Our first day in Hong Kong
We arrived in Hong Kong safe and sound. I thought I would be tired after mysteriously losing a day but I was fine. In retrospect, the flight was actually OK. Being on a plane is the only time when you can sit there and do absolutely nothing, nothing at all, and not feel guilty about it. Being sick is probably the only other time you can do this but that’s no fun.
By the time we left the airport Sam had amazingly memorized virtually the whole of the Hong Kong train map (I knew I brought him along for a reason!) and we were being whisked away in a high speed modern train and before I even knew what was happening we were in the center of Hong Kong Island.
It was early September, so the most humid time of the year, and we emerged from the train station to a muggy haze of chaos. It was the first time we’d stepped outside and the heat wrapped itself around me like a blanket. It seemed to intensify everything, particularly the unfamiliar and exotic smells that traveled on the waves of heat.
All around me there were looming sky-scrapers towering ahead, bright colours, massive neon billboards flashing with must have products and beautiful women, a whole sea of cars, buses and mopeds that slowly swam together, honking their horns to little effect and billowing thick fumes into the humid air around us. And if I could see any gaps in the scene before me they were filled with people. People everywhere. Hundreds of people. Maybe thousands of people. All types of people. Incase you didn’t guess, I was a little shocked by all the people!
While Sam studied the map, which to me was as confusing as the Chinese symbols flashing all around us, I simply stood there for a few moments, completely bewildered in a fuzzy haze of jet lag and awe at the bustling scene. It was like trying to watch five TV screens at once, whilst reading a book and talking on the phone. I just couldn’t take it all in. So I simply stood there in the middle of the street like a complete idiot while I was pushed and shoved from every direction by the flow of people swimming around me.
It was around about this moment that my love for my beautiful orange backpack vanished. What I once thought of as my home, my shell, the thing that held my whole life together now became the biggest burden of my life.
I’m sure that for the half an hour that we were lost, and aimlessly wandered around the streets of Hong Kong, Sam had sneakily replaced all my clothes in my bag with bricks and I was carrying around the equivalent of half a house on my back. Sweat was running down my back and stuck my hair to my face and every step was a real effort as my bag tugged me backwards and dug into my shoulders like claws. I suddenly wanted to ditch my backpack and travel with nothing but my passport and the clothes I wore.
Being lost didn’t bother me as I was born without any sense of direction; I really think this should be given a medical name because its a serious and worrying condition. Being lost isn’t anything new for me, particularly in cities, but it was a whole new experience for Sam and I could tell he was starting to get worried, especially because we couldn’t find anyone who spoke English or had heard of our hotel.
But then I spotted something in the distance; a tiny glimmer of hope. Something shining through the cars and fumes and people. I saw the Guinness sign. Guinness means Ireland. Ireland means the UK. The UK means home and people who speak English. Like a pair of homing pigeons we were drawn to that ray of hope that symbolises home and a small chance of perhaps finding our hotel one day that year.
I couldn’t believe that we’d been away from home for about 13 hours and already we were hunting down something British, but thankfully our instincts were right. The owner of the pub lived up to the Irish stereotype perfectly and was a friendly, drunk Irish guy. He knew of our hotel and put us in a taxi and sent us in the right direction.
I’ve never in all my life been so pleased to enter an air conditioned building. Or so thankful to be alive after our first experience of crossing a Hong Kong road.
Our hotel was called JJ’s and we had no idea how posh it would be until we arrived. We received some kind of special offer where it was 4 nights for the price of 1, so the staff were clearly a little shocked to find a pair of scruffy backpackers at reception. This is another one of Sam’s fabulous talents; he somehow manges to find amazing hotel offers on the internet. So this talent, combined with a built in TomTom and map reading extrodinaire, makes him a pretty good travel buddy.
The staff were really nice though, despite our HoBo appearance, especially one chubby little guy who was camp as a row of tents and had more energy than the Easter Bunny and a massive smile that Mr Colgate would be very proud of. He didn’t really say alot, he just smiled and bowed and laughed which made me chuckle and I decided he was the nicest hotel receptionist I’d ever met.
The building was about 25 floors high and our hotel occupied about 4 of those floors while the others were made up of a variety of things such as a dentist, child care, restaurants, bars and a suspicious looking ‘gentleman’s club’. I liked the fact that so many different types of businesses and also different types of people can live and work together so well. Once in our room you would never have imagined that so much activity surrounded us. It was peaceful and calm and with an amazing, and thankfully silent, view of the city.
We both showered a little subconsciously as the bathroom was made of glass walls which meant that from the shower, and the toilet!, you could see right out over the city. An apartment in the building next to our hotel would be a pervert’s paradise but I tried not to think of that as I washed away that horrible aeroplane smell.
We went for a walk and got our bearings, well Sam did anyway, then that evening we went to visit ‘The Peak’. Its a tourist attraction where you ride a worryingly old tram up a worryingly steep mountain 552m high. The tram was built in 1888 and apparently this is suppost to be part of the attraction to riding it.
It felt as though the tram was almost vertical at times and it would have been impossible to stand up; I found it difficult enough to hold my head up straight as gravity attempted to bend it in some unnatural direction. The tram slowly rattled and creaked and struggled and heaved itself up the mountain and I was extremely pleased to get off at the top and even more pleased when I saw the view.
There was an amazing panoramic view of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Victoria Harbour and on the other side the sun was setting over an equally amazing view. I was pleased we arrived just before sunset as we saw the city in daylight and then when it was all lit up and twinkling through the night.
We ate dinner at ‘Bubba Gumps’. Another overpriced tourist trap but it was well worth it and we weren’t quite ready to decipher a Chinese menu. We ate what felt like half the shrimp in the sea, cooked in every possible way and dunked in every possible sauce. We then sat at the bar with our stools facing the amazing view while we sipped cocktails from tacky, flashing plastic beakers that they gave us for free, probably because they felt guilty about charging us so much. We watched the symphony of lights, a light show across the water, and then turned around and watched Forest Gump.
Once the cocktails were swimming through my blood stream i quickly remembered that we hadn’t slept for two days so we headed back to the hotel, sleepy and full and ready for a good nights sleep.