Hong Kong IV

22.01.06 – Outward bound

I had thought that I was going to be standing on a train stuffed to the windows with migrant workers because my ticket had “No seat” on it, but I was directed to carriage 3 where there were plenty of seats. When I got to Nanjing, I got a taxi to the Friendship Hotel, only for the driver to eventually tell me that there’s a Metro system there. Must be very new because it’s not in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet China guide. It would’ve taken me to my destination for about ¥3. As I saw today, construction is obviously about to start on Line 2, but at the moment, the Metro is a single north-south line.

The Friendship Hotel is near the centre of the city and was offering a special deal of ¥188 a night. Of course, the place is, like all Friendship Hotels in this country, a bit seedy. It also has it’s comic relief. In the bathroom in each room are various things you can buy in case you need them. This included a pair of knickers. On the back of the box it said in English “Uncomplimentary”, although the Chinese said, “Not gift item”. I wouldn’t have called this pair of knickers so much uncomplimentary as unflattering.

You always forget something. This year it was a pencil for doing sudoku puzzles. But I outdid myself and took something completely useless – my bike pump, which has been in the side pocket of my rucksack all term. I also took two towels because last year I took none and needed them. This time the guest house supplied them. I could’ve done with the extra space in my suitcase.

It was nice to be in Nanjing and away from this horrible rural backwater. I bought a copy of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) from the Jinling Hotel. First time I’d seen the SCMP since June last year.

23.01.06 – Arrival in Hong Kong

I’d already tried scouting out the location of the stop for the bus to Nanjing Airport, but couldn’t find it. I did find a bus station nearby. I went over to the Sheraton and was told that the station for the airport bus was on Zhongshan Nanlu. I tried to get a taxi there, but the driver seemed to think it was an enormous joke for me not to want him to take me to the airport for a lot more money than being ferried to the bus station and catching the bus would’ve cost. So I walked, only to find that the airport bus was based at the corner of Zhongshan Nanlu and Shengzhou Lu, which was not a brief stroll. But I got the bus to the airport which is an hour outside of Nanjing.

Fortunately, I’d given myself plenty of time to get to the airport, where I talked with a guy from Hainan Island who was at university in Nanjing and heading home for the Spring Festival. He wanted to practise his English which was actually pretty good.

The trip to Hong Kong was uneventful. The plane wasn’t full and I had a spare seat next to me. I blasted through immigration and baggage claim in about five minutes flat, charged up my Octopus card, and was off to town. I ended up in the Lee Garden Guesthouse on Cameron Road. I was on the 8th floor (lucky number), although the view was non-existent.

I went off to Ka Ka Lok for tea where Charlie Chuckles is still fronting the place with a cheery smile and a witty remark for all his customers. This one is an Olympic gold medallist in seriousness. Anyway, I hadn’t had fish ‘n’ chips for so long.

24.01.06 – I think I read about that

I went to have breakfast at Dai Pai Dong on Canton Road only to find that it’d gone. I think I read something about that in the SCMP last year. I went to Delifrance instead, but after that, I had ordinary breakfast cereal in my room each morning.

As usual when I get to Hong Kong, I only have the haziest recollection of where anything is. I tried to find Swindon Books, but couldn’t at first. I tried to find Cosmos Books on the Island and ended up in M&S instead. Don’t ask me how.

25.01.06 – This time I found it

I eventually found both Swindon Books (Lock Road, Kowloon) and Cosmos Books (Johnston Road, Hong Kong Island; turn right out Exit A3 from Wan Chai station). I had lunch in the Southorn [sic!] Playground and watched some old Chinese guy effortlessly dropping a basketball shot after shot through the hoop. The kids here could learn a thing or two from him.

I headed to Page One in Festival Walk near Kowloon Tong. I bought The Tale of Genji because I’d been thinking that apart from some manga, I’ve never read anything Japanese. This is, of course, the classic Japanese novel.

I went for a wander around the south east quarter of Kowloon Peninsula. It’s not a part that most tourists would visit. As I was passing the harbour, I heard a splash and saw that some men working on one of the barges had chucked a dog tied to a rope into the water and let it swim around before hauling it back on board. I got a couple of pictures of that. I’m not sure whether the dog thought it was a bit of a lark or the men were giving it a bath.

When I got back to the hotel, I had a call from my friend Brigid who taught with me in Beijing last year. She now has a job teaching English in Hong Kong, although it’s at a school for deaf kids. Actually, that particular school (number of students: forty-seven) is probably going to be closed down, but Brigid will be transferred to another school in the same programme.

Brigid was also having medical problems. Just before she left New Zealand, a pain developed in her left leg and was giving her serious grief by the time she got off the plane. She eventually learnt that she had a damaged cartilage in her knee which is going to need surgery to repair. If things had gone according to plan, she should’ve had a Hong Kong ID which would’ve meant that she could’ve applied for medical insurance to cover the costs of diagnosis and treatment. But she needed to go to Macau or Shenzhen so that she could then enter HK “properly”; and then get insurance so that she could get it treated.

26.01.06 – She has views

I went to see Brigid who’s living in the Island Resort complex in Chai Wan. She’s on the 59th floor of her building and has some great views when the weather is clear. We had lunch and went to Ikea because her flat was only partly furnished and she needed some more stuff for it.

It’d been in the news that Chris Penn had died. The Standard, which is HK’s evening English-language paper, said he was 40. In the SCMP he was 43. Actually, The Standard was right. I would’ve guessed the SCMP was right, but only because I thought he was older than me.

27.01.06 – Opening at midday

I tried to find my way to the computer markets in Mong Kok, but couldn’t find them. Second year running that’s happened. I find that Hong Kong lacks distinctive landmarks when you’re navigating you’re way around the place and trying to find something that isn’t well sign-posted (or the sign is only in Chinese). It didn’t matter because I then remembered that the Mong Kok computer market doesn’t open until midday.

So I went to the computer market in Wan Chai instead. I can find that. I got a copy of Quake IV. If the vendor hadn’t asked if there was anything else I wanted, I would’ve overlooked Civ IV.

28.01.06 – Rain

It rained. Apart from obligatory foraging forays, I stayed in most of the day. It didn’t hurt because my feet had taken a fair pounding since Nanjing and needed to be rested.

29.01.06 – Xinnian Kwaile! (Kong Hei Fat Choi!)

It was nice and clear by the time I got up. I wandered around Tsim Sha Tsui taking random photographs. I thought about going to the Peak because the day was so clear, but by the time I got to the Terminus, there was a lengthy queue. As usual, all the Indonesian and Filipino maids had gathered in and around Chater Square. Their high-pitched voices were really noticeable.

I was going to meet Brigid and her friend Alison to see the New Year’s Day parade, but Brigid had to pull out because her leg was causing her so much pain. I went along with Alison and her son, Nick, to watch the parade. I got some pictures, but unless the marchers stood relatively still, they’re horribly blurred. This was also the night that I caught a cold off someone.

30.01.06 – Shek O

I went to Shek O (Stone Bay) which is the easternmost beach on Hong Kong Island. It’s quite small and although the town is clearly a bit downmarket, the area is otherwise some very expensive houses surrounding a golf course. There were a lot of expats about. It was another nice day and there were people swimming; even some Chinese, which surprised me because although Hong Kong really does have winter, it’s nowhere near as cold as the mainland; yet they dress as if it is.

I then wandered up the road to Big Wave Bay which was more of the same with surfers. I think they must’ve been having a class, because there wasn’t a lot of surfing being done.

That evening I went with Brigid, Alison, and Nick to Cafe Deco which is a restaurant up the Peak overlooking the harbour. We watched the fireworks. although a tree and a couple of tall buildings obscured the view. But it was very clear night and the pictures came out about as well as could be expected.

31.01.06 – Take a number and wait

When I went for tea, Kowloon seemed so crowded that I went over to the Island. I went to a Pizza Hut in Wan Chai where I arrived just in time to avoid more crowds of people. I was seated at a table for four, but got the staff to move me to a table for two so that some of the people waiting could get a seat. Aren’t I too kind?

I bought Martin Booth’s book Gweilo which is about his childhood when he first lived in Hong Kong. He wrote it just before he died in 2004. I was tempted to buy it while I was home last year. Hong Kong back in the late 40s and early 50s sounded much like China today. Where I live, it’s still about 1953. While Booth and his mother got involved with the locals, his father never fitted in. He was an alcoholic with a severe inferiority complex.

I also bought David Bowie’s Scary Monsters album which I’d been meaning to buy for years, but I’d never seen it on special before. Good thing too because now that I’ve heard it, I find there are only two decent songs and the rest are Bowie squeaking and gibbering cacophonically at different pitches.

01.02.06 – Washing day

Yeah, that was about the high point of the day. By now, the cold was driving me mad.

02.02.06 – A den of vice and iniquity

As a consequence of reading about Martin Booth’s adventures in Kowloon Walled City, I decided to go to Kowloon Walled City Park. The city was originally the last remaining outpost of Qing Dynasty China after Kowloon Peninsula was ceded in perpetuity. Chinese officials abandoned it at the end of the 19th century and it became a kind of Nomansland which seems to have fallen under the control of the Triads. By the 1960s it was a kind of high-rise slum. It was finally demolished, with the agreement of the Chinese government in the mid 90s and turned into a park.

There’s some archaeology on display near the south gate, including the stone plaque which has some Chinese characters carved onto it. There was a section for bonsai trees, and a Crape Myrtle walk. I mention the latter, because the flats next to the area I’m in are called Ziwei Yuan – Crape Myrtle Gardens. Although I’m sure the buildings aren’t original, one or two have been rebuilt where they were in the original walled city.

Afterwards, I took a walk in Kowloon City. It was rather quiet because a lot of the shops were closed for the Spring Festival. But even if they’d been open, the place seemed rather dead. Everything seems to pass it by. I think that was where I found a KFC with a mainland menu. The KFCs in Kowloon have what I’d describe as a more cosmopolitan menu. The mainland menu used to come with chips and Pepsi. It now comes with coleslaw and some sickly sweet fruit drink.

I went to the Heritage Museum in Tai Wai to see the Silk Road Exhibition. It included some texts in various languages, some textiles (including one that was about 2500 years old), various artifacts, and two mummies, both Caucasian in origin. I think it was in last Saturday’s Post that there was an article saying that not as many people had been to the exhibition as had been expected. But the article also suggested that the advertising for exhibitions in Hong Kong tends to be a bit generic. I think I saw the advert for it at Admiralty Metro Station.

03.02.06 – You guys are so stupid

Nanny banned Memoirs of a Geisha on the mainland because she was worried that mainland audiences might not be able to contain their enthusiasm [Don’t you mean ‘outrage’? –ed.] at seeing Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li playing Japanese characters. On this occasion, the ban is kind of saying that mainlanders are just too thick to be able to watch this film without reacting stupidly. It’s not actually being banned because it’s subversive or mentions all those T-words that give Nanny palpitations.

I bought my sister a couple of things for her birthday, including a bookmark with her name in Chinese characters. I was curious to know how the first and third characters were pronounced, and went to Swindon Books to look them up in a dictionary. To my surprise, the range of Chinese-English dictionaries was pitiful. It’s much better here on the mainland. Eventually, one of the shop assistants helped me, and found the characters in a reprint of a Qing Dynasty dictionary. The first character, , means “fine jade” and is in my big dictionary. The third character, tàn, which is a personal name, isn’t in the dictionary at all, but is, apparently, a personal name. On the bookmark, it’s meaning was given as “sentimental”, but the first character was translated as “fairyland”.

04.02.06 – Age concern

That morning as I went to Wellcome (a supermarket chain in Hong Kong) to buy a box of breakfast cereal, I saw a girl who must’ve been in her early twenties wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan “Sexy Senior Citizen”. Don’t worry kid, you’ll get there eventually.

I had lunch with Brigid at Pacific Coffee in Central before we headed to Harbour City in Kowloon and then went to Kowloon Tong where she signed up for medical insurance. We then had afternoon tea at the Pacific Coffee in Festival Walk, but had problems finding a seat. The place was huge, but the back part was full of students studying. The place wasn’t exactly conducive to such an activity because it was rather noisy.

05.02.06 – That bloody cold

Yeah, it was still giving me grief. I went to see Brigid again. This time we went in search of a pharmacy for the medicine she’d been prescribed for her leg. At a medical centre in the Island Resort complex, she was told that the pills would cost HK$600 (c. £45). None of the other local pharmacies even had the stuff. We had dinner in the restaurant next to MacDonald’s. The wine was allegedly a Shiraz, but I was sceptical. The staff were unnecessarily obsequious and it felt a little embarrassing.

I made a start on Rachel de Woskin’s book, Foreign Babes in Beijing. That was another one I read in about a day. I think the book is probably more interesting if you haven’t lived in Beijing. De Woskin was one of Beijing’s Happy Valley crowd. Although I’m sure the events she narrates really happened, the tale falls out a little too readily. PR job (yawn) and role in some dreadful TV series (faux glamour); a hunky Chinese boyfriend (doomed romance); a death (tragedy); a change of scene (abrupt dénouement). It just lends itself to a film.

06.02.06 – Through a haze brownly

When I first visited Hong Kong, I went up the Peak the first or second day I was there and had never been back until this year. For the past two years the weather hasn’t been conducive to another trip up there. But once the morning cloud had burnt off, the weather during the week of the Spring Festival was brilliant. I decided it was time for another daytime visit to the Peak. There weren’t as many people waiting to get on the tram as there had been on New Year’s Day, and the view was probably clearer than my first visit there.

The really noticeable thing about Kowloon this year was the peskiness of the Indian tailors in Tsim Sha Tsui. Usually, they bother the white folks, but never to the extent they did this year. There really was a concerted effort to get people to buy an overpriced suit that probably wouldn’t last to the door of the shop. In Gweilo, Martin Booth comments that Chinese tailors would never tout for business because they know their suits are better quality. I have my genuine fake Armani from the Silk Market in Beijing.

But this peskiness also extended to the massage parlours. The building I was staying in had a massage parlour downstairs. From the afternoon onwards, someone always stood outside the door trying to get anyone and everyone to have a massage. Even although I’d been in and out of the building for two weeks, whoever was working the door insisted on asking if I wanted a massage. But this evening, the girl who was doing the pestering completely surprised me by saying, “Hi”.

07.02.06 – Half way up the escalator

Hong Kong claims to have the world’s longest escalator running from Connaught Road through Central to Mid-Levels. I was curious to see this feat of modern engineering, but found that it’s a series of separate escalators rather than one long one. It actually runs through a rather quiet part of Central. There are one or two interesting views to be had from it, including further reminders that Hong Kong isn’t all shiny and new, and that there are some dilapidated buildings there.

By now, Brigid’s leg had reached a crisis point and the likelihood of an operation seemed to become remoter and remoter. Luckily, her local hospital is one of the best in the Territory and because of the urgency of the condition, she’s having the op. done sooner rather than later. How much is it going to cost? HK$200 (c. £15) as opposed to HK$20,000 (c. £1500) to have it done privately. As you can imagine, she was enormously relieved.

08.02.03 – Nanjing II

I grabbed a copy of Monday’s Guardian when I got to the airport. I hadn’t seen this new format. Very inky, I have to say. Anyway, I’m back to the Grauniad Online; there’ll be no more South China Morning Post for some time.

I passed through Nanjing Airport quite quickly, and got the bus back, arriving at the Friendship Hotel about mid afternoon. This time I was on the 11th floor (i.e., 10th) looking south, I think. I’d heard that there’d been snow on the mainland, although it’d mostly gone apart from a little remaining on some roofs and piles of snow dotted about here and there.

It was a little bit of a relief to get away from Hong Kong because the place can be quite intense, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui with such a large number of people packed into such a small geographical area.

09.02.03 – Tickets

I took the Metro to Nanjing Station and bought a ticket to return home today. I got on the 9.26am train, although I think if I’d known what the N515 meant, I would’ve opted for one of the T trains.

I went to Pizza Hut for tea, but there was a queue outside. After I ordered, dessert and beer more or less arrived simultaneously, and the pizza some time later.

10.02.03 – Homeward bound

The N515 turned out to be a double-decker train and somewhat packed. Fortunately I had a seat and there was just enough space for my suitcase not to be half blocking the aisle. It wouldn’t have fitted on the luggage rack even if there’d been room. I’m not sure I could’ve lifted it that high. When I went to Hong Kong, it was just under 14kg. When I came back, it was just over 20kg.

As I was walking across the platform to the carriage, one of my pupils came up to me. He was heading back to school. We arrived in Changzhou about half an hour later than expected, and got the bus back here.

End of the story, but not quite the end of the holiday. In previous years, I haven’t minded returning to Beijing, but this year, I have to admit that I minded coming back here. Hong Kong was a reminder that I’m not a small town boy, and it’s about time I moved on from China. My suitcase was so heavy because of all the books that I brought back with me (about 15 to 20). Changzhou doesn’t have a Foreign Languages Bookshop and none of the hotels, as far as I’m currently aware, have the South China Morning Post. This isn’t even an interesting place to be. Even if I stay with the programme for another year, I have no intentional of spending a second year here. Now if only I could get a sensible job in Hong Kong.


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