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Christmas in Hong Kong

December 25th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Hong Kong

Perhaps the subtitle, or even the title, should be “What I did for Christmas, in Hong Kong …”

The International Herald Tribune doesn’t publish on Christmas Day, which means that the whole newsroom was off on Christmas Eve.

I always have preferred to be off on Christmas Eve. Working, in exchange, on Christmas Day for most of my career. Christmas Eve still seems part of the buildup, and I like candlelight services — and by the later evening on Christmas Day, things generally seem pretty much over. To me.

So, the goal Wednesday night was … an English-language candlelight service, and a restaurant that would still be open by the time it was over.

Luckily, things worked out fairly well.

First, the English-language candlelight service.

There are many churches in Hong Kong and its territories. An estimated 10 percent of the 6.8 million people here are Christians.

The trick is finding services in English.

I am a Lutheran, so we started from that vantage point, and we had success from the first Google search.

On the other, south, side of the island is a Lutheran church that was doing an English-language candlelight service. At 7 p.m.  With a minister from the U.S. And that would work out fine if we could get there.

Turns out, the church’s Web site doesn’t have a map, or directions, and we had only the address — 8 South Bay Close, Repulse Bay. That alone wasn’t enough to carry the day because our maps didn’t really indicate where that is and because we weren’t sure how close to the address the bus would carry us.

Also, the maps don’t give you an indication of how steep the terrain might be, and whether the walk from the bus stop to the church might be daunting. Even if it is 100 yards, because it could be straight uphill.

We gave ourselves lots of time. We were on Queens Road, a major street through Wan Chai, at 5:30 p.m., waiting for one of the No. 6 buses to take us to Repulse Bay. It turned out to be an interesting ride because the 6 bus goes over the hills/mountains that divide north and south HK. Most of the buses going from north to south or south to north go through the tunnel — which is direct but boring.

So, we saw some areas we hadn’t seen before, and had a great view, from the second floor of the double-decker bus, of Happy Valley, below us, to our left. We could see the race track — which we have yet to visit, now that I think of it.

We guessed at the proper bus stop, of the four in Repulse Bay, and for lack of anything else to do … began walking the direction we thought was the correct one — on the one main street through the area, which hugs the hills that rise quite rapidly from the bay, down below.

Repulse Bay, by the way, is one of the tonier areas of Hong Kong Island. Lots of managers and well-paid expats live in the area. Which is far less crowded than the main strip of Hong Kong, and has grand views and bigger apartments. (The down side is the time it takes to commute to your job, presumably on the north side of the island.)

We went by some houses that were not only sprawling and gated, but sprawling, gated and protected by a security guard.

Eventually, we decided we needed a cab driver’s help, and as it turned out the area was filled with the little red-and-silver cars.

It was a good thing we did, because the Church of All Nations, as it calls itself, is up a steep road. It would have been quite unpleasant to walk up, even if the temperature were a “chilly” 68 degrees.

We were there a full hour before the service started. We looked around the neighborhood a bit and marveled at the “enormous” family rooms we could see in some of the apartments (Maybe 400 square feet! For one room! Almost unthinkable, in HK!)

We went inside at about 6:15. It is a handsome church, but not big. Nothing can be really big, in that terrain; too vertical. But it can seat perhaps 200 people, which turned out to be a good size for the turnout they had — which was mostly Western and, of course, English-speaking. I was glad I wore a tie, because the congregation was quite well-dressed. I rued, however, wearing the jeans with a little hole near the right knee — which I usually consider to give the jeans character, but among this group just looked tacky.

It was a young crowd, with lots of kids. Which was nice to see. They were well-behaved. The people were friendly. And it struck me, again, that you probably live on the south side of the island, if you are an expat exec and have kids. Because they have some room there and also because the good schools (including one affiliated with this specific church) are over there, too.

The service had most of the carols you would expect to sing (and two I didn’t know, which seemed impossible, to me), and the church offered communion, which is unusual for Lutheran churches on a day that isn’t Sunday.  And it lasted a full 90 minutes. I was glad we went.

We walked back down to the main road and, after a wait of perhaps 15 minutes, found a 6 bus heading back to the big city. It filled up with Filipina maids and nannies, who wished each other “Merry Christmas!” in English and chatted among themselves.

We got off the bus at the second-to-last stop, in Central. The neighborhood is the business center of the city and was filling up with people. All sorts of police — usually impossible to find, in HK — were in the area. Which, ultimately, we deduced were there for reasons of crowd control. A Christmas Eve celebration was planned, with a concert by a band from Taiwan, and several streets had been roped off to vehicular traffic.

We were headed in another direction, to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, which was serving food all night, and where we knew we could find something we like and not have to worry about the place shutting down around us at 10 — which would be the case in nearly any Chinese restaurant.

We each had a flute of champagne. Leah had a half-pound burger, with fries. I had beef Stroganov on a bed of rice. We both were surprised/fascinated by how big the portions seemed. Not because they were, certainly not by American standards, but because we have had three months of small portions, little meals, and it suddenly seemed as if we had a huge amount of food.

The staff at the FCC was massively polite and helpful, as always, and we sat in the bar area and looked around to see who else might be so displaced on Christmas Eve as to wind up in the FCC. It wasn’t crowded, but there were a few people in there. Far from home and loved ones, presumably.

I had a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert, something called Karamel-Sutra, which was quite nice, but represented a serious splurge. It was 24 HK dollars, or about $3.50. That’s a lot of money for food, on this island. Outside of the big hotels and major eateries, anyway.

And that was it. We walked back downhill to the subway, which was bringing in ever more people to the street festivities. (Which, frankly, I didn’t know about until I researched it this morning.) They are doing the same sort of thing on New Year’s Eve, so we might be back, in a week.

I got a mini-iPod –a shuffle — as a gift, which is quite nice. It is impossibly small, however. At the rate I lose things, I wonder how long I’ll have it.

I crashed out at about midnight. I was just wiped. I didn’t intend to sleep for six hours … but I did. While Leah worked for on her overnight shift.

And now it is Christmas Day. A work day, for me. I leave for the office at 1:30 p.m.  For the first time in my life, Christmas is over for me while it is just getting cranked up for everyone else — because it’s already the afternoon, here in China.

I will be interested to see what is closed. Aside from banks, I imagine not much. If 90 percent of the people here aren’t Christians, I imagine most everything will be open, even if it is a legal holiday. (As is tomorrow, Boxing Day.)

So, yes, I missed being in SoCal and around family for Christmas. But, as at Thanksgiving, we pieced together a day that blunted the edge of feeling isolated. And, again, it strikes me that this is the strangest Christmas I have experienced. Or am likely to experience.

Hello to everyone back home. Hope you have a merry Christmas, as well.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 mmrcpa // Dec 25, 2008 at 12:00 PM

    The trick with the shuttle is to keep it clipped to your clothing or in the plasticbox it comes in. I use it every M-W-F when I work out at St.B’s. Very compact and unobtrusive except in your ears.
    You canskip the rap music Dan put on it for me.

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