Travels - Hong Kong and Home


And finally, after a few days in Wellington, we head back to the UK, stopping off at Hong Kong again. You know how sometimes if you’ve been travelling around a bit, you decide you’re going to just splurge out (I think that’s the term) and book just one really expensive hotel for the last bit, I wonder if there is some rule that states that it will always be less than the perfect experience.

Allow me to introduce you to the Hotel Grand Harbour Kowloon. I have changed the name to preserve some anonymity. But only slightly.

Now there are two potential ways to run a hotel with a 5 star rating and obscene prices. The first is you go all out to make sure the guests have an absolutely flawless experience, are treated like royalty and you are made to feel as though you are just born into this lifestyle. The second is to maintain an air of haughty grandeur and somehow convey to the guests that they’re LUCKY to be allowed to stay in the hotel.

Following the first concept, there are free things, like free wi-fi, chocolates on the bed, a trouser press, a bowl of fruit, fresh flowers, rose petals strewn in the bedroom even. The second concept, a noticeable absence of free things. And there are spiteful little notes telling you that the room fridge is for chilling HOTEL MINIBAR DRINKS ONLY and requesting that hotel guests do not put their own drinks in there. There is no iron or ironing board, you have to avail yourself of the laundry service at a price that makes throwing your clothes away and just buying new ones a real option. The hair dryer accepts banknotes. When you roll back the bedsheets there’s a discreet note on the pillow asking patrons if they have any intention of dying in the night, could they please sleep on the floor. OK, maybe that’s not quite true.

There was a sort of stark, unfriendly efficiency to the place, which however did not extend to ensuring rooms were available for guests, even though they may have been booked some six weeks earlier. This caused them some problems and, in a stay lasting three days we moved twice, which hardly left any time for seeing Hong Kong. I did raise this with the General Manager at the time and apparently they are unique in that rooms advertised for sale on weren’t necessarily ‘there’ when you arrived. I do sympathise with their situation. The hotel has 555 of them. It is entirely possible that they lose a few from time to time.

The next morning we went down to the Cafe in the hotel and had two cappuccinos and a couple of panini and it came to something around £50. That evening we went a few yards outside the hotel and had a full meal in a restaurant for £17.

The air of haughty grandeur persisted for the duration of our stay, however I did take some pleasure in pointing out to the General Manager that their fire safety signage was inadequate - you couldn’t tell which way the fire exit was when you stepped out of your room, even without any smoke, and the televisions also had bare wires hanging out the back and fizzed slightly. So lets see, 555 rooms, probably something like 55 floors, and it’s on record that a customer has raised an issue with inadequate fire safety…

They had seven people to show you to the front door when you checked out. SEVEN. They were stood approximately two feet from each other. They all made the same sweeping gesture with their right hand - it was like watching doormen do synchronised swimming.

This has absolutely nothing to do with cameras, has it - but it has a lot to do with annoying men - mainly me in this instance. In fact, if you type ‘annoying photography blog’ into Google, you’ll see I’m third on the list, out of fifty four million, nine hundred thousand hits. I am MORE ANNOYING than 54,900,000 other things on the internet. I told my partner and he was horrified. “Are you upset?” he asked. He’d forgotten the name of this website. Far from it - I’ve taken a fundamental principle from my day job which is that if you’re not annoying somebody, you’re probably not doing your job right.

That said, on to some photos, our last foreign city before our final flight home.

The hotel was situated in Kowloon, but a fairly inaccessible bit of it, overlooking what used to be Hong Kong International Airport (Kai Tak), known worldwide for its terrifying landing approaches between tower blocks and a 30% degree turn just before you land.

The old airport runway has been replaced with sports facilities, a go cart track, and a golf course, all of which are considerably less exciting then landing there was in the old days. You can see it in this picture, it’s the long flat building to the right.

You think I’m exaggerating? This picture, of Checkerboard Hill, where the pilots had to make that right turn, should speak a million words.

checkerboard hill.jpg

This is not my photo but it has been reproduced so many times I can’t identify the copyright on it.

So, this part of Kowloon was heavily residential, with the typical tiny Hong Kong apartments rising into the path of oncoming jets. They use bamboo for external scaffolding. Apparently this is very practical in a city with very little room - its light, and it can be cut to size and transported very easily. And apparently if you fall off it, well, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal.

They don’t just use it for tweaking their aircon units and fitting a new window box. They use it for skyscrapers too. If you doubt this, check out the Panasonic building (Honk Kong Island) in the following photograph. If you click on the image and expand it, you’ll see the ends of the bamboo poles. I read up on this and the thing that scared the bejesus out of me is that the walkways are just placed onto the structure, not tied onto it.

This part of Kowloon had a fake ocean liner in the middle of the street. A sort of themed shopping centre which was a bit odd. It was pretty convincing but the reason I knew it was fake is that they don’t build many cruise liners out of concrete.

We also checked out a market. Each floor was dedicated to a particular area. My partner’s pescaterian (that means a vegetarian who doesn’t quite have the commitment to take the final plunge and still eats fish) so we managed the vegetable section, and the fish section, thankfully not walking past anything that was being cut up alive. They seem to have a completely different approach to animal sentience in Hong Kong.

We wandered into the Pets section but didn’t stay long...

OK so that’s a joke. We didn’t go into the meat section just in case we encountered animals we would keep as pets (I once had a pet tarantula so the odds were pretty high). And no, they don’t eat dogs, it’s illegal in Hong Kong (since 1950), but you can get horse meat sashimi, snake soup and blood tofu, and yes, to answer your question, it is. Rather defeats the purpose of tofu in my view and I imagine it has probably freaked out the occasional unwary vegetarian.

After scooting pretty quickly out of the market, vanilla tourists that we are, we then went to the 118 storey International Congress Centre. First of all we stood at ground level, looking at the height of the residential buildings in the complex and wondering how anybody could be comfortable living in anything so high, especially if your flat is in the ‘bridge’ area between the two columns.

Then we went up the International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong, to the Sky 100 Observatory, and looked down on the same buildings we’d just looked up at. We were so high I think I could almost see my house from there…

These are the last pictures from Hong Kong.

So, the end of a very long day, a great deal of it spent sitting down - I had finally learnt the secret of travelling with an 11kg camera bag - we headed back to Hong Kong International Airport, and caught the flight home.

The international venues are all in the past now. From here on in, it’s duck photos desperately trying to be interesting.

These two were quite pleased to see us though…

Until the next time…