From Madras to Manila

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Hong Kong

I think I'm in love. I just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and the city has quite captivated me - it just seems so alive!

Landing in HK

The first surprise is the landing, where you descend almost to the water and start reaching for your life-jacket before you realise you're making for a thin strip of land between several hills. Heart-stopping, but lovely!

What is more heart-stopping, and quite the opposite of lovely, is the cab fare from the airport - 400 dollars (Rs 2400, PHP 2900) to get to Wan Chai, and that's not even the maximum by far!

In the City

People are bustling all around you on the street, under you (on the MRT) and even above you (on the elevated walkways). One can actually hope from building to building on these walkways, Not touching ground level even once! Glass-and-steel skyscrapers - my favourite is the exquisite IFC building - stand tall and sleek in the daylight against a (dwindling) carpet of greenery, forming a very appropriate backdrop for this city-state that has been declared the world's 'freest economy' several years in succession. The entire spectacle seems to radiate power and the 'New Economy'.

The spectacle, however, is slightly marred by the clunky red cabs that prowl the city's streets. Guess what? These are the same as those plying in Manila - The Toyota Crown. Hats off to the genius sales manager who managed to get thousands of these anachronistic marvels on to the streets of practically every emerging economy around Japan! And, since it's Hong Kong, you pay at least five times the price of Manila cabs for the same pleasure (or lack thereof).

Remember to carry lots of post-its with the names clearly written in English and, if possible, in Chinese as well because there is no way in which the cab driver will understand you or you him. You might as well be speaking Hindi and he Cantonese because the English sure ain't helpin'! And anyway none of us can ever pronounce the street names correctly.

Best take the MRT - cheaper and less talking!

[An interesting tidbit - Hong Kong features several names familiar to us. Do Connaught Place and Peddar Road ring a bell? I'm sure they do!]

For lunch we went to a Pizza and Pasta place that, surprise, surprise, does not have pizza! But the waitress has such a quaintly charming way of going to speak with the chef and returning to say "Sorry, no pizza. What can I do?" in a mixture of complete bewilderment and confusion that you quietly order the pasta. Until you go back the next day and the same thing happens, and you discover on careful questioning that they never serve pizza for lunch, a secret of such momentous significance that they elect to keep from the waitresses. Interesting!

[Probably the most expensive golf carts in the world are in Hong Kong, in Discovery bay. Apparently vehicles are not allowed there and the only mode of transport is golf carts, which have been limited to 500 in number, thereby taking the demand-supply situation to such a ridiculous level that each cart could go for as much as HKD 700,000, or the price of 2 Mercedes-Benzs]

After Dark

After dark the city transforms itself from chic sophistication to a completely wild and happening nightlife. The buildings themselves seem to shed their daytime suits (dark and pin-striped in this ultra-formal city) and go from stolid respectability to wild and carefree riotousness with a spectacular, coordinated pyrotechnic show after dark that is apparently in the Guiness Book for being the largest permanent sound and light show in the world. I had the luxury of viewing this panoramic spectacle from an excellent viewpoint on the water courtesy Discovery channel because my very drunk friends neglected to point it out to me while I was there!

And let us not forget Lan Kwai Fong, the heart of nightlife in the city, with it's gently sloping streets, innumerable bars playing great music and own web page. Under the pretext of having 'a couple of beers' a friend managed to pump eight pegs or so of alcohol into me at no less than four bars. It might have been more but I wasn't thinking too clearly after a couple of hours. I distinctly remomber having a beer and a Margarita at the first place, another Margarita at some place that only serves Margaritas (!), an excellent almond liquor shot at a third place and almost puking at a fourth place that had awesome retro music and a B-52 that makes you want to drink more, which we gladly did. Strangely, the bartenders and waitresses seemed to know my friend really well in each of these places. Dude, what have you been up to?

I also vaguely remember insisting that an American chap sitting next to me come to Chennai and visit us 'as soon as possible'. Hope he didn't take it to heart as we're not likely to be in Chennai for the next few years.

Oh well, at least he's visiting India. That's the main thing.


  • Wondered why you guys had been so silent!! Now I were visiting the best city in Asia!

    Landing is good...but Kai Tak was better!!!! Much!

    Between the airport and Wanchai..cheaper to take the train and then either the free shuttle bus or then a taxi from central...

    Yes, Hong Kong other word for and night! Manila slogs, Hong Kong bustles!

    The cabs are great in HKG (other than the slight language problem!!!!) clean, all the same and very, very rarely do you get a taxi driver try and pull a fast one on you as they do here!

    Anyway, so glad you liked it...HKG really is the most enthralling city and one that keeps exciting visitors...I hope that this trip was the first of many for you!

    By Blogger Madame Chiang, at 7:06 PM  

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