Hong Kong - I'm descending the world's longest outdoor escalator, and oddly enough, it's not part of a whimsical dream. I'm sweating in Hong Kong on a solo exploration through the Central district, a sense-taunting fusion of swarming colour, jabbering crowds, cutting-edge couture and corporate panache.
Humidity soaks my pores and bright sun massages my limbs, which smart from my jaunt through the incessantly sloping streets. Partially flanking Victoria Peak, the roads of Central are slanted. High-priced architecture and voguish design sprout from the jaggedly crumbling cement.
On the ironically named Hollywood Road, I detour from the escalator and join the street's congestion. Across from a modern business building and a New York Fitness outlet, a man grins under the awning of an antique shop. Red-painted wood frames its doors and displays, which spill onto the sidewalk on folding metal tables and cardboard boxes. Laminated photos of dancing Shanghai girls are stacked amidst cartons of Mao Zedong playing cards, tarnished brass trinkets and Buddhist statuettes.
My eyes absorb the spread as I round the crooked corner, following my curiosity toward the markets of Graham Street. Sharp Cantonese shouts announce the sale of fresh bulk eggs, and sour piles of durian fruit attack my nostrils. My sandal-clad feet meet puddles of spilled fruit juice and red fish blood. An emaciated kitten crosses my path, weaving between the legs of ramshackle vegetable stands.
Seafood stalls display an array of wet silver fish, hearts still throbbing and alarmed eyeballs dancing. The pungent smell of the sea blends with that of fresh watermelon and glowing clementines.
At a junction of crowded alleys, I randomly take a right and make my way to a clearing called Lyndhurst Terrace. As the world's longest outdoor escalator filters the overhead sun, the shiny Dublin Jack pub faces a humble wooden kiosk overflowing with bananas.
A tiny woman with a weathered face and two long braids sits amidst the piles of greenish-yellow produce. Overlooking the clearing, apartment buildings drip with air conditioners, damp laundry and hanging flowerpots.
Everything is crowded. Noise buzzes from all directions as the escalator hums, an Italian restaurant plays music, traffic screeches from the street below and a man in a paper hat calls out advertisements for fruit juice.
I advance to his window and gaze past the red counter. Colourful posters of mango slushies and kiwi fruit plaster the walls that surround a stack of tall green sugar cane. Machines grind behind the cashier, and the resulting juices emit a decadent aroma of liquid sugar. I exchange a $5 coin for a plastic cup of strawberry concoction and continue down the sloping pavement to the rushing traffic below.
Queen's Road greets me as I reach the heart of Central. Beneath bank offices and boutiques, a wizened character hawks wristwatches on the sidewalk, his eyes jumping, on the lookout for approaching policemen.
A barrelling wooden cart suddenly emerges through the fidgeting crowd. The garbage collection cart, pushed aggressively by an ancient woman who's barely tall enough to reach my shoulder, threatens to demolish any lazy pedestrian. Back hunched and face scowling, the woman displays determination. A round woven rice paddy hat balances precariously upon her grey head.
Strolling further, I spot a temple lit with incense prayer sticks squeezed amidst glitzy bars and glamorous restaurant patios. Within this world of strange opposites, my amazed head spins. I bend to rest on a curb and then realize I'm invading another business property. I swiftly escape from the wary eye of a jewellery seller and lose myself again in the thrill of the chaos.