Business trip to Hong Kong
Hong Kong stands for Perfumed Harbour. This city on our list on the business trip for my office right after Bangkok. We flew to Hong Kong International airport from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi. The airport was huge, as expected. The airport seems to be constructed on an artificial island. The runway starts from one end of the island and ends at the other end. I guess, if the pilot fails to touchdown the plane at the right spot on the runway then the plane would probably plop into the sea… but I don’t think there is any need to worry. I doubt if that had ever happened.
Immigration was even smoother that Bangkok. Phew! Yes, we got visa on arrival in Hong Kong as well. It was even better, just a simple form to fill out and the immigration officer gave us a slip each with the entry and exit dates mentioned. It looked like a toll ticket and there was no stamping on the passport. Interesting, but I did not like it. I prefer a stamp on my passport. 🙁
Once we were out in the open we started sweating profusely. The humidity of the city in the middle of June was astounding and the humidity increased after sun set. That meant it would be difficult going around the city, on foot, in the evening.
Hong Kong taxis
Right outside the airport terminal there different colored taxis waiting. Actually 3 colours, red, blue and green, denoting which area those taxis could take us. Our hotel was, Excelsior, that was located on Hong Kong island, so we were ushered into a red cab. The cab took little more than an hour to reach the hotel. On the way, I struck a conversation with a cabbie to get to know about the city from a local. The driver could speak good English but he said that everyone did not speak as good English as he did. On the way, I picked up information on all the shopping areas in Hong Kong from him.
Hotel Excelsior & Causeway Bay shopping area
The hotel was very classy and expensive and located in a fabulous locality called Causeway Bay. Well, the client was paying for it so we got a chance to live a little :). The hotel rooms offered amazing views of the Hong Kong waterfront but I was
not very happy with the room interiors. I expected more, considering that it was a 5 star hotel in Hong Kong island opposite to the bay. I later realized that my colleagues’ rooms were slightly better than mine and I began to wonder why. It realized that I had asked for a smoking room! How about that?!! Is that way to treat a guest? No way! I complained about this to the front desk. They were quick to change my room. It was slightly better.
The back of the hotel was a wonderful shopping district and the Hong Kong metro station named, of course, Causeway Bay.
The client’s office was not very far from the hotel, a only about 6 km from the hotel and the best part of the office was that there was a multi-storied mall from the ground floor. I loved shopping at a department store named, Wing on.
Symphony of Lights
On the first evening we went to see the Symphony of Lights on the Avenue of Stars in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. The Avenue of Stars is a walk along the Hong Kong bay that overlooks the Hong Kong skyline across the bay. The show starts every evening at 8pm.
We took a metro to Kowloon from Hong Kong island, that’s where
our hotel was. We rushed to the spot and just managed to reach the bay side a couple of minutes before the show started. During the show there was background music played through multiple speakers placed along the bay boardwalk. The show was about laser lights flickering from the top of most of the high rises facing the Hong Kong bay. I had high hopes about the show but frankly I wasn’t too impressed. I think the show was planned way back in the 90’s probably. Yes, at that time this show would have been a hit, I’m sure but in 2014, I’m afraid we have all become used much more glitzy shows. Anyways, that was not such a downer. We might have just expected too much. So we thought of looking forward to a more engaging experience at the famed shopping districts.
Local dinner misadventure
We decided to have dinner at the local joints on the street as we had done in Bangkok. After experiencing the Symphony of Lights we went to another famous shopping district, Mong Kok to get some dinner having no idea of what lay ahead of us.
This is where we faced a challenge. The menu at the local joints were written in Chinese. Thankfully the people who ran the joints were understanding. They have the pictures of the main items on wall posters. That was very helpful to us. I tried to get some more understanding about the food and what it contained in English from the employees. Oh joy!
They tried their best to explain in broken English.All I could do to order was point to the image of the dish on the menu and show the number of fingers to denote how many I wished to get. I picked up some pork chowmein or noodles. What I got was a lot white noodles in a bowl of soup with a pork steak lightly steamed on top of the noodles. I was a little taken aback because it seemed that the meat and noodles had simply been boiled plain without any spices. I wasn’t sure if it would have any taste. To add to my woes, there was no spoon or fork. When I asked for a spoon, all I got was chopsticks and a soup spoon.
Oh .. my … goodness! I had never used chopsticks before in my life and there was no way one can eat noodles and meat with a soup spoon.
Now if I didn’t use the chopsticks then I would have had to use my hands and I wasn’t sure if I could wash my hands! I took it as a challenge looking at the people seated at the other tables. I tried pecking the food initially, all the time thinking that I should not make a fool of myself. After a few minutes I could manage to pick up some noodles with my chopsticks. Now that made me feel a little better. At least, I was not making a total fool of myself. I watched others around our table. I saw that the soup spoon was used by them to eat the soup.
I followed their method and could somehow make it through the dinner ordeal. I managed to finish the meal in what seemed to be ages, but the clock said that it was half an hour. Imagine that! Such a meal takes the local people just a few minutes! Somehow I got a little bit of confidence at the end of it and I felt I could do it again. I decided to go over this exercise again. Nothing doing. This would be my dinner until we leave Hong Kong at the end of the week.
Mong Kok shopping district
The entire dinner took nearly a couple of hours, from picking the place, decoding the menu, ordering, receiving it and struggling to eat. After winning the battle over chopsticks we decided to look around. See what we could salvage of the rest of the evening. Oops, night. It was beyond 11 pm. We started our walk. I was pretty sure that it was so late the stores would have closed and we would have to come back to our hotel without getting a look. We were in awe that although it was pretty late, about 11:30 pm, but it was crowded like it was 7 pm in the evening.
It seemed like Hong Kongers don’t like to go to bed!
We went through the district first, window shopping and meandering through the streets. Quite a lot of stores were still open but looking at the crowd it seemed like it was business as usual.
Street market at Tin Hua temple
The next evening we went to a street market near Tin Hua temple in Shim Tsa Tsui district.
This street market covered an entire street from top to bottom. I got to know that traffic is blocked off from the afternoon for setting up the market. The market had a big variety of items, like clothes, jade statues, paintings, Chinese fans, even electronic items. Apparently jade was considered to be very valuable and I think it has something to do with Chinese culture. I bought a lot of things there, especially Chinese fans and paintings and some cute USB drives
and … bargained for each item. I know, it is very unlike me. Sigh, I just can’t bargain but It felt just like shopping in Gariahat, in my city, Kolkata.
My best experience was on the last day. It was a Saturday and our return flight was at night. So we had the entire day to ourselves. My plan was to see Victoria Peak and finish some shopping. We had our breakfast and checked out of our rooms. Then we went to the Airport Express. The Airport Express is a rail station on Hong Kong island that connects down town Hong Kong directly to the airport. Check in is allowed any time within 24 hours of the flight. We just needed to buy tickets worth HKD 100 for the train and check in our bags. When we would reach the airport in the evening, our luggage would be waiting for us.
We took a bus from Hong Kong bus terminus, that is within walking distance from Airport Express. We were told that the best way to reach the Peak was on special tram service that goes directly to the Peak. As the tram service is always overbooked it could take a very long time to wait we decided not to try the tram and go to the Peak on a bus. The bus went through a winding route to the top. The views I got from the bus on the way up were fantastic. The bus went through a few rich neighborhoods.
I had read that these neighborhoods are the most expensive in the entire world. When we reached the Peak we bought tickets to go to the observation deck. From this deck one can overlook the entire city. I can tell you this view was just awesome. It was comparable to the view I have seen atop the Empire State Building. The view was so good that we spent a couple of hours on the deck. I wished that I could see the Hong Kong skyline in the evening but we did not have time as our flight back to Hyderabad was in the at 8pm and we it would take us at least a couple of hours to reach the airport and then keep another 2 hours at least before take off.
Return to Hong Kong International airport
As we had our flight in a few hours we had to leave before sunset, although I really wanted to see the city light up from the deck. We had to leave Victoria Peak on the same bus we came and went back to Airport Express to take the train to the airport. After we reached we completed the security check and immigration formalities. Just before boarding the flight we were stopped. I was worried why all of us were stopped. The flight crew took our boarding cards. Then I got really worried as I thought we might be under some suspicion and were being detained. To my utter surprise the crew gave me a new boarding pass. I asked them what happened. They said they had upgraded me to business class. Imagine my surprise! In fact, I saw that they upgraded my colleagues as well. Wow! That was an awesome feeling. After boarding the flight the captain anounced that we were going to be delayed by about 1 hour before taking off. Normally I would have been annoyed but this time I wasn’t complaining as I got more time to enjoy business class for the first time. I must fly with Cathay Pacific again….