Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hong Kong: Day 2 - Touring Hong Kong Island (and shopping, of course)

Had a great day today. We signed on for a tour which would take us across to Hong Kong Island, up the Peak, and then to Stanley Markets, a cruise of Aberdeen Harbour, and finish off with – wow, what a surprise – a visit to a jewellery factory.

Okay, we could have done all this independently, but sometimes it’s great to do an organised tour because you pick up so many interesting little titbits. For instance, on the drive up to the Peak our tour guide pointed out to us a rather impressive mansion which was the home of a Mr Stanley Ho, also known as Ho Hung Sun or The King of Gambling. For over 40 years Mr Ho held the monopoly for the gambling industry on Macau – it is is a HUGE industry. Obviously, the guy is pretty damned rich. As well as gambling he’s into entertainment, shipping, real estate, banking etc, etc, etc , and has business interests in Europe, Africa and of course various other spots in Asia. Interesting? Sure. But what had the whole coachload of tourists laughing and shaking their heads was that our tour guide pointed out that, while monogamy is compulsory for Europeans living in Hong Kong, that was not the case for local people, and so Mr Ho was, quite legally, the proud husband of not one, not two, but three wives. So, here we have this enormously wealthy man, with an enormous house, and three ladies to share it with him. Could lead to problems, you think? Not if they each have their own front door. Yes, that’s right: each wife had her own front door. What a lovely way to save face, but how wonderfully quirky from a non-Chinese viewpoint.

We then got told the old Chinese joke: ‘ho’ means good; ‘ho ho’ means good, good, or very good; ‘ho ho ho’ means merry Christmas. Yes, it’s funny in a group situation, but don’t expect gales of laughter when you repeat the joke to the folks back home.

Anyway, after that long, long, very winding road the coach at last reached The Peak. The haze was terrible, I have to tell you, and so most photographs we took were more like “Guess what this is?” exercises, and ended up in that little black bin on the upper right hand corner of the computer screen. We were able to have a wander around, however, so we picked up a few souvenirs, admired the skill of constructing such amazing homes on such steep slopes, and enjoyed a nice lunch. 

Now, that's what you call a haze.

 We were then off to the Stanley Markets, and I have to tell you I loved them. They are not particularly large, but they are fantastic, with friendly stall holders and a fabulous range of goods. I bought quite a few scarves – I buy scarves wherever I go – some shoes (of course), some handbags (of course), a few T-shirts and some rather exotic (and not at all practical) notebooks. I loved chatting with the shopkeepers there, but found the straightforward approach of some of them quite surprising. At one little shop where I was admiring a blouse the stallholder came up to me, looked me up and down, and then said “You too fat for that one. I find another one for you”. No chance of taking offence as within about two seconds I had the perfect top shoved into my hands. She was right: it was a perfect fit, and I have had lots of happy wear out of it. In another stall, one where I bought a couple of handbags, the delightful young girl who was plying me with bag after bag after bag suddenly asked, “How old are you?” That really was a bit of a shock. I told her I was simply old. She then said, “How many kids you got?” I told her that we didn’t have any children. It was then her turn to be shocked. Her eyes got huge, her shoulders came up really high as she dipped her head in disbelief, and she said, “No kids? Why you have no kids?” I have worked with people for years who would never have asked such a blunt question.  But I can honestly say that there was nothing offensive in such questioning; it was actually almost refreshing.

Entrance to the famous floating restaurant - huge!
Okay, so happily laden with lots of goodies, we then all piled back into the coach and were driven to a spot where we boarded a small boat for a cruise around Aberdeen Harbour

Not the vessel we were on, sadly.

Now, as you can see from the photographs, while there are lots of luxury vessels, most boats we saw there were workboats, floating homes, covered in all sorts of amazing signs, objects, flags. 

Boats which looked as though they had been through a typhoon and were absolute wrecks sported satellite televisions. Boats which looked as though the decks were rotten with woodworm were fitted with reverse cycle air-conditioning units. And everywhere, lovely, smiling young men on those boats, all waving to the gawking tourists who were treating their homes as museum exhibits.
Back on land, we were shepherded back into the coach and then taken to that place that no tourist to Hong Kong is allowed to miss – a jewellery factory. Now, most of the people on the coach were American tourists, and most of those ladies sported diamond rings such as are normally only seen on The Bold and the Beautiful or Dynasty. Some of them, in that jewellery showroom, were like the proverbial kiddie in a lolly shop.
We found the tour of the factory really interesting, seeing the jewellery makers working with tiny, precise tools to fashion exquisite earrings, necklaces, bracelets. Did I find something? Well, by the time we left there I was the extremely happy owner of a stunning turquoise ring with matching earrings. Oh, they are totally gorgeous, I assure you.

What a fantastic day we had. This tour was so worthwhile. It was great being part of a happy bunch of people, and getting to chat to folks from places that we just know from song titles.  
And to top off the day? A superb, and memorable, meal at the Waterfront Bar and Terrace, which is a restaurant attached to the hotel but separate to the main building. Honestly, it was one of those meals where you put a forkful in your mouth, close your eyes and just drift off into tastebud heaven. Superb! Catch you later.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Hong Kong: Day 1

So, here we were, just settled on a property which we had spent over two years turning from the ugliest ducking in the farmyard to the most beautiful swan on the lake, and it had paid off for us very well. We needed a holiday, but we needed something which would be quick and easy to book, which would not involve months of planning or pouring over websites, somewhere offering a bit of excitement and a good deal of comfort. Well, where else but that place 22.3 north, Hong Kong.

I picked up a few travel brochures, booked our airfares, and selected a hotel, the Harbour Plaza Kowloon (since renamed the Harbour Grand Kowloon . The date was set, 7th of October, and we were revved up for a great holiday.

The flight up to Hong Kong with Qantas was fantastic. The food was great, the service from the cabin crew first class even if we were in economy, and before we knew it, having watched a couple of movies and had a few vinos, we were landing in Hong Kong, alas no longer at the famous airport that gave so many tourists some anxious moments but at the superb, super-efficient new airport on Lantau Island.

By the time we had cleared immigration, our luggage was through on the fascinating-to-watch luggage carousel, and so we were soon through customs and out into the arrivals lounge where we quickly spotted our pre-arranged transport to the Harbour Plaza. Driving in from the airport the excitement mounts as you begin to see high-rise after high-rise after high-rise. Actually, Hong Kong looks like a place made up of differently coloured domino pieces all standing on end, all bumping against each other, each one vying for attention. The skyline itself is just such a feature.

Our hotel, situated in the Hunghom area of Kowloon, far exceeded any advertising brochures. The staff at reception were delightful, coming across as genuinely welcoming, and check-in was completed in no time at all and with big smiles. Before we knew it we were opening the door into our room and rushing over to the window to take it the fantastic harbour views. Everything was lovely – the d├ęcor, the bathroom, the location.  Great choice of hotel, Beejay! Our suitcases were soon delivered, and I unpacked them quickly, sorted out the toiletries for the bathroom, put our reading material etc etc out where we wanted them, had a quick shower, and we were ready to head downstairs and out.

Outside our hotel. Who doesn't love dolphins, even gold ones?
First port of call was a quick stroll around the Hunghom area just to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings. As I said, the hotel is in a perfect location, overlooking the harbour, and it is just a very short walk from there to the Hunghom ferry terminal. While we would have loved to just jump on a ferry and head over to Hong Kong Island or along to Tsim Sha Tsui, a supermarket was needed so that we could get some goodies to fill our fridge. We had asked that the contents of the mini-bar in our room be taken away and we wanted to make good use of the small fridge and ensure that the gin and rum had their correct drinking buddies, tonic and coke.

Within a few short blocks of the hotel we found a fantastic shopping centre which contained everything you could possibly want – clothing shops, shoe shops, eateries, newsagents, and of course a supermarket. We absolutely love supermarket shopping in the places we visit, taking ages to check out every shelf to see what products we have in common, what strange goodies we can ponder over, and what amazing new gadgets we can enthuse over. In somewhere like Hong Kong you can add to that list what incredible smells your nostrils can be assailed by in the natural health section, or indeed in the food section. It was fantastic! 
Well supplied with mixers, munchies, chocolates, tea, coffee, milk and sugar, we headed back to our room, organised our supplies, and then once more made our way out onto the street. This time we did indeed head down to the ferry terminal. It was getting dark, which was just lovely. We boarded one of those famous Hong Kong Star Ferries to Tsim Sha Tsui, the busy, busy bit of Kowloon which everybody who has ever been there is so familiar with – think Nathan Road, Indian tailors, shops galore, the Peninsula Hotel, the Hong Kong cruise terminal. Ah, it was so alive, so buzzing with vitality, so colourful and wonderful.

We then took the opportunity to head out for a special evening cruise on one of the non-ferry ferries. There are a couple of these beautifully maintained ferries which take people on harbour cruises as opposed to being just a method of transport between Hong Kong and the mainland or the myrial islands scattered around. 

The name of the vessel we cruised on is Shining Star, and she is indeed beautiful. It's a while ago now, but  the memory of the delightful cruise is still there, and it is indeed magical cruising those waters and seeing a giant fairyland on either side of you as the lights of Hong Kong and the lights of Kowloon via for your attention.

What better place to sip a drink, unless it's on the outside deck, of course.

After that cruise we wandered around for a while, taking another ferry across the water to Hong Kong Island, and then back again to Hunghum and the Harbour Grand for a great meal in the restaurant overlooking the harbour surrounded by those glittering lights.

Oh, imagine our delight on walking back into the hotel lobby to discover it had been set up for a wedding. Wow, things here are certainly not done in half measures.  Check out these photographs. Stunning, I'm sure you will agree.

It had been quite a big day, and that big, incredibly comfortable bed was just heaven to sink into, and a great night’s sleep was waiting.

Friday, 10 August 2012

22.3 Degrees North - Where on Earth?

Okay, so I have just got my computer back from being repaired and it's just lovely, good as new again, but I have got soooo much to catch up on.  In the interim, though, let me whet your appetite with a few photographs of one of our favourite places - an exciting, exotic, chaotic and thrilling place located 22.3 degrees north.
Now, where is that, did you say?

(Here's a clue - think of a many splendid thing)