Saturday 1 September 2018

Hong Kong

I was in Hong Kong in the 1990s because a company was distributing my pro-audio products into China, Thailand (one client) and later to The Philippines. And they persuaded me to take a trip to Beijing on the pretext of giving seminars but in fact I think it was simply because there was a problem with the product (CM250) that had to be solved. Having a distributor selling my pro-audio products out of Hong Kong sounds very grand but I suspect the main profit in my company was still in the building control systems which had great success in the Middle East.By this time, I had stopped building new BMS products but I was making a good living maintaining the installations, typically in Dubai and London.

I found Beijing very depressing, I am sure now it is very different but back then, there were no modern buildings and to make things worse, the weather was grey and cold. I walked across Tianmen Square and through the Forbidden City with the excitement of a young boy being taken to the shops. I didn't go to see the Great Wall.

On the approach back into Hong Kong, the pilot was obviously re-living his air force days and barrelled into the airport as though it was a bombing run! I was very glad to get back to the bright lights of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong now

So, many years later, in 2015 I went back to Hong Kong on my way to the Philippines. My enduring memory of the Hong Kong from the 90s was arriving in the old airport in Chep Lok. This was famous at the time because it was right in the centre of town and the aircraft on their approach virtually scraped the roof-tops. I was in a British Airways 747 in the upper deck and I could still see people having their supper not very far below me. Now there is a new and enormous airport on Lantau Island with a fast rail link to the centre of town and that is where I arrived from Bangkok on an Emirates A380….  in tourist class. That was a comedown but I described why I was at the back of the plane in my chapter about Bangkok.

Having lost my reservation at Ibis North Point, I had booked a hotel in Kowloon from Bangkok at the last minute and that’s where I headed. I bought an Octopus card at the airport which, like similar cards in other cities (Oyster Card in London), can be loaded with money and used to buy not only journeys but also food and drink in the stations. I took the airport express, changed twice and ended up at the Metro station of Prince Edward. It was just a short walk to the hotel. It was very modest, no restaurant, small rooms so I didn’t choose very well there. The first room I had for two nights had the sweet smell of old cigarette smoke but I managed to change my room.

The area around the hotel, close to Mong Kok which is well-known was very Chinese (I know, that is rather obvious but I guess you know what I mean! Ethnic). Central by contrast could be almost any city in the world. I took a walk down one street and suddenly I came across a very trendy wine bar and restaurant.

The bar was outdoors and because it was still very warm, I took a seat, had a beer and started to feel human again. I ordered some food but, boy, was it expensive! And this was the story for the whole of my time in Hong Kong: expensive. I wouldn’t really call it a tourist destination for that reason; it’s just a big city in two parts separated by the sea. But I enjoyed my stay there. On several occasions I took the bus from Central (Hong Kong Island) to the other side of the island where I found a wonderful beach with a closed area for swimming. It was like a huge swimming pool, water totally calm, lots of lifeguards. And the weather was perfect. And there was a small floating pontoon to swim to. But there was a 1 hour wait for food, so I starved. The beach was half empty. Er, you didn’t know we were coming? A big double-decker bus arrived every 15 minutes.

I was on my way from Deepwater Bay on the top deck of a bus and we were passing Happy Valley Racecourse, I mention that because it is of no relevance. And I suddenly noticed a young boy, I would guess around 9 or 10 and I imagine he was on his way back home from school because he was wearing his uniform. He was asleep but his head was resting gently on his shoulder, his neck almost at a perfect right-angle. I imagined it coming off completely and rolling down the aisle, so surreal was this sideways head with eyes closed.

The metro, the MTR, ran rapidly and efficiently. All the trains are the same design and all have closing doors on the platform with announcements in Chinese and English. The English voice to me is a little too young, a woman with a slightly impatient voice. And there is the English custom of issuing warnings for the blindingly obvious, like holding onto rails, that kind of thing. And there are many warning announcements about health, cover your mouth, are you feeling feverish and so on.

The MTR is well thought-out and obviously planned all in one stage. Frequently a change to another line involves walking (or sometimes dashing en-mass) across platforms on the same level. In other words, the planners had visualised common interchanges and made them as simple as possible. By contrast, the London Underground lines run on completely different levels and often involve a long walk. And the actual design of the trains differs from one line to another. Walking between platforms in the Barcelona Metro can be quite a trek sometimes so I make a mental note of that if I am in a hurry to catch a train home from Sants Estació.

I was never very happy in my hotel because I know that I paid over the normal rate but I’m glad I went to Hong Kong. But, really, it was a stopping off point for my final destination, Manila so I was happy to leave. I had only allocated 4 days there which was perfect. I did some window-shopping (only window shopping because it was expensive!) and usually ate out in simple fast food kiosks.

The number of buses in Hong Kong is quite incredible; they are huge double-deckers, larger than the buses in London, and seem to fly along the streets in convoys, but from different routes of course. OK, I know the saying, a bus doesn’t come then three come at the same time! 10pm, all full!

When I left Hong Kong, I caught the train back to the airport. Boarding was most odd. A train to a boarding gate, then a bus which I assumed was to the plane. But it then dumped us back in the same terminal but a lot further away from where we started.

And I took the Air Asia flight to Manila which arrived around 7pm.