Hong Kong, China
Wed 4th July
We arrived into Hong Kong mid afternoon on a beautiful, hot and sunny day. We have all long forgotten what ‘cold’ feels like but I am sure we will remember soon enough when we get home in a few days. Hong Kong is a territory full of contrasts which become evident as soon as you arrive. Descending onto the tarmac on Lantau Island, just one of the many Islands that make up HK, you are confronted with the sheer beauty of subtropical and brilliant green vegetation sprawling over the rugged and clearly volcanic terrain. Having grown up in the ‘Made in Hong Kong’ era I had kind of imagined that the whole of HK was going to be just one big shopping mall. I was not expecting this dose of spectacular nature at all. The airport was reassuring though, a thoroughly modern and state of the art affair in contrast to its natural setting. Driving out of the airport you notice a bundle of glass and concrete towering skyscrapers perched at the edge of the island, nestled amongst all of the greenery and this gives you some idea of what is to follow.
The drive into HK proper takes about 45 minutes which gave us time to take the place in. The road system is modern and functional and traffic seems to flow quickly and smoothly. Our hotel was located on the Kowloon side along Nathan Rd and away from the busy harbour peninsula. One of the first things you notice when you hit the area is how the shop fronts at ground level are decked out in modern, mirrored and silver glitz whilst the upper parts of the buildings reveal their true age and decaying identity. The locals have tried to mask this though with literally acres worth of neon signs. There is barely a cm2 of building front that is not covered in some multi coloured signage. All of this made me realise how futile my attempts were to turn off lights and appliances at that were not in use in an effort to reduce electricity consumption for the good of the planet. HK is one huge environmental drain on our poor planet. I tried not to worry about this though and, instead, to worry about what our hotel would be like. I need not have bothered. We found the Eaton Hotel to be a wonderful 5 star experience both in the hotel appointments; rooms, dining and pool and also the staff who were friendly, gracious and helpful. This is another place to come back to. Ali was at reception to meet us and we spent the next couple of hours catching up on all the news and settling into our rooms. After taking in all this good fortune we then headed up the road for dinner in the direction of the ‘Ladies Markets’ on the advice of the Concierge from the hotel. We dined at a fantastic, albeit cold, restaurant called ‘Lei Gardens’ that served up great food and even ran to having New Zealand wines! We were the only Westerners there and somewhat of a novelty for the staff and other patrons alike. Something to remember: no matter how high the heat and humidity of the outside world, most buildings are air conditioned to arctic type temperatures. You can not go anywhere without a cardigan or pashmina for fear of freezing to death!
From dinner we wandered home though the Ladies Markets, made a few purchases and then collapsed into bed.
Thursday 5th July
The girls were clearly very keen to be free of us and to get into some serious shopping so, they headed out to HK Island and the Causeway Bay area. Mark, Tom and I spent the morning getting Mark measured up for some clothes and trying to find Tom some cheap games for his Nintendo DS. We ended up buying games across the counter from a department store but at least they were cheaper than at home. We found an interesting Yum Cha venue for lunch, across the road from our hotel where we were, again, the only Westerners there. They were a little put out by having to hunt out an English menu for us but the food was good and cheap.
The girls returned happy but exhausted in the late afternoon. We all managed to walk down town to another arctic restaurant, again recommended by the Concierge from our hotel. This one though, East Ocean, was a dud. We had contemplated browsing through the Temple Markets but most were too tired so I ventured there on my own to find more of the same.
Friday 6th July
Our day was spent on a tour of Victoria Harbour (am) and Hong Kong Island (pm). The harbour tour was interesting enough but we were all rather hot and drained of energy so simply lulled on board whilst trying, unsuccessfully, to understand the commentary. From the cruise we were ushered off to lunch at a harbour-side restaurant with good food and spectacular views. We dined with an interesting Asian family who were actually from Holland and, consequently, spoke Dutch. This seemed rather out of order but we had come across a lot of unusual situations throughout this holiday. I asked them if they knew where we could pick up some cheap games for Tom’s DS and they informed us that no one in China buys games for their kids anymore. This was stated in the kind of tone that really spoke of ‘where have you been living lady?’ Apparently EVERYONE has a Revolution R4 that enables you to download games from the internet. Well, that was it. I knew what we would be doing that night after dinner…going in hunt of the elusive Revolution R4. We parted ways after lunch as this family was taking the ‘New Territories’ tour.
Our afternoon tour of the Island would have been a complete waste of time if it had not been for our tour guide, Terry. On first appearances she seemed like a very straight, serious and conservative young Chinese woman. Later though we found her to be this strange comedian, supposed grand-daughter of Queen Elizabeth 2nd and ex girl friend to Jacky Chan and to have a dark wit and deep sense of entertainment. She had our family in tears for much of an otherwise boring trip. Many of the others on our small bus tour though did not pick up her humour and thus must have been thoroughly bored for most of the trip.
For dinner we decided to go back to Lei Gardens as the food had been good and this restaurant was near the computer warehouse where we would later go, covertly of course, in search of the elusive R4. The waiter was glad to see us return and we pleased him further by ordering Peking Duck. Mind you this was the best Peking Duck that we have ever had. It was far better than the ones Mark and I had in old Peking (Beijing). We left there happy and content and ready to search for the R4.
Ironically, it was a nice young Police man who directed us to the computer warehouse where all sorts of illegal gadgets can be purchased. We went upstairs to the narrow alley that wound through this old building which was reminiscent of the old Royal Easter Show pavilions. The only difference was though that here all of the ‘junk’ was state of the art computer stuff. We asked a few store holders, in a whisper quiet voice, about the R4 and kept being sent further along the narrow corridor to other stores. It was at that point that I began to think that the R4 does not actually exist in this world but only in the cyber imagination of the nice family that we met at lunch. But no, eventually we found it and probably paid more than we should have for it but, heh, we had it! Tom was in cyber heaven at the thought of having a world of games available to him.
We had had enough excitement for more than one day so then headed back to the Hotel and to bed.
Saturday 7th July
The girls felt the need to get away from us again so they headed out early for some more shopping. Mark, Tom and I decided to check out SoHo on HK Island. This was a bad mistake. It was incredibly hot and humid and I was sure that I was going to simply dissolve. I knew that I wouldn’t evaporate as the humidity was about 90% so, dissolution was my main concern. It turns out that nothing happens in SoHo during the day, further augmenting the huge success of our outing. It was salvaged only by the purchase of a watch for Tom and some more carry-on luggage. Hopefully, this would enable us to be spared of another Heathrow style, ‘Check Point Charlie’ type of moment when we check in at HK airport tomorrow. We then decided to head home, have lunch and spend the afternoon by the pool.
At 8pm every evening in HK there is a laser and light show down on the peninsula where the buildings on the HK Island side are lit up for the benefit of those on the Kowloon side. We decided to try and find a restaurant with a good vantage for viewing this and, luckily, hit the jackpot with the hotels recommended choice of the ‘Hu Tong’ down at Level 28, No1 Peking Rd. Tables at the restaurant were arranged along side the floor to ceiling glass wall of the building which afforded spectacular views over Victoria Harbour and across to HK Island. The food was amazing. It would best be described as contemporary, Chinese fusion and, again, we were able to choose a NZ wine. We had a wonderful evening watching the natural light fade as the sun set and the coloured lights of the HK night appear. As you would expect, the laser and light show was a dazzling and coordinated affair. Annabelle was convinced though that thousands of poor employees had to stay back each night and listen to someone shout ‘turn on, one, two, three and turn off, one, two, three’ so as to synchronise the whole show. We left the restaurant in search of ice cream and then headed back to the hotel.
Sunday 8th July
Today was our last day so we had to get in, believe it or not, some last minute shopping. I bought some make up, after the girls told me how cheap Chanel was, Ali bought a phone for a friend, Mark picked up his clothes from the tailor and some suit case locks and, both Annabelle and Mark had an unsuccessful attempt at purchasing a phone and some camera equipment.
We had a funny last meal at our Yum Cha restaurant. Once I told the nice waiter, politely, that we were in a bit of a hurry as we had a plane to catch (airplane actions and all) everyone else seemed to get served before us. Mark eventually had to leave before lunch was finished but the ordered food was not wasted as most of it did not appear anyway!
We finally checked out of the hotel and made our way downstairs to the transport that I had organised. I could not understand why the car did not drive in to the turning bay of the hotel. They beckoned me out onto the street and then I understood. They had sent a 60 seat coach to take our little family out to the airport and it simply couldn’t fit into the hotel building! I was wondering whether some one had alerted them to the number of bags we all had but was reassured that no, it was simply the only transport available. So, contrary to the Law of Diffusion, we all sat in the front few seats and were chauffeured out to the airport.
None of us slept much on the flight home, courtesy of the 3 yr old girl two rows back who cried for the whole 9 hours. This did not take the pleasure out of arriving home though. Nor did the rain or the cold dull our spirits as we arrived home. Our family has been very, very fortunate; we had a wonderful, safe trip, met some great people and had some amazing experiences. This is something that we will never forget.