Hong Kong Day 0 - Arriving and Eating

30 September 2009

I’ve just arrived in Hong Kong for my first ever holiday in Asia. I’m here with my girlfriend Rachel and my friends Nick and Will. Will speaks Cantonese and has family over here, which is going to make things a bit easier.

I’m going to try blogging daily, or almost daily anyway. Here’s day zero’s adventures…

We took off from Heathrow at 9pm on Monday 28th for our 12-hour overnight flight with Air New Zealand to Hong Kong, scheduled to land at 4pm local time.

Air New Zealand were very cheap but they provide a good service - the food was rather good and the in-flight entertainment system is impressive. A huge selection of films, TV, music - even audiobooks, all on-demand. It’s only slightly let down by the rather clunky and unresponsive interface. Also picture quality wasn’t overwhelming - it was prone to stuttering after being paused, and there was obviously an analogue connection to the screens as you could make out moving lines on them, just like an old VCR. But nevertheless it’s interesting to see how far these systems have come since the only other time I’ve ever flown long-haul, back in 2002 with BA. In the future we’ll have all the world’s movies available to be streamed direct to the plane over the Internet I suppose, and we’ll be Twittering from the headrests, but for now a choice of 78 films really ought to be enough for anybody.

At around 10.30pm we were served the evening meal, which for us economy cattle consisted of a slightly bizarre chickpea & pineapple salad, followed by a choice of either lamb curry (very nice indeed) or some chicken (tried a bit, seemed a bit bland). Then some chocolate cheesecake and some cheese & crackers - all very civilised. The red wine tasted a bit rough to me -I wondered if it was something to do with the altitude, or the air pressure, but it probably really was just cheap shite.

I like Air New Zealand’s obvious equal opportunities policy for hiring cabin crew. Not for them a team solely of blonde women and camp men - one of them was a guy in his mid-fifties who reminded me of Igor from Count Duckula. “Would sir care for a glass of blood?” He didn’t really say that of course. But it might explain why the red wine tasted funny.

Inevitably we ended up sitting behind the kind of old people who instantly recline their seat just because they can, thinking “ooh, luxury!” and causing a domino ripple of reclining seats behind them as people are forced to move back to continue to enjoy the film at a distance of greater than three inches. I hate reclining seats in planes. I’m perfectly comfortable sitting at a normal sitting angle - and since you can’t recline the seat so far that you’re actually lying down, why bother at all? The only reason I can think of is to be deliberately annoying and inconsiderate to the person behind you. That must be it.

On the in-flight system I watched State of Play, then an episode of the Simpsons. Then I attempted to have a bit of a nap and failed miserably, so I watched How to Lose Friends and Alienate people. Not really much of a romantic comedy fan myself, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have bothered if I’d known, but it was a perfectly fine way to pass the time which is the entire point really.

Most other people on the plane seemed to have no trouble sleeping, but I wasn’t tired at all. I was getting hungry for my breakfast. Air New Zealand were clearly still operating on UK time, but I’d already put my phone clock forward 7 hours to HK time. So as far as I was concerned, it was 1pm, time for some food, and all the people around me were just making their inevitable jetlag worse. I wasn’t too concerned that I hadn’t slept. The flight landed at 4pm HK time so that meant I only needed to stay awake for another 6 hours or so, then I could fall into a normal sleeping pattern. Whereas the people around me would surely have confused body clocks for days. Ha!

Breakfast finally came at 2pm HK time - scrambled egg, sausage and tomato (one small cherry tomato anyway), plus fruit and yogurt. Not too shabby but I could probably have eaten three portions.

We landed on time and were picked up by a driver kindly provided for the evening by Will’s aunt.

There appear to be no small buildings in Hong Kong. Everything is about 20 storeys high, even the rougher residential blocks. It’s not like London where you have the odd tower block standing alone - every building is like that. Our hostel is in one such building, a slightly ramshackle street in the sky on Kowloon, which is a part of Hong Kong on the mainland opposite Hong Kong island. It’s pretty pokey to the say the least. Our room is barely bigger than the double bed, lit by one fluorescent tube with no natural light. Will and Nick have a window in their room but it looks out onto a shaft between buildings, where natural light does come in at the top but is absorbed by the various air conditioning units of about 12 storeys of residents before it gets to our level.

The room’s facilities include an en-suite bathroom, or more accurately wet room, or even more accurately a cupboard with a toilet and a sink and a shower attachment. There is also the essential air conditioning, and a TV although there is only one English-speaking channel.

After a quick shower our driver took us on a bit of a tour of Kowloon. We went to Victoria Harbour to see the light show that takes place on the buildings of Hong Kong island daily at 8pm. It’s called “the Symphony of Light” and is set to some of the most awful cheesey muzak I’ve ever heard. The light show is massively underwhelming. It consists of some lights flashing on and off and the occasional not-particularly-bright laser beam.

It was time for food and our driver took us to the kind of place local people go. The staff seemed concerned that a bunch of silly Westerners might not know how to use chopsticks properly. The food was delicious although I’ve no idea what any of it was called. There was a dish which possibly had beef in it, something which might have been octopus, something resembling some kind of long-shelled clam. And pigeon, which they wondered whether sissy white people would eat even though I’ve had it London on several occasions. It was especially good, tastier than duck I’d say, although the fact that it was served with the face on was slightly disturbing.

We had a walk around the trashy Temple Street Market, where you could buy lots of fake products including the famous “iPhone mini”. There were a few stalls around the corner selling horoscopes and dildos. Not both on the same stall though. That would just be weird.

We went to some kind of ice cream parlour that sold ice cream without the cream - huge piles of flavoured soft ice that seemed to melt away to nothing in your mouth so it didn’t fill you up.

It was about 11pm by this point and we were all knackered. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and was pleased that my body clock seemed to have adjusted itself already.

I woke up this morning at about 9am which felt right, even though it was only 2am in the UK. I wonder if all those people who actually managed to sleep on the plane feel so clever now.

(Below should be some iPhone camera pics - I’ll upload some decents photos from my camera when I get back home)