Romancing in Hong Kong

With its skyscrapers and glass facades, we perceive Hong Kong as a business destination. But, hidden in its nooks and corners Sathya Saran has discovered the romantic side of this wonderful city

There is nothing romantic about struggling up a steep slope. No one else I meet on Bowen Road seems to think so either. The street winds up the hill that leads past apartment blocks and small garden spaces to what is called Lovers’ Rock. Most are joggers bent on the task of putting one foot after another with concentrated precision as they rush past you with glazed eyes.

It is my first evening in Hong Kong [HK], after a night spent partly at the airport waiting to board a post-midnight flight and the rest cramped in an aircraft seat meant strictly for size-zero models. And now, every step is a punishment.

Just ahead of me, hands linked, the couple I am with on this trip are... well, not exactly tripping along... but showing more alacrity than I am capable of.

Chance, circumstance and the Hong Kong Tourism Board have conspired to get them to experience the city together and, as the line goes, they are ‘lovin it’.

Revisiting Hong Kong

Not so long ago, Durjoy Datta wrote a story on demand. When asked to set it in HK he agreed quite happily, as it meant exploring the city to decide which places would fit best into the plot. The romance novel Hold My Hand went on to become quite a hit with young readers.

So when a tall, pretty young professional named Avantika, who lives in Dubai, met Delhi-based Durjoy for the first time on an assignment in HK, the inevitable happened.

Here they were, once again, walking hand in hand. They were oblivious to everything including the nagging jetlag, to reach up to a place called Lovers’ Rock. Lovers, as you know, do these things.

Praying for a ‘rock-solid’ relationship

The Lovers’ Rock that stands tall, jutting out of a cluster that holds it in place, has a story. Obviously, since its discovery in the late 18th century, the rock has been found to possess the power to help in matters of the heart. So single men and women [mainly women, I discover] pray here for a good marriage. Married couples too seek its blessing for better understanding, and couples in love seek the favour of their ever-after being truly happy.

The edge of the road, where the steps to the rock begin, displays signs of incense stalls and other offerings, but the sellers have packed up and gone back to their evidently happy homes. Spending days on end in the shadow of the rock must surely ensure that!

Our lovers climb the steps and lucky to find a half-burnt incense stick, light it to say a prayer. Others, more demanding, have even tied wine bottles to nearby trees to ask for progeny. Covered in some red paste, with paper flags waving gaily in the evening breeze, the Rock stands unmoved. It gives no indication of having noticed our presence. But the evening mists are already rising, veiling the twinkling lights of the city spread below in a gentle haze, and even the dog walkers and the huffing-puffing runners we meet on the way down cannot dispel the soft mood that seems to have crept up and enveloped us.

Once in the bus, ensured of a happy ever-after, the couple lean into each other and give in to jetlagged slumber.

Seven sisters: the immortal matchmakers

Also mandatory for people in love is a visit to the Seven Sisters Temple. We take the ferry, which heaves us across seas that threaten to become choppy any minute, and get off at the island of Peng Chau. It is a village walk that takes us this time through winding, narrow roads lined with small shops selling the stuff of daily life, and then through leaf-lined avenues to finally reach the temple.

Perched on a rock, the tiny temple is obviously much revered. According to legend, the temple is also linked to the Chinese Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated in its premises. There is a sweet story about the Chinese Valentine’s Day that bears repetition. The story I hear is that the two stars Altair and Vega are actually a mortal cowherd and a goddess weaver who unfortunately fell in love and were cruelly separated on either
side of the Milky Way. But on Chinese Valentine’s Day, magpies take pity on the star-crossed pair and form a temporary bridge for them to be united.

The Seven Sisters have many roles to play, including helping their devotees find love. Part of finding a good husband involved, in the era before readymade garments, necessary proficiency in needlework. Hence, the goddesses were also approached by young women to aid them better their needlecraft.

Avantika’s carefully selected wardrobe shows no evidence of needing any prowess on her part in needlework but she plays safe and lights a stick of incense to ensure the wooden deities inside the temple notice her presence. A pair of stones shaped like two halves of a bean seed hold the story that if they fall in such a way that one faces up and the other down, the person whose hand throws them will have a good relationship. What they revealed to our lovers, I choose to keep secret.

The gaily painted wooden temple and the wooden statue within it, which was reportedly found by the original owner when he was out fishing one day, are quiet during our visit. However, on festival day the place is full of young women and couples who want children, lighting incense sticks and making offerings.

Love on high

But HK is not only temples and secluded romantic spots. Young couples also take rides on the steep, gravity-defying tram car that toils upwards to The Peak. Here, they can cuddle up and watch the city lights come on, or sit down to a romantic dinner in one of the fine-dining restaurants on top. Many newly weds prefer to use the backdrop of The Peak for their wedding photographs. Even as our young couple poses for photos under a pagoda in the lovely terraced garden on the slopes, I watch a newly-wed couple leaving the place, the bride’s train trailing behind her in the
soft grass.

Also on the agenda for the young is the new panorama light-and-sound experience, which offers an uplifting 15-minute look at the city and its sights, sounds and history. All the while, the wind blows through your hair and the smell from the food stalls floats invitingly in the air. The trendy imagery and the novelty of the projection that lasts 15 minutes is often the precursor to an evening of romance, all other requirements being conducive, of course.

Gliding through the city

Incidentally, HK probably has the longest escalator in the world; it goes up and down in a continuous undulating movement, carrying office goers, shoppers and tourists like me along endless levels of streets. While I explore its passage through old HK, the lovers are exploring their old haunts... Durjoy is leading Avantika through Pottinger Street, Arbuthnot Street and the Old Central Police Station Compound, with their historical buildings that whisper of a time gone past. These are some of the lanes where the story of Hold My Hand is set. And of course, when I catch up with them, they are infused with the romance of the old city and are at the moment, you guessed it—holding hands!

This was first published in the December 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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