From Bali to HongKong, with Love?
Ever had one of those songs that seem to crop up at the most 'sensitive'
occasions through your life; you know, it first cropped up when you
were a kid, and hitting the first 'emotional' crisis (never ends do
And then one day, it plays. And the coincidence with what's going on in your life is just so weird. My song is Barbra Streisand 'The Way We Were'.(O.K. so I'm giving my age away!)And it's just been playing while I'm here in Hongkong.
Let the story begin.
Bali does seem to be the Island of the Gods; but is it also the Island
But because of his work, there were times when I relaxed with other people.
One such time was with my friend Pandu from Jakarta.
Sitting outside the 'Q Bar'.
The warm evening breezes, convincing me that the world was not my problem for now. I was away from it all; I could smile inwardly as well as outwards. My entire world was at peace.
Eventually as the night wore on, and my satisfying conversation with
Pandu was gently easing, three guys sat at the table nearby.
From this point a journey to Hongkong was to be on the Path of my Life.
I was pleased that Ab e-mailed me at the address I gave him.
One thing led to another. I booked a 'flight only' to Hongkong to be
Abs' guest, to have the opportunity to get to know each other better.
It's autumn time now in
Now I have to say that waiting for the coach at Newport (
But it would be worth it.
The coach was about 50 mins. late arriving at Newport.
But it would be worth it.
The coach was crowded.
But it would be worth it.
The carton of tea was expensive.
But it would be worth it.
Got to Heathrow and straight for the 'booking in' desk for Cathay Pacific.
They didn't really have any great seats available even though I was very early.
There was one golden moment.
I met my good friend Karen and her husband Ian on there way to Qatar; so I enjoyed a few glasses of wine courtesy of Ian (good ol' Ian I would never know what wine to ask for, and fortunately he seemed to know; I'm afraid my usual request is as long as it's white, double digit strength, and not finished in that funny oak thing!)
Even though we were only together at the airport for about 25 mins. it seemed sad to see them go.
I find flying quite exciting, and it was great fun just waiting to board the plane. You know Executive class, Business class, other grand names, and then the loudspeaker announces that it's time for us peasants to board in order of row number please, we want to pen you in tidily.
Oh joy, oh bliss, - I managed to get two seats by the window.
Soon we were off, about half an hour late.
The first trolley came around with what appeared to be wine and soft drinks.
I had to order Gin and Tonic, as a special service!!
So in order to facilitate this fine distinction of mine I ordered three (I'm cutting down)
The trolley meal was ok; let's face it, I'd starved myself in order to make the most of what I'd paid for the flight (a heck of a lot for me!!)
And having two seats meant I didn't have to eat like a battery hen, you know, your arms tucked tightly to your side for fear of bumping into the passenger next to you; and your arms going up and down like a clockwork toy soldier.
I couldn't really make out what the food was but who cares!
It was edible.
The in-flight films were quite good. It only took me about half hour to work out the controls for my 'personal viewing device'.
Sleeping was an issue, even with two seats. I think I empathized with 'Quasimodo' (the bells, the bells you know the one, swinging in the Cathedral).
Another meal, soft drinks, 12 hours had passed. The excitement built.
I was struck with diarrhea.
Sitting on the plane toilet seat was a challenge to be taken up with a brave heart.
At least there were no impatient queues.
The plane was preparing to land.
I looked out of the window, and below were the most beautiful little islands dotted in the sea, shrouded in mist.
The plane landed. We were in Hongkong. People got off, and headed for the Baggage Collection. I headed for the 'Gents' toilet. I got to Baggage Collection, and remembered Abrahams request to give him a ring as soon as I landed. I found the 'courtesy phone' and did so. Ab. was on his way from work to the airport, so I arranged to meet him out in the Arrivals Hall. I have to say at this point that Hongkong airport was highly efficient.
And clean. And tidy. And the people were well mannered. Makes you laugh when you think of Heathrow airport.
As I was saying, I arranged to meet Ab in the Arrivals Hall; I told him in advance that I'd be wearing a blue shirt sure to recognize me in that.
After about 20 mins. Ab came walking towards me; an extremely refined, elegant guy, in casual office clothes, and leather case over his shoulder. And there I was a wreck after about 21 hours of travel.
I think perhaps that's when things started to go wrong. Sorry folks, I struggle after lack of sleep; let alone traveling at the same time.
We traveled by extremely sophisticated express train from the airport into Hongkong island itself. Makes you laugh when you think of London Underground. And as we made our way through Hongkong I was in awe of the amazing buildings forming the skyscape.
Entering evening time, the lights on the buildings took on an explosive light show. Quite overpowering, to a simple 'valley boy' such as myself. Into the bus depot we walked because taxis were fully occupied with evening commuters leaving work. The bus dropped us right outside Abs' apartment block.
Ab lives on the 34th floor. He has a really nice setup. Compact living room, study, bathroom, and double bedroom. Use of a private swimming pool. Outside his apartment is a stunning view of 'The Peak'. I had time for a shower and shave which left me feeling rather more human; unpack, and enjoy a meal of noodles with Ab. before setting out for the night. The noodles came with very compact pork meatballs and fish balls.
I enjoyed it, but the pork was not really to my taste, so Ab avoided giving me those after.
Then out into the night.
The first pub, 'Club 97' was in an area known as 'Lan Kwai Fong'. This apparently caters for the gay community on Friday nights only (very noble gesture, and the gay clientele show there appreciation in suitable style; mainly consisting of office workers taking advantage of 'Happy Hour').
Its size is quite deceptive, the walls have large mirrors, so its small compact size can give a sense of claustrophobia when you realize that there's no escaping tedious company. Not that I'm saying there was any tedious company.
I felt as if I was back home so much 'white presence'.
Moved on to 'Works' at 30-32 Wyndham St. This is a permanent gay feature of Hongkong. And I loved its' sense of anonymity. Even though there were still white faces I started to feel that I was away from home. It got very crowded, and as I had time to move around I noticed quaint little dim corridors linking off the main bars. Probably for those shyer, retiring, gay guys.
From what I can gather though, it is the predominant gay bar, and some people go there regularly during the week, - there being little competition. Now, being a regular 'bar guy' who loves a good chat and a laugh (oh yes I do, but it takes two!!) I can understand that, but here the volume of music is such that it's hardly the bar to unwind in after a days work. So as a regular meeting place? Hmm guess I'm getting old.
Or I suffer from sensory deprivation too readily; I think it's called 'low attention span'. Or shall I accept that maybe it's a good 'pick-up' joint for 'poseurs', in which case someone with such a low ego as mine need not apply. (Ab. has since informed me that during the week it takes on more of a 'meeting place' approach and is not so lively)
I loved it's element of seediness. The entrance fee is around 60 HK$. The Chinese are not 'normally' big drinkers, so the entrance fee is to compensate for that. Now I am not in the least bit discriminatory, but since we Westerners tend to drink a lot and at around 52 HK$ for a small bottle, I would have thought it logical to allow some discretion here.
Throughout this time Ab was being the good friend I anticipated he would be; even though I was totally exhausted he ensured that I was alright, and made a point of introducing me to his acquaintances (my expression).
From there it was time for 'Propaganda' at 1, Hollywood Road. I think this is owned by the same people as 'Works', so maybe that is why Ab was able to get me a complimentary entrance ticket. This again would seem to be the only dedicated gay night club in Hongkong.
It was fun.
But there again, by time you get here, after drinking so much who cares. Then it was time to leave, I was amazed how time had flown and it was early morning as Ab waved down a taxi. At least after a good night out, taxi are surprisingly cheap. Just get your address written out in Chinese as a precaution.
My first night was over.
Overall I have to say how kind and patient the Chinese are (I may be showing some ignorance here by not referring to them as 'Hongkong Chinese') And by their general level of honesty. Now can I say something about the 'whites' that is not meant to be derogatory?
To live in Hongkong as a white guy you have to be very wealthy, or have such sufficient professional skills as to be in great demand sort of highly intellectual maybe? And let's face facts, these are not your ordinary kind of everyday guy that you find in the normal pub at home. Or of course you could be a tourist; or even a guest like me, chasing possible dreams from Bali how sad is that!
Overall I found a gentler element of genuineness from the Chinese; they were the ones who generally lived and work here as a birth right. As time moves on, the expertise of the ex-pats may not be so much in demand as the educated Chinese are able to take on the jobs presently occupied by the 'whites'. Of course there were nice white guys.
Yes, I did go sight-seeing. I have some respect for my liver!!
After a reasonable 'lie-in' bed it was time for some breakfast, a gentle awakening; and a walk to the 'Peak'. This is 'Victoria Peak.
It's quite a land mark in Hongkong. A large hill, commanding an excellent view. Although it's possible to get there by tram, Abs' home is not far from a nice path/roadway up to the 'Peak'. The weather was nice, so the walk was quite enjoyable. Ab fortunately brought some water with him.
This being my first day I was still acclimatizing, so needed the water
regularly. On the way up we stopped at a couple of locations to admire
the view. With me being from
We also stopped at one point where guns had once played a part in the defense of Hongkong from differing attackers. At the top there is an impressive shopping centre, and selection of eating places housed in a remarkable architectural structure. After the long walk, it was pleasant to get back to Abs' place; shower, and just relax for the night after the previous nights outing.
The Sunday morning was a walk to 'Post 97' in Lan Kwai Fong.
This was a place to meet up with two of Abs friends Ryan (from
In 'Post 97' we had an astonishingly enjoyable 'Champagne Breakfast'. Quite a luxury, for an innocent 'Valley Boy' like myself. I would certainly recommend this place.
It was about this time that I was becoming accustomed to the 'Escalator'. This is the worlds largest outdoor escalator, 800m long, linking Conduit Road in the Mid levels to Connaught Road Central with 29 entry/exit points; and a blessing in helping to encounter the steep walk 'downtown'. In the morning the escalator goes in a downward direction for the daily workers, reversing in the upward direction for the rest of the day until Midnight.
During our walk we passed an area where hundreds of
|Then, on to the 'Intercontinental Hotel' for a splendid afternoon tea. The seating area had an amazing view overlooking the harbor; I fell in love with the place. It was so beautiful to relax and watch the sun setting, and the skyscraper buildings begin to become 'alight' in the increasing darkness. But soon we were off. Ab had arranged to prepare a farewell meal for Alec. that evening.|
Lantau Island, The Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastry
Easy start to the day, before setting off for this trip; which to me was a must, having heard about the amazing Buddha, on top of the mountain. Abraham took me took me for 'Dim Sum'; a kind of breakfast.
We went to the 'Super Star Restaurant' whose entrance led down some steps into a pleasant dining area. Abraham did the ordering essentially beef balls, shaomai, noodles, and for desert mango/sago. This came to about 150 HK$
I'm afraid it was at this point that I realized that Chinese food bore
little resemblance to 'Chinese Take Away' back home in
At this point Ab. introduced me to the 'Octopus Card' a high tech transport debit card which can be used for differing types of transport, and in some shops! The journey to Lantau was impressive, an efficient, clean train. Clear intercom; polite passengers.
And a memory.
At one stop two very small children boarded. A girl and boy, both dressed immaculately in there school outfits. Both so well behaved No paranoid parents standing over them. A sharp contrast to the screaming brats back home, in the charge of often indifferent parents. Our journey continued by bus. Often over roads that were slightly inhospitable, but for me a novelty, looking back over the bay with it's varying sized little islands in the mist of the heat of the sea as we drove up the slow incline of the hills.
As we rode on the bus, - there it could be seen in the distance, on top of the mountain the 26 metre high Giant Buddha (202 tonnes) seated on its lotus throne at Ngong Ping.
The bus stopped at the bus station and we got our tickets to view the Buddha. The tickets cost us 50 HK$ each (the ticket included a meal at the vegetarian restaurant).
The view from the base of the Buddha itself was impressive, although you'd have to be relatively fit to climb all the steps.
Inside was an interesting display, culminating in a secure display of the Buddha's 'crystals' cased in a glass setting. Discreetly spotlight to highlight the crystals colours.
We had a meal at the restaurant before getting a taxi to the Fishing Village.
A pleasant walk around the narrow streets, viewing the goods on display and seeing the processes involved in drying fish.
A number of small temples and an interesting view of houses built on stilts above the water level. Soon it was back to Tung Chung town for our return to Hongkong Island.
Next Day Abraham informed me that he thought it best if I did my own thing, and he went his own way.
He would probably go swimming to relax, while I, with map would find my way around. Abraham's theory being that by not being in each others company too much, we would have better quality time when we were together.
I must admit I found this rather daunting, since I always like to share experiences; and I will admit I find Hongkong a bit overpowering to take risks while venturing about trying to find different places of interest. I did envy the tourists in groups, or in couples sharing there curiosity over a map consulting with each other.
But I'm sure Abraham had my best interests at heart.
Even in the evenings/nights when he would wander off in the bars, or club, leaving me alone after ensuring that I had the spare keys to his apartment, and his address, which he had written in Chinese so that I would be able to get a taxi back safely alone.
We did of course share the occasional enjoyable experience. A show one evening at the Hongkong City Hall Theatre Hongkong Repertory Theatre, doing an original musical 'Departure 00:00'.
After which Abraham joined some friends at his favorite bar.
One afternoon he also took me to the University Pool for a swim. A nice location well exposed to the sun, overlooking the sea.
The pool at his apartment block tends to be much in the shade, cool in the water!! An interesting experience however, if floating on your back, looking up at the enormous skyscrapers surrounding you; the odd plane flying overhead.
A particularly memorable evening was watching the fireworks over Hongkong Harbor. I could only trail behind Ab as we made our way through the incredible masses of people, all seeking the best vantage point by the waterfront.
|We waited for some time once we'd found our spot, but the result was worth it. The firework display was brilliant; culminating in a horrendous bang which shook the ground. Followed by a meal, at a specialty noodle fish restaurant, 'The King of Fish Soup Noodle'|
Abraham had Fish/Egg Dumpling; while I enjoyed Noodle/Chops (Western). This came to about 66HK$. And there was an interesting afternoon at 'Causeway', shopping.
So, essentially using the 'Escalator' as base I explored Hongkong Island alone.
And I suppose it's nice to think that I can now find my way around fairly well.
One afternoon I made my way to Man Mo Temple along Hollywood Road. Taoist God of Literature 'Man' and War 'Mo'
This is one of the first traditional style temples built during the colonial era. Inside, the air is filled with smoke from the incense sticks and coils carrying prayers to the spirits. There is even a resident fortune teller should you feel so inclined!
On each side of the Escalator there are numerous side streets to wander around just taking in the local atmosphere. I was in my element with my camera. The main street was Hollywood Road; so called after being built by the British Army who built it due to the many holly shrubs on the road sides.
This road is ideal for shopping around the curio and antique shops. In Staunton Street I came across a shop 'Senses' which specialized in candles, oils etc. very nice. At the bottom of the Escalator on Queens Road I bought several items from the 'Chinese Arts and Crafts' store.
These streets at the bottom of the Escalator are very much major shopping areas, with global names that are easily recognized I bought a few bargains in HMV music store.
(Thankfully Visa cards are very popular, but just in case, there are plenty of cash dispensers)
For clothes, I picked up some bargains at 'Giordano', and 'Biem' in Tung Chung.
Of course all this walking about can be exhausting; compounded by the
heat. So I had a relaxing time at the Sauna at 'Central Escalator'.
I particularly wanted to see The Flower Market, Bird Garden, and Goldfish Market.This meant traveling on the MTR Tsuen Wan Line to Prince Edward station.
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden housed an astonishing and colorful assortment of birds. I felt a bit concerned initially about the cramped conditions in which the birds were kept; but you soon realize that the people there prized there birds greatly.And the cages were temporary conditions suitable for transporting any purchase you might make.
Then, onto the Flower Market. Such a display of flowers was hard to imagine; and the quality outstanding and very affordable prices.I did buy some flowers to take back to Abs apartment.
The Goldfish Market on Tung Choi Street was slightly overwhelming with the masses of people out enjoying there weekend shopping.
The ten days of my visit had soon passed.
The last weekend was spent pubbing and clubbing. I found a pub called the 'Globe' which seemed very popular with white people, and there was a special deal on 'Stella Artois' lager. I hung around for a while!!
Then after returning to the apartment to shower and change I went alone to 'The Rice Bar'- 33 Jervois St. I felt the need to be somewhere that wasn't overwhelmed with white faces to give me the feeling that I was 'away'. I got the idea here, that if you went in a white guy, you probably left alone.
On my last full day I decided to make Ab a meal in the evening to thank him for his kindness.
But while the Bolognese was being allowed to 'stand' Abraham took me up to the 'Peak'.
We found a good vantage point overlooking the amazing sight of Hongkong by night, and witnessed another astonishing display of fireworks over Hongkong harbor.
This was a complimentary experience,- seeing the firework display from the Peak, after seeing fireworks the previous occasion at ground level.
Then it was back to Abs' apartment for our meal, accompanied by red wine courtesy of Abraham.
Then relaxing, watching a DVD - Lord of the Ring 'The Two Towers'. While I finished off the red wine and the remnants of Abs' gin (Gordon's of course!)
Abraham, who was quite tired from the previous night went to his bed early, while I took in the atmosphere of my last night in his apartment the view outside his balcony, and the subtle comfort of his lounge, before retiring to my room for what would be my last night in Hongkong.
My last day was full of the usual emotion I tend to get while packing. So Abraham sensing my tension suggested we took a ride to calm my nerves.
We drove around the island taking in some beautiful countryside. Stopping at Repulse Bay
- a lovely sandy beach, surrounded by the usual tall buildings, but merged in with trees and shrubs.
And across the sea could be glimpsed small islands. A nice place to relax at the end of an afternoon I thought.
From this quick visit- onto Stanley, a tranquil little market town by the seas edge where I had the chance to buy a copy of an old fashioned street scene of Hongkong.
Traveling back to Abrahams, passing the picturesque reservoir Tai Tam.
Now was time for the final packing, and shower and shave, and dressing ready for the journey.
My restlessness building, I prompted Ab to take me to the Express 'booking in' for airport luggage.
This was a good idea since I was now free to wander without my luggage in the knowledge that it was on its' way in readiness for my plane.
My final wish was a farewell 'afternoon tea' at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon
We crossed the bay on the Star Ferry, and there was some last minute shopping before relaxing for our tea.
Abraham was unusually patient as the time passed; while soon the impending thought of the journey got the better of me.
Time to move. The final journey on the ferry to Hongkong Island. The walk to the Express 'platform' which would whisk me to the airport.
An emotional (for me) farewell to Abraham, who hung around to see me safely seated on the Express before walking into the distance and out of sight for the last time.
To the airport. A couple of glasses of wine as the final hours ticked. The 'take off' as the plane flew into the night sky highlighting the night lights of Hongkong below.
And my dream.