I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Octopus rift

It's half eight on Saturday morning and grey outside. I imagine it's about 28-30°c, because it always is in Hong Kong. I'm a bit annoyed there isn't a lot of well choreographed martial arts and gun-fu going on outside. Have the Shaw brothers and John Woo lied to me?

So yesterday, I am second off the plane and the walk to immigration and baggage reclaim is verrrry long. I am preoccupied by the blue ink on my hand. I've been scribbling notes all trip but my pen is black. Who drew blue on me?

The immigration queue looked bad but was very fast, with no questions asked of me by the masked official. Around half the people I see are wearing masks. I dunno if this is only common since bird flu or has an earlier genesis but it always makes me feel a bit nervous, especially with my ropey lungs. But actually when I emerge into Hong Kong air I find it much less oppressive and unpleasant than I used to, possibly because I'm fitter than before.

It's a good job my fitness levels are up. After getting my bag (first out after the crew's) I carry everything slowly towards where I thought I remembered the arrivals lounge was located. I had in my mind a pictorial guide posted to Flyertalk that I had stupidly not saved to my phone, as well as the bad terminal diagram from the Cathay magazine. Slow became a halt as I lost confidence and decided to pull out my phone and search for help. Turns out I was around 20 steps away.

The staff took my invitation and my holdall, giving me a receipt and directing me to sit down. This is a tiny lounge, maybe 40 or so capacity, with 6 computers, a TV, and some soft drinks, snacks, and showers. I grabbed a diet coke, some water and ritz crackers (which I had a hankering for, brought about by Labor Day) and sat down. One of the staff approached with a menu, asking if I'd like to choose something more substantive. Oh, go on then, I'll have a small bowl of vegetarian noodle soup.

A frankly enormous bowl of soup arrived and I managed about half of it. Then, time for google maps to tell me I was 1h20m away from my hotel by public transport. Hang on, what? 80 minutes? Isn't my hotel basically next door to Central station, which is only a 24 minute train ride away?

No, it isn't. For starters the train doesn't seem to go to Central station. For seconders, my hotel is over a kilometre from Central and around 2km from the airport express terminus. Ah whatever, I'll just play it by ear. But first, a fantastically refreshing shower and change of clothes.

Went to an airport express ticket machine and discovered it doesn't take cards. Crap. I have no Hong Kong dollars so go fo an ATM and withdraw a random amount without checking the exchange rate first. This means I ended up drawing out £155 worth, which is fucking stupid and not an amount I have a hope in hell of spending. Still, it at least means I have the means with which to buy a train ticket and soon I'm zooming to Hong Kong Island.

It's sunny outside. It's rarely sunny here. Last time it was cloudy for 4 days and now it looks vastly different, and gorgeous. I reach Hong Kong station and have a massive faff, changing my mind on a second by second basis about whether to walk or not. Thinking I might as well spend some currency, and that lugging my 15kg of bags 2km through 30°c in Honkers' busy streets will be horrid, I try to buy a ticket for the subway. The machines don't take notes bigger than 20HKD and my smallest is a 100. I couldn't find a machine selling Octupus cards (HK's oyster thing) and the queues at desks were too big for me to bother with. Fuck it, I'll walk after all.

Lugging my 15kg of bags 2km thorough 30°c in Honkers' busy streets was amazing. My sense of direction is good and I take no wrong turns, navigating the covered walkways like a boss and hitting ground level at the bottom of the ecalators. The roads are wonderful: names, curves, junctions which aren't just crossroads, everything much less logical and systematic than American roads and bizarrely much less confusing to me as a consequence. I find my hotel with ease and check in to an upgraded room on the 32nd floor with views of the sea. Beyond all the other massive buildings.

By now it's 5pm and time to blog the flight. After that I start to flag, but Yahoo! messenger keeps me awake because it's completely impossible to sign out on iOS and Paul pipes up for a chat. At 7pm I leave, wondering what Friday in Hong Kong has in store, and whether I can find a decent Guinness. But first, a trip to one of the several billion branches of 7-11 to buy an octopus card.

The man in the 7-11 shouted NO, NO at me when I asked for an octopus card so I just settled for a diet coke, and walked through random streets back towards Central. Hitting the area where the mid level escalators are, and a zillion food outlets, bars, and massage parlours, I forego the escalators and climb the hilly streets. My legs get a huge workout as I wander aimlessly for a while, stumbling across such authentic local experiences as an M&S food hall and a pub called the Yorkshire Pudding. There is masses of western stuff - and western people - here but it still feels very very unlike the west.

The heat is hot but not unpleasant, and one of my favourite things about here is that people sweat. Every hot country I visit I am completely befuddled by the locals not sweating like fuck. I constantly want to ask "aren't you hot?". But here people are using fans, mopping their brows, and covered in sweat. And not just the westerners. I feel normal.

I don't really fancy a drink just yet but keep a few places in mind, and walk all the way back down and through the walkways to the star ferry terminal. My plan is STILL to buy an octopus card, and yet again I find no vendors. Actually I do walk past another 7-11 which says it sells them but it's too crowded for me to be arsed with. Mind you, everywhere and everything is crowded. Hong Kong is dense and loud and bustle like nowhere else I've been.

So at the ferry terminal I buy 4 tokens, thinking I'll go across to Tsim Sha Tsui and back, then get another boat to the terminal near my Kowloon hotel from last time. In the end I only do a single return trip, to TST where I explore for a bit. There are tens of thousands of people teeming everywhere, and seemingly every single one of them is taking a photograph. The island skyline is beautiful. I follow a sign to Nathan Road but don't reach it, as the vast crowds on Canton road gawping at the high end shops piss me off, and I'm not interesting in buying a watch from any of the men who want to sell me one.

On the other side of the ferry terminal is a harbour walkway. Again, thousands of people, armed with phablets and selfie-sticks. It's still wonderful. I saunter very slowly and take some grainy photos, and then I just sit at the front and chill for quarter of an hour. I can't get over now much I love it here and want to come back for a lengthier stop, and think how unlikely but nice it might be to actually do it not on my own.

Back to the ferry terminal via an ice cream and drinks stop. I am taking on fluids like nobody's business and back at the island have a piss that seems to take about 5 minutes. I muse that it's surprising my piss isn't fizzy at the moment, and how blogging about taking a piss seems like something I will doubtless do despite knowing I really shouldn't. Don't over-share, Darren.

I walk back to the ecalators and decide to actually use it this time. I'm seeking the Globe, apparently Hong Kong's best beer bar. It's simple to find but on the steepest road yet (steps, not pavements), and one heaving with taxis and impossibly beautiful women. I don't go in because I don't immediately spot any single seats at the bar and besides, I'm in an area I've not yet explored. Up to the top and around, the pavements are tricky and traffic dense. In the end I scare an old woman by wanting to overtake her on the steps, and go into the Globe. I browse the beers and discover that literally nothing on view isn't available in pretty much every pub in London, and there's no Guinness tap that I can see. I walk straight back out, and head back to the big Irish I'd spotted earlier. Except I don't, because I finally get lost, only to find another brew pub underneath which is a different Irish pub with seats at the bar.

The Guinness is welcome, and great. Unlike everyone else, I don't bother paying for my drink, assuming I can just pay at the end, and the two barman conspire to have a new drink ready before I finish the last. The loud AC/DC and Bon Jovi is also welcome. Four slow pints later, the pub is heaving and the woman who'd cracked her head open just as I arrived is happily waitressing again. The bill helps me eat into my surplus currency, with it being 88HKD (aka £7) a pint. I manage to count out the exact 352 required leaving me with only a few coins and some 500s that I intend not to break.

Walking back to the hotel is somewhat tricky. The roads are very very steep, totally uneven, and I'm a little bit drunk. Also my phone is nearly dead as I'd spent a fair bit of time emailing and otherwise chatting with folks back home - Al, Rob, Nige, Chris, Wimbledon fans, sundry people on Facebook - plus asking Guy what currency I need for my next country. With no battery I eschew google maps and use the force, taking yet more unfamiliar roads and hey presto, there's the 7-11 in which I got shouted at earlier. I pop in for a snack, finally being a little hungry and they shout at me when my card is declined and I have to break a 500. For fucks sake.

Almost midnight and I'm shattered. I must have walked over 4 miles in sweltering heat and with a lot of hills. In my room, the "these curtains automatically close at 11pm" curtains have not closed, beause "automatically" appears to mean "automatically, if you press this button". Thankfully it also worked at times other than 11pm, and everything went very very dark.


Unknown said...

So now I'm seriously confused - youre a poet for the masses and you don't have a thousand comments and ten thousand followers... is this like white belts and arctic monkeys 7 years ago!? Am I finally ahead of the curve on something?! Why is noone else reading this?!?!

Anonymous said...

It's a great blog - I just lurk normally. Sounds like a fantastic trip Darren.

Hopefully catch up for a beer at an AFC game soon - especially if you come up to the Cambridge game.