“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.”

After a difficult day trying to convince Holly that the flights were going to be OK and we wouldn’t plummet out of the sky and meet our doom, we arrived in Hong Kong, drained, disheveled and distraught. All the excitement that had been beaten out of me by the artificial air and disrupted sleep, returned in an instant when I stepped off the plane and onto a sea of reminiscent aromas. I was transported back to Grandad Chan’s house, enraptured by the scents clinging to my nose hairs. Beloved memories came rushing back, the smell of his house, the home cooking, bad karaoke and the Chinese TV dramas, amplifying my excitement about being in this oh so relevant country. Before coming away I learned of my Grandad’s move from China to escape the Japanese rule to find his new home in Hong Kong. I hoped to get a feel for his life here and the culture that shaped his personality.

As our driver navigated the anfractuous streets to our hotel, first impressions showed a huge diversity in the small section of the city we traversed. With antiquated streets dressed with old-fashioned Chinese signs and small dim sum restaurants nestled below them, a turn of the corner and we were transported to the future. Bright neon lights ornamenting the high class shops and 7/11 signs protruding on every street, almost as if flashes of development had occurred randomly leaving select streets unscathed. The one commonality being that almost every block contained some sort of high-rise buildings touching the sky.

Navigating our way around the tricky streets proved difficult after the two days exhausting travel. Trudging through our local neighbourhood in search of a cash machine, it seemed the advice given by the hotel staff was not going to be fruitful. With Holly’s patience and temper running thin and the threat of collapse from exhaustion swiftly approaching we simply followed the streets that looked brightest and by chance stumbled onto one of the main streets in the area. A cash machine was easily pointed out by a 7/11 clerk and once loaded with lettuce we found a bar where the food and beer would suffice. I gloated inside with a sense of achievement for the simplest of tasks complete. Despite my plans to adventure my taste buds, a few simple dishes were all I could muster the courage to try, keeping holly on my side with choices too. We headed back for an early night hoping to wake bright eyed and bushy tailed to get to the heart of this wondrous city.

IMG_3908A dawn time whinge from Holly briefly disturbed our slumber but we soon enough drifted back off to the land of nod. Stirring in the bedroom we woke each other with crunched faces feeling like the population of Hong Kong had trampled us in our sleep. Our dehydrated states were confirmed after a visit to the lav produced an irn bru like waterfall. The realisation set in that we had slept in until 3pm. I must admit I am sometimes partial to the odd lie in, but not when there’s exploring to be had. As we now thought we were well seasoned travellers we left for a days exploration with little preparation. We walked the short distance to the harbor where we enjoyed the views of the Hong Kong skyline close up and peered out over to Kowloon where we were headed. A $4 ferry ride and we watched the coastline shrink behind us as we arrived at our destination. A manic peer welcomed us as tourists and locals flocked the area. We found a rare gap in the wall of bodies at the peer ledge and perched ourselves waiting for sunset. An absolute adoration for sunsets in different parts of the world has flourished inside me. Each experience new and different, saying goodbye to the day in a different city or location feels almost like conquering the days adventure.

We walked into the first restaurant we found but upon inspection of the menu only saw sauerkraut and sausages. This was not the Hong Kong I wanted to experience and slipped out to head next door for a Cantonese meal. We paid the price for not heading further into the town and felt robbed leaving with an empty wallet for the miserable amount of food we ordered. I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to try anything new or exciting. I hoped the following day would bring a culinary enthusiasm I hadn’t managed to find yet.

As with unplanned excursions, sometimes you get lucky, as we did this night. Heading back to the waterfront for our ferry home, the crowds had grown, even from the significant number that crowded the area as we first docked. Stretching the full length of the accessible peer, people gathered with titillation and an agitated anticipation. An announcement came over the tannoy and to our surprise we were to be treated to a light show on the buildings of Hong Kong. Dancing fluorescents and beaming spot lights lit up the skyline perfectly in time to the music blasting over the air. Surprisingly after a few minutes, I got bored. Although the skyline view was more expansive, panoramic and more impressive in it’s display of life to that we experienced in Singapore, the latter still overshadowed this. The one thing spoiling this tourist attraction for me was the tourists themselves. The view of Singapore was from a paid viewing deck, sparsely attended where everyone shared in the quiet relaxation, almost feeling the awe and wonder in those around you. This felt like somewhere people wanted to attend, get their photo and tick it off their list. I read a travel piece on Tim Ferriss’ blog by a guest author who demonised this type of travel. Advocating that people should only visit places or things they really want to see and experience, learn about that attraction and spend time there. Actually soak up the atmosphere and feel the experience. This was still a magnificent sight and a view I will never forget, but didn’t have that special something.

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Later that night, I had the repeated 4am wake up call from Holly, but we were back asleep again, luckily for Holly before I could strangle her. In ground hog day fashion, we slept in until early afternoon. Not letting this deter us, we set off again for our unprepared adventure to see the Big Buddha. After a brief look on the website and a quick check of the map we knew which train and bus to take and headed out, octopus card in hand.

While on the train we saw an airplane flying by but looking stationary from our vantage point. I excitedly explained part of Einstein’s theory of relativity to Holly, eager to impart wisdom, to which her response was “That’s all bullshit”. We also witnessed the male version of my man. A middle aged blonde bespectacled Chinese man.

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After a formula one type bus ride, we alighted the bus thankful to still be alive and raced towards the Buddha, hoping to catch the site before sunset. To our utter devastation, we had arrived 20 minutes late and the steps to view the sacred monument were closed. Standing below the statue, I felt drawn to it. I could feel emotion brewing inside from anger and stupefaction, but then a sudden calm came across me. I forgot about the overwhelming size of the structure and its remarkable construction and focused on what this was to the people that visit. This was to some a deity, a place of worship, a realisation of the Buddhist life. While most tourists had left with the exception of one knob head German tourist and his friend, waffling on loudly and disrespectfully, I hoped that there were people that came here to feel and experience Buddhism itself, not just the statue. After feeling like a fraud in Singapore at the Buddhist relic, I didn’t feel it now. In the time that passed since then I had came to learn what Buddhism meant to me. It wasn’t my religion to follow the rules blindly, but more of a guideline I could fit to my life. I was now humbled to be here. Grateful in front of the Buddha and indebted to his teachings. This is what it should feel like to encounter wonders of this world. Sadly our visit was cut short by the bus timetable only sanctioning an insignificant amount of time at the monument where I could have happily spent all day. Alas, our lack of planning and glutinous lie in had cost us here, but it still ranked amongst one of the best things I have done.

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Over a few beers and the Newcastle match Holly and I discovered our fate for the next few days.

“You won’t be leaving here anytime soon!”

Coming from an English speaking Italian expat now living in Hong Kong and a Hong Kong born, Oxbridge educated British citizen now back in her homeland, we learned a Typhoon was coming. Despite thinking this was simply a type of tea back home, they chuckled at the prospect of us staying indoors for a full day and missing our flight to Australia. Despite our initial worries, after a few beers we decided everything was going to be ok and enjoyed the rest of the night with our new financier come sommelier friends.

The night life in Hong Kong surprised me. Expecting the city to be quiet and calm, visions of the Chinese temple tranquility you seen in our western films never came to completion. The drinking area of Hong Kong was a Magaluf-esq square accommodating the nightly debauchery. Leaving a bar at 2am, the streets were still packed with drunken locals and tourists, as we headed home via McDonalds.

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Eventually back on a normal sleeping pattern, we drew the curtains at 10am to drizzling rain and were brought back to the realisation that there was a typhoon headed our way. A nice relaxing Sunday, with a natural disaster thrown in.

The emotional roller coaster that morning was enough to make me sick. Trying to reject any notion that a tragedy could be afoot, the idea that death could be near terrifies you. The numbers that appear on news stories start to hit home. Headlines such as “Briton killed in floods” and the idea this could be you rings true. Comforted by the lack of panic around the city, these thoughts dissipate with ease, but still surfaced from time to time.

Advice from locals was to not travel too far from shelter and the storm path was difficult to predict and could leave us stranded anywhere. Local dim sum set us up for the day and we sat, glued to the TV and internet, awaiting news of the most powerful typhoon in years to hit Hong Kong. The contrasting news had us confused. BBC news touched briefly on the topic, almost dismissing it as trivial, while the Chinese news stations, which we had no fucking clue what was being said, looked as if it was raising alarm bells and panic. My futile attempts to keep Holly calm were thwarted by messages from home telling her to stock up on water and food supplies. Jesus man!

After grasping that there would be no threat of the typhoon until through the night, we ventured across the road and had a pizza and couple of beers. Hong Kong is a hugely diverse place and it doesn’t stop when it gets to food. Not just different Asian cuisines such as Vietnamese and Thai, but with as many French, Italian, and English restaurants as there was Chinese, bakeries of all types on every corner, it was easy to miss anything traditional.

Holly’s overactive brain would again have her wake me at 4am, this time with consequences for me. I could not get back to sleep and lay awake until 1pm the following afternoon trying my best not to disturb her slumber, knowing how little she seemed to be getting. I should have just woke her up and pretended there was an evacuation for the typhoon, that would teach her. I could have spent weeks here, exploring every inch of the city, a recurring theme it seems. We left with me in a daze of sleepiness only to be further punished by an overnight flight of 9 hours. The only thing keeping me going was knowing Australia was on the other end.

Seemed a bit long this post, if anyone actually reads this to the end, let me know if its too long and will try and keep them shorter.

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