Arrival to Hong Kong on a fast train from Guangzhou, the immigration is pretty much hassle free. It’s hot, of course, but at least it’s not raining. I get the Octopus card (what is it with the English – and (former) colonies – and naming public transport passes after seafood?), which works for all public transport, payments in convenience stores, etc, and when you hand it over the MTR counter when you leave the country, they will give you back the deposit and whatever balance is left on it. Spot the difference with mainland China.
My hotel is right in the heart of Soho. I don’t follow my friend’s advice to take a taxi, instead decide to use public transport. It’s only 400 m from the bus stop, after all. Big mistake. 400 m, yes, but about a thousand stairs. It all looks a bit like the City of London. Fancy coffee shops, overweight men in suits, everyone in a hurry. But, there is a french restaurant just under my hotel. I enquire whether they have cheese. “Mais bien sûr” is the reply, and I ask for a cheese platter. For two, bien sûr. If there is one thing I’ve been missing since I started travelling, it’s cheese. And real bread. They have that, too. And wine.
I meet my friend Sandy (that I had met in Russia) for dinner, and she takes me to a wonderful Shanghai style restaurant. I wonder if I could have eaten like this all the time in China, if I had known what to order (and how).
Time to get out of bed, reluctantly, and go for some sightseeing. Just a walk through the town, really. Down through Soho towards Victoria harbour and cross the strait on the Star Ferry (Octopus card works), then walk around Kow Loon (alternating suffocating heat and humidity outside and 15 C aircon horror in any indoor space). I don’t understand how all these people don’t die of chronic bronchitis. Then a tour through the Flower Market (which is just a street with many florist shops, really) and much nicer Bird Market (I take so many pictures of birds, I must really like them. Damn, this actually doesn’t make any sense in English. Never mind.)
Later in the afternoon a trip with historic tram up to Victoria Peak follows (again, Octopus works, no need to buy tickets). There is a little hike one can do around the peak (beware of the mosquitos, they may not carry malaria, but they will still eat you alive), but one has to be resistant to the climate. I am not. Victoria Peak is full of photographers at sunset, you see the whole city in front of you, and even though it is still a great sight to see it lighten up at dusk, you will actually see no sunset.
Meeting Sandy at 9.00 AM for the tour of HK with a local. She actually took a day off to be my guide. We take the metro to Tung Chung on Lantau Island, normally one can take a scenic cable car to get to Tian Tan Buddha (“The Big Buddha”), but it is closed for planned maintenance exactly on the days when I’m in Hong Kong. Instead a public bus takes us to the monument and the adjacent Po Lin monastery. I am sorry, I have seen so many monasteries by now, that I could not distinguish between them even if I tried (as I am sure all our cathedrals look identical to the Asians). Here there is a magnificent view over the bay from the statue.
Follows a short bus ride to old fishing village Tai O, where we walk around the beach to a former colonial police station turned into posh hotel. The colonial influence left traces around here, as one of the typical beverages is still the milk tea, consumed hot or cold (more suitable for this climate). The heat is tiring and on our ride back to the metro station everybody passes out – well, at least I do. We head for Kennedy Town, where Sandy lives, to watch sunset. For that, waterfront in Kennedy Town is much better than the Peak, as it actually faces west. We have dinner in a lovely little local restaurant, and before getting back to the hotel, I manage to sneak in the ride on the typical double-decker wooden tram (which is a great way to see the city by night), so at the end I am fairly confident that I managed to see a good deal of HK without killing myself over sightseeing. Besides, it’s the company that counts. Always.
Hong Kong vs Mainland China: There is no comparison, really. Two different worlds. Hong Kong is like London (including all the complete bankers) with an asian twist. You can get anything there, foodwise, as everything is flown in from Europe on daily basis. People are nicer, civilized, speak english (and cantonese, which is an even more impossible language than mandarin), they don’t produce any disgusting sounds. Incredibly enough, even the major MTR stations during rush hour are almost as quiet as the Arsenal stadium during a home match.
I say a sad goodbye to Hong Kong early in the morning and head for the airport amid universal flood (more like a hot shower). The weather is very appropriate to my mood after all. The three days in Hong Kong will always have a special place in my heart. So, if by any chance you are wondering what does the opening verse of the Odyssey* have to do with anything – that is, if you actually recognized it – wonder no longer and go in peace, as the message is clearly not meant for you.
*) R. Fitzgerald translation, 1961