Thursday, 11 September 2008

Hong Kong ... from Edinburgh

After excessive procrastination... here's my Hong Kong report! I spent the night before my 5.50am flight at Auckland airport. I got the last bus to the airport at 9.50pm but wasn't able to check in until about 3am so I found some seats upstairs where one or two other backpackers were already sleeping and settled down with my inflatable pillow and my hood pulled over my face. I didn't want to use earplugs in case someone made off with my luggage while I dozed obliviously, so it was pretty noisy from the cafe adjacent to the seats, but I got a bit of rest. When I got up at 3am our little backpacker creche had been extended and there were people sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor around the seats. I don't remember anything about the flight to Sydney apart from breakfast :-) Got into Sydney at 8ish and hung around for a bit, spent my last Australian dollar on a Boost bar out of nostalgia and got on the delayed flight to Hong Kong along with lots of Chinese but a fair number of other travellers too. As we flew into Hong Kong I got a gorgeous view of the sunset across the islands, which made me want to whip out my camera - but real life is better. The airport was a bit weird in that it smelt musty and they were playing accordion music which would have been more appropriate in a naff Italian restaurant. I spotted a Hello Kitty aeroplane outside, which I found very amusing and so Asian. Then I had a bit of trouble getting in touch with Jane and Patrick as I didn't have change for the phones and didn't know the HK country code to call them from my mobile! This is what happens when you don't have a Lonely Planet... I asked at the information desk and they thought it would be 01, which as far as I understand is for making international calls, but eventually I got the right code and Patrick came to meet me at Central station. We had a yummy supper at their fantastic flat and I got some excellent advice on what to see, and then had a good night's sleep! I spent the morning of my first day in HK wandering around the Cat Street and Hollywood Road antique shops. Going from 15 to 30 degrees in such a short time was strange, but quite pleasant - even though it was humid heat, I will accept any heat :-) I explored SoHo as well, and thought it was a really vibrant, quirky area. Good fun for window shopping and the cafes looked nice but my funds were too low for that sort of indulgence. I also took the electric tram (sat at the top at the front - great view of people and traffic and buildings) to Wan Chai and explored there. I didn't get stared at as much as in other Asian cities I'd been to, which was good, and generally I found people pretty helpful in Hong Kong. They walk really slowly though so I did a lot of overtaking, but I also stopped a lot to take pictures and indulged my inner tourist :-) My day ended in Lan Kwai Fong, where I discovered Hong Kong happy hour when I was given another G&T as soon as I'd finished my first! I avoided the bars full of Westerners (mostly guys in shirts) and went for a very narrow arty place full of Chinese playing cards and smoking and nibbling peanuts. Great for people-watching both inside and outside the bar! They played the same pop song over and over again; clearly one of the barmaids was a fan and no one seemed to care.
On day two I took the Victoria tram up to the Peak. Unfortunately it was quite hazy so I didn't get the best view, but it did give me an idea of how sprawling Hong Kong Central alone is. There were loads of dragon flies bobbing around up there too, which were fun to watch. I walked round the Botanics and Zoo afterwards, and saw two hornbills wrestle with their beaks. There was some blood, so I don't think it was play-fighting! I also walked through the park / gardens, where I though I might go to the tea museum, but unfortunately it's closed on Tuesdays. There were a lot of Olympic themed flags and mascot and horse sculptures around. I wandered down to Wan Chai, where I managed to trip over a bit of renegade pavement, which resulted in a very sore toe. As I lifted it to inspect it a couple of dollops of blood started dripping onto the pavement, so I made my way to the nearest pharmacy (Boots-style) and got myself some plasters. I was trying to affix one of them in the MTR station when a helpful cross-eyed attendant came up with a plaster in his hand. I should have gone to them in the first place! I thanked him and then carried on, hoping I wasn't offending people with my foot display.. After that I got a bus to Stanley, which is a great area. The bus went through Refuse Bay as well, which was beautiful. I wandered through the market and admired the waterfront and views out to islands, then headed back to Wan Chai to meet Patrick and Jane at The New American for dinner. Great fun trying all the local and not-so-local food, such as Peking duck, garlic deep-fried prawns, and sesame buns eaten with a tasty fried beef ( or pork?) mixture. We'd just been talking about my aunt's other friends from HK when they showed up at the restaurant by chance! So I met Rob and Johee as well... After that we went to the Feather Boa for margaritas. A very hip little place, very crowded but brilliant fun!
On day three I was catching a very late evening flight to London so had the full day to explore, and decided to take the boat over to Lantau. It was lovely and sunny there and I even got a little sunburned. I took the bus all the way to Tai O, which is a fishing village with houses on stilts. I took lots of pictures there, then took another bus to Po Lin Monastery. Very touristy, but I thought I might as well go. The Tian Tau Buddha was worth a peek! It would be very photogenic in swirling mists too, I imagine. I took the fast cat back (I think I preferred the slow old boat!) and then went on a China-plate-buying mission in the escalator area in SoHo, for my parents (to replace all the ones my siblings and I have destroyed over the years)... mission successful! Lugged the China plates back down to the harbour and onto the Star Ferry to Kowloon, where I watched the Symphony of Lights, which was cheesy but fun! Got some nice pics of the illuminated skyline (and a lot of blurry awful ones too, with the backs of other tourists' heads in them). One last yummy supper at Jane and Patrick's and it was off to the airport again. Sad to leave such a cool place, but happy to be going home too! I wasn't sure if I was going to make it when the plane flew straight into a storm cloud and we dropped like a stone. Everyone screamed, but we steadied again and flew (somewhat turbulently) through lightning for a bit. The plane was absolutely packed with Chinese, who all looked like students heading to London for the new academic year or something. It felt strange going back to a culture (and airport!) I knew - no visa required, no arrival form to fill out... Nice and easy! Until we got to Terminal 5, and I had to lug six heavy China plates plus regular hand luggage around the (not tiny) terminal to get to T1 for my flight to Edinburgh! I worked up a nice sweat. People probably thought I was a nervous smuggler. But everything went smoothly and I got to Edinburgh airport on time. I was greeted by a party of tall Scottish people holding a makeshift sign with what was supposed to be my name ('Filleypah')...!

It took me more than a week to get my body clock back to normal. Going to sleep at 8pm and waking at 5am seemed appropriate for a long time! It's nice not to have to live out of a backpack (though I still don't have my own room/a wardrobe, it's a work in progress...) and jet about all the time. My job searching has been quite unsuccessful until now, but maybe next week.....! (is what I say every week). I'm not quite ready to plan (or finance!) my next trip but I hear South America is nice in May.......!

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