Hong Kong merrily on high
*Warning: may contain excessive sentimentality and self-pitying of the worst, least justifiable kind.
Christmas day didn’t start well for us and by 11.30am I was sobbing uncontrolably into my Starbucks coffee. I was plagued by the notion that I should be at home tucking into a fry and racing out the door, one shoe on and one shoe off, after my family on the way to mass. I missed watching their faces as they opened carefully chosen presents; getting massive thank you hugs; taking on my Dad, brothers and sister in the new Wii game; helping Mam with the dinner; and pigging out before falling into a food and mulled wine induced coma in front of Love Actually.
Gary was feeling more or less the same but in a more graceful way. While I was crying hysterically because “the waitress in the shopping centre food court has been ignoring us for 40 minutes now, they’re playing my favourite Christmas song and anyway, who wants to eat stupid ramen and drink stupid Starbucks coffee on Christmas day!”, he tried to comfort me while quietly sighing out his regrets. He missed going to mass on Christmas eve, visiting his cousin Sarah on Christmas morning, his Mom’s sensational cooking and downing a few Irish coffees with his sister and her boyfriend on St. Stephen’s day.
In an effort to create the greatest Christmas ever we had booked into a 5 star hotel in Hong Kong – the exquisite Langham Place, Mong Kok – and up until 11.30am that morning it had been absolutely perfect. The Langham Place was perfect from the outset. The receptionist who was checking us in took pity on us when we walked into the lobby (two strange, dirty, badly dressed backpackers in a sea of Armani suits and Prada dresses) and was very sorry to have to tell us that they had no non-smoking standard rooms on the 3rd floor so she would unfortunately have to upgrade us to an executive suite on the 25th.
So instead of a small bed in a small room in a nice hotel we had a huge bed in a huge room with such features as a 50” flatscreen tv, an ipod dock, a floor-to-ceiling view of the city and a rainfall shower. It also had some of those incredibly useless luxuries that only the most spoilt creatures could ever require such as a phone that could check our stocks and a menu of pillows we could order including one made of 100% Japanese green tea. On top of all that we had a rooftop pool, a sauna, a steam room, a spa and an oriental hot tub.
But somehow, as amazing and fantastic and breathtaking as it all was on December 24th, it was lost on us come the morning of the 25th. The fact of the matter is that Hong Kong just does not know how to celebrate Christmas. Sure the shops play festive music, there are decorations everywhere, the bars offer mulled wine, the restaurants sell turkey and the sacharine sound of children’s choirs rings in your ears – but there is no sense of family.
On Christmas Eve thousands of people collect on Nathan Rd to count down to midnight. They hug and shake hands and dance on the streets and then they go home. At 11.30am on Christmas morning the shopping centre we were eating in was thronged with shoppers, the city traffic was as bad as ever and teenagers were still loittered on the streets. Where were their families? Why weren’t they at home exchanging presents or eating together or visiting relatives?
More to the point, why weren’t we?
Eventually we realised that we had had it wrong all along. Without our families we could never have had the best Christmas ever but we could certainly give having the best regular day ever a lash. So we banned any mention of the C word, donned our fluffy white robes and sat in our huge bed drinking M&S champagne, eating Ferrero Rocher and watching The Grinch on HBO. It was nice but I still broke into occasional hysterics and resolved to be far far away from Starbucks and shopping centres and loittering teenagers at 11.30am on December 25th next year.
More pictures from Hong Kong are available in the gallery