hk diary four - a flat on top of a hill

when the broker, a middle-aged chinese lady, showed me a tiny two-bedroom flat (at the second floor of windsor court) along castle road that was renting for ten thousand hong kong dollars (that was eventually lowered by one thousand hk dollars), i fell in love with it right away, even if it was located on top of  a hill. because it was quite far from the bars, restaurants and malls, it was quiet, except for the occasional horns from cars, the screeching of tires and the sound of fighting cats that were in heat at night and looking for their sexual partners.

having said that, it was still walking distance (a good twenty to thirty minutes) to and from the office (the thomson office at landmark), as well as from several nice shopping malls particularly ifc, where the train that links the city to the airport is located. even if it was a bit pricey, i took the flat. as i mentioned before, i preferred to stay at a place that was walking distance from where i worked.

the flat is at a place called the mid-levels, a famous expat community. well sort of. it's where most non-citizens of hong kong live. in fact, walking around it is like being in a united nations convention -- a lot of americans, australians, europeans (french, spanish, italians, british), indians, middle eastern guys, and of course, asians like filipinos (there are so many of us), singaporeans, koreans, mainland chinese, etc.

even if the flat was literally on top of a hill, walking to and from the office (or to the shopping malls and restaurants) wasn't too strenuous because of hong kong's famous escalators that connect queen's road (the city's main street) to various streets such as elgin, staunton, etc. the escaltors go all the way up to caine road. along the way, bars, coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants line up the streets, patronized mostly by expats and tourists.

(the escalator made famous by wong kar wai in chungking express. and then later on by christopher nolan in one of his batman installments with christian bale and morgan freeman.)

built in nineteen ninety three, the escalator is the longest in the world (more than two thousand six hundred feet), and one of hong kong's famous landmarks and tourist attractions. christian bale and morgan freeman shot one of the scenes here in one of the installments of christopher nolan's batman movies. the one with heath ledger playing as joker, his one last role that won for him a posthumous oscar award for best supporting actor.

the escalators link caine road (which was a few meters away from my flat along castle road) to ifc mall, one of my favourites in the city not only because it has the nicest cinemas, but also because its rooftop restaurants and bars offer a nice view of the victoria harbour that looks spectacular on a clear, blue sky day, and then especially at night when the whole city is glowing with all the lights.

there are tables and chairs outside so you can enjoy your food and drinks under the sun or the moon, or just the stars. the place gets crowded after office hours mainly bankers and office people who work at banks and offices located at the ifc towers (one and two, by the way), enjoying cocktails before they head somewhere else for dinner and more parties.


right across the ifc mall are the ferry terminals to the small islands surrounding hong kong such as discovery bay (a residential area famous for its gorgeous but expensive flats and homes), lamma, lantau, cheung chau, where nice beaches, cheap sea food restaurants (well cheaper than those in the city) and generally quiet communities are located. 

every time i feel so constricted and suffocated in the city's narrow, crowded and noisy streets, i would usually hop in the ferry to any of these islands with a book and magazines and stay on a beach, not to swim, but just to read and enjoy the peace and quiet and space, lots and lots of it, as well as the wind on my face, the sun on my neck.

(a few of the beaches in the islands.)

most of these islands have no taxis and can't accommodate cars on their very narrow streets, so the only mode of transportation is walking and cycling.

(a port at one of the islands where bikes are safely secured.)

(a busy seafood and dim sum restaurant at one of the islands.)

one of these islands (i can't remember which one) has a tea farm where you can actually pick tea leaves and have them boiled (or brewed?). if you are too lazy to do that, you can simply order. the tea  house is sort of "shabby chic" (though not of the rachel ashwell variety), with very old tables and chairs made of tree trunks, bamboos and rattans, right at the middle of the tea farm. isn't it lovely?

the owner (a cute architect in his early thirtys) brewed the tea himself. you could have it cold or hot or  lukewarm. since it was a hot summer day when i dropped by, i chose cold. really cold.


i loved my neighbourhood. 

near where i lived was the four-storey museum dedicated to dr. sun yat-sen, who was credited for overthrowing the qing dynasty in the mainland, and setting up the republic of china. he had close ties with hong kong because it was here where he was educated, and where he spent plotting his revolution. it was also in hong kong where he met filipino hero dr. jose rizal.

a few steps away from the sun yat-sen museum was the apartment where dr. jose rizal lived when he was exiled in hong kong. the flat was at number two rednaxela terrace to be more specific. there is a sign outside of the apartment building that says rizal lived here. he also practiced his profession as an ophthalmologist at a clinic along d'aguilar street, now famously known as lan kwai fong, a popular destination for drinking, eating and partying. 

right below rizal's former apartment building was one of my favourite coffee shops, lavende cafe, owned by a very nice french-chinese, who was a walking encyclopedia when it comes to art, society and culture, not only about hong kong, mind you. he also knows a lot of hong kong celebrities and on weekends, you can spot some of them having cappuccino, cigarettes and savoring its famous lavender cake and other sumptuous sweet offerings.

across the coffee shop were art galleries, antique shops, and old apartment buildings that were renovated by its current tenants to look chic, updated and glam. i love how these owners were able to mix the old and the new. i usually spent some weekend afternoons here, staring at these flats, wondering how it would feel like to live in those very expensive apartments, surrounded by pricey arts, furniture flown directly from italy, among other luxuries. 


staunton street, and its landmark staunton's (a bar and restaurant), is a favourite hang out too. the resto bar had a lot of filipinos on its staff who would sometimes offer me free rose, champagne and beers. i used to sit on its concrete steps outside, sipping bloody mary when nursing a hangover,  or merlot, pinoit or stella and watching the city's beautiful people strut -- mostly shirtless young men jogging or walking around,  or wearing tight-fitting shirts and short shorts on the way to or from the gym (red).

of course, there were also a lot of beautiful ladies (tall, skinny, prominent cheekbones, long, lush hair either blond or black) in their weekend best (especially on saturday nights) wearing the latest, expensive runway fashion straight from paris, milan or london. they were always smiling, laughing, or whispering to each other as though they have discovered the secrets of staying young, fit and gorgeous!

it was here at staunton's where i spent my saddest new year's eve, when a former beau (i hate this word. don't know why i am using it) did not show up for dinner (and a planned party afterwards) because his father had a mild stroke and had to be brought to the hospital. i remember talking to him on the phone, drunk, angry, depressed, while people all around me were dancing, singing, kissing, shouting "happy new year!" gosh!


when tired of sitting on bars and restaurants along staunton or elgin streets, i would usually head off to the pier, right next to ifc mall. 

here, i would sit on benches to read, enjoy the sunny weather, and watch old men while their time fishing. i would sometimes bring lunch and eat here.  it's so relaxing, even during winter (except that i had to wear really thick outer jacket, sweater, and scarf), and sitting here, alone, always alone, makes me forget about the pressures of living in a fast-paced and every expensive city like hong kong.


ps: some of the photos in this post were taken from different websites (windsor court building, escalator, cafe lavende, staunton's). no copyright infringements intended. please inform the author if you want these photos taken down. thank you very much.

(up next, if you care -- victoria peak, lan kwai fong, and things that are distinctly hong kong.) 


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