Autumn in Hong Kong means Bicyles and Dosas……
Ellis and I don’t often venture to Kowloon, and whenever we do, we invariably wonder why we neglect such a giant part of our city. Sure, the hordes of Mainland tourists queuing behind velvet ropes to go into Louis Vuitton can be a nuisance, as can the touts that follow one down the street outside the ferry promising 24 hour tailoring or Rolex watches for a song, and yes all the neon can be a bit gaudy and the roads impossible to cross and the shopping somewhat one note, but as is so often the case in life as in travel, the smallest effort can yield the richest rewards- a maxim proved to us yet again on a rainy Monday field trip in search of bicycles, of all things. Of course, the trip itself is still after many years still a giant thrill, and especially in a chilly drizzle is really quite romantic, the sight of the giant rock of Hong Kong Island receding into the grey distance.
And then there is Canton Road, which, despite the rather drab brutalist architecture, can’t help but to remind one a little bit of the excitement of strolling down Madison Avenue. One must resist the impulse, however, of actually entering the monstrosity of Harbour City, which more closely resembles the Mall of America, only much, much bigger.
The reason for our trip, though, is not the window shopping, entertaining as it may be, but a terrific, really wonderful little hole in the wall restaurant serving probably the best vegetarian food in town: Branto Pure Veg. We’ve been hearing about it for ages from all sorts- from vegans and yogis to serious carnivores who just can’t get enough of Masala Dosa. We had gone with a big group of friends Friday night and it was such a revelation we really couldn’t get back quickly enough. If you don’t have a GPS on your iPhone or Blackberry or whatever, hopefully the following photos will be all you need to get there…
So about the food. I won’t say much, as a food critic I am not, but suffice it to say both Dal Makani and Raita, so common in Indian restaurants they go virtually unnoticed, it was like we had never tasted them before! And the dosas! So delicious the low ceiling and the buzzing flourescents and the Bollywood movie on mute above a table of chattering Indian Housewives only made it taste even better.
Branto Pure Indian Veg, 9-11 Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Thus revived and our faith in the promise of Kowloon bolstered, we take to the streets in search of our treasure- about which much more to come- and gradually the crassness of Canton Road gives way to a richer street scape and the more southerly districts reveal a pleasant, low-risey Kowloon, as it all once was in the days when airplanes taxied hairs away from the building tops.
Almost at Mong Kok we come to our destination, the Kung Sheung Cycle Company. Now we have recently rented a small studio space at the juncture of Queen’s Road West and Hollwood Road, mainly for Ellis to cut patterns and store fabric. It’s a short walk away from the shop- perhaps fifteen minutes at a brisk clip- and not on a steep hill at all; the perfect trip to make by bicycle. When we lived in Manhattan, we loved to cycle- to work, sure, but also at the weekend to the Park or up the West Side Highway, sometimes as far as the Cloisters. Clearly Hong Kong is not nearly so suited to riding a bike, but I was recently in the bathroom of the newly opened Heirloom Cafe at the end of Hollywood Road when I saw a bicycle that took me back to those days and I knew that we would have to buy one and finally give it a go despite the lack of bike lanes and the crazy hills and terrible drivers: the fabled Shanghai Forever and Shangai Phoenix road bike, classics from the communist era, the Buicks and the Bentleys of pre-Shenzhen China, the chicest his and hers wedding gift, available now in Hong Kong only at this tiny little bike shop in Mong Kok.
Kung Sheung Cycle Company, 39D Battery Street, Jordan
Please tell me where one can buy any new bicycle, let alone such a beauteous piece of Chinese history and durability for a mere HKD950? We made our purchases and despite the drizzle hopped on for the journey back to the Star Ferry. A word about cycling in Hong Kong. Yes, on first thought it seems terribly crazy bordering on a total death wish, but it really isn’t so bad, just different. Parts of Kowloon on a rainy day are virtually deserted, and when traffic gets nasty, the sidewalks are wide and pedestrians seem unfazed when joined there for a spell. To head back to Hong Kong Island, one must take the Wanchai, rather than the Central, Ferry, the lower deck of which is completely empty on a rainy Monday but for the lower deck crew, all of whom gathered around our lovely new bicycles, reminiscing and admiring. In fact, one can hardly stop at all, even here in Hong Kong, without a crowd of Chinese, usually weighed down with giant shopping bags from Gucci, Prada and Chanel, gathering around to admire, laugh, point, photograph and recall the day when a Made in China label was a point of pride and all of Shanghai rode a bike.