|The view from our room on the 21st floor.|
While I’ve been sleeping, darkness has given way to a milky light. Some forty thousand feet or so below me, mile upon mile of snow-covered peaks rise up like islands through a sea of clouds. Siberia, I realise with a thrill. In a year filled with potent reminders about the brevity of life, Tom’s decided to make one of my long-held dreams of visiting the Far East come true by surprising me with this holiday. So let’s gloss over my initial reaction which, because I’m always worried about money, was as cold as those mountain tops and skip to the present as the plane prepares to land. The South China Sea is spread beneath the wings and I realise that after years of dreaming about it that very shortly I’ll be in Hong Kong.
Success! Our bags have arrived and we’ve been given a free map of the city. Now all we have to do is locate the minibus to the hotel. We’re mysteriously sporting stickers emblazoned with a large orange ‘k’ issued by a desk clerk who has pointed us in the direction of a seating area and told us to wait. For what, we’re not sure. Presently a small man in a blue and gold waistcoat bows neatly in front of us, tells us to follow him then takes off across the airport at a cracking pace. At an entirely random spot he stops abruptly, points at a petite young woman also wearing a blue and gold waistcoat and instructs us to ‘now follow her!’. ‘Follow me!’ she adds for good measure before haring off into the distance. Eventually, after a failed attempt to board the wrong bus and getting ticked off for it, we’re on our way.
Hong Kong airport is situated on reclaimed land some twenty-five minutes’ drive from our hotel in Mong Kok. As we draw closer to our destination, the endless skyscrapers give a snapshot of how some eight million people crowded into such a small area are accommodated. I’m particularly struck by lines of laundry hanging from every window – and later, walking around, I also learn to avoid the drips from them!
There’s a particular smell here too, a bit like the first smell of land when you’ve been offshore in a small boat, a musky, musty, slightly spicy scent with a hint of sewer which soon permeates our clothes and infuses every taste of food.
We check in at our hotel, shower and head off to explore the immediate vicinity. The temperature’s lovely, t- shirt weather, and, to my relief - since I’m always slightly wary in unfamiliar territory in case I inadvertently offend some local custom - everyone’s too busy minding their own business to worry in the slightest about us. The local restaurants are, however, bafflingly Chinese and some of the street food looks a little too heavy in beaks, feet and heads for my taste so we take the easy option, eat in the hotel restaurant and wonder what the next day will bring…