Chinese Takeaway…..

October 21, 2011 at 8:06 am 2 comments

The view of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Victoria Ha...

Image via Wikipedia

OK, so it is the end of a gruelling two week business trip. The first week was spent in Sydney, Australia. The last, in Hong Kong.

I have to admit to feeling a tad more than jaded. I’m buggered! But for now, the work is over and I have changed into civvies and taken residence in the lounge bar of the Sheraton Kowloon, with a nice strong, cold, Long Island Ice Tea as my reward for a good job well done.

My more virtuous travelling companion has rewarded himself with a session in the gym. I am content ignoring his holier than thou attitude to quality time, safe in the knowledge that, in truth, he needs the exercise more than I do…… 😉

This has been my first trip to Hong Kong and China. I had thought that my spells in Thailand and in Singapore had made me a veteran of Asia, but I will admit that Hong Kong has been an experience. It is very different. Unique.

Most of the vestiges of British rule have disappeared. Despite the road names and other geographical references, such as Victoria Peak, the colonial heritage is far from evident. Hong Kong is an ultra-modern, high rise city without rival.

It has been a steady 30 degrees during the day and mid-20s at night since we have been here. I think that this will explain why we seem to have been the only two muppets who have bothered with wearing our suit jackets…..

I am told that public transport here is excellent, efficient and cheap. True enough our experience of the ten minute Star Ferry crossing from Kowloon Island to Hong Kong island stood testament to this, all at the exorbitant cost of 20 pence each. However, we did not brave the MTR (underground) or the buses of various degrees of comfort (avoid the green mini-buses as they are “less comfortable” apparently). Instead, we have heavily utilised the local taxi industry.

Boy, the local Toyota sales rep must have retired early on a healthy bonus. Every cab here is a Toyota Comfort. The only difference between the taxis seems to be whether they are petrol driven or LPG. Incidentally, there is a strange situation here that the Government seems to have declared that petrol is more economically friendly than diesel and, consequently, does not allow privately held vehicles to run on diesel. Those of us in the industry will tell you that that is indeed not true and that petrol, and in particular, LPG, are far worse pollutants. But hey, one doesn’t mess with the Communist Party. (I inserted that just to test whether they are really monitoring Internet usage and will choose to block my entry. Probably not the best tactic really just before attempting to leave the country but what the heck). Otherwise, all of the Toyotas were exactly the same. Same colour. Same box of tissues strapped to the sun visor on the left hand passenger side – sensibly they still drive on the left in this part of the world. Same multiple array of mobile phones on the dashboard interspersed with the drivers’ personal effects such as photos of the kids, artificial pot plant and the like.

It has been a strange experience. You get a sense for how it must feel to be a minority. Just walking around the city you are aware of the very few white and western faces that are around. You feel very tall for sure, but it does give you an idea how strange it must feel when the reverse is true. On a number of occasions we have been the only white faces in the restaurant.

I have also learnt that our Asian friends are not altogether politically correct in their attitude towards us Western folk. Believe it or not, we were asked if we didn’t mind sitting in the same places during our daily meetings because “all you western guys look the same to me and I want to make sure that I get your names correct.” I would have thought the fact that I have a beard and am stunningly good looking, while my colleague is not might have acted as an aide memoir, but, apparently not. I have also learnt that the Asians – for it is broader than Hong Kong as we had people over from Singapore and Malaysia as well – have a slightly derogatory collective term for us. We a referred to as “Potato Eaters” to differentiate us from the local population and their rice based diet. I didn’t feel offended though. But, imagine the fuss if Prince Philip had used similar descriptive parlance in reverse…….

I have enjoyed my downtime here. The food is excellent and there is every kind of variety to be had. Probably the best, however, was at Felix, the rooftop fusion restaurant of the Peninsular Hotel with it’s panoramic views of the high rise neon beauty of Kowloon and Hong Kong. It really did feel as if I was looking out on a film set from Bladerunner. Service in the hotels has been exemplary. There are nice touches such as when you hang your jacket on the back of a chair they cover it with a silk protector. I guess this is to protect it in case of spillage but also to make it difficult for anyone to rifle your pockets while you are away at the buffet bar. Similarly, the service is quiet and efficient. At one hotel there was a magic hot towel – I must have used it three or four times and it was magically replaced without me noticing the invasion my personal space.

Personal space is clearly an issue for Asians. They are all very slim and slight in build and stature and clearly fear being crushed by us stout and manly western types. So, when it was necessary to share cars or taxis they were ever careful to ration the split of westerners between vehicles. Perhaps I should have gone to the gym after all……

What I haven’t enjoyed is the excessive selling. You cannot walk even ten feet from the hotel lobby without being pestered by Indian street sellers offering you tailor made suits and shirts, copy watches and handbags. They will chase you up the street trying to engage you in conversation and trying to drag you off to their private shop. We succumbed just the once as my colleague wanted a cheap pair of sunglasses. Never again. We were marched about four blocks, with a change in our guide half way, taken up into a residential tower block and through a reinforced steel door into a tiny room with a shower room adjacent. The steel door was locked behind us. The room was stacked with fake designer handbags but no sunglasses. The guy was on his phone reassuring us that an irresistible array of fake sunglasses would arrive in “just five minutes” but we were not impressed by his handbags and felt uncomfortable behind a locked steel door so, rather forcefully, insisted we be allowed to take our leave.

We have determined that there is no shopping to be done here in Hong Kong. The locals have warned us off the small shops around the hotel. While they look legit, they apparently are not. This leaves the malls and their never ending array of high end designer brands. Until coming here I had had no idea that Louis Vuitton was such a mass producer. Also, because of the exchange rate there are no real bargains to be had. The price is compatible with the UK even with the tax free discount. And, I did visit the only Mulberry outlet in the city in search of pressure for my better half, but they did not stock the style she is after. Honest!I have a witness……..

So, thanks Hong Kong it has been a blast. I will not be sorry to say au revoir as I am keen to get home and hug my wife. But, hopefully I will see you again soon. If nothing else, because this will mean that we have landed the deal and that this exhausting and demanding trip has been worthwhile.

Until the next time!


Entry filed under: middleman. Tags: , , , , , , .

Innocence Lost Lest We Forget……

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wingnut  |  October 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Derogatory names are not just the hallmarks of asian countries. I’m sure your already aware of the French name for the British, ‘the roast beefs’!!

    Or the Austrian term for.non-austrians, ‘die Ausländer’ (the foreigners)

    Having said that I was approached by an Indian guy in Malaysia who proclaimed he “loved white people”

    Personally I find ‘potatoe eaters’ endearing!


  • 2. Middle Man  |  October 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Wingnut,

    I suspect that a good looking guy such as yourself was approached in Malaysia for quite a different kind of affection for westerners! 😉



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