Posts Tagged With: souvenirs

Buddha Call

If you use a site like TripAdvisor to find the most popular Hong Kong tourist destinations, the list will generally include the cable car ride and Giant Buddha on Lantau Island. Now, it is true that in traditional Zen-like settings one rarely finds the words “Buddha” juxtaposed with “cable car ride”, but we figured, what the hell, we’ve got the day free and it’s on all those lists, so…

The attraction is fairly new, built about 25 years ago, and Lantau Island itself is immediately adjacent to the airport on the tip of the mainland. The best way to get there is by Metro, which we had early on decided not to use since it has become the locus for many of the protests and police actions. But then we figured that since we had missed out on the Molotov cocktails two evenings ago, we should at least enjoy the prospect of a robust tear-gassing, and off to the Metro we went.

The Hong Kong Metro is impressive. The stations and trains are large, spotless, efficient, and ultramodern, although many of the fare machines have been damaged by the protests and taken out of commission. The cars are wide with molded stainless steel seats — rather unfortunately reminiscent of oddly clean bus station urinals —  and the doors between cars stay open so that looking down the length of each train gives the impression of some kind of pedestrian interstellar portal.

Alice had downloaded a Hong Kong Metro app that served quite well to help us navigate the system. Fares were reasonable; it cost about US$3.50 per person to get out to the island, about a half hour ride.

Problem was, the further out of the city we went, the worse the weather got. We started with hazy sun, then moved into gloomy overcast, traveling past huge apartment blocks that, for their ominous appearance, may be housing either alien larvae or blocks of residents in suspended animation.

If you lived here you’d be numbered and barcoded by now.

By the time we got to the cable car station at the base of the mountain on Lantau we were pretty fully socked in, and the ride up the mountain — and thus into the clouds — offered a somewhat apocalyptic cast, at least when the visibility was greater than 50 meters.

When you die, this cable car takes you to the underworld.

The cool part, though, was that the cars had glass bottoms (we had actually paid extra for this, since not all of them do), which adds a note of surrealism and acrophobia to the experience.

We were greeted at the top by more clouds and rain, the Giant Buddha itself, sitting serenely and wetly atop an adjacent hill and overlooking the pseudo-village of Ngong Ping. Here was the sort-of serene part of the scene, heavily Photoshopped so that you can at least make out the statue through the drizzly gloom:

What the photo doesn’t show was the “village”, which was a shopping enclave that included such traditional Chinese restaurants as — and I assure you this was actually there — “Ebeneezer’s [sic] Kebab and Pizzeria.” There were some interesting souvenir stores as well (Alice bought a nice fan), but my favorite by far was the centerpiece of the complex, a garish-looking multimedia virtual reality extravaganza called — and again, I swear this is true — “VR 360 Walk With The Buddha.” And now I suddenly realize that I should have Photoshopped a VR headset onto the statue in the previous photo. For it is said that the way of the Buddha is through the Playstation, one of which surely would have been owned by Siddhartha Gautama himself.

There are 268 steps from the base of the hill to the statue, and we did exactly none of them because it started to pour. So back down the Stygian cable car we went, closing the book on this particular adventure. It was the Afternoon of the Anti-Zen.

We leave early tomorrow morning for Hanoi and the main part of our trip. Stay serene, grasshopper.

 

Categories: Hong Kong | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Klimt in Paris

Want to know how to vacation cheaply in Paris? It’s easy! Just spend ten days in Iceland first! Iceland is outrageously expensive: we estimated that everything there cost twice as much as it does in the Washington DC area, with the exception of gas, which costs three times as much. (These are actual, non-exaggerated numbers, in case you’re wondering.) So Paris looks like a bargain by comparison; prices are maybe 20% higher than at home.

We arrived in Paris yesterday (Sunday) afternoon and were temporarily stymied in getting to our AirBnb apartment, because central Paris is closed to automobile traffic on Sunday afternoons. This was a major headache for our taxi driver, who had to drive a badly clogged and circuitous route to get us here. I gave him a big tip.

We are in a tiny but well-equipped third floor walk-up in the Montregueil district, a lively area full of clothing stores, restaurants, and sleazy sex shops and peep shows. The sex shops and peep shows are all a block or two away from the Rue Montregueil itself, happily, which is mostly closed off to auto traffic. Here’s a view down our street from last night.

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So it’s a fun place to be. It also holds some happy memories for us, since it was 20 years ago that we rented an apartment here for a delightful week with our then-teenage sons. They enthusiastically discovered crepes and escargot at the time, and have become experienced world travelers in the two decades since. The neighborhood has not changed much.

Our first destination this morning was a bakery a few doors down from our flat, where we had some breakfast consisting mostly of some to-die-for chocolate croissants that cost about two bucks each. This is how we knew that we were back in Paris. Then we headed off by Metro to our first “sight” of the day, the Atelier des Lumières (“Studio of Lights”), also known as the Digital Art Museum. You have in all likelihood not heard of it, and indeed we had not either until our friend Elaine posted a link about it on Facebook. So, thanks Elaine! It was amazing!

The Atelier des Lumières is a former foundry that has been converted to a digital art space, in which spectacular animated digital “collages” are projected onto the warehouse-like walls and floor. Each display lasts from about 5 to 20 minutes and has a theme, and the two centerpieces of today’s displays were the Viennese artists Friedensreich Hundertwasser (whom I confess we had never heard of) and Gustav Klimt (whom of course we had). Here are a couple of still of the display, taken from a mezzanine above.

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..and here is one taken at floor level, featuring Alice and her cell phone.

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The display is dynamic and very immersive, accompanied by music that ranges from Philip Glass to Puccini. No still photo does it justice, so here’s a 3-minute video clip that I made from the mezzanine to give you an idea. Watch it with your sound on.

We left the Atelier and headed to one of our favorite spots in Paris, Sacre Coeur Cathedral and the Montmartre. I  have come to believe that it is not possible to take an original photo of Sacre Coeur, so I took the standard postcard shot.

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As you can see, it was a clear, sunny day. What you cannot see is that it was hot: about 82F / 27C. So the area was thronged with tourists enjoying the unseasonable summer weather. Of course, it is pretty much always thronged with tourists. Making a living off them are of course block after block of restaurants, cheesy souvenir stores, and street denizens. The most common species of the latter these days seem to be shell-game players, rapidly moving the ball around among three overturned cups. They were everywhere: on one short street there were two that were literally within about an arm’s length of each other.

Incredibly, there is still an adequate supply of tourists naive enough to play the game. Alice asked me what fraction of the players I thought won, and I unhesitatingly replied, “Zero.” They don’t call it the old shell game for nothing. But on further reflection, I realized that this cannot be true; you need to have an occasional — and highly visible — winner in order to keep the crowds coming. And indeed, we saw some wins…. immediately followed by a double-or-nothing offer. Guess what happens then.

We ate lunch in Montmartre and wandered the area; the main square is a core of restaurants surrounded by a ring of artists, a few of whom are not at all bad. (Alice bought a piece here about ten years ago; the same artists is still there.) Here is the scene, with Alice in the midst of things:

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One entire side of the square is occupied by portrait artists and caricaturists. Tons of them also wander the street, sketch pad in hand, inveigling tourists into some real-time portraiture. But here’s one of the sit-down portraitists at work.

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Our final stop was the Dali Museum, which is always high on both our lists. We both enjoy his work tremendously, but it resonates especially strongly with Alice because Dali’s muse was his wife Gala, who Alice pointedly observes was ten years older than him. (Alice is seven years older than me. I do not dare hypothesize aloud the implication that she is only 70% as inspirational, since that is clearly untrue. At least, if I know what is good for me.)

As we walked back to the Metro after leaving the Dali Museum we encountered in an abandoned lot yet another example that everything in Paris is a work of art.

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The phrase in the middle — “Regarder C’est Inventer” — means “observing is inventing”. It was one of Dali’s mottos. You generally do not see quotes from surrealist artists spray painted on abandoned buildings in the US.

I think that tonight we will ride the famous bateaux mouches, the Seine tour boats, to see the lights of the city at night. It’s one of those touristy things that you have to do no matter how often you visit Paris. And so we will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, France | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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