Last week we left the arid desert and returned to the land of the living -- the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, for starters. Mumbai is India's most urban, most sophisticated, and most chaotic city in many ways; it's a snake charmer dressed in a three piece suit, and a belly dancer wearing a turtleneck sweater. The most opulent hotels I've ever seen are kitty corner to the gritty Salvation Army hostel (that's where we stayed.) It's more tropical than Delhi, more financially driven than Delhi, and more exotic than Delhi in a lot of ways. Delhi belongs to India, and Mumbai belongs to the world.
We visited the Gateway of India and were offered giant balloons the size of a toddler; we strolled down Marine Drive and walked past the swank Hilton and Oberoi Hotels, cuddled puppies in Crawford Market (but not the chickens) and indulged in tropical fruit and roasted peanuts, and toured around Nariman Point. One morning we watched the action unfold at Sassoon Dock, where all the fishermen bring their catch in the morning to be auctioned off. There, we saw shrimp being shelled by the thousands, fish being carried off by the handcart and on baskets being carried on heads, and fishing nets being mended -- they seemed miles long.
One of the highlights of Mumbai for me was the screening of "Om Shanti Om" that we saw. It was delightful: three hours of melodramatic acting, sexy shimmying, shirtless male leads, wet sari contests, and song, song, song. In Hindi! Figuring out what the heck was going on was half the adventure. The popcorn was pretty good too.
In Mumbai we were reacquainted with a wonderful couple that we'd met in Delhi; James and Christina live in Mumbai and were kind enough to invite us into their home for dinner two nights in a row. They also took us to a local music festival in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, where we listened to jazzy vocals by three sisters in saris as the Indian Ocean crashed on the shore below us.
From Mumbai we said goodbye to India. I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm not relieved. India was interesting, crazy, and chaotic. It was an adventure, and it was exhausting. We'll be telling "This one time in India..." stories for years. We are now in Hong Kong, where we've been reintroduced to my three favourite "S" things: shoes, sushi, Starbucks. The airport in Hong Kong was air-conditioned to a fault; everything had signs, and announcements were made in an almost-constant circuit (in contrast to Mumbai's airport, which was hot and sticky, had no signs, and zero announcements to tell us our flight was an hour delayed.) We stopped at the bank machine and withdrew money without a problem; I bought a coffee, and we got on the high-speed train to downtown Hong Kong without a single hitch (in twenty-three smooth, blissful minutes.)
We're staying in a supposedly "seedy" part of Hong Kong, but it's luxurious as far as I'm concerned. We're staying with an old, wonderful friend of mine named Ian, and reminiscing and hanging out has been fantastic. Yesterday we walked around Wan Chai and some of the shopping areas of Hong Kong and then met another friend for sushi. He took us to some extremely posh clubs for drinks and atmosphere, and got home later than we've been out in weeks and weeks. Today we had an amazing dim sum lunch, took the Hong Kong harbour ferry, and walked around the chaotic area of Mon Kok, which is a shopper's paradise (especially if you want men's underwear with elephant trunks and such other practical items.)
And -- I've had my Starbucks every day. I love Hong Kong.