Saturday, May 26, 2007

First Class Alone, and other Tales from HK

First Class alone
Okay, here's a new experience for me with Cathay - I'm sitting in seat 1A (don't worry, 1A is okay on Cathay because no cupboard in front - remember - 2A best on BA 747, 1A on 777), but in fact I have the whole Jumbo First Class cabin to myself, complete with two bathrooms, three pretty and very attentive girls, and enough space to play badminton in - I do ask the ladies if they have racquets - apparently it's not standard to carry them. Perhaps we could improvise with in-flight magazines and tubs of Haagen Daaz?

It's a hard life, but someone needs to have afternoon tea at 30,000 feet. Now, let me see which wine will best accompany dinner, they've offered to open a couple of bottles now to let them air...

Taiwan for a few minutes
We have a stop off in Taipei for about an hour, so I get to claim I've visited Taiwan, though I don't think the rather dingy terminal we step off at really counts as experiencing the country. There is some lovely Chinese art being displayed though.

I wander about before popping into the First Class lounge, just for a quick catch up with emails and a creatively-named Taiwan Beer! Marketing department really went to town on creativity with that one!

45 minutes later, back on to the plane and my cabin for more service assaults from the ladies. As I've explained before, it really is hard work in First, fending off the attention - it's very easy to drink and eat far too much, so now the novelty has worn off, I refuse as much as possible (the nibbles and titbits they get through the blanket ban is always sufficient). Previously, I refused dinner but they appeared with a large piece of pie, begging me to eat it, as they'd already eaten the rest of the pie and couldn't possibly finish it!

This leg, I conceed ground and eat dinner, washed down by a lovely Spanish wine the ladies recommend - Marques de la Concordia Rioja Reserva 2001. As we descend into HK, the TV screen displays connecting flights. There's a BA flight to London. It's probably the only time I feel a longing for home, when I'm in airports and see a BA jumbo.. Knowing that I could hop on it and be in dear London town in 10 or 11 hours… sigh… but it's not to be. Not this time.

Back to HK
At HK I'm off super-fast, but held up by big queues for passport control, it would appear an Air Ethiopia flight arrived just before us, so eventually I hop on the airport express train into town, to my hotel, BP International. I understand the BP reference when I see signs for the HK Scout Centre and large portraits of Baden Powell - I'm staying in a glorified Scout hut! My room's on the 24th floor though, with a rather nice and relatively private view.

Leo turns up and we wander around Kowloon, with its busy night markets - Mongkok etc, and street eateries.

Next day I meet Shu Chang, whom I know from school, for lunch. She works for the HK Monetary Authority in the IFC building, currently HK's tallest, with 88 floors (she's on 82!).

The International Finance Centre (IFC), HK's tallest

For those who know her, she hasn't changed much - longer hair, that's about it!

She takes me round the corner to a Beijing-style restaurant, where she's made a reservation - given that this is the heart of the financial district, tables for lunch are hard to walk into, and generally involve a good wait. There we eat spicy beef, and a strange but tasty tofu thing.

Not Szechuan food though, which was my original request! Of course lunch was finished off with Starbucks for the ol' Green Tea Frapp, when Leo joins us.

The famous Star Ferry

Later, Leo and I wander shops, and I pick up a cheap jacket (will be required for dinner today). We head to the famous Peninsular Hotel, via the Space Museum across the road. The Pen is my kind of place, and so we stop for a quick beer in the lobby, before heading off (not in one of their brand new Rolls Royces unfortunately) to meet Heidi, who is coming back to the Pen with me for dinner at Gaddi's, allegedly HK's best restaurant. I hold off on the jacket until the last possible moment, it's too humid for clothes!

Gaddi's is a French restaurant upstairs in the hotel. It's an old-school, opulent, discrete venue. The staff are friendly and numerous, but surprisingly the restaurant is relatively quiet. We take our seats not far from a "background" band who work their way through various gentle classics. We spend a while choosing, as the menu is surprisingly comprehensive for a restaurant of this type. After starters of lobster for me and frogs legs for Heidi, we have a duck dish for two for main. It's a little salty, but otherwise very tasty, and we wash this down with an Argentinian red wine - or rather I wash it down - I don't think Heidi helped much as I feel slightly light-headed by the end of the meal.

Towards the end the American sitting far from us yells out requests to the band - New York New York, You are my Sunshine (they're very impressed I know the lyrics of this apparently Louisiana song), to the embarrassment of his wife. We leave satisfied, though if it is the best restaurant in HK, I'd say the restaurant scene is slightly disappointing. It's no Fat Duck!

Back to Heidi's place, I meet her Dad for the first time in 11 years! He hasn't changed much! Last time I saw him, he gave me HK Police Force keyrings. They're bound to still be there, somewhere in the attic! Since I last saw him, he's married off Betty, Heidi's elder sister, and been to Russia, so there are plenty of photos to look at.

Fantastic Macau

Today is a Macau trip with Leo. I meet him at the IFC, managing to time meeting him to the second, I'm impressed myself! Anyway, we wander down to the ferry terminal. We are making the assumption that I won't need a visa. Gulp. Anyway, turns out fine, I don't. The ferry is a hydrocat affair, which takes about an hour to reach Macau, weaving round the Chinese coast between the numerous islands dotting the area.

For those who haven't been there, HK is actually a collection of almost 200 islands hanging off a peninsular. The most famous island is of course "Hong Kong" island, and the peninsular "Kowloon", but there's much more to it than you'd imagine, and if shopping is not really your thing, the islands are the place to go. One of my fondest memories from last time is daytripping to Cheung Chau.

So, the ferry. This trip brings back lots of memories of doing the same with Jackie all those years ago. I remember that Jackie had forgotten her new ID card, so I had to travel with her Mum and sister, which was a bit weird. She joined us later. So what is Macau famous for? In a word… sleaze! It's the gambling capital of Asia, and has most of the other insalubrious associated activities with gambling. According to Leo, just the word Macau throws terror into the minds of most HK housewives! The flipside is that it is a fascinating mix of Portugese and Chinese culture - it was a colony for Portugal like HK was for Britain. Portugese is still widely spoken, and given the temperature, it brings back memories for me of Brazil.

Brings back memories of Copacabana in Rio

We go into the new biggest casino - the new Lisboa Grande. I am surprised at how easy it is to go in - no registration or anything, just a quick bag check. In the UK, in my very limited experience, one needs to register etc, or be a member (usually instant). Here - straight in and dump your cash on the table. Leo tends to play a game involving three dice - one can gamble on whether the total will be low or high, or go for exact totals for higher odds. Simple but he does manage to walk away with a reasonable profit.

The hotel still being built above the newest casino

I don't partake myself. Somehow gambling to me seems like the lottery - the very fact that casinos make such huge amounts of profit puts me off playing. I've always considered lotteries as fantastic taxes on stupid people. I was amused by a recent Today in Parliament programme, where a leftie MP was quizzing a representative from the Lotteries Commission. The MP was suggesting that the LC was run by a bunch of public school toffs who were spending the money raised from decent hard working socialists on toff activities like culture! Quite right too, says I! If only I was there to join in the debate!!

The seafood is also legendary. Last time I was here, I tried giving up being vegetarian for 3 days for Jackie. I was feeling like a real burden not eating even seafood - we were going to crab restaurants etc, so I tried it. I remember it being a hellish three days - every meal time I was filled with dread as to what I'd have to consume. This time it's the reverse - not enough time to try everything! For lunch we eat at a Chinese restaurant in the centre, and have a spicy dish which tastes very Malaysian "satay"ish, chopped jellyfish, a simple chicken dish with cucumber and satay, some peanuts, erm, what else.. That may be it.

What better to eat on a roasting hot humid day than… spicy soup!!

Next we walk up to St. Pauls. It's the shell of a church, with a crypt underneath with the bones of various Christian martyrs from around asia.

After the obligatory tourist snaps here, we have some cold milk curd stuff, supposedly quite famous, before heading out to the go-karting track out at Coloane.

Finally, some cooling food!

It's been a very long time since I last went karting. Possibly Cornwall with HM and Chucky! Anyway, this is a decent sized track here, on the outskirts of Macau - very near one of the Chinese border stations. Helmet on, and we're off. It's fairly quiet - there are 3 or 4 other guys on the track with us. We tear round, me apparently slightly slower, as after a few minutes Leo has already lapped me, dammit! This happens a few more times before, just as our time is up, the chain goes on my kart and I limp to the side. I don't realise at the time, but in doing this, my back has been showered with oil, ruining my shirt. I suppose at least I didn't have a heavy chain smash into the back of my neck.

Dinner is Portugese food, in the "old town" area. What is Portugese food. Well, I've come away none the wiser, but of course the egg tarts are divine. I don't have a photo because I ate them too fast!

Caldo verde soup

Big thick hairy tongue, and lots of it

After we wander the Butler's Wharf (yes!) area, which is a new theme park place with shops, restaurants etc, built in all manner of styles. There's a large volcano, various colonial style buildings, the Roman Colisseum etc.

Pretty, but a right architectural mish-mash

It's now getting late, so we battle our way past the now busy saunas and massage parlours to the ferry terminal.

Extras, Sir?

We get back to HK fairly late, but surely there's time for a quick beer. Leo makes me walk up to the Soho area, which is up the hill above the famous pub district of Lam Kwai Fong, but it's all closing down. Back down, we find a British pub, with music slightly loud for my liking, but they do turn it down. After a pint of Spitfire, I notice they have Ruddles! The guy has just closed the till for the night, so gives us the two bottles! Good work fella! (6 quid a bottle!). What a fantastic end to the day!

Fishing on Lamma
Today is fishing day. I wanted to go to Cheung Chau, but there's a ferry from Leo's home area to Lamma, so he's persuaded me to go there instead. It's corking hot as I wander round Admiralty looking for the bus to his place, on the south side of the island, Ap Lei Chau or South Horizons. After saying hello to his Grandma, we head out, and take the ferry to Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma. Interesting factoid: international film star Chow Yun Fat was born here.

First stop on Lamma Island is the Rainbow Seafood restaurant.

Here we eat spicy clams..

razor clams..

And finally cheesy baked lobster, tasty but messy!

We buy some beers, and shrimps for bait, then hike over to the other side of the island to the beach area at Yung Shue Wan, apparently a popular commuter village for expats, as the ferry from here takes about 45 minutes right into central HK. OMG it's so damn hot. Amusingly the beach faces the biggest power station in HK! Very scenic spot Leo, thanks!

Swimming is not a choice though in this heat. We buy some cheap swimsuits and hit the water, despite the sign saying the waves are dangerously high today (at least 1 foot high, shock!).

Dangerous huge waves crashing in

Next round on the rocks to fish. I don't think Leo likes the trek round on the limpets, there was definitely some blood lost there!

So we're perched on the edge of the rocks, casting off straight into the wind. It's far from ideal, as the wind is quite strong, so we're not getting far. Plus it's very rocky underneath, the hook keeps getting caught, and I have to cut the line. The rough water won't be helping us either. There's a bit of nibbling going on, but we don't bring anything in. Next time..

We rush back to the boat, but get toally soaked.

The heavens really open monsoon style, but we can't really sit it out as I'm supposed to be meeting people in town. Of course once we're on the ferry, it clears slightly.

The IFC after the rain

So, I meet Jessica, Tatianna and Heidi in TST, and we go for dinner - settling on Cantonese food at Canton Deli in Harbour City. Of course, Tatianna hasn't changed a bit. But she has got into Product Marketing! The horror (apologies SA et al.)!

Heidi and Tatianna

Sam and Jessica

After dinner, we head to a British pub, the Bulldog, for Erdinger beer (?! - why do British pubs abroad so rarely have British beer?), and Jackie joining us.

Big beers for small types


Then Heidi and Tatianna split, leaving me to head over to Causeway Bay to meet Leo with Jackie and Jessica, for some NZ Sauv Blanc at a bar up above Sogo department store.

Leo and his bodyguards

It's my last night in HK this time, so after the girls split, Leo and I enjoy one for the road. It's late when I get back to the hotel! Very late! I need to leave in about 3 hours! Just five minutes sleep then…

I wake up without alarm clock (thank god) at 7am! Panic! I rush to Kowloon Airport Express Terminal, go to check in and am told that I may get into trouble with Indonesian immigration as I don't have an onward flight, even though I've got other flights on my ticket. I have to sign a disclaimer saying I will cover all costs in the event of this being an issue. To avoid the hassle, when I'm in HK Airport, I just book an AirAsia flight to KL from Jakarta for the 9th June. Sorted. On the flight to Bali, of course, I sleep….

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