Posts tagged ‘Hong Kong’
*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
From the second we stepped over the border in Shenzhen train station we knew that we were in a whole new China. Instantly the cigarettes went out, the spitting stopped and order returned to the world. And it was even more convincing after we got off the subway on Nathan Road.
“Watches, handbags, copy watch for you my friend!”; “Tailor for you sir! Suits, shirts, ties, ladies’ tailor for you Ma’am!”; “Hostel for you sir, cheap room for you!” We were so overjoyed to hear the hawkers speaking english that we didn’t care that they had completely surrounded us and were following us down the road. We gawked at the colours of all their hands – black, brown, yellow, white – after seeing only Chinese faces for an entire month, the multicultural population of Hong Kong was a shock to the system.
Our first three nights in Hong Kong were spent in the notorious Chungking Mansions – a grimy, never-ending block filled to bursting point with curry houses, mobile phone retailers, porn stalls and reasonably priced accomodation. Here hawkers are more persistent than anywhere else in the city, the bugs are huge, the queues for the lift can be half an hour long, the men will violate you with their stares and the building could fall down at any moment but the prices and the curry make it all worthwhile (especially The Deli Club on Floor 3 Block A.)
Curry aside though, it would be silly to argue that Hong Kong isn’t first and foremost about the views, the technology and the shopping. For ease of use, all of the above are packaged into nice little bite-sized bundles too. Around Tsim Sha Tsui for example, there are more stores selling Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton than you could shake a Miu Miu bag at and even at that the flagship stores still manage to conjure queues of 40 or 50 people waiting to get in at any given time. Around Nathan Rd on the other hand, everyone deals in electronics at prices that would cause you to wonder if they were flattened when they fell off the back of that truck.
Knockdown Canons included, the best part of Hong Kong is the Star Ferry which runs from the terminal in Kowloon across the bay to Hong Kong Island. At only HK$1.80 (€0.16) for a place on the lower deck, spending 10 minutes watching Hong Kong skyline twinkle to life in the burned light of dusk is an epiphany moment you can have every day. And since daylight and darkness are equally kind to the view, it takes a lot of restraint not to drag your boyfriend (along with his seasick belly) over and back 23 times in 5 days. Not that I would do that…
The view across the harbour is at its best at 8pm every second day or so (Mon, Wed and Fri) when speakers in Tsim Sha Tsui harbour belt out the music to accompany the light show. The show admittedly starts a little slow with spotlights timed to Disney-esque music but it quickly picks up, switching into Star Wars mode as dozens of green lasers dance across the sky to computer game music.
There is another side to Hong Kong though – a side which makes it different from Tokyo with its fabulous shops, fabulous cars, fabulous women, fabulous architecture and fabulous technology – a side which gives it a little more character than the average high strung, high rise city. Wander a few minutes away from the mid-level escalaors (outdoor escalators that stretch uphill for blocks) and you will quickly realise that as different as this new China is, it’s still China. Fish flop about on chopping boards, old men sit on benches with their songbirds and chicken’s feet are ten a penny. As it turns out, Hong Kong – for all it’s capitalist glamour, Soho elite and Blackberry-toting chaos – is never too far from its roots, and that is why we love it.