I was fortunate enough last week to take a four day trip to Hong Kong. Once part of the British Empire, having become a colony during the Opium War of 1839-42 (briefly part of the Empire of Japan during WWII), it was returned to China in 1997, becoming a Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong celebrates that day on July 1. The same day as Canada celebrates its own nationhood. My journey there was uneventful. I flew Hong Kong Airlines and had been led to expect something along the lines of EasyJet. How false that proved as I settled into a plush new Airbus 330-300 with the biggest HD seat back screens I’d ever seen in cattle class. It even had e-book options. Given the flight was just over 2hours, there seemed little point in watching anything, but the breakfast meal wasn’t bad, the legroom was good and the service very friendly. I’d recommend anyone use them.
Arriving in Hong Kong means a 25-min Express train shuttle from the airport. Forget taking a taxi as they’ll set you back a few hundred HK$; instead walk out of Immigration and for HK$180 get a return trip on a super smooth, clean and luxurious shuttle train straight into Hong Kong’s downtown. The thing even had carpets! From there it was a free bus around the corner and onto the very last of the flat lands between the waterfront and the vertical climb that is Hong Kong Island. A business hotel, a case of a refurbished set of apartments, with a free mini-bar. Ideal really, and a few minutes walk away from Queen’s Road Central. My first impressions were of forest of skyscrapers. Precious space means everything is just built up. Yet this isn’t the clean grid of New York. No, it’s as though someone has drawn a UK-esque higgledy-piggledy maze of twisty streets just wide enough for two cars and then dumped Manhattan on it.
Like Bangkok, 7-11 is the convenience store of choice. Unlike Bangkok, this place is a homage to all things consumerist. The glut of stores, malls, restaurants is an orgy of excess that surprised me. It is, on average, not as hot as Bangkok, but it is more humid. As such you move from indoor mall to mall. They are massive. Easy to get lost. One moves from level to level, crosses major arterial roads, hops into the next. You can walk a few kilometres and never see the sun. If you’re bored with the shops on four levels you can go to the top of pretty much any tower. I managed to get to the 69th floor of one such place. The view is impressive:
To my chagrin no day was clear enough to see for miles, but you get the idea.
One evening I decided to hop on the Ferry from the Central Pier (no 2) straight across the water where it was even more shopping. The Harbour mall had an entire level dedicated to children-ware. You want clothes for your baby from Gucci, Versace, Armani, Prada, etc.? You’ll get it here. When I stepped off the boat there was a runway with a heaving mass of people about ten deep eagerly awaiting the arrival of some superstar. Above the heads of all the excited residents of Hong Kong was a undulating light-show of IPads and Samsung Galaxies as people used them like a periscope to see what was happening in front of them. Being a 6ft+ farang I was able to see over the top of most of them. I spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out if Brad Pitt had turned up, eventually realizing it was someone from Hong Kong’s equivalent of Pop Idol (I think). So I sauntered off, vacating a space for an excited fan who genuinely cared about seeing said superstar.
What I did find interesting was a block or so in. There was an allusion to Hong Kong’s past with its Time Ball, akin to the observatory in Greenwich. A mish-mash of colonial style hotel, twisting staircase to a tree, a ship’s mast and an old mechanism for the ball itself all corralled into a tiny corner surrounded by the glare of upmarket designer shops. Whilst I wandered around it there were no fewer than four camera crews taking shots of elegantly dressed couples for some glossy magazines. It reminded me somewhat of Singapore, of the Raffles Hotel. But, I was killing time because at 20:00 local there was a laser show from the array of skyscrapers which I was told was impressive. I hung around by the water edge; it began, then I prudently decided to catch the ferry back. Being out on the water gives a silence that allowed me to enjoy the show. I can also recommend you catch a ferry across the Hudson at night if you are ever in New York. An awesome sight.
On my way back across the bay I took this video of the laser light show. Forgive the bumpy nature of the video – there were some swells for the ferry to bounce along on the 10 minute ride.
On one of the evenings we went to the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Noted for being the benefactor and general philanthropist of all things Hong Kong, the Happy Valley race course boasts weekly horse racing. The evening we went proved to be ten or so races over 1000m<>2200m. Usually about 12 horses per race, it was a case of buffet, beer and some low-cost betting to while away a humid evening. With a minimum HK$50 stake and friendly staff on hand to explain to novices like me how best to go about losing your cash, it wasn’t bad. I’m not one for horse racing, per se. The noble “sport of kings” never quite impinged on my consciousness. In fact I have only two stories of note about the entire activity in my lifetime:
The first being that when I was eight and my brother six we were taken to Ascot for racing where we both allowed to put 10p on six races (this was the early 80s!). I won precisely nothing; my brother picked six horses with “nice names” and each horse won. Incredible. He won £7.20 (the fact I remember this precise amount decades later show how galled I was) which kept him in sweets for weeks. The other is the fact that an uncle relative of mine (who was a rabid horse racing enthusiast) passed away scant hours before the 1992 Grand National having place a fairly massive bet on Party Politics. He never got to see the success of his venture. Given the starting price was 14/1 it was a fantastic win.
The only other thing of note about Hong Kong for me on the trip was the fact it is built on a cliff. Everywhere you go is either an uphill struggle or a downhill slip. At one point you can use a thirteen tier escalator to move up the hillside. Each tier is about 100m long. If you’re born and bred here strong leg muscles is a fact of life. Couple that with the humidity and I am surprised less people from this city are Olympic winners in something, anything. Of course, the city has so much more to offer. I drove past a fascinating cemetery on a hill. Unlike the forgotten ones in a previous blog in Bangkok these are well cared for and begged me to stop. I couldn’t. A fast photo is in the slideshow below. Then there is Disney World, the outlying islands, all kind of trekking and much, much more. It means I’ve suggested to the Diplomat that we all go there together if we can. A place worth ticking off, though perhaps not a place to bring up a child. Bangkok is bad for pushchairs given the mogul, slalom-esque nature of their pavements. Hong Kong is a city in a few sq km with over 6 million inhabitants. You simply can’t move a pushchair on the flats, let alone up the massive acclivity.
That was pretty much it for three days given I was working. I did bump into a old friend of mine at the Check in Desks which are located In-Town. Yes, you can check your luggage into the airport in town, then go enjoy yourself and make your own way to the airport later. What a great idea. Given I hadn’t seen this person for about three years it was a good two minute catch up. It’s times like these that I’d like to see a map of every path taken by two people drawn on the globe, seeing where the lines wiggle all over the place until they converge – briefly – again on a single spot. Fate can be an odd mistress. If I hadn’t been delayed on the escalator, or back tracked just there, or decided to go left rather than right, our paths would not have crossed. Anyway, I am drifting…
Here are some photos of my time in Hong Kong. If you’ve ever got the opportunity to go visit, I’d encourage it. Lots to see…and I got to eat in two great restaurants. Food’s excellent and culturally diverse – as you’d expect.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?
oh….before I forget. I did locate something Canadian whilst in Hong Kong. Not much but it was good to see 😉