Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sensoria

Hong Kong Island


I got into Hong Kong airport at about 2PM, and after failing to get my mobile phone working at the airport took the fast train into Central. At the Pacific Coffee Company in the IFC mall I was able to get internet access with my coffee, and discovered that I'd forgotten to put a "+" in front of the country code. I was then able to call Tom, who was able to round me up with his mum, brother, and Jon Brown, who I hadn't seen since London in 2003.

Tom was also kind enough to get me to Aberdeen on the south side of the island, where my hotel was. The taxi driver did not know where this was, and left us in the middle of nowhere - the start of a recurring pattern with me and Hong Kong taxi drivers. If Tom hadn't come with me I would probably never have been seen again.

Soon after reaching my hotel it was time to leave it again, and head out for the stag night on Lan Kwai Fong, which began at an Irish bar, took in one quite good place that had a band, and finished in a cheap dive which I was later informed was where everyone's maid goes when they're off-duty. My memories of the whole thing are a bit hazy, but those that are there are fun. Plus, travel is all about new experiences, and I'd never been accosted by an Aussie pimp before.

We left the last club at about 6AM, and I made the fatal mistake of attempting to get a taxi back to Aberdeen. Despite having the hotel address written down in Chinese characters, he left me in a different part of the middle of nowhere. Fortunately all signs in Hong Kong are bi-lingual, so I was able to find a bus stop which would take me back to central, where I could get a bus to Aberdeen.

In central I wanted a coffee and some breakfast. By this point, however, I had been awake for a dangerous number of hours, and had been drinking. Having my eyes open was strangely painful. There was clearly something wrong with my demeanour as I entered the IFC mall, because I was intercepted by the security staff. Fortunately for me they accepted that I wanted a coffee, rather than to kill everyone and burn the place to the ground, so I was allowed to proceed.

I finally returned to the hotel at about 9.30AM, a good 13 hours since I'd last been there. Most of Friday was therefore lost to sleep. In the evening, however, I made it over to Kowloon to the Night Market. If you want something in your house with a picture of one of the 20th Century's most effective mass murderers, you can buy it here, along with lots of fake watches, copied DVDs, and so on. Also, a surprising number of stalls seemed to be devoted to selling sex toys.

Kowloon Lights


"He say you Blade Runner": Neon signs on Temple Street, Kowloon.


I was feeling a bit guilty that I'd been in Hong Kong this long and hadn't actually eaten any Chinese food yet. Not wanting to be ill for the wedding, I avoided the food stalls on Temple Street and headed to the "Heaven on Earth" restaurant on Knutsford Terrace, who were able to find me a table despite it being the day before Valentine's Day. They come recommended, if you ever go to Hong Kong.

To round things off, I walked down to Tsim Sha Tsui to see the famous Hong Kong skyline at night, where I took the picture at the top of this post. After the previous night, I made sure I took the bus back to Aberdeen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cities In Dust

Skyscraper District

The beginning of a full report of my visit to Hong Kong this month. As originally planned, I was going to spend about two hours in Qatar at Doha airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Hong Kong. As it turned out, a thick fog meant that I missed the connection, and had to wait 20 hours for the next one. I ended up being given a visa for Qatar, presumably to stop me escaping and living out my days as some sort of fierce desert bandit, but I hadn't packed for that anyway.

Fortunately, the airline put me up at a hotel for the day. More specifically, the five star Mövenpick Towers & Suites. It is, needless to say, the nicest hotel I've ever been in, and I'm unlikely to ever be anywhere that nice again. I would quite happily have rented my room as an apartment. Everyone else there was wearing very nice suits, and I was wearing a ten year-old sweater and had holes in my shoes. I felt somewhat out of place and apologetic, and that was before the incident with the orange juice at breakfast.

The hotel room contained a thick visitors guide to the country. It gave me a brief list of behaviour to avoid which included:
  1. Don't take photos of buildings.
  2. Don't take photos of people.
  3. Don't talk to any Arab women.
It was shaping up to be a fun visit. Getting to the souks would also involve changing money into Riyals and getting to the other side of town, and I didn't want to miss any messages from the airline. I did, however, venture out onto the Corniche. As you'll see from the photos, the murk was beginning to gather again, and I wondered if I might be there even longer.

West Bay, Doha

I was already breaking rule 1, but no-one arrested me on charges of spying on Qatar's huge military secrets. It pretty quickly became apparent that the whole West Bay area consists of nothing except luxury hotels and business skyscrapers. Anyone staying there is going to be spending a lot of time in the hotel, unless they're going to the golf course. Ten years ago there must have been hardly anything to Doha at all, which makes you wonder where, precisely, all that oil money was going before it was stimulating hotel construction.

Sheraton Hotel, Doha

The Sheraton hotel, Doha: Someone's been watching "Blade Runner". Also, if you get a penthouse suite you're allowed to cut someone's heart out and kick their body down the outside of the building.*
Something else was also becoming clear: in Doha, everyone drives everywhere. The only other people I encountered walking around were imported labourers here to do all the skyscraper-building, and joggers. Walking was a sign of extreme poverty. I still felt more at home than I did in the hotel.

The furthest point I reached was the mascot for the 2006 Asian Games. "What's the single most terrifying thing we could do?" they asked themselves. "How about building a giant, torch-wielding Oryx, and then leaving it to decay by the seashore?"

Giant Oryx

One day it will surely rampage amongst the skyscrapers. Until then, it waits.

I walked back to the hotel as evening set in. At 11 O'Clock the hotel bus ran me and the other passengers out to the airport. Seven hours later I was in Hong Kong, a day late, but still in time for the stag night. That's for the next post.

*This is a lie.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hong Kong Conversation

I have now returned from Tom's wedding in Hong Kong. A fuller account will follow, with pictures and videos and everything. For now, please be content with this fragment of conversations, which I thought was worth preserving.

Tom: That's the tower that Batman jumps off in "The Dark Knight".

Tom's Mum: That seems like an unwise thing to do.

Tom: He's always been a bit of a loose cannon, that Batman.

Tom's Brother: Yes - he should be stopped.