Getting around a city in the early hours always opens up a new vista on a place. This week I am staying down on the outskirts of Chinatown (Duxton Hill to be precise) and am therefore well away from the tourist and shopping end of town. A travel “snobbery” I am happy to admit and continue to indulge. This part of the city gives you a feel for what the place used to be like, before the high rise apartments and office blocks and chic shopping centres messed with the heart of the place. Mind you Duxton hill is not what it appears either – the old shuttered houses which are so appealing are usually the home now of upmarket restaurants and very hip bars. Selling expensive drinks.
But in the early hours of the day, when it is humid and still, there is another facet to the place which is not hip and expensive but hints at the real life going on behind all the fluro signs and funky music. As I turn the corner I see the foodstall is still lit from the night before. No one is at the food counter and rubbish is scattered everywhere. An old lady sleeps with her head on her arms, slumped over the table. A man lies under another table, on his back with his sandled feet crossed and arms folded on his chest. Akin a knight carved in repose on his coffin. Cats stalk around them both, stumpy tails erect and alert for the next tidbit. The swimming complex next door stands silent and empty and probably has been for some time. Signs warning us not to feed the cats are pinned above crumbling concrete.
By now I am slowing down in the heat and am relieved to turn the corner and see a 7-11 lights flicker on. I am her first customer and buy water. Most of these stores seem to be owned by Indians. This one is very sleepy and is slow to find the change. I was in no rush. I wander out into the dark and am surprised to see a boy, about twelve years old, in his school uniform, wandering along reading a book as he went. I watched him walk down to the bus stop and sit down. An early start for him. While I watch I hear the scratching slide of a straw broom start sweeping. Then another. I can’t see anyone up the street – it is still deserted but these are the first signs of life apart from the cats.
A guard slumped in a plastic chair next to the Buddhist temple gives me a cheery wave and a “good morning”. I reply in kind. He is a young Indian fellow – seems these are the folk out and about the most at this hour of the day. The temple is closed but from the highest set of shutters in a house across the road from its red tiled roof I hear what sounds like Christian hymns being sung. I wonder what religious contest is going on here? Around the corner and down the road there is a small crowd gathered outside the Hindu temple and I can hear the intoned chants of the faithful inside. More cats watch this place than the other places of worship and I suspect they have their eye on any stray offerings.
More kids pass me reading their books and heading to bus stops. It is only 6.30 by now but they are now being joined by the elderly, clutching plastic bags and shuffling down to the stops as well. I wonder where they are heading? I start angling back to the hotel. Sparrows are starting to chatter and fight among themselves in the branches overhead which means they must be able to detect some light on the horizon though it still looks dark to me.
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