As I stood on the sidewalk and looked inside the store, I thought of that old song How much is the doggy in the window? Some of the goldfish in the tanks in the window looked pretty darned expensive to me. Shopping in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong is always done with care, especially when dealing with goldfish. I pointed to one tank in which swam a monster as large as a lobster. “How much is that one?”
Hong Kong is the shopping capital of the universe, and Kowloon is the district where you want to go for real bargains. Nathan Road is the main thoroughfare, one long strip of consumer insanity featuring the world’s greatest selection of high tech electronic goodies, clothing, jewellery, custom made suits and other essentials to the happiness of mankind, but it was guppies I was after. For that, you need to go to Goldfish Street.
“You want buy fish?” asked the incredulous shopkeeper. “No,” I said, “I just want to talk to a few. Get their opinion. It’s a troubled world.”
One of the world’s busiest shopping districts, by 9 a.m. Kowloon becomes a seething mass of frantic humanity. If you do not specifically need to be there for urgent business, do not let your curiosity lead you astray. There is more pushing and shoving than a line-up for free Bruce Springsteen tickets. Small children, should they fall here, will never be seen again. But if you find yourself in the heart of Nathan Road, why not go for gold and head for the Mong Kok district? If you survive the experience, you can boast to your grandchildren about it.
Mong Kok, you see, is the future of mankind. Check it out and discover what the word overpopulation really means. Hong Kong has a population of about 7 million people; at the last census 278,400 of them lived in the two square kilometres of Mong Kok. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, at a robust 130,000 people per square kilometre, this neighbourhood has the highest population density on the entire planet. A five-minute walk down the street at morning rush hour will show you exactly what a real crowd looks like.
Mong Kok in Chinese means “flourishing busy corner” and it certainly is that. However, as is often the case in the midst of urban madness, there are sweet and gentle places of refuge worth finding when your stress levels go into red alert. Like Goldfish Street. Here you will discover an entire street dedicated to the art of goldfish collecting. Hey, if you lived in an apartment of 200 square feet and shared it with your extended family, you wouldn’t have a rottweiler for a pet either. A tiny orange fish is just what you need.
Should you survive rush hour on Nathan Road, make tracks to Tung Choi Street North. You’ll find the goldfish market opens in time for lunch. Goldfish shoppers like to feed their fish before they get cranky. The fish, that is. Dozens of shops sell tropical goldfish in glass aquariums, one shop following right after another. Some shopkeepers even put baby goldfish in small plastic bags and hang them outside on the wall, like penny candy. It’s like a 7/11, only you are not supposed to eat the product.
“Can you take a photo of me with the fish, together?” I asked the shopkeeper. “A conversation with a guppy is a travel memento well worth recording.”
After your passion for small carp has subsided, stroll a few blocks on to Flower Street. Every morning deliveries of fresh flowers from around the world arrive by truck. The fragrance is overwhelming, heady, aromatic, a little slice of paradise in the urban jungle.
Travellers looking for the ultimate in serenity should venture on to Yuen Po Street, or Bird Street as the locals call it. It’s a small park, trim and neat, full of elderly Chinese men sitting, chatting, and holding bird cages in their laps. Hundreds of birds are on display, many hanging in handcrafted wooden cages from trees. Others are being walked around, talked to, being compared to other birds, and admired. Most are tiny finches, but you’ll find a few canaries and some budgies, all chirping away sweetly. You can even buy bags of birdseed and little bugs and feed them. It’s pure bliss, but unlike guppies the canaries do talk back.
When in the midst of urban madness, it’s always good to know that such oases of peace and serenity exist, if you only know where to look.