Hong Kong Trip – Day 4 – Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

During the past few days the weather forecast had been for thundery showers, with sunny intervals.  So far we had managed to miss any thundery showers, but when we awoke this morning the rain was pouring down outside.  Normally, from Clara’s bedroom you can see over the harbour and into Kowloon and if visibility is good you can even see the mountains that split Kowloon from the New Territories.  Today, it wasn’t even possible to see Kowloon and at some times the tops of buildings were even disappearing in the cloud.

Our original plan for today was to go to visit the famous peak.  Due to the weather the view would not have been that good so we decided to give this a miss and go ‘Kowloon side’ to go shopping and to have a look at the many markets.  We set off on our normal route by taking the number 12M bus down to Admiralty terminus where we interchanged with the MTR.  We took the MTR under the harbour and up to Tsim Sha Tsui where we went to the surface.  On exiting the MTR we emerged on Nathan Road, this is the main road that runs from the tip of Kowloon right up to the top end and is home to many shops, and hundreds of buses, cars and taxis!  Today we were going to attempt to follow two of the walks provided on the Hong Kong tourist board website that go through Kowloon and take in the sights.  We had already completed part of the walk yesterday and so started to walk up Nathan Road into the heart of Kowloon.

As the morning passed we visited a few shops, mainly to look at clothes, but also to see the many computer shops on the way.  According to Clara this area is popular with illegal immigrants from India, and the road was full of Indian men trying to sell me dodgy ‘copy watches’ or ‘new suit’.  This is funny for the first couple, but the 50th time someone asks it starts to really get on your nerves!  Luckily as the road progresses into Kowloon so do the men.  As we continued down the road the rain began to get heavier and turned into a torrential downpour.  Walking around Hong Kong is hard enough on a dry day but when it is raining the extra obstacle of everyone carrying umbrellas makes it even harder to navigate down the street.

We set off from home quite late today so by this time we were getting hungry.  As we followed our route onto Kimberly Street Clara took me into a Chinese cafe for our lunch.  I found out that you can tell a Chinese cafe as they have a small kitchen at the entrance to the restaurant where the food is prepared and to all intents look very much like a transport cafe with tiled walls, and plastic tables – but with high powered air conditioning to take the temperature to a bearable level!  I was the only westerner in the cafe and this was obviously a Chinese place as the menus were all in Chinese with no english translations.  Even the prices were in a very ancient Chinese numbering system that even Clara could not understand!  Clara ordered some egg noodles in soup with fish and squid balls.  I ordered fried egg noodles with sauce and beef, fish and squid balls with fish dumplings.  We both had ice lemon tea to drink.  A tip from a Hong Konger is that you should not really drink the tea that they give you when you are seated as they frequently put there fingers in the glasses.  Clara also washed the chopsticks that were available in a bucket on the table by dipping them in the tea and wiping them with a tissue – hopefully this will keep us safe from dodgy stomachs!

After lunch the rain was still pouring down and we continued our walk through the back streets of Kowloon and eventually back to Nathan Road.  Another 10 minutes up the road and after passing a couple more MTR stations the rain was beginning to subside and we approached the next sight.  Just off Nathan Road is a small temple – surprisingly enough on Temple Street.  The temple is a working temple and much less touristy than Man Mo Temple yesterday.  The temple was full of people worshipping the idols and full of incense burning in the roof.

On leaving the temple we continued north up a back street where we saw the wholesale fruit market.  The market was closed (its normally open early in the morning) but looks more like a shanty town with tin roofs and various materials making up walls.  This street also contained many shops selling items for funerals including clothes for the dead and the instruments such as a drum that are used in the funeral procession.

After crossing Nathan Road we came across Lady’s Market.  This market sells everything from t-shirts to fake handbags, and is really aimed at the touristy market.  The stalls stretch endlessly up the street and most are selling the same things.  We paused in a couple of the stalls briefly but did not buy much.  Clara says that this market used to contain many more counterfeit items such as DVD’s but these have been closed down.  When we eventually came to the end of the many stalls we cam to another of the busy shopping streets in Kowloon.  We visited a DVD shop where we managed to pick up some bargain DVD’s for the great price of $25 (2 pounds) of classic Chinese movies.  Most of the recent release DVD’s are no cheaper than in the UK, but older DVD’s of classic films can be picked up at cheaper prices.

When we had finished in the DVD shop we moved onto the next market.  This time the market was for local people and consisted of many small stalls in the middle of a shopping street with shops lining each side of the street.  Many of the stalls sold fruit and veg, along with clothes, underwear and the things you would normally see in an English market.  On the fruit and veg stall there were a few items that I didn’t really recognise including Lychees and Dragon Fruit (a large red fruit with spikes on it – which I have yet to try).  There are also many of the familiar fruits but some seem to have been super-sized such as watermelons that are larger than in the UK.

As we approached the most northerly point of our walk, Price Edward street, close to the Prince Edward MTR station we paid a brief visit to the fish and meat market.  These were like the shops I had seen on previous days selling fish from small polystyrene, water filled, trays.  This market was indoor and the atmosphere (and smell) was much more overpowering.  As we turned a corner and I pointed to a large fish on a stall the fishmonger called to Clara to ask her if she would like to buy a fish head (sadly, we had to decline…).

As we exited the market we paid a brief visit to the flower market area where there are many stalls selling flowers and plants.  As no-one in Hong Kong has a garden, all of the plants are potted and many people have large collections (including Clara’s dad Andrew, who keeps many Orchids on his window-ledge).  By now, the rain had stopped for a couple of hours and the temperature had soared, making things uncomfortable once again.  We had come to the end of our tour and on the way to the MRT station I tried another of the many buns from the bakery – this time a apple and custard bun (but I have still have many more to try!).

We took the MTR back to Admiralty where we changed to the 12M bus to take us back up the hill to Clara’s flat.  We deliberately took this bus as Clara said it takes a fairly indirect route and we could see the sights on the way.  The bus quickly approaches the bottom of the hill on Hong Kong Island but then it winds its way up each road, slowly climbing to the mid-levels.  As we went up the hill I saw the more residential areas of Hong Kong with many high rise buildings on both sides of the road.  On the way home we also passed Clara’s old school (sorry no pictures as the batteries on my camera ran out!), which is in a listed building.  After a 30 minute ride (costing about 30p) we arrived back at Robinson Road to get showered and have a rest as this evening we were going out for Japanese with Grace and a number of other friends Clara used to go to University with.

Hong Kong Trip – Day 3 Evening – Ooh La La

This evening I went for a meal with Clara and her parents to a French restaurant in Central called Bonheur.  The restaurant did a four course meal for $348 (25 pounds) and it was bring your own wine.  The food was very nice, although in some places it wasn’t very French!  There were dishes such as Foie Gras and Escargot for starters and a very nice fish soup for the second course.  The main courses were not very French and we all opted for steak, which was a lovely piece of meat and well cooked.  For dessert there was panna cotta, chocolate fondant, ice creams and cheese board.

The service in the restaurant was very good and the waiters were very attentive.  The only thing that is a bit off putting is that in Hong Kong (and I guess the rest of Asia) that as soon as you have finished eating a waiter will come in and grab your plate away.  In the UK the waiters would wait for everyone to finish, but here, they will remove your plate as soon as you’ve finished the last mouthful.  This is only a small difference in culture, but seems quite strange when myself and Clara finished the main course first and our plates disappeared whilst Clara’s parents were still eating!  I think this has something to do with the fast pace of life and making sure that everyone can eat a full meal, even if they only have 30 minutes!

The other thing to say about the people here is that whenever they speak English they are always very polite.  I’m not sure if this is the way they have been taught, but when one man of around 20 years old asked me to move out of the way in a shop he said “excuse me, sir”.  Is this politeness because they only know this English or is it because they have been taught to be polite to westerners?  Maybe I’ll find out eventually!

On the way to the restaurant tonight we took a taxi.  Again it only cost us $20 (£1.20) for a 10 minute ride down the hill for four people.  On the way home we walked via the mid-levels escalator.  Even though it was cooler, I was still sweating half way up!  Hopefully I’ll get used to things eventually!

Once we got home I had a look a some of Clara’s baby photos and then we went to bed early as we were all exhausted!

Hong Kong Trip – Day 3 – Religion and the Family

I awoke this morning still feeling tired, but feeling less jet lagged.  After breakfast Clara needed to visit her Grandma in her nursing home in Kowloon.  Clara’s mum Polly was coming along to show us the way as Clara hasn’t been in a long time.

We set off by taking the number 40 bus from Robinson Road to Admiralty, the bus was full of commuters and I ended up having to squeeze between two people on their way to work.  At Admiralty we changed to the MTR to travel north into Kowloon.  At few stops later at Mong Kok we changed to a new line and took the train up to Kowloon Tong station.  At the end of the journey I began to feel a little strange.  Over the last few days I hadn’t really been drinking that much and I think it finally caught up with me.  Over the next couple of hours I had to drink a couple of litres of water and I was feeling much better again.

Before we went to visit Grandma we had to go and pay respects to the ‘graves’ of ancestors of Clara at a local temple.  The ‘graves’ are small squares with pictures of the loved ones that are situated in large rooms with rows of others.  To pay respects the person must light a number of incense sticks and then place them between hands in a prayer position.  The hands are then waved up and down three times in front of the photos.  Clara also paid respects to her ‘ancestors’ which was another small patch on the wall of photos.  The paying of respects to the dead is one of the traditions of people in Hong Kong and is part of the Buddhist religion.  This also starts to show the respect for the family and the importance that is paid to the elderly (and those that have passed away) by the Hong Kong people.

After leaving the temple it was a 10 minute walk to the nursing home, past another reminder of home, York Road!  We were now in a residential area of Kowloon, which lies directly under the path of the old airport.  Clara told me that this area used to be quite bad, because of the flight path, but now the area is nice and actually is made up mostly of houses making it an expensive area to live in.

On reaching the nursing home we signed in as visitors.  By now I was beginning to feel a little better and had drunk a litre of water to rehydrate myself.  The weather was extremely hot, roughly 34 degrees and the humidity must be very high.  By the time I reached the nursing home even Polly was sweating, which made me feel better about being soaking wet!  As we entered the home, Clara’s grandma was doing exercise and she came out to join us 10 minutes later.  Her grandma is about 95 years old and was looking quite frail, but seemed very happy to see us.  I had been taught to greet her with ‘Poor poor lei ho’ (hello grandma), which I hope she understood!  Clara’s grandma does not speak any English so Clara and Polly chatted with her, occasionally translating some of the conversation to me.  We stayed in the home for about 45 minutes before Clara’s grandma was whisked away for her lunch.

We made the journey back to Mong Kok MTR station, still drinking plenty of water, and got a MTR back to Tsim Sha Tsui on the tip of Kowloon.  This is the closest point to Hong Kong Island and could eventually be only a matter of 100m from Hong Kong Island as they continue to reclaim land!  Tsim Sha Tsui is the location of some of Hong Kong’s many hotels including the Peninsula which is situated in a colonial building and is where Michael Palin stayed in 80 days around the world!  Also located here is the ‘Avenue of Stars’.  This is a new attraction that is a walkway next to the harbour which has around 100 plaques of famous Hong Kong movie and television stars with a signed handprint.  We managed to see the handprints of stars such as Jackie Chan, Tony Leung and John Woo (Mission Impossible director) as well as a statue of Bruce Lee (obviously no handprints!).  The avenue is also a great place to take picture of Hong Kong Island – arguably the most famous skyline in the world.  It is also a good place to see the Star Ferry which leave from the tip of Kowloon to Central and Wan Chai.

Walking along the waterfront we saw the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (basically a very large museum and theatre), the Hong Kong Space Museum and the clock tower which marks the location of the original train station that the British built in Hong Kong.  Our next trip was on Hong Kong’s most famous transport the ‘Star Ferry’.  We opted for the top deck, which is 50 cents more expensive than the lower deck – but still only costs $2.20 (8p) for a journey to Central.  We waited in the pier for the ferry to arrive and again there is a television so that every Hong Konger can have something to do while waiting.  The ferry arrived 5 minutes later and boarding takes a matter of minutes and everyone piles onto the ferry.  As it was the middle of the day there were only about 50 people on our ferry, although there did seem to be more people on the lower deck.  The journey across gives a good view of the skyline including the International Finance Centre (IFC), Hong Kong’s tallest building.  The journey only takes about 7 minutes, but Clara tells me it used to take 10 minutes before they reclaimed more land.  As we approached the pier in Central we could see that they are building a new pier for the Star Ferry in preparation for the next area of land to be reclaimed for more buildings.

When we reached Central we ate our lunch which we had bought earlier.  Our lunch was a large ball of rice with shredded pork, hot dog sausage and egg inside.  We bought this earlier from a fast food outlet in the MTR and was very tasty.  The shredded pork is a bit dry (basically its powder) and is nicer in small amounts!  After lunch we looked back to where we had been in Kowloon from Queen’s pier in Central.

As I had not felt great all morning we decided to have a short afternoon.  We walked through central and the commercial district taking in the sights of the Bank of China Building (that’s the one that is very funny shapes with two prongs on top), the HSBC headquarters and the old buildings of the British government (now home to the Hong Kong Legislative Council).  We walked through a number of exclusive shopping malls where every shop was from a famous designer, we even managed to see Marks and Spencer!  By this time it was the lunchtime of most of the workforce and the streets were busy.  We walked through central to the bottom of the mid-levels escalator.  We took the escalator up halfway to Hollywood Road to see one of the more famous temples in Hong Kong, Man Mo Temple!  Anyone who is a fan of computer games will realise this is in Shenmue – the epic Japanese RPG.  Man Mo Temple sits in the middle of one of the older districts in Hong Kong with lots of older, quite shabby, looking buildings.  On all sides of the temple it is now dwarfed by newer developments of up to 40 stories in height and the temple almost seems to get lost.

Inside the temple is a very smoky environment filled with incense burning (see the photos – the curly brown things are incense burning from the roof).  The temple is a working temple and there were people worshipping at the altar, they seemed oblivious to the tourists walking around.  Unlike many temples, photos can be taken throughout, apart from the room where families pay respects to their ancestors.  The temple has many ornate sculptures of Buddha and many saints.  See the pictures for a brief history of the temple.  One danger with the temple is that incense is burning all over and small pieces are constantly falling off that have burned to ash and you have to watch it doesn’t set you alight!

After leaving the temple we walked back to the mid-levels escalator passing by a number of traditional looking Hong Kong streets, many of which had steps instead of a road as they are so steep!  The area around Man Mo Temple (Hollywood Road) is famous for antique shops and there are many selling everything from big stone statues to antique Chinese furniture.  We took the mid-levels escalator up the last few parts until Robinson Road and paid a quick trip to the local bakery to get more buns for breakfast.  Buns in Hong Kong are basically bread-cakes (baps or bread rolls if you not from Yorkshire!) but in Hong Kong they are never plain and contain everything from pork, hotdog sausages and cheese.

Tonight we’re off to a French restaurant and then coming home for a rest!  Tomorrow our friend Sunny is coming over from Macau, so we’re spending some time with him.

Hong Kong Trip – Day 2 – A Taste of Home

I’ve just been out for the evening to a local bar called Phoenix, which is close to the mid-level escalators, just below Robinson Road.  The bar was suggested by Clara’s friend Grace and I was quite surprised when we got there that it was actually an English bar!  The staff were all European and the bar was full of Westerners.  In fact I even managed to get a pint of locally brewed bitter, that tasted pretty much like bitter in the UK!

That’s all for Day 2 – I’m off to bed soon, as its been a long day!  Before I do let me just say a little about the humidity here.  Its been 80-90% humidity for the last couple of days and you only need to walk for 5 minutes outside and you start to sweat.  Tomorrow I’m going on Star Ferry and going to see the Peak!

Things I’ve learned about Hong Kong in Day 2:

  • Bus drivers cannot brake slowly, they have to slam down the brakes, even when slowing down for a very slow speed.
  • It’s far too hot…
  • If you see someone walking around in a surgical mask, it is not because they are worried about catching SARS or some other disease, it is because since SARS if you are ill you must wear a mask to prevent spreading diseases to others.
  • The 1st Tuesday of every month is ‘No plastic bag day’ at every supermarket.  You are supposed to recycle your bags and this day is supposed to promote awareness.  If you do need a bag you pay 50 cents for each bag which goes to charity.  From what I saw, this doesn’t really seem to work, and people don’t bring bags and simply complain!
  • On walking through Kowloon Clara pointed out some hotels that can be rented by the hour.  Yes you guessed it they are for prostitutes!  As well as providing rooms these hotels have parking spaces which are covered by plastic sheeting and also provide a small metal barrier to put in front of your number plate so no-one can tell it is your car parked there.

Hong Kong Trip – Day 2 – Hong Kong in your Face

I awoke at 7.30am feeling partly refreshed but still a little jaded after the journey.  Sleeping wasn’t too difficult, despite the 30 degree heat, as air conditioning comes as standard everywhere in Hong Kong and boy wasn’t I glad!  After a breakfast of Char Sui Prok bun I felt ready to face Hong Kong for the day.

Our first stop was Causway Bay on Hong Kong Island and the imigration department.  Hong Kong has recently introduced a new, biometric, ID card.  Clara had missed getting one as she had not been back to Hong Kong in over a year and so she had to make a visit to get her card.  We travelled to Causeway Bay by bus number 23 which leaves from the end of Clara’s road.  The bus ride took about 20 minutes on an air conditioned bus, that also had a TV at the front to force more adverts and strange Chinese programming into your brains – if you didn’t get enough from looking out of the window!  You won’t be surprised that bus drivers are worse than those in England (and most of them are pretty bad) and with the roads being extremely hilly and having frequent hairpin bends things get a little scary!  The journey allowed me to see the many streets, complete with overhanging signs that Hong Kong is famous for.

After getting off the bus it was a short walk to the immigration center, but it was now that we could feel the real heat of Hong Kong and also the bustle of people trying to get down the pavements.  The immigration center was chaotic – at the moment it is people over 80 who are getting their identity cards, so it was also full of VERY old people!  After waiting in line for 30 minutes we got a ticket that allowed us to return later for Clara to get her card.

We now had to travel to Sheung Wan to book our trip to Macau on Friday where we will be visting our friend Sunny.  We made a short walk to Causeway Bay Mass Transit Railway (MTR) (underground) station and walked down the air conditioned corridors to the platform (London underground please take note!).  The journey was fast and much like the London underground, apart from the train does not have separate carriages and is like one long snake.  It is also possible to take mobile phone calls along the whole route!  The journey was very fast and efficient and we paid for it all using an Octopus Card (same as the Oyster card for London Underground), it was also cheap, as the whole day’s travel cost less than $20 (£1.50).  We booked our trip at the travel agent and stopped for a dink in a local cafe (complete with geese with heads ready to be carved!).

During the first couple of days we have to visit a number of Clara’s family and today our next appointment was with Clara’s grandma and aunty for lunch in Wan Chai.  On the way there we took a walk along one of Hong Kong’s many covered walkways and I took some photos of the buildings, including International Finance Center, the tallest building in Hong Kong (and home to Lehman Brothers HK Office).  It was now starting to get really hot and walking around even in the shade was very difficult!  We then took our next method of transport, the Hong Kong tram, to the Weston Hotel where we were having lunch.  The trams are mostly very old and look as they have done for nearly 100 years.  They are not air conditioned but the journey only costs $2 (10p) for any distance along the route.  You get on at the rear of the tram and then pay when you get off at the front.  We stood upstairs, and due to no air conditioning the journey was uncomfortably hot – despite every window being open.

On arriving at lunch and saying hello to Clara’s grandma (Ma ma, lei ho), I found it was everything I expected.  When we entered I was the only Westerner in the restaurant and everyone was sat in large groups around circular tables – most people had come from work.  We enjoyed a lunch of dim-sum (Yam Chi) – basically tea and lots of small plates of food.  We enjoyed prawns, beef balls, rice, turnip cake and custard tarts – very much like English custards but hot.  The lunch was all washed down with plenty of green tea.

After lunch, when we had finally cooled down (I had lost about half my body weight in sweat in the morning alone!) we went for a walk around Wan Chai, back to Causeway Bay and the immigration center.  Along the walk we visited a street market, which sold everything from clothes to food.  We walked along a number of streets that had fish mongers and butchers, including live chickens (which are now back after bird flu has subsided).  The smell takes a little while to get used to (its pretty bad) and in all fish mongers the fish are live and swimming in small bowls of water.  Some fish even try to escape, splashing water everywhere.  I also saw hundreds of live frogs squashed into a box at $10 each (75p), terapins, and every seafood imaginable!  This is definitely the real Hong Kong but not for the faint hearted!

While Clara picked up here ID card I went for a short walk myself around Causeway Bay.   I didn’t see too many sights and the temperature was really too hot to stay outside too long!  Clara rejoined me after a while and I had my first taste of Hong Kong shopping.  Clara wanted to go to the $10 shop (yes, basically its poundland, but bigger and cheaper!), to get some little things.  This visit took around 1 hour (yes I did say 1 hour), as the shop is quite big and has lots of things to see!  After this we visited Sogo, a large department store to get some food and basically it seemed to be like Debenham’s or House of Frasier.

After finishing our shopping we took the number 23 bus back to the mid-levels escalator (a long mechanised stairway up the hill) which we travelled on up the hill back to Clara’s house.

Tonight I’m off out in Hong Kong – more to come soon…

Hong Kong Trip – Day 1 – What I have learned about Hong Kong so far

Here’s a quick list of what I’ve learned so far that I didn’t already know:

  • Hong Kong is much larger and much taller than I every imagined
  • 50% of the cars in Hong Kong are taxi’s (see my pictures), with the other 50% being BMW’s, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Lexus – hardly anyone drives a normal car!
  • Hong Kong is much hillier than I expected, with most roads up hills being at least 30 degrees (or that’s what they look like).
  • No one can drive properly!

Hong Kong Trip – Day 1 – The 36 Hour Day

Everything started well as the taxi pulled up outside our flat 3 minutes early.  Only five minutes before I had  bet with Clara that the taxi would arrive 10 minutes late as normal!  Today was finally the day that I got to go to Hong Kong. I had been waiting months and now all that stood in the way was the journey that would take nearly 24 hours.

On arriving at York Station we found our train was on time.  After checking the timetable boards and listening to the annoucements the train should arrive on time at Platform 5.  Now, for anyone who knows York Station, the trains to the south normally come into Platform 3, and to get from Platform 3 to 5 is around a 2-3 minute walk over a bridge, or under a tunnel.  As the final annoucement, “The next train to arrive at Platform 5 will be the 13:00 service to London Kings Cross”, chimed, myself and Clara waiting paitently by the platform edge.  To our amazement (or should I say horror) a GNER train started to pull into Platform 3 and a hurried annoucement on the tannoy annouced a platform alteration!  Needless to say 5 minutes later sitting breathless on the train we were not happy!  And the explanation from GNER – “That had to be network rail, we wouldn’t change a platform at that short notice…”, but no apology (not that I’m surprised).

The train journey passed without event and we arrived at Kings Cross some two hours later.  We had already purchased our underground tickets so we went underground.  This was my first trip on the underground since 7/7 but things didn’t really seem to have changed that much!  The underground was pretty deserted, but that’s fairly normal for a Sunday afternoon.  We boarded our (quite hot) Picadilly line train to Heathrow and prepared for the 45 minute ride.  As we got on Clara said to me, only 24 stations to go…

We arrived at Heathrow about 4.30pm and after finding out that checkin opened at 6.30pm we found a seat to wait.  For once public transport had actually done well and we arrived in plenty of time.  We had deliberately allowed ourselves plenty of time, and due to the new security restrictions that had come online recently, that was probably the best bet.

We started queuing for checkin about 6.30pm.  After 15 minutes of queueing we were appraoched by a Virgin Atlantic employee and asked if we would like to do a DIY checkin.  We knew that the system existed but had never used it as we did not know how it worked.  The employee walked me through the process on a small touchscreen, all you needed to do was to scan your passport and the machine recognised you as passengers on the flight and printed out your boarding card, all in 2 mintues flat!  Yes, I’m a techie, and that impressed me!  But then we saw the weakness of the system!  Once you have done the DIY bit, you have to hand your baggage to an employee.  To do this, however, requires you to stand in a queue for 2 checkin desks.  Now, this would work very well if everyone who did the DIY checkin followed the rules!  We were waiting in line for 15 minutes before we even moved one place forward, due to problems with someone in front.  The next two people in front of us had a bag over 30kg in weight (which the ground staff are not allowed to move) and so spent 10 minutes arguing with the staff over why they couldn’t take the bag.  Eventually they had to remove some things, but JUST FOLLOW THE RULES…  Eventually about 30 minutes after queuing up we got to the front and handed our bags in which took only 2 minutes!  So DIY checkin is a great system, let down by the human element that still has to take place!

After checkin we immediately went to the security check point to go to the airside.  Due to the heightened security we knew that this would take longer and wanted to get it out of the way.  As we approached we saw a queue about 100m long to get into the security point.  To be fair to the staff at Heathrow the queue was well managed, and people had plenty of information on what to take (or not to take).  The queue was moving fairly briskly and it only took 10 minutes to get to the first passport control check.  The shock comes after passing through this point, as queues of another 30 minutes to get to the metal detector are required!  On getting to the metal detector you had to take off your shoes and all other belongings and have them x-rayed.  There were also random searches of people and bags, as well as swabs taken for explosives etc.  This part would have been simple, but at an international airport it was VERY difficult!  There are ratial stereotypes for a reason – and the stereotypical Brit can queue very well (and we pride ourselves on that) – now unfortunately this does not extend to everyone!  And that’s what makes things difficult!

After another 2 hours of sitting in the departure lounge we finally moved to the gate to start boarding.  At Heathrow after being taken to the gate you have to sit in another departure lounge.  We sat in front of a window to look at the plane we were going on, an Airbus A340-600 of Virgin Atlantic.  As we sat there our faith in humanity was questioned once again!  A (English) girl came towards the window to look at the plane and squeezed behind our seats (into a 20cm gap) to look out of the window.  We thought this was a bit rude, but the girl was fairly young so didn’t bother too much.  As her dad walked up five minutes later and basically shoved us out of our seats, we were less than pleased!  Had it not been an airport, with heightened security checks (and therefore paranoia) we wouldn’t have only moved to a different seat…

By now we were 12 hours into our journey but only about 300 of the 6000 miles were out of the way.  As we boarded the plane we were given our meal, a choice of three options and myself and Clara both took the Singapore noodles.  The meal was very nice, and had everything including cheese and biscuits all washed down with chinese tea (from an authentic looking chinese teapot – why do they do this on a plane?!)  We then started to play with the inflight entertainment (more on this from a technical point later).  Within 5 minutes I broke my system by trying to look at the inflight map (why have it as an option when it always breaks the system?!).  After a 10 minute reset we started to find all the movies and TV we could watch – all on demand!  Sadly, with all the TV available we were too exhausted and slept for a few hours.

This is probably where day 1 should end, however, it didn’t seem to end for us, so I’m going to continue!  We were woken about 6 hours later for the breakfast meal on the plane.  Again we had three choices on the menu, full english breakfast, cheese omlette or seafood congee.  As a last effort to remember my roots we both took the English option and again the food was good.  By the time breakfast had been cleared away, the pilot came over the tannoy to annouce we would shortly be landing in Hong Kong.  Many people will know that in 1997 Hong Kong built a new airport called Chek Lak Kwok which is situated on Lamma Island to the West of Hong Kong Island.  The landing at the old airport was reportedly one of the most spectacular (and scary) in the world.  The landing at the new airport was still good as we flew along the coast of Lamma Island we could see the many new high rise buildings springing up along with beaches, and many, many boats.

The landing was uneventful and as we taxied to the airport you could see just how massive the new airport is.  It took around 5 minutes of driving to reach the terminal and we could finally get our feet on solid ground.  We had our first taste of Hong Kong life as even before the seat belt signs went out, many Hong Kongers were up and about ignoring the cabin crew telling them to stay seated, trying to get to the front of the plane, to get off 10 seconds earlier than everyone else!

On entering the terminal it was obvious that this airport was built to be bigger and better than any other in existence.  The terminal buildings are very modern and to get to the arrivals and immigration we had to take a 1 minute ride on an electric train (think the Doclands Light Railway but in a tunnel!).  After disembarking we moved onto the next obstacle of immigration.  This was only my second journey outside the EU and so I’ve very little experience of immigration.  On the plane we were given entry cards for Hong Kong to be filled in and handed in with your passport.  At this point Clara also decided to leave me and enter Hong Kong using her Hong Kong ID card.  So, I managed to follow the crowd and get my passport stamped.  I was now granted leave to stay in Hong Kong for 180 days (if only!).  The luggage turned up without any problems and we left the arrivals to meet Polly and Andrew, Clara’s parents, who were waiting for us.

After saying our hello’s we only had the last stage of the journey to get back to Clara’s parents house in the Mid Levels.  The first stage of this was to take the Airport Express, a fast train from the airport to Hong Kong Island via Kowloon.  The airport express is an extremely modern and very punctual (as nothing else will do in Hong Kong) train service.  The journey takes 23 minutes to Hong Kong Island and passes over the Tsing Ma suspension bridge between Lamma Island and Kowloon, one of the world’s longest bridges (maybe it is, but I don’t have time to check!).  My next taster of Hong Kong came as the Hong Kong express stopped outside the Central station.  Apparently for this train to stop was basically unknown and Andrew was soon standing up trying to see what was holding us up.  I suggested that maybe they should come to Britain and try our railways, where I have been stuck at signals for 10-15 minutes without anyone batting an eyelid!  The delay was only 3 minutes but that seemed to matter if you’re in Hong Kong!

As we arrived at the station the sheer scale of Hong Kong became obvious.  The station was clean, modern, efficient and everything that Britain never seems to be!  On leaving the station was joined the taxi queue and waited for a taxi to approach down the road.  The taxi area is more like a grand prix track than a waiting area.  There are wardens to direct the taxi to the right area and 10-15 taxi’s per minute arrive, and all pick up passengers!  The reason for the popularity of taxis is there convenience and price!  Our journey home only cost $43 (about £4), for 15 minutes.  The next shock was that as myself and Clara had two suitcases the taxi driver would stand them in the boot, holding them in place with an elastic rope and two pieces of metal (apparently this is quite normal?!).  The journey home game me time to have a good look at Hong Kong.  The journey was hectic, with frequent bad driving, hard braking, lane changing – but everyone seemed to be doing the same, and no-one really seemed to mind!  We passed some of the taller bulidings on the way home and now it was becoming obvious I had underestimated Hong Kong.  On a map, it seems very small, but the scale was bigger than I could imagine.  After the 15 minute journey we arrived back at Clara’s parents house and the journey had ended.

After a home cooked Chinese meal of Char Sui Pork with the family and Clara’s friend Grace, we retired to bed exhausted, but still trying to sleep due to jet lag – as it was only 5pm GMT!