When? October 2000 – coming from Manila. Next stop Manila.
How? Own arrangements
Who? Meeting Sue and Irvin
Despite the inauspicious date an evening flight (later than I’d intended because of last minute very annoying change by Cathay) to Hong Kong. I have arranged to meet friends Susanna and Irvin on their way to Australia on a month’s break. From the new airport the express train speeds me to the city in twenty minutes. It’s all very efficient but I miss the old, slightly alarming view as the plane weaved in and out of the skyscrapers and almost plunges into the sea at Kai Tak. You could see the occupants of the apartments through their windows. Sue and Irvin are waiting at the Century Harbour Hotel on Hong Kong Island and we just have time for a drink in the bar before bedtime.
Window-shopping around Western and the back of Central and all through Hollywood Road where all the Chinese antique shops are. Also into the atmospheric Man Po temple full of incense burning and gilded statues of gods. Stocking up on Flex hair conditioner! Then meet up with Sue and Irvin who have been on the tourist round trip tour of the island. The view across the harbour from The Peak across the city and the scrapers is always incredible. We take a bus across the island and wander around Stanley Market crammed with prints, cheap Chinese clothes, Tiger Balm and gaudy ornaments. None of them are tempting and the meal on the terrace in Stanley Oriental restaurant is much more satisfying. We eat on the third floor terrace looking out over the lights of the bay. The local food is excellent though the Chinese waiter rather spoils it by sulking very loudly because he deems his tip (on top of 10% service charge) to be insufficient. The meal is expensive even by English standards. Back on the top of a double decker bus which crashes along knocking against all the overhanging trees and swaying ominously into roundabouts. We survive and then take a tram onto our respective hotels.
Another tram to the famous Star Ferry terminal where we catch the ferry to Kowloon. Yesterday’s weather was wet and cool (for Hong Kong); today is drier and permits spectacular island views from the boat. The new Cultural Centre is impressive on the harbour edge as is the Meccano shaped HSBC tower, but it’s a shame that the iconic fishermen’s sampans have almost totally disappeared. We wander up The Nathan Road through numerous markets and shops and Chinese department stores that aren’t much different from each other. Copy watches abound. I almost feel guilty that I haven’t bought one. Three prints and a MacDonald’s instead. Kowloon Park and another gilt and scarlet lanterned Tao temple. The mass transit railway (MTR) out to the new territories is crammed and the occupants stare silently. The carriages roll through endless grey high-rises and halt at a string of stations with names to match – Mong-Kok, Sha-Tin. Out towards Fan-Ling (and ultimately China proper) urbanization give way to muddy duck farms. Too many jostling people and the crowds increase as the day wears on. I have decided I’m not keen on Hong Kong; it’s very aggressive. Old Chinese ladies seem to take a delight in barging you deliberately out of the way. One sticks her tongue out at me because I am in her way when she is pushing a cart.
Back on the island the streets round the ferry terminal are closed. They are crammed with women picnicking, playing cards and gossiping – the Sunday social reunion for all the Filipina maids working in Hong Kong. A final meal in a basic little Chinese restaurant where we make the mistake of accidentally ordering enough for six.
Perhaps the best part is the bus journey back to the airport with marvellous views of the city and skyscrapers lit up against the whole of the bay and across the new suspension bridge onto Lantau Island. The Cultural Centre has a nightly ‘Symphony of Light Show’. The illuminations on the island scrapers dazzle to the sound of martial music and a cacophony of lasers keep time. Mmmm….