Hong Kong in the Time of Troubles


It has now become something of a tradition in our family. Each year, our daughter takes us out for a short vacation. In 2016 it was Bangkok, which I skipped as I have had enough of the Thai capital, but my wife and daughter had a great time and ate and shopped without fortunately dropping. In 2017 we all went to Jakarta, last year we went to the Komodo Island (you can read about it here and here), this year it was Hong Kong and Macau.
Initially I was not very keen on going. Somehow I always thought of Hong Kong as another Singapore, which is not really one of my favourite places. However nowadays we all live in three separate cities, and I would have hated to miss meeting up so I agreed to go.
We were to reach Hong Kong airport on Friday morning (9th August). Susmita was to take the late night flight from Kolkata to reach at about 9 AM, Shreya was to reach at around 10 and my Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur was scheduled for about 11 AM.
The reporting time was 5AM at KLIA 2. This meant that I rose at 3 AM and drove to the airport at 4. I prefer to leave my car at the Airport carpark if we are going for 3-4 days, it saves me the hassle of trying to get a cab in the middle of the night and it  is also a  lot cheaper than paying the to and fro cab fares, even though , I  must admit, the parking charges are not cheap.
The flight was smooth; only I realized, after I reached the airport, that I had left my phone behind. Not that it mattered, as I was not too keen on being wired all the time during my holiday.  As the plane approached for landing I realized what a big place it is. I am told that it has the highest concentration skyscrapers in the world, (more than New York?) and it looked like it from the air. However it was also possible to see that there were big stretches of green and spectacular bay.  The Hong Kong Airport (the Chek Lap Kok Airport) is spectacular; it has been built entirely on reclaimed land and is surrounded by water. We realized this very clearly later when we took the cable car to the Big Buddha, but of that later. The easiest way to our hotel (which was in the Wan Chai area) was to take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Central station and then change from there. We did have a little difficulty in locating the hotel exactly but soon we were ensconced in our room, in the blessed cool of the air conditioning.
Hong Kong was hot. It is not as though we had arrived form a temperate climate, but even so, all three of us found the humidity terrifying. The temperature was also quite high but the sauna like effect of the 90% humidity made out of door activity very trying to say the least. All of us had not had much breakfast, so we were very ready for our lunch. Close to us was the Wan Chai Road with restaurants galore. We chose one at random, it was called the New Forest restaurant and we had some baked rice with vegetables and chicken. For Chinese food I am totally dependent on the ladies of the group as my Chinese food preferences are still entirely Indian Chinese: chilly chicken and mixed fried rice and the like; I never have anything else of my own volition. The food was excellent.

After a short rest we were ready for Victoria peak, one of Hong Kong’s principal tourist attractions. To reach the peak we had to begin the climb just behind our hotel and we took a no 15 bus from just about a minute’s walk from out hotel and as it climbed up the mountain, our mood began to lift. The route was forested, though there was also a lot of construction along the way and as we went higher the city began to spread itself out before our eyes. Soon we could see Kowloon and the Bay and in about 30 minutes we reached the Victoria Peak. The peak is the highest point in the Hong Kong Island itself and was a favourite place for the British colonizers as it was a lot cooler than by the sea. It is possible to use a funicular service to reach the Peak as well, but we had been warned that waiting times to board the tram could be as much as 90 minutes. The view from the peak was spectacular. You could see the Victoria harbor, Kowloon and the massive buildings in the Central business district. We spent a lot of time there. It was cool, there was a pleasant breeze and as it grew darker, the buildings in the city proper began to light up to produce a breathtaking spectacle. According to Wikipedia, living in the Peak is the ultimate in luxury as fairly recently a house was sold at HK $ 100,000 per square foot. Ulp!
                                           View from the top of Victoria Peak 
We took the bus back to Wan Chai and had some of the best dumplings we have ever had at a restaurant that boasted a hundred year history. If the food was any indication the restaurant is good for another hundred. Ninni still had energy to meet up with some friends and go to have a drink at a nearby bar where there was live music, but for the two of us, we could not wait to retire for the night.
                                                   The century old shop
The next day was for Macau.  This was another destination that I was not too keen upon. I am not fond of gambling, and the sight of what appears to me greedy people blithely losing vast sums of money makes me physically nauseous.  But when with Romans, you must do as they do. The ferry ride was comfortable, a far cry from the horrible ferries that we are used to in Malaysia. In an hour we docked in Macau and then another immigration check later we were free to board a complimentary bus to the Venetian Casino. There are a large number of such casinos and buses are available at short intervals to take you to them. I guess that they make so much money from the gamblers that this free service is not really a freebie.
The scale of the casinos was amazing. I have never seen such huge buildings all devoted to the art of losing money. I am told that they have far surpassed the legendary Las Vegas casinos in splendor, size and opulence. The Venetian casino has an indoor canal simulating the Venetian ones. You can ride a gondola along these and your gondolier will also sing to you (in Italian!). They have built a mockup of St Mark’s Square, (Napoleon’s drawing room of Europe) various other squares and markets. If you look up you can see the blue sky with scattered clouds. As we wandered around the faux Venice, it slowly grew darker and the street lamps came on. It takes quite a bit of time to realize (at least it did for me) that the sky was entirely artificial. The shopping opportunities are phenomenal. I used to think that the KL and Bangkok shopping malls were the largest and most diverse in their offerings, but these were a lot bigger and full of everything you may ever want from a Milanese shopping district or from Paris.
                                              A crowded "St Mark's Square" 
To be continued 

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