Notes from the Road: Hong Kong

When I was a young opera singer and travelling the world to perform, I always hoped that when I was a senior, I would be able to fly Business Class. And here I am in my seventies and sitting in a very comfortable seat on Air Canada. Well actually we are in sleeping pods and settling in for our thirteen-hour flight to Hong Kong. The food is surprisingly delicious, smoked salmon and yummy cod. Of course food is from Vancouver so not that surprising. Good wine, and then off to sleep with a little help from a half tablet of Imovane, the sleeping pill that I only use on long flights.

Charles and I both woke refreshed the next morning, actually evening in Hong Kong or whatever day it turned out to be, as we left Vancouver on New Years Eve. We were ready for our Asian adventure. I had booked the cruise portion of our journey with Tully Luxury Travel and one of the perks they offer is hotel accommodation with a high-end property and upgrades, including breakfast and special gifts. I dealt with Cheri Port and her excellent assistant Meghan, and was delighted with their service.

Our Hong Kong Hotel was The Four Seasons and we were indeed upgraded to a harbor view suite that looked out on Kowloon, the busy port, and incredible skies. The hotel is very luxe, but not intimidating. We were tired, as one would expect, but not exhausted, and headed to the Lounge for something to eat. I had booked the 3 star Michelin restaurant for dinner, Lung King Heen, but we just didn’t feel like eating a big meal, and cancelled.This was  reserved about a month ago, but so be it. We hoped to find another date.

Our meal in the bar was terrific. Cones of shrimp ceviche and Peking duck wraps along with some tasty sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, satisfied us, and we headed to the room for the evening. I had my usual bath and we both connected with our computers and emails, and settled in for the night.

We woke to a gorgeous view of the harbor with mist covering the mountains in the distance. I went for a swim in the outdoor rooftop pool with breathtaking views, and then joined Charles for breakfast. It was served in two venues and the buffet in the bar was wide-ranging, from eggs benedict to steamed dumplings, delicious fresh juices and excellent coffee.

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spectacular view from our hotel window

Most first days of our trips we take a hop on hop off bus to understand the layout of the city, but this time as we had a private tour planned for the afternoon, we set off to view the famous Peak, or the top of Hong Kong as it is advertised. We stood in line for about 20 minutes with many others in the hot sunshine, to purchase tickets for the tram that delivers one to the top, although we could have hiked up.

tram ride up to the Peak

The tram is set into the hillside and goes slowly up the steep hill of the Peak where there is a tremendous view of the city. There are also numerous shops and restaurants all very commercial and touristy in the worst sense. You have to navigate through them to get outside to the observation area, but it was worth it. We spent about an hour there and then went to meet Boris Wong for lunch at a dim sum place underneath our hotel in a food court. This place Tim Ho Wan promotes itself as being in the Michelin Guide, which is most likely meant to confuse people into thinking it has a coveted Michelin Star.

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view from the Peak

Now I must tell you about Boris. I have mentioned that Charles is a glider pilot; see my blog The Great Migration, https://suddenly70.ca/2016/11/14/the-great-migration/.

Many summers he teaches young people to fly. Sometimes they are Canadian air cadets, but occasionally Hong Kong air cadets come for an extended period in the summer and learn to fly gliders, or to hone their skills. They stay at the glider port, York Soaringoutside Toronto, and this is where Charles met Boris.

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Charles, Riki and Boris in hotel lobby

Boris was one of his students, and was very excited about our Hong Kong trip. He organized a get together with other students, but that was yet to come. We met at the lunch restaurant; it was packed, and had a long line up. Because of our tour at 2:30, we opted to get take out and eat it in our hotel room. What a fun picnic. Boris made some tea and being a Chinese hotel there were elegant teacups. We chatted and re-connected. Boris is no longer a student at flying, but has become a Captain on an Airbus A350 for Cathay Pacific. Charles always claims that he would like a grey haired Captain in the left seat of the airliners that we fly, but because Boris learned to fly gliders, and knows about true flying not just about operating computers, Charles says he would be happy with this young man in the cockpit. Boris promised to pick us up at the hotel the next evening for our dinner with the rest of the pilots.

city of great contrasts

I found our guide on Trip Advisor, well sort of. I found a guide I had wanted, but he was unavailable and suggested William Sievers. We communicated by email and set up our meeting place in the hotel. The plan was to go across Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry, and do a Kowloon loop. The ferry ride was fun, the vistas of Hong Kong superb, and we got to know, and feel comfortable with Bill, a big burly fellow with a ponytail, originally from the USA. After we wondered around the port, he took us on a city bus to begin our scenic overview of Kowloon. We grabbed the front seats and Bill gave us the rundown. We visited two temples, which was the beginning of our multitude of temple visits during our Asian stay. The first, Wong Tai Sin is the most popular and is 18,000 square metres. It houses three religions which is very unusual; Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Please see the link above for details. People bring gifts of food as offerings and light incense.

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Charles and Bill

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market moment

We moved on and wandered through the flower market with its profusion of orchids, and the noisy bird market. Everywhere there were crowds of people, but it was still possible to navigate the small streets, keeping our eye on Bill. We spent time exploring Nan Lian Garden , and then took the metro to head back to the hotel. Now the metro, MTR is incredible. Neither Charles nor I would want to try and use it on our own as it has a complicated system of buying tickets, and our Cantonese (the main language) is not great. Well, for that matter neither is our Mandarin, maybe two or three expressions. However, there is also English, but still one would have to know which line, station etc. Overwhelming for us, but I am sure we could learn it if necessary. The crowds of people lined up to get on trains is a bit daunting, but there are glass partitions along the tracks which offer a safe experience when waiting for the trains. No falling or jumping onto the tracks here.

flower market
Star Ferry crossing harbour

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gorgeous garden above and the day’s washing below

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the temple

One of the most fascinating things that we saw was large groups of Philippine maids lined up against the walls of interior pathways and bridges, visiting with each other, and enjoying lunch. Apparently this is a common scene on weekends and holidays. These young women gather together to spend their time off eating and gossiping. Many families in Hong Kong have nannies/maids as both parents work, and it is cheaper to hire help than to stay home. We couldn’t believe the numbers of women lying on blankets with rice cookers beside them.

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Phillipine maids and their picnic below

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bird market

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purchasing fare at MTR kiosk

After our return to the hotel we napped and cancelled dinner reservations once again and ended up in the Lounge with Felix the marvelous host there. We shared a tasty meal of pork and prawns with noodles, and some little desserts from the French restaurant in the hotel, cognac, and then bed. Perhaps it does take a few days to acclimate to the time change, even though I always pretend I am not affected.

Our final day we woke to a foggy morning. Charles went to work out and I headed to the heated pool. It is wondrous swimming in fog, especially as the sun starts to push through the cloud. At breakfast I had my most favorite corned beef hash and soft poached eggs. I hardly ever eat this because of my low-sodium diet, but it was worth it as I am sure this was the best ever version. Charles had eggs benedict with smoked salmon. Then I had my nails done in the spa with a view of the harbour. This was one of the perks from Tully travel and totally appreciated.

We decided to have a lazy day reading and snoozing and looking at the view. Then in the late afternoon we took a walk through the IFC mall attached to the hotel. It is a very expensive high-end designer group of stores, except for the ubiquitous MacDonald’s with young people waiting to buy a thin Big Mac for $15 US, and reading their smart phones. We skipped lunch and just had tea in the Blue Bar at the hotel.

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We headed back to our room to freshen up and wait for Boris to arrive to collect us for dinner. And what a dinner it was. First off we thought we would go in his car, but instead we hiked over to the MTR to find our way to Spring Deer, a well –known local Peking duck restaurant.

We arrived to find the large round table filled with Hong Kong Air Cadets who had been Charles’ students in Toronto. There were nine of us in total including Boris’ wife, Jady and me. Henry had recently stayed at our house, but I had not met Jeff, Rex or Eugene. Carrie had kept in touch with Charles and I felt I knew her. It was so exciting, and I experienced a glow of pride when I realized how much these young people adored, admired and appreciated my husband.

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camaraderie at Spring Deer restaurant

We began with chicken soup and dumplings enhanced with ginger that makes me salivate now as I write about it. The entire chicken was sitting in the large soup tureen. Then we were served many dishes that included,  jellyfish with sesame oil, very tasty, who would have thought? Then a white creamy entrée with dried squid and a dash of vinegar. Then the duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce, green onions and cucumber, followed by sweet and sour pork and black mushrooms with bamboo. Dessert was fried bananas that are dipped in ice water to form a crust. Yum!

This dinner was the highlight of our Hong Kong visit. After we finished dessert there was a presentation to Charles of a wonderful Chinese calligraphy ink drawing that meant flight, a tie and crest from the Hong Kong Air Cadets, and even a gift for me, a small umbrella for Singapore. We all laughed, reminisced, and chatted noisily. It was such a jolly and heartfelt evening. Both Charles and I were so touched. They all treated us to dinner and had worked it out ahead of time. Many hugs on leaving, we grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel with such an elated feeling of happiness. We slept well with the lights of the city shining through our open curtains.

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proud moment

Breakfast in the morning and then off to Singapore.

I am looking forward to telling you about that great, unique city in my next blog. If you enjoyed this and my others please tell your friends.

Always,

Riki

3 thoughts on “Notes from the Road: Hong Kong

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