the tendering vessel arrived.

Posted by mpho3 02:32 Archived in Hong Kong

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