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China: Hong Kong – arriving during a tropical cyclone

Arriving in the skyscraper capital of the world amidst a tropical cyclone - yikes!

Time seemed to stand still as we waited for our flight to Hong Kong in San Francisco. It was like being astronauts barreling towards a black hole. Even watching people got to be tiresome.

Having both risen at 5 a.m. it was some 17 hours later before we finally got to check into our flight. Standing in line we got talking to a couple from San Francisco who were on their way to Thailand. They were to become our Siamese twin for this part of our journey.

This was a long flight, over 14 hours (sigh!). I have had the opportunity to fly on many long haul flights and had many varying experiences, but Singapore Airlines has always been one of my favourite carriers. I was not disappointed. The aircraft was clean, the aircrew was friendly and helpful, everything worked, you could swing a cat in the toilets and the food was wonderful. It was the antithesis of our recent flight to India on Air India.

We were greeted in Hong Kong by some wet, miserable weather. The weather in the tropics can be complex. For Hong Kong and this part of South East Asia, this time of year can be wet, and our arrival coincided with a passing tropical storm. I was happy though because I hadn’t seen any rain for 3 months! Karen was concerned by the warnings at the airport, but we were assured that the “standby signal No. 1” was nothing to be concerned about.

Getting through immigration was painless (hopefully the United States can learn from others about being welcoming to visitors … and residents) and our bags arrived intact, which is always a relief! Yeah!

We took the impressive Airport Express, part of the Hong Kong MRT transit system, which got us to the central station just after 7.30 a.m. We tracked down the courtesy bus driver, who was hardly Mr Happy, which got us to our hotel, the Dorsett Wan Chai, at 8:30 a.m some 4 hours before our check-in time.

Despite being tired from the journey our experience of overcoming jet lag suggested we just needed to keep going. So, we slipped off to the toilets to change into something that we hadn’t been living in for over two days. Unfortunately, they were in the middle being cleaned, so I squeezed into a cubicle with all my bags and began my Superman impression.

Clean and partially scrubbed up, we decided to head for Mong Kok, a popular shopping district and just the place to go on a wet day.

I find it perversely weird that we get so much pleasure from conquering the complexities of a transportation system. Luckily, Hong Kong’s metro system is easy to get your head around. It is also clean and efficient – with everything dual signed in English. One thing that did excite me is the train carriages openly connect to each other so you can see all the way along the train, from one end to the other.

Although it felt late in the day it was still only 10 a.m. in the morning when we arrived in Mong Kok, so everything was just about opening up for the day. So, to kill time whilst everything came to life, we set out to do what we enjoy doing most when arriving in a new place; wander the streets and soak in the culture.

In our travels I found it interesting to see shops selling specialist items, such as shoes, all gathered together. I guess this makes it easy for the consumer but for the seller there is the problem of sticking out in the crowd. For example, there were a couple of streets just selling shoes, and all the same brands; Nike, Adidas etc. My favourite was the streets full of shops selling tools and hardware – everything the DIY or professional workman could possibly need. We were particularly taken with one store selling carabiners of all shapes and sizes.

Another essential part of travelling is to try local food. Now we are vegan that has additional challenges. When we travel we do relax the rules but we try to at least stick to being vegetarian. In Chinese culture, such as Hong Kong, that is trickier as they eat virtually anything that moves and all parts that are edible. For the westerners who are brought up on select cuts of meat, this can be hard, for vegans like us it is almost an impossible situation.

Luckily, we did find a restaurant that seemed to have a couple of veggies dishes. Encouragingly it was full of locals – a very good sign. In fact, we were the only westerners it the establishment. We ordered a few dishes to share and they were delicious. Karen disappeared off to the toilet and when she came back insisted I go as well. I got to pass through the kitchen and food preparation areas – which if you checked out first might have put you off eating there. There were piles of unclean cooking utensils, plates and bowls, and some particularly grubby cleaning rags. The toilet itself was clean but the room itself looked like it had not seen a clean this side of Hong Kong’s transition from a British colony to a Chinese protectorate in 1997. In fact, it was more of a storage room than a toilet. Karen is very squeamish when it comes to toilet facilities, for me I didn’t think it was too bad. Having worked in a few factories my tolerance levels of sanitation facilities is fairly high.

Although we were full we did manage to squeeze down some deserts; a crêpe filled with chocolate and a banana which we then washed down with a custard tart.

By this time the heavens had opened and we were treated to heavy tropical downpour. But we had killed enough time and headed back to our hotel to check in and catch up with some sleep.

I particularly liked the "jelly belly" shopping cart. Do you think they would miss it?

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