Sunday, August 05, 2007

Home in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a certain homely feel to me. It’s familiar, it’s easy, there’s no hassle, and they use three-pin UK-style plugs. I’m also blessed with several friends to visit! Unfortunately, I’m flying with Bangkok Air, who fly not to HK but instead to Shenzhen in China proper, a short boat ride across the water or train journey. Unless, I find out after booking, it’s after 6pm, when it’s a full visa before arrival, then a stressful bus journey.

Out from the train, through immigration, some cash from the ATM, not having a clue about the exchange rate I do the old “fast cash, middle number” trick – about 800 RMB. I get a bus ticket to HK, and head out. The bus leaves immediately.

Heading towards HK,I watch the signs, and wonder how foreigners would drive this route. Every so often HK is mentioned, but most of the junctions only list Chinese towns. We pass lots of offices and factories full of people working. It’s about 10pm. Shenzhen is the world’s fastest growing city.

The bus arrives at Immigration, and everyone piles off. Most people on this bus presumably do this on a regular basis, as they are vicious in their efficiency – I’m sitting near the front of the bus but don’t even get the chance to leave my seat as the aisle is immediately jammed with people, none of whom have the manners to let me out. I almost don’t realise that I need to take my bags with me – we won’t be coming back to this bus – after immigration another bus picks us up, takes us the short journey to HK immigration, then yet another collects us the others side, and takes us in to central HK – Mongkok specifically, from where I take the MTR to Fortress Hill.

Welcome to Little Chinese England

Leo’s booked the Newton Hotel for me in Fortress Hill. It’s nice, but too expensive for me to spend a week there on my own – about 70 pounds a night.

Room with a view

Next day I go to the Indian Embassy, then meet Leo for lunch, and spend the afternoon moving hotels.

The Indian Embassy, outside Admiralty Station, is on the 26th floor of a standard office block. Just as well I do go straight away (had considered doing it later in the week), as apparently the tourist visa for India I want will take four working days (plus the weekend), i.e. 6 days! It’s Thursday, so it will be ready on the 1st August, at 5pm, i.e. a few hours before I fly! Lazy bloomin’ Indians! I ask the woman whether they have any plans to make the process simpler, and do Visa on Arrival. There’s no need, she says, India has embassies and consulates everywhere for people to apply for visas. That’s not the point, I don’t waste my breath pointing out to her.

Up and down in Leo’s office

Lunch in the central area without a reservation is hellish, and Leo and I end up having Thai food.

Later, I take my bags to the new hostel, called Budget Hostel, aka or Hong Kong Hostel, which is costing me about 20 pounds a night, for my own room, en-suite.

The place is in Causeway Bay. I turn up mid-afternoon, and there’s no answer from the buzzer on the ground floor. The security chap tries telephoning, but no answer. He lets me go up in the lift. The door is locked and no one is home. I have visions of my deposit doing a runner out of the country.

I use my basic Cantonese to ask the cleaner where the staff are. He doesn’t know, but suggests they are about. I read Harry Potter. After some time a chap appears, and takes me across the street. It would seem that this hostel is a collection of flats combined together, and I’ve been buzzing an empty one!

The entrance. Code is 3412

I get a room for the night, the second one I’m shown (first one looked noisy), for just over 20 pounds a night. This is about 30 seconds walk to Sogo and exit E from Causeway Bay station, a fantastic location, as Causeway Bay is one of the prime shopping and bar districts, and apparently (according to Hedge), one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Equivalent of staying in Piccadilly Circus in London.

Looking up

In the evening, Leo and I go for dinner (Shanghai food), then wander Lockhart Road – the other bar district that doesn’t really rival Lam Kwai Fong, but is certainly lots more seedy! We end up at a British place called the White Stag.

More food..

Next few days I spend reading Harry Potter, Burmese Days from George Orwell, the biography of Helen from Burma, and the Indian Lonely Planet. And generally being fairly lazy. I don’t feel compulsion to do stuff every day in HK, as I’ve done most of the main touristy things, all that’s left to do is eat, drink, and shop! I notice that HK people queue in an orderly fashion for the buses.

Went out to Kowloon Tong to meet Tatianna aka Yummy Yummy. Had a few hours to myself first, so after brunch, I watched the ice-skating.

Brunch and Potter


We ate Vietnamese food together, though of course having had a very late brunch I wasn’t hungry at all! Tati was telling me about her cookery course she’s currently doing, in addition to learning to play the drums! Who would have thought?!

Yummy yummy

The Peak
Went up to Victoria Peak one evening with Jessica for the classic view over HK. We wanted to take the tram, but the queues just before sunset were incredible, so we took a cab up instead. With the tram costing over 30 HK$ these days, a taxi is the same price for two people. I haven’t been up here since 96. The view is just as impressive as it was back then, though now there’s been a fantastic amount of development on the peak, with big shopping malls to battle through before getting one’s view.

The classic view of HK from Victoria Peak

After, we headed down to Causeway Bay and went to eat Cantonese food, my choice, as I was feeling guilty about being in HK for a few days without having the local food!

Jessica and Teapot

Jasmine tea

Leo’s Family
Leo’s parents treated me to dinner one evening. His mother, the gourmand of the family, chose the restaurant in Central, Beijing style food. It’s a smart place, with quite a few westerners eating there too.

Delicious Pekinese Food

Leo’s lovely parents

I think it’s the first time I’ve had Peking Duck with thick cuts of duck, instead of when they have the whole duck and claw it apart with spoons for you. No complaints, it’s delicious!

Peking duck

Shu Chang
Leo and I meet Shu Change for lunch – she’s just got back from Africa – Uganda specifically, having survived tigers and hippos!

Shu Chang


As always meeting Shu Chang, I request Szechuan food (Shu Chang is from there) and as usual, she finds an excuse for us not to have it. This time the food is Hunan food very close to her office, hence her boss sitting on the table immediately adjacent to us, to her obvious dismay! No two hour lunch break for you then!!

Other HK Scenes
A few other random HK shots..

Not long now

That’s just rude



HK Taxis

Eating on my own
Spent a fair bit of time alone this time in HK. Heidi was avoiding me, and of course everyone else was working. Fine though, as I needed to finish all the Burma books to send back to Tom, and to start planning India.

Orwell and Kimchi

Pad Thai

Brunch at Pacific Coffee Co

Eel - Unagi

Last evening
My last evening, I went shopping in Mongkok. Late afternoon was still stinking hot this day, so I hopped from shop to shop. Was thinking of buying various electronic bits and bobs, but it didn’t happen. I was also interested in buying some pirated movies, but it would seem that they’ve really clamped down on this the last few years, so it’s actually quite hard to get hold of pirated stuff these days. What a shame! Leo turns up after work, and we go for a bite to eat:

Not a great selling point, but at least they’re honest


We spend the evening pottering about, and visiting bars, and end up back near Causeway Bay in a sports bar Leo frequents, for a last drink or three, with some rounds of pool, for which we are aided by the lovely Vivian! Calling it a night, Leo taxis home, and I head back to my hostel. Internet not working in my room still, so I sit outside near the entrance where I can pick up a working wifi signal, when a young lady I’d seen a few times asks if she can borrow my laptop. Her name turned out to be Meng Meng, from Wuhan in China, though currently studying in Virginia and interning in Investment Banking here in HK. Anyway, we seemed to click, and spent a long long time talking. Bear in mind that this was pretty late when we met. Yes, no sleep for the wicked. I pack my bags and head to the airport!

Disastrously, I realise that I’ve still got Leo’s phone – somehow I’d walked away with it the night before (one of those nights!), so I have to go meet him and hand this over, delaying me going to the airport. Am therefore also late for Tracy, who had agreed to meet me for lunch. Am so flustered by the time I arrive at the airport that I check my main bag in *without taking my EOS400D out* (the horror, the horror!). But it all works out in the end, and my Cathay flight to Mumbai leaves only slightly late. India!

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