Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of Hong Kong

© 2005, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

My primary airline, United, offered a great fare to Hong Kong, and since I had nothing better to do, I booked a ticket to go and get some Chinese take-away food. Jenny and I had visited Hong Kong for about four days back in 1979 as the first stop on our 5-week trip from Australia to the U.S. I don't remember too much about that visit, other than it was our first time outside our native country. This time, to prepare, I bought a slim Lonely Planet guidebook as well as a more in-depth book from National Geographic.

The day before I left, I threw together the bare minimum gear and packed it into a medium-sized backpack. I took one pair of footwear—my hiking boots—some all-weather hiking trousers with zip-off legs, a few T-shirts, and some socks and underwear; that's it!

The Trip Over

[Diary, August 2005] I woke just before the 7:30-am alarm. I took care of some business things, got my last lot of email, showered, and had a light breakfast. My taxi arrived just before 10 o'clock.

Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) was very quiet with the morning traffic having already departed. Being a Premier Executive flyer with United has its advantages, including checking in at the first- or business-class counters, which have short lines and plenty of attendants. The agent who checked me in was very friendly and set the tone for the day. I cleared security quite quickly and took the bus to the mid-field terminal, where I went to United's Red-Carpet Club lounge. (I get to use these nice facilities free of charge when traveling on international flights, another benefit for frequent fliers.) I looked over the daily newspapers, had some juice, and cheese on crackers.

Flight UA923, a Boeing 737-500, departed on time for Chicago. Since I get to select my own seats, I chose exit rows all the way. On this flight, I was in 10A, and there was no seat in the row in front of me, so I could really stretch out. During the 2-hour 589-mile flight I worked a bit proofing a manuscript, and had a short nap in the sun as it came right in my window.

I had a 1-hour stopover in Chicago, so stopped off at the Red-Carpet Club there for 30 minutes, and had a snack—English toffee coffee, potato chips, and a banana—and scanned the financial daily newspaper.

Flight UA829, a Boeing 747-400 (Jumbo Jet, 2-aisles and nine seats across), departed on time at 3:05 pm about one-third full, allowing people to take over up to three seats each. I had exit seat 46A. Flying time was predicted to be 15:40 hours, possibly my longest ever non-stop flight. Distance, 7,787 miles. [My previous longest flights were Washington DC to Tokyo and LA/San Francisco to Sydney.] ETA was 7:15 pm the next day.

Hong Kong is eight hours ahead of GMT, while Washington D.C. is five hours behind. Allowing for the 1-hour change for Daylight Savings in DC, there was a 12-hour difference, making it easy to remember the time back home when phoning. I moved my clock onto Hong Kong time, which was then 3 am. The temperature there was 80F (27C), and the forecast for my whole time there was hot and humid with a 60% chance of thunderstorms each day, not something to which I was looking forward! [As it happened, the typhoon that was headed for Hong Kong changed direction, so there was little rain the whole time.]

On these long-haul flights, they have a habit of serving food and beverages on a regular basis, which, coupled with inactivity, requires some restraint. For lunch, I had a salad, beef and vegetables, melon, cinnamon cake, and juice. After that, I started making some plans for activities, at least for the first few days.

Three and a half hours into the trip, I looked out my window to see that we were over the wilds of Canada's Northwest Territories. There were countless numbers of lakes all with bright sun reflecting off them. Although the outside temperature was a chilly -47F (-44C), my window frame was almost too hot to touch.

Two crewmembers sat opposite the exit seats, so I got to chat a bit with a Hong Kong-based Chinese attendant who confessed to not being too proficient with chopsticks; can you believe that? The other attendant lived in Denver, but flew out of Chicago, so had to fly to get to and from work. He was also a fill-in attendant, and had only learned the night before that he was headed to Hong Kong the next day.

After five hours into the flight, we were over the frozen Beaufort Sea just beyond the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Although on a map it might look like one would fly west and then south to get to Hong Kong from Chicago, we flew due north, over the Arctic. Whatever it takes to save money on the fuel bill, which, these days, is very high for one of these planes. As usual, in between movies, route maps at various magnifications were shown to let us know where we were. Seeing the earth from the North Pole perspective is quite different. Somewhere around there, we crossed the International Date Line, and moved from Friday to Saturday.

I watched a movie: Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality 2," which I found most entertaining and as good as the first installment. During that, sandwiches were offered. Later, a boxed snack arrived: cookies, raisins, potato chips, chocolate, and a drink.

I always travel with my own full-size feather pillow. I managed five hours sleep, waking at 4:30 pm, Hong Kong time. We were over snow-covered land, which I guessed was Russia. It was cloudy, and as we were now going due south, the sun was to our west, and cast a shadow of the plane on the top of the clouds below. Due to some odd atmospheric conditions, that shadow was surrounded by concentric discs making up a circular rainbow. We were at 40,000 feet (12,000 meters).

An hour out from Hong Kong, at 6:30 pm local time, yet another meal was served; my body clock said it was breakfast, but I think it was actually lunch or dinner. Around 6:45 pm, it got dark rather quickly, and I could see occasional lights in the Chinese countryside. Soon we were over the former Portuguese territory of Macau, which, as they say, was "lit up like a Christmas Tree," with all its casinos and tourist traps.

We landed, the plane emptied quickly, immigration was a formality, and even though the Chinese were now in charge (the Brits left in 1997), Australians didn't need a visa for personal travel for less than 90 days. I got my luggage, some tourist information, withdrew HK$2,000 from a cash machine at an exchange rate of HK$7.70 per US$, bought an Octopus travel card for HK$150, and boarded bus A21 to Kowloon, the peninsular to the north of Hong Kong island. [The new international airport is about 40 minutes from the city, built on reclaimed land on an island. When we visited in 1979, the old airport, Kai Tak, was right downtown and you landed almost literally near high-rise buildings.] The bus dropped me off on the busy main north-south thoroughfare, Nathan Road, right opposite my hotel, the Shamrock. I had booked a room on the internet, and was pleased to find they were expecting me. Room 204 on the 2nd floor was very nice, having all sorts of electronic bedside controls and energy conservation gadgets. I found a convenience store nearby and stocked my little refrigerator with milk and juice. I unpacked and at 10:30 pm local time Saturday night (10:30 am Saturday morning back home) I phoned Jenny. Apparently, she wasn't missing me, yet!

I checked out the TV, finding various channels broadcasting in several Chinese dialects, one in Japanese, and three in English, one of which was Australia's ABC Asia Pacific, whose programming I came to enjoy. At 11 pm, I was very pleasantly surprised to find they were broadcasting a 2-hour game of professional Australian football (no, not that soccer or rugby crap, I'm talking real Australian Rules football). Lights out at 1 am, local time, 27 hours after I left my house!

[Diary] I was awake at 6 am and feeling okay. It was daylight outside with quite a few people on Nathan Road, which was right below my window. I got my early-morning fix of world news and weather, and showered. Then it was up to the 10th floor restaurant a few minutes before 7 o'clock. The extensive breakfast buffet was included in my room rate of HK$650 (US$84.50). I was politely shown to a table and informed that the food will be a few minutes coming, as starting time was 7 am.

I took my time, spending some two hours eating, drinking, and working on a Sudoku puzzle, which appeared in each day's English paper that was delivered to my room.

Hong Kong Island

I rode the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Tseun Wan line (subway red line) from Jordan station next to my hotel in Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island. I then walked to the Peak Tram terminal. It was quite hot and very humid. There was a long line for the tram, but it moved quickly. The ride was very steep, and I shot video out the rear window. At the top, I walked around to some overlooks, strolled through a small shopping center, and had a milkshake at McDonalds. The views over the downtown area, across the harbor, and on the south side of the island were interesting, but somewhat clouded in a humid haze.

From there, I went back down the mountain to Hong Kong Park, a wonderful addition to the city. There was a huge aviary with many exotic parrots. One walks through it on platforms raised high in the trees. The whole thing was built into the side of a hill. The gardens were magnificent, and contained a large waterfall, some large ponds, wading birds, fish, and many turtles. Next door, there was a museum of tea ware, which I perused a while, as much to get into an air-conditioned place as for the exhibits.

My First Local Host

Earlier that morning, I contacted Hing Wah Chau (or David; everyone here had an English nickname), a local member of my international hosting organization, Servas, to see about getting together. At 3 pm, I phoned David from the Central subway station. (Local phone calls are free from homes, but public pay phones charge HK$1 for three minutes, while my hotel charged HK$3.50.) We met nearby, sat, and talked over coffee. He's a landscape coordinator who was working on the Disneyland Hong Kong site, which officially opens next month. Like all Servas hosts in Hong Kong, he's a day host; that is, he is able to meet for a meal and/or chat, but not to have members stay overnight. We rode one of the famous Star Ferries to Kowloon, visited a very large bookstore, and then he got me to the stop for bus 219X, an express bus to Laguna City some 30 minutes away. Just as we were walking to the bus stop, the Heavens opened, and the rain came down very forcefully, but not for long.

My Second Local Host

I arrived at the Laguna City bus station at 6:30 pm where I was met by Siu Yin Cheung (Iris) and her partner Ken. She was also a Servas day host. We walked to a restaurant nearby where we were joined by her father. We drank several teas; we ate Peking duck; sweet and sour pork; ground beef and eggplant; pork fried rice; and cucumber with spring onion, sweet sauce, and duck slivers wrapped in pita bread. They very generously paid the bill. We talked about many things. At 8:15 pm, they walked me to the Kwun Tong Line (green line) subway station. I changed to the red line at Mong Kok station. Then it was on to the 7/11 convenience store to buy milk, and back to my hotel by 9 pm. I read until 10:45 pm. It was a very good first day.

Around Kowloon

[Diary] I awoke at 4 am for an hour or so, snacked, read, and watched some TV, then went back to sleep. I awoke again at 7:30 am, showered and dressed, caught some news, and took more than an hour to have breakfast. My caloric intake consisted of watermelon, cereal with peaches and pineapple, sausages and ketchup, toast and jam (with butter from Germany!), and hot tea. Back in the room, much to my dismay, I discovered I had forgotten to bring my digital video camera charger cord, which meant I had less than two hours of battery power for the week; bugger!

I headed out at 10:30 am, planning to have a cultural day. I walked the nearby neighborhoods, watching people unloading and loading delivery vehicles, and tailors working. Soon I came to the relatively new Hong Kong Museum of History. I bought a HK$30 (US$3.90) museum pass for six museums over seven days, which was excellent value. I started on the ground floor, watching videos, using computers, and looking at exhibits on geology, plant life, and early peoples. One Chinese woman attendant wanted to practice her English, and asked me a number of interesting questions. (For example, what are the differences between Australian, British, and U.S. English? What does "overbearing" mean? What about "grounding?" After five hours there, I had a very late lunch in the museum cafe.

Next door was the Museum of Science, so I stopped in for a quick look, but was getting tired. I walked back to the hotel through some back streets, which were filled with shops and shoppers. Back at the hotel, I tried to stay awake, but gave up around 6 pm.

[Diary] I awoke at 2:30 am, had a snack and drink, and caught up with some world news. From 3–6 am, I worked, proofing a technical manuscript I'd brought for just such early morning occasions. I never really slept after that, although I tried to for an hour. Up again at 7 am, showered, and watched TV. At 7:45, it was down to the buffet breakfast: watermelon, cereal with fruit, toast and cheese, and tea. And, of course, my daily Sudoku puzzle.

At 9 am, I called Ed Hahn to set up a meeting late Wednesday afternoon. (Ed was an American now living in Hong Kong. He was a member of an organization I recently joined, www.hospitalityclub.org.) Then I worked another four hours.

My Third Local Host

Another Servas day host, Tse Hin Kwong (Julian), came to my hotel at 1:30 pm. We ate lunch nearby at the Spaghetti House—the lunch special was HK$56 (US$7.25) each plus service charge. It included soup, a main course, and a drink. We spent an hour together.

More Time Around Kowloon

At 3 pm, I walked down Nathan Road to the main Kowloon post office where I bought postcard stamps for HK$3 (US$0.39). From there, it was on to the Art Museum on the waterfront where I had a hurried look around; not quite "my cup of tea." However, I did see a nice 500-year-old serving dish that would go well with my Chinese crockery set; also, a bronze jug from the 13th century BC. (I wonder if it said "Made in China" underneath.)

I strolled along the promenade on the south bank of Kowloon, and shot some video and stills of the harbor. I also chatted with a young English couple who had just arrived from four months in Australia. I consumed ice cream while watching the continuous harbor traffic. From there, it was on to the Star Ferry terminal and surrounding shops. Then I went north through Kowloon Park back to my hotel, stopping off to buy some emergency rations. In my room, I snacked and read the daily English newspaper.

Since the room came with a hot-water kettle, I bought a packet of noodles and ate in. At 7:30 pm, I took the subway south one stop and walked to the promenade to see the nightly 8-pm light show on the high-rise buildings across the harbor on Hong Kong Island. Then back home via the subway. I walked 4–5 blocks along the famed Temple Street Night Market near my hotel. There were wall-to-wall stalls selling clothing, footwear, electronics, and bootleg CDs and DVDs. Home by 9:30 pm, showered, and read; lights out soon after.

More on Hong Kong Island

[Diary] I had a good sleep, then showered, ate breakfast, and worked for an hour. At 9:30 am, I headed out for more culture on the Island. First, it was the Law Uk Folk Museum, a restored house from the Hakka people whose village used to be on that site. There are no others left in the whole city. Second came the Museum of Coastal Defense, built into an old gun fortification. It covered various periods, from olden times through the Japanese occupation in WWII and the takeover by the People's Republic of China in 1997. I spent several hours there, mostly indoors in air-conditioned comfort. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap.

My Fourth Local Host

At 4 pm, I took the red line subway to the Star Ferry where I crossed the harbor riding 1st class (which cost a pittance). Ed met me at the arrival gate, and took me on a walking tour of the area around Central. This included riding on the half-mile-long series of escalators that go up the mountainside through shopping and eating areas. We walked down again and sat in air-conditioned comfort in an English pub, the Bulldog. Ed's wife Pat, also an American, joined us for drinks and dinner. I ate Shepherd's pie, which was excellent. Then it was down to Central and home via the subway. Lights out at 10 pm.

A Day Trip into the Countryside

[Diary] I awoke way too early, watched TV, showered, then ate breakfast at 7 am. The plan for the day was to get a day-ticket to Lantau Island, which included return ferry, minibus, and narrated tour to a few tourist attractions.

By 9 am, I was on the red line to Central. From there it was a short walk to Pier 6, the Lantau ferry terminal. There I met a Spanish couple, Manuel and Yolanda, from Valencia, and explained to them about the day ticket. They hadn't known about it, but were interested, so we all bought HK$150 (US$19.50) tickets. We sat in the cafe talking, and I started to remember my basic Spanish.

We rode First Class on the ferry, which was called "Xin Xing," departing at 10:30 for Mui Wo on Lantau island. After a 15-minute wait, the three of us, seven Dutch tourists and their Flemish guide, two Chinese ladies, and a few other couples boarded the air-conditioned minibus and set off.

The first stop was a nice beach, where we spent 15 minutes. (Like most beaches there, it had a shark net around the swimming area.) The second stop was the Po Lin monastery and huge Tian Tan Buddha statue. We consumed an "interesting" vegetarian lunch, and spent two hours there. The final stop was the fishing village of Tai O, where houses are built on stilts over the water. It was rather rundown and much more like what I think of with respect to a Chinese village. Many stalls sold live and dried fish, drinks, and tourist junk. The ice cream and cream soda were definitely the best things in town. The hour there was more than enough.

Back at Mui Wo, we caught the fast ferry at 4:50 pm. Back at the Hong Kong Island ferry terminal, I said goodbye to my new Spanish friends, and headed home on the subway. I rested, watched TV, and read the paper. At 6:30 pm, I went out to eat, but wanted only a small meal. Nearby was a McDonalds, where the food was ridiculously cheap and filling. I ate a McChicken sandwich and fries for HK$13.50 (US$1.75). I watched TV until 9 pm, with lights-out soon after. To be sure, the highlight of the day was meeting the Spanish couple.

[Diary] I slept well until 5:30 am, got my TV news fix, and was down at breakfast by 7:15 am. I managed to go wrong with my Sudoku puzzle, so restarted it just to make sure I got off to a good start for the day. Back in the room, I worked for a while.

Out and About on Kowloon

I hopped on the subway red line and green line, heading for the Chi Lin Nunnery. Built in 1998, in an old style, it has some 85,000 pieces of timber, but no nails! The 25,000 roof tiles weighed some 150 tons. There were some nice lotus lily ponds. Next door was a very nice city garden. It was very humid; I was dripping perspiration.

Back at the subway station, I strolled through a large supermarket, looking at all the things familiar and not, and bought lunch and more emergency rations. In the subway station, I found a bakery with curried meat in flaky pastries that were "to die for!"

I rode the subway back to the hotel, where I ate lunch in my room while watching world news according to the Australian channel ABC Asia/Pacific. Quite unexpectedly, the phone rang; It was Christy, another Hospitality Club member I'd contacted 10 days earlier. She had just gotten my message, and invited me to dinner with some friends. I accepted. It was a pleasant surprise indeed!

At 1:15 pm, I thought I'd lie back on the bed for a short nap, but woke up nearly four hours later feeling recharged. I had a small snack, read, tried a cryptic crossword puzzle, and shaved, in preparation for my "night out."

My Fifth Local Host

At 7:30 pm, I departed for Hong Kong Island and the Fortress Hill station. Christy met me there at 8 pm. Soon after, her friends Rachel and CC joined us, and we went off in search of a local restaurant. (All three were Hospitality Club members.) We ate and talked for three hours, and an excellent time was had by all. Back home, I watched some TV news, but was wide-awake. Lights finally went out at 2 am.

Over the Mountain on Hong Kong Island

[Diary] I had no more than four hours sleep. I watched TV, had a late breakfast, tried napping, but to no avail. So out I went at 11 am, taking the red line to Central, to Exchange Square, and on to the Number 6 bus to Stanley on the south side of the island. I rode in the top front seat in a modern double-decker bus; if you know Kenneth Graeme's story "Wind in the Willows," this definitely was "Toad's wild ride." The narrow road had two lanes with a steep cliff up on one side and another down on the other. At times, I had to close my eyes to avoid getting motion sickness. Seated next to me was a young Japanese couple down from Tokyo for four days. We chatted off and on.

I went to Murray House, a building that has been pulled apart, stone by stone, transported down here from the city, and reassembled. Unfortunately, the records for how to do this were poorly made, and it took three years to figure out how to put it back together. And then they had six large columns spare, so they stuck them out front in a row. I looked in on a small temple, a market, found a place selling ice-cold cans of cream soda and drank one while eating pork, chicken, and beef satays with peanut sauce. From downtown, it was on to the military cemetery, which required a good walk out of town. It sure was humid. Along the way, I stopped off at St. Stephen's Beach where I sat in the shade eating an ice cream and watching the sunbathers and boaters.

Back in Stanley, I caught the 6X express bus, this time going along the south coast and back to Central via the Aberdeen toll tunnel. From there it was on the subway back home to another long cold drink. I read my paper, watched TV, and ate almost all my emergency rations. A 2-hour Australian Rules Football game came on TV, so I watched that. I packed my gear in 10 minutes. Lights out at 9 pm.

The Trip Back Home

[Diary] There was a noisy party in the room next door until very late, but, fortunately, it didn't bother me too much. My wake-up call came at 6 am, at which time I showered and ate fruit and juice in my room, as it was too early for the hotel restaurant. I checked out, getting change for the A21 airport bus. Although the bus stop was only one block from the hotel, as I stepped outside, the Heavens opened, and the rain came pelting down. Fortunately, I was only out in the open for less than a minute before I reached the bus shelter.

I only had to wait five minutes before the bus arrived. It cost HK$33 (US$4.25) one way. A few stops later, a Dutch couple from Rotterdam got on and sat next to me. They were taking a side trip to Nagoya, Japan, to visit friends. [Nagoya is the main city in Aiichi prefecture, the location of the current World Expo.] We chatted all the way to the airport. They were especially interested in things to do and see in the U.S. on a future trip, so we exchanged contact information.

At the airport, check-in was smooth, although I drew the short straw for a random security check of my checked luggage. Then during check-in, the agent asked if I had any matches in my checked luggage. I said I did, so I had to take them out and put them into my carry-on bag, which is permitted to contain up to four boxes! Then it was on to immigration, forgetting to get my HK$50 deposit back for my Octopus card.

On the airport train to my terminal, I chatted with an Australian couple from Victoria. Then I settled into United's Red-Carpet club for a proper breakfast: cornflakes, muffin with cheese, banana, and tea, plus a "USA Today" newspaper, which was filled with pictures and stories about Hurricane Katrina.

I got to board early and settled into a window seat in an exit row of the Boeing 747-400. Two very pleasant American women sat next to me. We had a great Hong Kong-based Chinese cabin crew. Lunch was served soon after. Then I settled into movies (you can watch a lot on a 14½-hour flight). I saw "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Kicking and Screaming," "Monster-in-Law," "Madagascar," and "Million Dollar Baby." Snacks and chocolate bars were served.

The flight home took a different path: out to sea, up the coast of China, over Japan (Kyushu, Honshu, and Hokkaido islands), over a bit of Russia, crossing the International Date Line north of the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska, across northern Canada, and down into Chicago. And as a bonus, we had a short night and restarted Sunday again! Over Anchorage, Alaska, it was -70F (-57C) outside at 35,000 feet.

We landed in Chicago on time, but it took more than an hour to get through immigration. Then I had to ride the train from the international arrivals' terminal to United's domestic terminal, and had a long walk underground from one terminal to the other. I made it to my gate with 10 minutes to spare. We boarded a Boeing 777 for Washington, and during the 2-hour flight, I had a not-very-comfortable nap, my first for the day.

In Washington, I phoned Jenny from the mid-field terminal, and as I walked outside with my luggage, she arrived. The weather was wonderful with humidity and heat gone, and the house windows open day and night. I managed to stay up late in a vain attempt to get on local time as soon as possible.

It certainly was an interesting and enjoyable trip, and I made a number of new friends. I really liked meeting Servas day hosts, so planned on doing that again in the future in other countries. My first experience with the Hospitality Club also went well, and I look forward to hosting and traveling with contacts from that organization.

I shot some digital photos and finished up with a 1-hour DVD of video.

As to jet lag, it would take at least 10 days before I got back on local time. But what the heck, it sure beats working for a living, right? Or does it? The way I felt right then, I'd have to say, "No!"