Hong Kong - If it's Thursday it must be Hong Kong

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November 8th 2018
Published: January 24th 2019
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We left Kathmandu on a Cathay Dragon flight at 11.30 pm. The flight was only 4 hours-ish long but Hong Kong is 2h 15m ahead of Nepal so day was breaking by the time we landed. Customs and Immigration were straightforward and we exited into a huge modern airport with all the bells and whistles including a shower room. Unfortunately, that was where everything stopped. The signage for the hotel shuttle bus that our research had indicated would get us into the city was either unclear or non-existent and, after some time wandering around, Steve decided it would be better just to 'park' me somewhere with our luggage until he could clarify where to go. At least, that was his explanation and I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that She Who Can't Sleep On Overnight Flights was becoming decidedly tetchy.

I've got this thing about travelling. I can be quite fearless and venture into unknown territory with excitement and wonder BUT I have to be able to see someone I know at all times. Given that I generally travel with Steve, that almost always means I have to be able to see him! So, being 'parked' in a foreign country amongst a throng of strangers, the only Western face within sight, did nothing for my equanimity! After 30 minutes my imagination started to work overtime - what if he can't remember where he left me (this is a HUGE airport!), what if he's got lost himself, what if he's broken a leg/had a heart attack/been kidnapped/run off with a local floozy (yup, I've got a really vivid imagination ...)?? I was just trying to remember what clothes Steve had been wearing in readiness for my missing person's report to the local police (I decided 'he's the spitting image of Pierce Brosnan' wouldn't be accurate enough) when I saw a pair of trousers that looked familiar descending an escalator. They weren't the trousers I would have put in my police report but they were being worn by Steve who was finally returning, 45 minutes later, with three different versions of how we should travel from the airport to the city. So, progress, of a sort.

We made our way out to the adjoining bus station and found the ticket office where a rather grumpy woman said we should get the bus the second version of the advice given to Steve indicated and get off at Stop 5. The really surly driver of that bus told us to watch the information screen when we asked if he would let us know when we got to Stop 5. No help there, then. The elderly man behind us tried to buy his ticket from the driver, who just kept refusing the money but didn't indicate that he needed to go to the ticket office first. The poor old chap eventually just stood in the aisle, presumably because he thought he wasn't entitled to a seat, not having paid for one. So off we set, with one eye on the screen watching for Stop 5 and the other on the unsteady old man in readiness for him toppling over as the driver swung the bus around the corners. No chance we might look at the views and enjoy the journey.

The gaps between the stops were quite long and the screen highlighted we were passing Stop 1, then 2, then 3, and the wobbly old man pressed the bell to get off at Stop 4. The driver's belligerence had increased during the journey and he clearly took a dislike to Stop 4 and sailed straight past it. Excuse me! Isn't that a key criterion in a bus driver's job description? 'You will need to be able to drop off and pick up passengers at designated bus stops'? The bell light was still lit for the next bus stop but it turned out that was just a lay-by and the driver seemingly didn't like the look of that one either because before we realised what had happened we were heading for Stop 6, where Doddery Old Man and two tired and disgruntled passengers were eventually allowed to alight. I was furious and ready to report the driver but Doddery Old Man just shrugged his shoulders and chuntered to the newspaper man, so I just did the same in the end.

I've got this other 'thing' about travelling. I have to get a map and a postcard of everywhere I visit. Postcards are becoming harder to find in these days of Instagram technology but maps are still freely available and I had picked one up at the airport. Worry not, I said to Steve, I have a map to work out where we are and how to get back to Stop 5! Hmmmm - maybe not. In truth, we weren't absolutely sure we had caught the right bus in the first place, we seemed to cross a lot of bridges and water on the bus journey and we were not completely certain we were even on the right island and I was now so tired I kept calling Hong Kong Singapore instead so even being in the right country was open for debate. After studying the map to no avail I decided to fall back on my people skills and ask the first person who looked vaguely European and might speak English for help. In the end I accosted a chap with fair hair and fair skin who I decided looked vaguely Swedish and would therefore speak excellent English, as they do. It turned out I was wrong on nationality but had chosen instead THE most helpful British person in the country. He just happened to live and work in Hong Kong, knew exactly where we were on the map, showed us where our hotel was and told us precisely how to get there. He even knew where the nearest taxi rank was, took the trouble to walk us round the corner to point it out, then went on his way with the warning that the drivers may not take us because we had luggage. What is it with the transport drivers in this place?! Anyhoo, we found a taxi and a driver who didn't speak any English but could read our map (see, I knew it would come in useful) and was willing to take both us and our luggage to the Ibis Hotel Central where we were eventually able to drop the cases off but were, of course, way too early to check in. We wandered down to the harbour where we had a cup of coffee and whiled away the time watching the ferry boats come and go. We were eventually able to check in to Room 3118 and I slept for about 12 hours.

We were using Hong Kong as a way-station on our travels, having previously visited about 18 years ago. There was nothing we desperately needed to see again, but we decided things might have changed a bit in the intervening years so we used the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses to refamiliarise ourselves. The HOHO tickets weren't cheap (about £48 each!) but they included three different routes so they covered the miles. Once again, the ticket process wasn't easy to figure out, but we finally exchanged our on-line voucher for an actual ticket at the Star Ferry Terminal and we were ready for off, hoping for a better experience on the buses than we had previously suffered. We spent many hours seeing all the main sights including Causeway Bay, the Exhibition Centre (currently hosting the Clockenflap event so David Byrne was in town!), Ocean Park, Repulse Bay, Stanley, Aberdeen and the tram up to the Peak but the best bit for me was catching the Star Ferry across to Kowloon, which is where we stayed on our previous visit all that time back. I decided I preferred the Kowloon experience which was teeming with my sort of stuff - markets of everything including flowers, clothes, jade, jewellery - and was less exclusive than our current hotel surroundings which had all the expensive designer shops nearby. We looked for the hotel we had stayed in all those years ago but we couldn't remember what it was called and nothing looked familiar. I seemed to recall that it had been identified as Ground Zero for the outbreak of the SARS virus (remember that?!) so wouldn't be surprised if it had changed its name, its look or had even been torn down.

Steve always asks for a room on a high floor in hotels, for the view. On this occasion our room was on the 31st floor and offered a panoramic view of ... other skyscrapers! I loved it. Hong Kong is very densely populated and people are packed in everywhere. Once again I felt like some sort of pervert as I people-watched in the nearby towers. I think there must be some sort of etiquette that dictates people don't do this kind of thing though because no-one ever drew their curtains, used nets or blinds and just got on with doing what they did in full view of anyone who cared to look! The apartments seemed a mix of very nice, exclusive and expensive condos to small, grubby and hopefully extremely cheap social housing.

It was t-shirts and shorts weather and we explored our local area on foot. Again, the streets seemed to be 'themed'. However, I was surprised to discover that the street I called Dried Fish Street really was called Dried Fish Street and many others adopted the same naming system. There were lots of cats living on Dried Fish Street looking very pleased with themselves! The dogs I saw were of the 'pampered pooch' variety and there were fewer of them but I guess if you live in a high rise and your pet needs an urgent wee then a cat is the animal of choice! I had to set aside at least 15 minutes to get down to the ground floor of our hotel, partly due to the fact that three of the four lifts only went as far as Floor 5 and then you had to change and wait all over again! I chatted with an American who said it was a system that was only confusing to Aussies and Brits - everyone else seemed to get it! Er, nope, still don't. This guy had lived and worked in Hong Kong for about 18 months as he had become afraid of the gun culture in the USA. When I told him we had fairly recently visited Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the other southern American states he said we were braver than he was as he was too scared to go there. He said he felt safe in Hong Kong.

Other things I noticed about Hong Kong:
* They drive on the left, so that was useful;
* They use the Brit-style three point electric plugs and sockets so, again, that was handy;
* They seem to have a fixation on their trams and buses, with postcards and souvenirs galore on the topic - if they could only get the drivers to embrace them as well they'd be on to a winner;
* Their fast food outlets (KFC and the like) stray from their normal menu and offer stuff like rice and mushrooms so you can pretend you're having an ethnic meal when you're not, really;
* There are Tesco shops everywhere;
* We only saw one beggar (don't know what that signifies, if anything ...)
* It is very busy, all day and all night;
* It is full of foreigners.

I have to say that all the 'native' Hong Kong people I came across were miserable and grumpy and rarely smiled. Of course, since GB handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 it has become a Special Administrative Region/Autonomous Territory of that country. They don't seem very happy about it but they should try living in Tibet, an 'autonomous region of China' and see how much they like that. I can't pretend I understand the semantics or the impact they have on the lives, but it seems to me that the Tibetans have it much harder yet seem to smile through it. Oh, and Hong Kong needs to do some staff development with the bus drivers to improve their customer service skills. Just saying ...

On the day of our departure we finally sussed the workings of this elusive airport/hotel shuttle bus and bought two tickets at our hotel. It cost about twice as much as the bus we used to get there but was half the hassle and offered door to door service without all the stress. We were soon back at the wonderful airport, ready to move on to our next destination.


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