Thursday, February 08, 2007

Terrapin Station
As I've noted previously on probably too many occasions that in Hong Kong I essentially live in a shopping mall.

Called Telford Gardens (the "Gardens" description is sheer fiction, as there is more greenery in the produce section of its Park n Shop grocery store than in the complex itself) it's a soul-killing combo of 25-year old high rise apartments and shopping center. It's also comfortably numb as one could conceivably spend the rest of their life within its borders and never want for essentials.

A doctors' clinic (western and Chinese medicine), Chinese and western drug stores, a satellite college, primary and high school, dentist, post office, travel agencies, three banks, laundry, tacky gaudy jewelry stores, birds nest stores, opticians, book store, shoe repair, CD/DVD outlet, a neck ties-only store, the usual mall clothing/bling-bling chains, an Ikea, two 7-Elevens, one Circle K, Ruby Tuesday, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, dim sum restaurants, etc ad nauseum world without end, amen, it's all here.

Also inside the mall -- like the rest of Hong Kong's ceaseless efforts to needlessly subsidize its bloated construction industry -- the tear down, build up clatter of jackhammers and drills virtually never ceases as businesses come and go and the mall owner (the Metro Transit Railway; it's also a subway stop) finds new ways to vacu-suck HK$ from shoppers and tenants.

These efforts frequently involve seasonal themes. In November-January it was a Disney Christmas, minus any Christs or Santas or even Mickey. Just large grotesque pastel displays of Assorted Disney Babes amid tinsel and plastic Christmas trees in a co-promotion with HK Disneyland and its attendant charm school, something called "The Academy of Princesses." Young, wealthy HK females ages 3-16 could sign up to learn western-style table manners and make-up skills for the equivalent of one year's college tuition. JonBenet Ramsey would've loved it, I thought.

This month it's become increasingly bizarre. Chinese New Year is looming (Year of the Pig) and the mall has been transformed into an approximation of a traditional Chinese village if it was constructed from gold colored foam and plastic by a schizophrenic. It comes complete with an "outdoor market" set-up with vendors selling overpriced New Year crapola from prefab stalls.

The irony is that an authentic outdoor market selling basically the same goods for about half the cost is only a 10 minute walk from the fake one. But it's not air conditioned, smells funny and there's no FCUK or U2 outlet two steps away.

Which is why I have come increasingly appreciate the Chinese sport of Turtle Gazing. The one natural attribute Telford Gardens sports outside the mall is a large artificial pond, complete with tasteful bridge, stocked with dozens of box turtles.

The terrapins and water are real, though the "rocks" they clamber on to stretch their wrinkled inscrutable heads towards the sun were probably originally the result of an industrial accident or a NASA byproduct.

Save rainy days, the pond is ringed with onlookers, old men and women in traditional padded cotton jackets with their hands clasped behind their backs, children in British-style school uniforms, Filipina "domestic helpers" as the underpaid, exploited nanny/maid wage slaves are termed here, with their young charges, couples -- mostly middle aged -- all watching the turtles do absolutely nothing except sun themselves.

Occasionally one or two will flop off of the rocks for a swim or try to slowly clamber up over its brethren already stacked like upside down plates in a gently sloping staircase arrangement.

It took me awhile to get it, but more often as I'm hustling to the ATM or the laundry I find myself stopping to do nothing but sit and watch the turtles do the same.

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