I do not have Swine Flu. This may be an odd thing to mention as billions of others do not have Swine Flu either, but unlike billions of others, I have a certificate to prove it. This leads me to the top tip of the day. When entering Hong Kong with a bit of a sniffle, do not declare it on your entry form thinking that they will spot the red nose (sniffle + sun burn) and expel you for covering up a potentially lethal disease. The guys taking in the forms pay no attention to you whatsoever….unless you declare said sniffle. Before Jodie had time to notice I was no longer with her I was being masked up and escorted away for a check up. I tried to explain it was only a bit of a sniffle but that was no use. I ended up on my own in a downstairs room, with a disc marked 30, wondering where the other 29 people were, how long it would be before I was seen to and how could I tell Jodie where I was. In the event it seemed that the other 29 had been or gone, so a few minutes later I had a probe in each ear before a young doctor handed me aforementioned certificate and declared
'No fever. You go now'.
The flight to Hong Kong was pleasant. The Qantas plane had lie flat beds (just), good food and a good selection of films. We touched down in HK at about 5pm and by 6.30 found ourselves in the very gold, shinny and over the top Hong Kong Regal Hotel. We managed to blag an upgrade onto one of the higher floors and had great views over the harbour, but not as stunning as the view from the roof top pool. We liked Hong Kong immediately. The architecture is stunning, the harbour brings the essential ingredient of water into the mix and to me felt like the perfect compromise between the chaos and noise of many Asian cities and the cold cleanliness of Singapore. It feels exciting, exotic and vibrant, but safe and clean as well.
Hong Kong is also a very very wealthy city and in some ways makes London look like a down at heal northern town. On every corner there is a Gucci, Prada or some other shop so exclusive I hadn't heard of it (Jodie was of course able to fill me in). The obvious excess was something we never got used to and every time we walked into a shopping mall we were shocked by what we saw.
After the first nigh we moved to a new hotel in Kowloon called the Butterfly - the Regals price was a little excessive after the first night which we had secured on Wotif.com. The Butterfly is small but perfectly formed though the design wasn't perfect. For some reason someone thought it was a good idea to but stained glass between the bathroom and the bedroom - presumably to make the room seem larger. The abundance of mirrors was probably trying to do the same thing. The combination of the two meant in the room that felt slightly bigger, one could be surrounded by 100s of images of your loved one on the loo. Beautiful.
We had had lots of debate about were to stay -Hong Kong Island or Kowloon, and having stayed on both sides I can say that as long as you are near a MRT station is doesn't really matter. The transport system is good. There is a choice of plentiful and cheap taxi's, the MRT clean, fast and air-conditioned MRT system itself, wonderfully quirky and practically free trams, and beautifully preserved Star Ferries. The ferries are wonderful and chug between the island and Kowloon every 10 minutes and omit a sense of history from every polished bench, immaculate floor board and lump of polished brass.
There is also the Peak Tram which takes people up to the area known as The Peak which is a populated hill high above the city. We took the tram up on a warm and clear day, followed some advice given by leaving the very busy area at the top of the tram and walking up the road to the real peak and found ourselves amongst empty parks with fantastic views over the city.
I knew that Hong Kong was very densely populated and most people live in small flats in very large blocks, but I didn't realise that 38% of the place (including Kowloon and the New Territories) is national park and cannot be built on, which means it is very easy to get to green open space. It also means that the place is a lot less claustrophobic than it could be.
Eating and drinking is cheap and easy and we managed to find some great places. The low oint was perhaps a visit to the first ever food a wine festival. Duty on wine has recently been reduced from 80% to 0 so the market is rapidly expanding and the festival was aimed at the local audience. It was incredibly badly organised with queues for the free shuttle buses being so long that most people went by taxi, causing a traffic jam preventing both buses and taxis from getting there. Once inside there was another queue for the collection of wine passes which gave access to a number of tastings. Once in possession of the wine pass it was all about wrestling through crowds of short intoxicated locals whose interest in wine did not go beyond getting as much of it into their bodies as rapidly as possible. Carnage. Unpleasant carnage. We found one very petite lady rocking backwards and forwards on her haunches clutching a wine glass which was not much smaller than she. 'I am very drunk' was her disarmingly honest reply when we asked if she was ok.
The highlight had to be the Felix Bar. It is on the 28th floor of the Peninsula Hotel and features floor to ceiling windows in a room which is 2-3 stories high, with views over to the hugely impressive Hong Kong Island skyline. Better still, the men's loos also featured floor to ceiling windows and the urinals were pedestals which came out of the floor in front of said windows, so one pee'd whilst enjoying an uninterrupted view up the peninsula which is a very liberating experience.
Whilst there we fell into the company of a couple from Perth who where refurbishing the Intercontinental in Perth and had been over buying furniture. We were also joined briefly by two drunken Germans, one of whom fell in love with Jodie and kept insisting that she was too beautiful to be my wife. Cheeky b******. Anyway, one thing led to another and we found ourselves leaving a very empty bar at 3 am, with a belly full of expensive Martini's. Obviously, if one finds oneself in Hong Kong early in the morning with a belly full of Martini, the logical thing to do is get a foot massage. The difficulty is finding anywhere open and it was a good 30 minutes before we dragged ourselves up a very dark and drab staircase into what looked like someone's front room and negotiated for a foot rub. Our inquiries led to a number of phone calls and whilst I do not speak Chinese I think the conversations were about trying to persuade a girl or two to comeback and help. The calls seemed to be fruitless and after about 20 minutes Jodie settled down to a session with the lady who ran the place and I was lumbered with a big burly bloke who seemed to be the doorman. It was brutal, but fortunately earlier activities made me slightly more resilient to pain and I even managed to sleep for a while, waking up with a pool of dribble on my shirt.
Rather spookily we learnt that Tim Wood, a friend and colleague from the MOD was also in Hong Kong, playing Hockey for England in the Masters World Cup, so we spent an afternoon watching England thrash Ireland at the Hong Kong Football Club, with Tim leading the charge. It was good to see in the Club, which is in Happy Valley and obviously a very wealthy organisation, besides a couple of football pitches and a number of hockey pitches on what must be priceless land, it also boasted a couple of restaurants and bars and a large swimming pool., It is the kind of place you would want to be a member of if you lived there, but probably quite hard to join. Coming from Oz, where you can walk into any club as long as you can prove you live more than 5 km away from it, one can feel a little put out by Hong Kong's very strict membership rules. There is no way to blag yourself into any of the nicer private members clubs, no matter how smart and polite you are, which are normally guaranteed entry tickets in the far east. Very London.
In fact Hong Kong has much more in common with London than other far east cities, from the shops, to the restaurants and the excesses of wealth. We came away thinking that Hong Kong would be a fantastic place live, but only if we had very very good jobs.