Hong Kong/Australia Journal

Me Relaxing in Sydney Harbour

Prelude - Trip of the Year 1999 - August 20, 1999 - Hong Kong, China

Well, here I am, once again in Hong Kong, this time part of communist China which, in a way, makes me a bit leery. It does not seem to have changed much in what I have seen in the bus to Tsim Sha Tsui. Took me a bit to get here though…

The New Hong Kong International Airport

The day started, really, yesterday when I got up to go to work as normal, except this day would only last until 12:30. I have been planning this trip for quite some time since it was logistically difficult as mother is coming along with me. I had to coordinate her ticket to coincide with mine when she was leaving from Canada and I, England. It was a bit interesting but it turned out al-right.

Some people might wonder why I am actually paying for my mother's ticket but I figure that now I am making a bit of money and I owe her so much (money and lots of other things…) that she deserved a bit of a break. The tickets really were not as expensive as I might have first thought since I got them about six months ahead of time, even organizing hotels in Hong Kong and Melbourne at that time. Saved me, no doubt, lots of money. It is a vacation though…

I left work, driving home to catch a taxi to the train station, making sure that the flat was all secure. The biggest concern I have had is, would you believe it, my plants. I have no one to come in and water them so I have had to devise some way of making sure they don't die in the 2 1/2 weeks that I am away. I was thinking about syphoning water from the toilet into the bathtub (so that a constant level of water was maintained) and placing the plants in there so that their roots were always submerged but the level of the water in the toilet is too low so that would not work. Eventually I put plastic bags around the pots and put a fair amount of water in them, making sure that the bag was reasonably sealed to prevent evaporation as much as possible. I figure that will keep them for the time I am away. Funny how much effort I went through for four plants. I suppose they are the only company I have (GRIN).

The cab picked me up and it was interesting to hear from the driver that he had been stationed with the (British) army on a ship and had travelled many times to Hong Kong and the Asian region. I was really quite jealous though he complained about having to do drill all the time. He mentioned that his wife wanted to recently go on a cruise and he suggested she might go alone (GRIN).

From the station in Guildford (where I live) it is actually quite easy to get to Heathrow airport, simply catching a train to Woking and a coach (bus) to the airport itself. All in all, about a 45 minute journey. If you are familiar with what I have been up to you will know that last weekend I was on a bus to Edinburgh (a LONG trip) so you might wonder why I would want to go by bus again but really it boils down to cost and time. It was cheaper, easy and fairly quick. The bus was a LOT more comfortable than the one last weekend, with groups of four seats facing each other with a table (and a lamp!) in between. Very comfortable and even a stewardess serving free (hot) drinks.

We arrived at the airport (terminal 3 – I have never been there before) and I was very early for my flight – about 3 1/2 hours. As I got in line to check in I was approached by a representative of the airline asking if I wished to travel on a later flight, upgrading to business class. It was along the lines of, they would put me in business class on my scheduled flight however, if the flight was full, they would bump me onto the next flight about 3 hours later, again in business class and also a voucher (£10) for dinner. This was actually very tempting since I was actually scheduled to meet mother at the Hong Kong airport about 5 hours after I arrived during which time I was going to check into the hotel and then return to the airport (a 45 minute trek each way I might add). I thought about it for a few minutes and eventually relented and they took me aside and arranged everything, asking me to return about 45 minutes before the plane was to leave to see which flight I would be sent on.

So, I had a few hours to kill so I grabbed something to eat from their 'food court' (a difficult thing when pushing a baggage cart – holding a tray with cutlery and plates at the same time). Not terribly special (as to be expected from airports) and very overpriced. I did not even have enough English money on me (on purpose I might add – no need to take extra money with you if you will not have a chance to use it). After the food I found a corner to sit down in and just read for the next while…when I was called over the announcement system and, when returning to the counter I was told that I could go on my original flight, but, as you might remember, I had been changed to business class, so I arrived in Hong Kong at the original time I was supposed to arrive but I travelled in business class – worked out great.

Business class was very nice, I actually wanted to try it out on a long- haul flight like this. I have been on many short-haul flights (2-3 hours) in business class but never on a flight of about 12 hours. With the big, reclining seats (with feet rests), it is really ideal for these types of trips and I really took advantage of it. I enjoyed the personal TVs in the arm rests, the wonderful menu that was given to us and the ample leg room (making it very easy to get up and go to the toilet as often as you wanted without disturbing the person beside you - - not that I have to you understand). It truly was a wonderful way to fly. After leaving as we did at about 7 PM we were served dinner on fairly short order and then left alone to sleep for the next 5 or 6 hours, with the crew turning off the lights to make it easier to sleep. I actually did manage to sleep a bit and I must admit that the seats really made this easier to do. Oh, they gave us a really nice 'night kit' with a razor, skin cream, etc, etc…which I, unfortunately left on the plane. Oh dear.

If you are interested, we passed over a good portion of Russia (and Moscow – which I did not see since I was asleep and it was the middle of the night – don't know how much I would have seen if I was awake). We then started to head south, passing through a bit of India and, eventually, China. Saw a bit of mainland China as we passed over, right near Macau (which, coincidently, is being handed over to China this year).

The last time I was in Hong Kong the airport was right in the harbour and made for quite an exciting landing on the single runway, passing very close to the surrounding buildings. Now, we approached right off of the South China Sea so I did not really see a lot of buildings this time. The new airport is really quite something, very clean and efficient though we did see some signs of construction in the terminal itself. We walked quite a distance before we boarded a train for the main terminal building itself, clearing customs and picking up our bags there. The space is just unbelievable compared to the old airport.

I found my way to the bus counter which, I had read, had a bus right to the area our hotel is in (right in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui). I had picked up a tourist information packet from the tourist association a few months ago (they send you one for free if you want it) which includes information about transportation to and from the airport in addition to the normal tourist information about Hong Kong itself. Very good value (GRIN). The bus is certainly the cheapest way from the airport and probably the easiest for us: a taxi might be just as good, dropping you off right at the place you want to go but would cost about 10 times as much. The train stops no where near our hotel. Actually, as it turns out, the bus you catch from the airport drops you right off (I mean RIGHT off) at our hotel – the front door is right at the bus stop. VERY convenient. I was concerned, however, on the trip that I would miss the area, though I am quite familiar with it, if the bus driver went an unfamiliar direction. I needn't have worried – no problems whatsoever getting off at the appropriate stop.

The trip from the airport was interesting, I sat in the front seat on the upper deck (yes, a double decker bus, and yes, they drive on the left side of the road though all the signs are in KM/H instead of MPH). It was a really interesting trip, travelling around the northern coast of Lantau Island, which I did not do last time I was here. I did, however, see the opening of the Lantau link – the Tsing Ma bridge which is (as I understand it) the largest suspension bridge in the world. This time, I travelled over it. Quite an experience considering the last time I saw it Chris Patten was crossing it in a limo (beneath a cavalcade of fireworks). We passed through some interesting, residential (and commercial – including the container docks) areas which I am sure mother will find interesting (if not also a bit disconcerting – what has she got herself into! This is DEFINITELY not Kansas any-more).

Well, the hotel is not fantastic, but the price is right and it is clean which is really all I look for (and it does have air conditioning, important if you think of the high humidity and the current 32 C temperature – ditched the coat I needed in England RIGHT away).

The shower and general freshening up that I did when I got to the room was really good and made me feel a lot better.

Off to pick up mother, I am really hoping she has a good time. It was funny, when I was talking to her a few months ago she was getting all excited about Australia but since I have asked her to look at what she wants to do here in the three days we are here she has begun to realize the possibilities here also. This is good. I find this city extremely exciting and vibrant (if also not a bit scary, dirty and crowded – don't know if I could ever live here).

Well, found her. She was at the airport (GRIN). Caught the bus just across the street to return to the airport the same way I got here. It was a bit easier going back to the airport without any luggage.

At the airport, I took a look around, heading upstairs to the departures area (the arrivals are in the basement). The new airport is truly massive by comparison with the old airport (with it's single runway). There are a lot of stores in the area as well selling toys, magazines and various restaurants. The thing that strikes me really is the height of the ceiling which really adds to the feeling of space. Of course, it was busy and I had to wait for a little while even though her flight arrived quite a bit early since it takes some time to clear through customs though she indicated she did not have to catch the train as I did from an outlying terminal.

I was quite concerned that I would miss her since many people arrived at the same time and it was a very big area where you meet people from the plane. After she had commented about not taking any luggage I noticed that she had her big luggage case with her (GRIN), but that is not really a problem. We are not really travelling around a lot or if we are it will be easy to move suitcases around with us. In Australia we will have a car.

It was beginning to get a bit dark so travelling back over the Lantau Link (bridge) back into the Kowloon area was not as spectacular as during the daytime. Mother did seem to enjoy the trip and we chatted much of the way though I must admit I was very tired, despite having a shower and moving about a fair amount.

Despite all of that I wanted to show mother around the more interesting areas (at night) around the hotel so we started by walking up Nathan Road (the main street, really, in the Kowloon area) on which our hotel is located. We headed across to Temple Street just north of Kowloon Park for the night market and walked pretty much all the way along the market area, stopping here and there, mother picking up a few things and I picked up some food from the street vendors (which was very good – especially the squid). Nothing really 'grabbed me' though so I kept my money to myself (though I did look around for a few things for my friends but was not terribly lucky – a few things are terribly hard to find). We did walk for quite some way, eventually heading down the harbour. I pointed out a number of areas that I had visited before, passing through Kowloon Park which was to close about an hour later, at midnight. Really is a good park with a zoo, swimming pool, football pitch and lots of trees and green space, in the heart of Kowloon. See the trees all around you.

We got to the harbour near the Star Ferry and walked quite a way east, past the cultural centre, art gallery, and the expensive hotels before heading back to our hotel itself. It was good to talk to mother again though, catching up on a few family matters and hearing who is doing what. It is relatively safe walking around this area despite the proximity of the clubs and that sort of thing.

After exchanging a few gifts we went to bed just after midnight.

⇒ Continue to August 21, 1999 - Hong Kong, China