The city that never sleeps

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February 28th 2016
Published: February 28th 2016
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No, I am not talking about the New York City. In the past, I roamed around the lower and upper Manhattan in odd hours in the night with my friends and Suman, my future wife. We circled in the Central Park, hung around in the Greenwich Village tasting their famous onion rings, landed in the dark alleys of Harlem in the middle of the night. Yes, those were my fun days from the yesteryears. And that’s when we came to know that the New York City never sleeps. But I am not talking about the New York City here; that’s the story for another day. It’s another city that stands in the opposite side of the globe, and I found it also never sleeps. You got it! It’s Hong Kong.

I was flying to Hong Kong from Calgary after a scheduled change in Seattle. I met a colleague of mine, Jeff, in the plane from Calgary to Seattle. We hung around in the Pike Place market in Seattle until it was time to check-in for our Delta flight to Hong Kong. I have been to Hong Kong several times, either due to my work or just for connecting to flights to India or to South East Asia. For the last few years, I have been flying to Hong Kong as it is a convenient travel hub. Tickets to Hong Kong from Calgary are often cheap. Usually, I purchase a cheap flash sale ticket to Hong Kong from Calgary at roughly CDN $400-$550 return, all inclusive. I think that is a ‘wow’ kind of deal which only lasts for half a day max! Then from Hong Kong, I travel wherever I want to.

Hong Kong

The Delta flight landed in Hong Kong international airport around 9:00 pm. I have a flight next day morning to Kuala Lumpur. I haven’t booked any hotel for the night stay in Hong Kong. With several years of travel experience in Hong Kong, I thought – what the heck, I know my co-ordinates here; I’ll find some place to stay. Soon I found that was a stupid idea.

Jeff asked me, “Do you have a place to stay for the night?”

“Nop, I’ll find something”, I said confidently.

“Why don’t you come along with me, I have booked a hostel in Kowloon, you may find something there”, Jeff suggested. Not a bad idea, I thought. “Ok, let’s go”. And there we went. Together, we took the Airport Express and after two changes, we reached Kowloon in the late evening. With my small luggage, I followed Jeff and took the elevator to the top floor in one of the typical high rise buildings, searching for a night stay in the hostel. Jeff didn’t have any problem getting a room as he already had the reservation. But no extra room for me. “I could sleep in the corridor if you just get me a folding cot”, I said in desperation to the girl in the front desk..

“No Sir, we can’t do that…not the rule”, the front desk girl told me in a flat voice.

“Look, I have no place to go, can you arrange something”, my desperation was turning to a panic at that point.

“Sorry Sir, can’t do it”, she said. I looked at her face and I realized she was not joking. And she does not have any sign of mercy on her face either. I gave out a sigh ,”typical big city problem”, I murmured. I figured, it’s time for the plan-B.

“Well, would you know if there is any other place I could stay for the night”?

“Try, the 6th floor”

I came down to the sixth floor taking the elevator. A closed heavy oak door says, “Sandhu hotel”. I pressed the bell. Nothing happened. I waited for a minute and pressed again. No response. I banged the door few times, still nothing happened. I tried to see through the pip-hole if anyone is inside. I could see a portion of the front desk but no one at the desk. I glanced at my watch. It’s past eleven. That means it is closed. I came down taking the elevator. Hundreds of people are still streaming on the street. The traffic is still busy like the rush hour. In Hong Kong, stairs from most of the high rise buildings end up on the side walk. I sat down on the last step of the stairs and started to think what to do. It’s more than twenty four hours since I woke up at 4:00 am in Calgary, almost missed my flight and rushed, and here I am, tired and hungry sitting on a sidewalk and probably planning to sleep here for the night. I don’t know many hotels in that area of Kowloon and I have no energy to look for one. I think I dozed off for a while with my body leaning on the luggage. Suddenly, I woke up with a nudge. Crap! Two cops were hovering over me. “Sir, you can’t sleep here”. Not a friendly voice, I noted.

“Do you know any hotel, close by”, I asked hoping they might guide me.

“No we don’t, but you can’t sleep here on the sidewalk”. Bloody hell! I wanted to tell them, “how about you take me to your home. I could use your bed…you are on the night duty anyway”. But I figured that arranging a bail-out from the jail would not be that quick if I propose this option and most likely I would miss my connecting flight next morning. So, I picked up my luggage and walked around a bit aimlessly. It was almost midnight. No, the city certainly does not go to sleep. God knows where all these people are traveling so late in the night. And the shops are still open. I decided to go back to the airport for two reasons; first, I could crash on a bench and no cop would dare to wake me up. Second, I will be stationed in my home base, the airport, - so I could sleep a bit longer…less chance that I would miss my connecting flight. I went to the nearest MRT station and boarded the train. It’s well past midnight, but I could not get a sit. When I reached to the airport after two station changes, it’s almost 1:00 am. There I was! Three and half hours later after I landed in Hong Kong, I was still looking for a place to crash. I should have stayed back here in the first place instead of going all the way to Kowloon. What a stupid idea! I cursed Jeff for dragging me to Kowloon. But then, why curse Jeff? It’s my fault more than anyone else. So, why don’t I blame myself rather than blaming others? Why didn’t I book a place before coming here? My macho sentiment overriding the logistics and suggesting that I know my coordinates in Hong Kong better than others has landed me into this mess. I was looking for a suitable corner to crash. Suddenly I recalled, there are airport hotels in the lounge that rent rooms in an hourly basis. Bingo! A small cubicle, but equipped with bed and a bathroom. What else do I need? Bit expensive, but I pay only for four hours anyway. Why didn’t I think this before? What a dumb idea it was to look for a place in Kowloon in the late hours. By the time I jumped on the bed it was around 2:00 am. Four hours of quality sleep that’s all I need.

Lessons learned, for me: Do not travel to a place without having an arrangement where to sleep at night, especially when I am arriving in late hours. And don’t act macho! It does not pay.

Hong Kong on the way back

It was 23rd December when I arrived in Hong Kong from Kolkata, India on my way back to Calgary. It was around 10:00 am. Perhaps, I have plenty of time to look for a hotel, right? Oh, no!.…I learned my lesson. So, I booked in Best Western before leaving Kolkata. Merrily, I took the Airport Express again, but this time to the Hong Kong Island. When the train almost reached the final destination, I looked for my cell phone in my pocket. No cell phone. I checked my hand bag upside down. No trace of the phone. What the hell did I do with the phone? I remember buying a SIM in the airport. Oh God, I remembered now. I left it in the hand trolley! I forgot to put it in the pocket after changing the SIM. Great! What a great start of the day! The train slowed down and stopped at the station. I got down from the train, used my return ticket to board a train back to the airport. Another stupid idea! After 30 minutes I reached at the airport, and I hurried down from the train as if the cell phone was waiting for me in the platform to be picked up. Hundreds of trolleys are parked in the station. I started looking into the trolleys. One trolley, two trolleys and soon I realized I am looking for a needle in a haystack.

“What are you looking for, Sir”, a maintenance lady asked me.

“Well, I left my cell phone in the trolley”

“When, just now”? She asked

“No, about an hour ago”,

She laughed and looked at me as if I am an idiot, and probably she was right. “Sir, go to the lost and find and report it there. There is no chance you would find it here. It’s gone”. At that moment, I also knew that very well. Later, I purchased a cell phone from a store near my hotel.

The lunch was an experience

I was hungry after the cell phone ordeal. After check-in, I planned to go to the restaurant adjacent to the hotel lobby. I waited there for ten minutes. There are people swarming in the restaurant, so the waiters/waitresses had no time for a lone patron. As such Hong Kong residents love to eat outside; then it’s near the Christmas time. So, it was a fish market. Finally, I could draw attention to one waitress.

“A place for one, Sir?” she asked me. I nodded my head heavily so that I don’t lose her attention. I need food! She took me to a single table near the kitchen where one person was already eating. She asked me to sit on a chair opposite to the man, and disappeared. I turned my face in the other direction…it’s awkward to glance at someone who is having food. After few moments, the waitress returned with a table cloth. I was a bit surprised. The table already has a table cloth. However, I was not prepared for the next step. She rolled my end of the existing table cloth towards the middle, and created a kind of DMZ in the middle of the table with the rolled end. Then she laid out half of the new table cloth on my side of the table, again leaving the other end of the roll in the same DMZ. There is now clearly a ‘You and I’ divide zone on the table that defined me as a different customer than my counterpart. What a novel idea! Was it necessary? Perhaps not; but maybe that’s the way it is in Hong Kong. I wish I was carrying my camera!

The waitress took my order and disappeared. I waited for twenty minutes and no one showed up with food. I got hold of another waiter but he could not understand English. At that point, the starvation was hitting my brain. I stood up and went straight inside the kitchen which was not too far from where I was sitting.

“Where is my food?” I demanded to the first person whom I met in the kitchen.

“Uh, what food”, the person asked.

“My food, the food that I ordered”, I was getting annoyed.

“We don’t have your food”, a terse reply came back in broken English. I felt like jumping up and down. But I realized, I have to work it out with him, because he is the only one I found who probably can save me from starvation. So, I explained from the menu what I ordered…simple fried rice and a chicken dish. Within a minute, he took a plate and poured food on the plate from two big pots. Done, in a minute! And I waited at my table twenty minutes for this to happen!

Christmas Eve

Well, not quite. But close. 23rd is as good as the Christmas Eve, as far as the festivity is concerned. My flight to Seattle was not until tomorrow noon time. So, I had all the time in the world to watch the festive season in Hong Kong. I booked a dinner cruise and a bus tour of Hong Kong. I have seen much of Hong Kong in my earlier trips, so there was nothing in particular that I was interested in seeing, other than the lights and Christmas decors. I sat down with my camera on the open top double deck bus. It was a cold evening and the wind was blasting on my face as the bus was traveling. I must say that my Canadian experience helped me to cope with it. I wrapped myself up properly and watched the city in light. It was gorgeous! It was a great tour through Kowloon, Night market and finally, to Victoria Harbour, where we boarded the cruise. It is probably the same dinner cruise that I have taken in the past a number of times. But today was special. The food was the same, but the sight was not. The Christmas light decoration on the tall buildings near the shore line was amazing. Twinkling LEDs on the large bill-boards, reindeer with Santa waving and wishing everyone Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings made me nostalgic…my mind raced to a far away land, covered with a blanket of soft white snow and dotted with evergreens. That’s Canada, my home.

My mind drifted to the Canadian landscape where the vast Rocky Mountain stood in the blue horizon, blanketed with a white shawl of freshly fallen snow. I could see that the colourful Christmas lights are now decorated in every house in my neighbourhood, lights twinkling from the tree branches in the front lawns and the roofs. Air is crisp and still in the cold winter evenings. Soft snow was covering every street and the porches; fireplaces are lit in the houses and the sweet burning smell of the logs was spreading in the still, cold air. While walking on the street, I loved smelling the sweet burning pine logs. I wanted to take a deep breath to absorb that smell in my entire body. The Spruce and the juniper branches are dressed up with the flowers of white snow-balls like the cherry-blossoms in the spring. The Christmas trees are decorated inside the houses, the jingle bells ringing from the tree branches and a soft, white star was glowing from the top of each Christmas tree. The children are getting ready to welcome Rudolph the reindeer and Santa riding the sleigh. A faint glow from the distant Northern light is dimly spread over the vast universe of the winter wonderland. I wanted to come home.

It was a long, lonely flight that brought me back to my home in the winter wonderland. It was 24th December. And I was happy to be home.

Additional photos below
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29th February 2016

Home is where the heart is
Absorbing blog on the edge of comfort and content but seemingly out of reach. But when you thought of home Tab, it was clear where your heart was.
29th February 2016

Home is where the heart is
Thank you for your comment, Dave. I knew I could count on you.
1st March 2016

Not for me!
Amitabha, I am never impressed with what ever I have read about busy life in HK. May be I don't have travel genes !
1st March 2016

Not for me!
I agree. I am not a big city person myself, although I grew up in one. I suppose, I find this as a convenient stop over for my connecting flights to South East Asia and India, especially when I get the cheap fares occasionally.

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