Archive for June, 2007

Slow walks and man bags

June 26, 2007

Back in the UK, I’d have the occasional game of pool with a friend to make for a different night out than the usual, down the pub and drink as much as possible. This was more down the pool hall, play pool, and drink as much as possible. The pool wasn’t really the important part of the evening – although, of course winning did allow for unspoken bragging rights the following day. What was apparent was the walk from the station to the pool venue – I’d walk at what I’d say is my usual pace, and my opponent would generally struggle to keep up. I’ve always walked quickly and have never seen the point in slowly walking anywhere – the walking part is entirely incidental to getting somewhere to do whatever it is you’re going somewhere to do. My friend also had, and has to do this day, the habit of always carrying a man bag; that is a bag for his general belongings. I’ve no idea what he could possibly require in the course of an evening that doesn’t fit into his pockets, added to which this bag has on occasions been left in the pub by mistake so it can’t possibly be that important.

I’ve now I think discovered where this slow walking and bag carrying requirement originated from… Hong Kong. It’s impossible to walk anywhere quickly here. You can walk quickly, but you’re still not going to get anywhere quickly. And the men here all seem to carry various types of effeminate looking man bags.  It won’t surprise you to learn that my slow walking, bag carrying pool opponent actually spent a few years living and working in Hong Kong. If I’m here for any length of time I’m going to have to be very careful not to pick up any of these strange habits (of which there are more I’ll write about at a later date).

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Simple things become more challenging

June 25, 2007

What I’m beginning to realise with living in a foreign world is that the simple things I take for granted back home are a bit more challenging when you don’t really understand what’s going around you. For example, I’ve now had two haircuts whilst I’ve been here. I think I have a pretty basic haircut – I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a style – a number 4 over the top, and a number 2 for the back and sides. My first thoughts were, does Hong Kong have a similar grading system, and which hair salon to go to. For haircut #1 I figured I’d head to Happy Valley – it’s an expat area, therefore should have salons to cater for expats. I’d not noticed before, but there seem to be quite a lot of salons, with a variety of coloured barber shop poles outside. The red and white spiral poles in the UK. Over here it seems there is red and white, green and white, green, red, and white, and some blue and white ones. I have no idea what these different colours mean, if anything. A slight worry was that they indicate if the salon is for men only, men and women etc. – could just see my luck being the only guy in a woman’s salon…

I eventually decided on one which was located up a set of stairs. I’d decided on this one because they had a price list outside, and I could see they did men’s haircuts. Unfortunately, I’d managed to choose one where they seemed to understand bugger all english. I was directed towards one of the seats, and had the gown attached etc. when the barber approaches me and says, ‘short?’. Under normal circumstances I’d say ‘yes’, but at this moment he’s holding a pair of clippers with no grading comb attached. I take the chicken option and answer ‘not too short thanks’. I think, though, the only answers would have been yes or no – so I end up getting a general trim. This at least means I avoided having a comedy haircut for the following weeks, so it wasn’t a disaster, but at this rate I’d being getting haircuts pretty often.

Haircut #2 was a week or so ago, and went to a place called ‘The Barber Shop’ in Central. Had been suggested to me as they speak english, and getting a graded cut should be a doddle. Can’t complain at all – it was pretty much the same kind of haircut as I’d get back home – and short hair is definitely more convenient over here with the heat. One oddity was that the barber left the fringe untouched, so it was stupidly long compared to the rest of my hair. Needed to hack away at that myself the following day.

Similarly, living in North Point it’s difficult to just ‘pop out’ or food, as most of the places have no english menus. And as much fun as eating weird food has been, I’m still not feeling brave enough to start ordering random food. The completely crap ‘kitchen’ facility means I need to head out for food most nights. Managed to get a game of hockey during the week – the summer hockey has finally started. Playing at 7:00pm, it was still pretty damn hot so it was hard work playing. Fortunately there were loads of people turn up and there was plenty of substituting going on. Good fun, and we won 5-4, and had beers after the game. Hockey club seems to be pretty much all expats, and it’s a water based pitch which is much nicer than the sand based one back home.

More getting about in Hong Kong

June 21, 2007

I’ve previously written about using the MTR to get around and it’s superiority over the Tube in London. I also mentioned at the time that buses are ridiculously good value for money also, and that the flat screen televisions in them wouldn’t last a day in the UK either. As a result of having a good public transport system very few people who live on Hong Kong Island, or indeed over the harbour in Kowloon, will own a car. I suspect another reason for this is that driving here would quickly induce a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome. I’m not convinced there is actually a system for lane discipline here, and the taxis change lanes as randomly as the cars did in TCR. (And if you can remember what TCR is you’re showing your age – bonus point available if you know what it stands for without looking up google)

Despite the rather random nature of the taxis I’ve not yet been in, or seen a crash. Fortunately, round the city there’s no chance of building up sufficient speed to have a serious crash. Taxi costs are very reasonable compared to back home as well. In the UK I’m used to being charged at least £2 just for stepping into the taxi, and then the meter seems to tick over stupidly quickly so that the cost of my short taxi trip begins to resemble a small country’s GDP. I find it pretty offensive that a trip from the train station to my flat can cost £5 or so. Hong Kong taxis still have a minimum fee and the meter does seem to increase fairly rapidly as well. However, with the exchange rate being HK$15 to £1 then even a taxi ride of  HK$60 is pretty cheap. In fact, I’ve taken a taxi back from Kowloon to North Point and it’s been less than HK$60. And this is late at night/early morning when let’s face it UK taxis move to their rip off premium rates. And the taxis are air-conditioned. (No Octopus though)

Of course there are other options for the cheapskates to get around Hong Kong: the tram system, the ferries across the harbour and to other outyling islands, and of course, Shanks’s Pony. The trams have the benefit of being a massive HK$2 for any trip. That’s 15p. 15p for a trip anywhere on the north side of Hong Kong island is excellent value for money. Of course, there is a drawback to this method of transport. There’s no air conditioning. I can’t stress enough how important this is. As a result, everybody tries to get upstairs so that they can hang out the windows of the tram to try and remain as cool as possible. It’s also slow, has many stops, and has to stop at traffic lights and other road obstacles – if you were in a hurry to be somewhere catching a tram would certainly not be your first thought. Speed is not helped by cars blocking the lane the tram tries to take – strangely not BMW drivers; probably because I haven’t seen many BMWs over here. (Again, Octopus cards accepted) There’s probably a higher probability of finding local crazies on the tram rather than the bus as seems preferred in the UK.

The Star Ferry is a Hong Kong institution, by which I think they mean it’s old – I guess the trams qualify by this rule as well. However, taking the ferry is a great way of seeing the harbour which is normally quite busy. Once again it’s cheap too – HK$2 takes you from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui. Also not air conditioned.

What one drink can lead to…

June 20, 2007

I got back from Macau on Friday evening and went out for a few drinks, chatted to a few people, and bumped into some people I’d met on other night’s out. Nothing too severe, and an enjoyable night out. I also got invited to join a pub quiz team in the Bulldog pub for the following Tuesday.

The pub quiz was the usual affair – general trivia questions, couple of picture rounds, and some music rounds open to everyone in the pub; first one to answer the artist correctly wins a shooter. I’d been in a couple of times before and managed to win a couple of shooters previously. The team I was part of didn’t win the quiz, but we didn’t shame ourselves either. One of the team members did mention that he was going to Macau on the Sunday with friends, some of whom were going to Macau Tower. Asked if I wanted to go along, I thought I may as well, as I’d just been there and it seemed like a good day out.

The next day an email arrives for me letting me know the time to meet at the ferry terminal, and whether I was doing the bungy jump or the skyjump… I didn’t quite remember signing up for that the night before, but there was a vague (nagging?) memory at the back of my mind that this was the actual reason for going. Not wanting to appear cowardly and back out, I tentatively suggested I’d sign up for the skyjump, with the proviso I’d probably bottle out of it on the day.

Arriving at the Tower again felt very different than the last time. Seeing the Tower in the distance from the ferry, and then the taxi on the way just reinforced how high it was, and the prospect of jumping off the top was not that appealing. Stepping out of the lift at the observation deck on floor 59 didn’t calm the nerves either. In fact, the viewing deck with it’s transparent parts of floor made it look a long way down and I was, to say the least, feeling uncomfortable and very nervous at what lay ahead.

I’d pretty much decided to bottle out of doing it when we took the lift up to the 61st floor and the actual bungy/skyjump platform. However, a chat with one of the jump-masters – and peer pressure – convinced me to pay for a skyjump. I figured I could still chicken out on the platform itself. The idea behind the skyjump is that you’re attached to a metal cable which in turn is connected to a fan so that your descent is slower than freefall by the cable powering the fan as your drop. Of course, you’re still 233m up in the air, and you still have to take a step, jump, or whatever into absolute nothingness.

There were six in our group, two for bungy jumping, two for sitting it out, and two for skyjump. Doing the skyjump with me was, Ces, a UK born Chinese expat, and she decided she would go first. At the time this was fine by me – I quite liked the idea of seeing how it all went before going myself. On reflection, that was a mistake. Ces took her time stepping off, with at least two countdowns required, and then she just disappeared from view with a scream of fear easily audible. At this point the cable starts zooming past me, the fan speeding up and making an incredible noise. The speed of the cable was more than I expected. After her drop had been done the cable is then wound back up again – and this feels like it takes forever. There’s a lot of cable to come back up from what seemed a very quick descent.

Then it was my turn to have it all attached and step onto the edge of the platform – telling myself to keep looking ahead, and not down. As the operator starts his countdown from 5 through to 1, I’m told to put my arms out in front and then step off when he reaches 1… no chance! As soon as he hits 1 I’m grabbing back onto the railings of the platform. After steadying myself for a moment, I indicate I’m ready to give this another go, and again we count down to 1, only this time I do step off into the air and feel the drop down the 10 or so metres they drop you in order to take some pictures. I can only describe the feeling as you’re about to step off the platform as ‘bloody terrifying’ and seeing the ground so far below is frightening.

The operator seemed to keep me hanging from 10 metres for ages allowing me lots of views around, and worst down. Finally they hit the release and I’m falling through the rest of the drop to the airbag below. It is absolutely exhilarating, and when I get to the bottom I can feel my legs are still shaking from the experience. The operator at the bottom is trying to sell another jump, or a bungy jump, to me – but I’m not interested. That one jump was enough for me today.

Getting back to the top I can feel that doing another jump wouldn’t be quite so terrifying, although coming back another day might be just as difficult once the adrenaline from today has worn off. The two guys who had booked a bungy completed theirs – also with a couple of false starts required. Once you’re up at the top with nothing out beyond you, it’s difficult to take that step or jump off the platform. (Bungy is worse than skyjump as the platform is extended out a bit and there is no handrail to grab hold of when you chicken out the first time)

We all had some celebratory food and drinks and then headed to the Wynn casino in Macau where I continued my blissful ignorance of understanding bacarrat and this time managed to come out HK$500 on top. So far, I’m HK$520 up in gambling. Also discovered that the Wynn casino bar do an excellent Mojito cocktail too… Despite having a few drinks, managed not to agree to any more daft ideas (so far)

Macau

June 20, 2007

Thursday 7th June – the day after going to Happy Valley races – and I had a trip organised with work to Macau. I was due to be there for the Friday to deliver a presentation to some customers, but this section has been cancelled, and my presentation part is no longer required, but I’m already booked to go and have a hotel room arranged. This is definitely good news as I wasn’t feeling particularly wonderful and the prospect of having to deliver a presentation to non-native English speakers wasn’t top of my list of priorities.

The trip to Macau lasts about an hour, and you have to pass through passport control. The queues on the Hong Kong side are pretty short, although it took me a little longer as I’d forgotten to bring the copy of my arrival form with me. The girl behind the desk didn’t look very impressed, but as the ferry to Macau was due to leave in a few minutes she couldn’t do very much about it, gave me a dirty look, and stamped my passport and pointed me in the direction of the departure area.

I was shown round some of the island by a colleague who works most days at Macau, so he’s got rooms booked at a hotel and has arranged for dinner in the restaurant at the top of the Macau Tower. Macau was a Portuguese colony prior to being handed back to China in much the same way that the UK handed Hong Kong back. However historically, Macau was never the same commercial/financial centre that Hong Kong was. Macau is though reinventing itself as a haven for gambling, and with the amount of building work in evidence it’s changing pretty constantly. Apparently, the gambling turnover in Macau last year was greater than Las Vegas, with most of it being money from the Chinese mainland.

Like Las Vegas, most hotels are actually there for the casinos, so as a result my hotel room was reasonably priced for a lot of quality. I noted on entering that my hotel room was bigger than the ‘apartment’ I was staying in in Hong Kong… Dinner in the tower that night was interesting. The restaurant at the top of the tower slowly rotates through 360 degrees so you get a view of whole of Macau as you eat. My colleague, Stanley, also mentioned that during the day, if you eat lunch, you sometimes see people flying past the windows as above they have a bungy jump system.

After dinner it was suggested that we should go to a casino – which sounded good to me. I normally play blackjack in casinos as it’s pretty easy to pick up, and the strategy isn’t very complex either. It seems that the Chinese prefer to bet on dice (not craps as I’ve seen in other casinos), and for cards bacarrat is the main attraction. I’ve never played bacarrat before, but Stanley seems keen that I give it a go. As it turned out, although we were in the casino, it was for me to spend my money whilst Stanley watched on offering encouragement, and kind of explaining what was going on.

Bacarrat is weird. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of strategy or indeed any skill involved in it. You can bet on one of two hands, and which ever hand adds up closest to 9 is the winner. Depending on the score of the initial cards dealt there might be more cards dealt out to each hand. The hands are marked as either Player or Banker; if you back the Player and that hand wins, you double your stake, if you back the Banker and that hand wins you double your stake minus 5% of tip to the dealer/house. Loads of people can choose to play, and whoever places the biggest stake for either hand gets to turn the cards over. This actually makes no difference to the outcome of the game though, so if you’re playing on your own – as I was for a large part – you end up having to turn over both Banker and Player cards. It just feels like a lot of card turning with a bit of money being lost, and a bit being won – but no real control.

When the Chinese play and are turning the cards, they bend them extravagantly, apparently to ensure they can’t be re-used. My rather rubbish flipping the cards over must have had the Chinese somewhat bemused wondering why I wasn’t virtually destroying the cards in the process. They also take their time with turning the cards, trying to add to the drama – which again, I don’t really understand as it’s not exactly possible to bluff in bacarrat… just turn the cards over and then do a quick bit addition. Despite not having a clue what I was doing, and feeling as though each round was coming faster and faster as the evening progressed I finished HK$120 or so up for the night. Coupled with my rubbish horse gambling the night before I’m a massive HK$20 ahead (or £1.30 in UK money). Not the greatest return on investment ever…

Getting around in Hong Kong – the MTR

June 18, 2007

The MTR is described as clean, always on time, and a bit soul-less by the lonely planet. I reckon that’s a bit unfair. It’s certainly clean, and it runs damn efficiently. About the only thing it has in common with the London Underground is the fact that they’re both trains. The MTR is air conditioned for a start which makes it bearable even in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong. The trains themselves come at regular intervals, and the ticketing system is a doddle. You simply press your destination on the touch screens that then tell you the amount required. I’m normally using the Island line to get to Central or Causeway Bay, and trips invariably cost about HK$5 or in British money, 35p. Somehow, can’t see the Tube doing cheap one off journeys.

This system is made even easier using the Octopus card, which I guess is similar to an Oyster card but far more useful. The Octopus card has the fare automatically deducted by touching the sensors as you enter and exit the MTR system. You can also use an Octopus card for loads of other things; the bus, the trams, the 7-11 convenience stores, most McDonalds, most Starbucks, the Wellcome supermarkets, the Park n Shop supermarkets. It’s possible to use the Octopus in place of cash all day if needs be.

The trains in use by the MTR also feel pretty new, and the seats are plastic, so no cushions to soak up the crap that people spill/drop for you to unknowingly sit in. So that’s that – the MTR is by far better than the Tube… mostly. There are some things that are annoying/frustrating about it. You’re not allowed to eat or drink within the barrier areas. Once you’ve swiped through, you’re in the no eating/drinking zone. Apparently there can be hefty fines if caught. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I guess the shops that sell food within these areas are selling it to you for consumption outside the barriers. People are crap on the escalators. There’s supposed to be the same system as in London where the left hand side of the escalators is where people walk and they stand on the right. Of course, it only takes one person to completely mess this up, and it happens all too frequently. Fortunately less so in the mornings with the commuters. Queueing here seems to only sort of work. There are 4 lanes marked out for queueing to get on the MTR, but once the train arrives all semblance of order breaks down and it’s like a rugby scrum to get on the train – which I find very odd, as I know there will be another train along in a minute or so. To give London some credit, we’ve got the getting on and off the Tube down to a fine art, you let them off first and then get on. Not here – you can be trying to get off the train only to be met with a stampede of people getting on. It’s not organised chaos, it’s just chaos. So, taking the every man for himself approach sometimes I just have to barge my way off the MTR. It’s quite nice being above average height for a change. I’ve also had problems getting on the MTR; one guy in front of me decided to just stop as soon as he was through the door, despite there being loads of room in the carriage. I virtually walked into the back of him only to then have to back up a bit and move around this idiot. This kind of behaviour actually all ties in with my experiences of walking around on the street in Hong Kong which I shall post about later

The Tube system is also much more complex and covers far more area than the MTR. But, if you’re on the MTR line – it’s a far nicer experience than the Tube in London; especially at the height of summer when the lack of air conditioning is compounded by being crammed in like rats.

Happy Valley Races

June 18, 2007

Having discovered earlier that the horse racing on Saturdays is run at Sha Tin racecourse I found out that Wednesday night is when it occurs at Happy Valley. The horse racing season is due to finish in the next couple of weeks or so, and as I am only due to be here until August my chances of seeing any horse racing are sufficiently limited. Once again it was a tram to Happy Valley from North Point – no standing on the wrong side of the road this time. Slowly but surely I’m learning to find my way about Hong Kong reasonably efficiently.

There are four forms of legalised gambling in Hong Kong; Mark Six – lottery, betting on football (the English Premier League is massively popular here, as is, in fact, pretty much any European football. Yes, David Beckham is worshipped here too), betting on horse racing, and Mahjong. I’ve no idea about Mahjong, but if you want to bet on any of the first three you can only do so at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The Jockey Club is a non-profit organisation with it’s ‘profits’ being donated to good causes throughout Hong Kong e.g. hospital buildings etc. and other community projects.

There seemed to be a similar number of people in the grandstand as previously turned up to watch the Sha Tin races on the Saturday. However, there were loads more people at track side where there were beer and food stalls. You could get right up to the barrier of the race course, with your beer, to watch and take photos of the horses as they would thunder past. It seems as though a lot of the native Hong Kongers stay in the stands or the Jockey Club area, whilst outside drinking beer and watching the races at track side is predominantly ex-pats.

Overall my evening could have been better – didn’t pick a single winner or placed horse out of the 5 or so races I bet on – so gambling debt was at about HK$100. Also chose to eat a hotdog from one of the stalls that really didn’t agree with me, and I spent the next week or so with stomach cramps and a dodgy gut. Fantastic…

On the plus side, pints of beer were only $HK28

Lantau Peak

June 13, 2007

Friday 1st June was a full moon in Hong Kong and a group of expats figured it would be a good idea to take advantage of this, climb Lantau Peak during the night, aided by the moonlight, with the goal being to get to the summit by sunrise to enjoy the view. This should be dead easy – Lantau, whilst being the second highest peak in the Hong Kong territory, comes in at about 940m. The master plan was as follows:

  • MTR to Tung Chung for 12:45am
  • Taxi to the Lantau trail
  • 4 or so hour torchlight trek to the summit in time for sunrise at 5:30am
  • Descend via a different trail to finish at a Buddhist Monastery where the big Buddha is

Simple, right?

In total 16 people turned up, which was a lot more than Chris, who organised it, expected. The original plan of meeting at the MTR station and jumping in a couple of taxis failed miserably when there was only one blue taxi there when we arrived. It should be noted that the taxi system in Hong Kong is a bit weird, with some taxis permitted to take passengers in some areas and forbidden in other areas. This solitary blue taxi subsequently disappeared after one of the group talked to him. There was a general assumption that he was off to get his mates as there were 16 nutters looking for taxis. This, sadly, was not the case… he’d just cleared off.

After much standing around, and a few phone calls to the (only?) 24 hour taxi company, who either hung up or told us to call back in 5 minutes we realised we were a bit stuck for transport to wherever it was we were supposed to start from. Serious consideration was given to taking the available red taxis (of which there were loads) to the airport and then take blue taxis from the airport to wherever. Going home at this point didn’t seem to be an option as the MTR was now closed.

It was an odd bunch of people (and I do include myself as odd) – ranging from a Canadian expat known only as Chigger (and I still don’t know where that comes from), a group of French guys, some of whom claimed not to know each other, only to realise they sat about two desks away from one another, and some Hong Kong/American ex-pats, and Chris the organiser originally from the UK too. One guy even went so far as suggesting to breaking into one of the parked cars (and I’m not 100% sure he was kidding).

By about 1:30am some random bus showed up who was obviously finishing his run for the night, and one of the group decided to give it a go at persuading him to take us where we needed to be. It’s amazing how much of a persuasion money can be. A negotiated fee of HK$500 was agreed – which I thought was a bit of a bargain, but some of the others thought was ‘quite expensive’.

Arriving at the trail start there were already six or so Hong Kong guys who had looks of amazement on their faces upon seeing what looked like a really organised bunch turn up in a mini-bus. They’d decided to bottle out of climbing. Apparently the overhead lightning was too scary for them. Not so for us, as we had nowhere else to go… It quickly became obvious we had a complete mix in the group of reasonably fit and experienced hikers and one guy who was doing his first hike, and kept worrying about puddles (which is sort of understandable when the fact he was wearing lightweight trainers – bright white ones… to begin with at least). As ever in Hong Kong, it was warm and humid despite being the middle of the night. About halfway up it also decided to rain which we could have done without.

Everyone did eventually make it to the top by about 4:30am in small groups with the last arriving about 25 minutes after the first. With sunrise due for 5:30am we had an hour of sitting around and waiting. The time was filled though by some of the guys noticing they’d had leeches (really small ones though) attach themselves, which then had some of the girls in the group start frantically searching themselves for leeches. The leeches had probably been on the long grass/leaves that sometimes stretched over the path which we had to brush past, so exposed legs/ankles would probably make a nice feast for a leech. Once the panicking over leeches had died down they could then move onto freaking out over the presence of a (fairly small) rat/rodent of some sort also on the summit – someone even threw a rock at the poor thing. And finally, the sight of huge earth worms, grasshoppers was not welcome either, and they were duly stamped on. It really was quite an odd way to spend the morning.

As for the sunrise itself? Well, it must have happened as it got lighter, but we saw sod all at the mountaintop. It was cloudy, foggy, windy, and intermittently rainy. By 5:45am we’d all had enough and made our way back down the mountain to the big Buddha temple. Couldn’t get to see the big Buddha though, as everything was closed at that time in the morning.

I was absolutely shattered when I finally collapsed into bed at about midday on Saturday – still went out for drinks on Saturday night though.

Meeting people

June 10, 2007

As much fun as it is constantly asking for a table for one, and sitting in bars reading papers/books alone, it’s more fun when you’ve got company and you can have a few beers, a good conversation, and a bit of a laugh. With the hockey season being in limbo at the moment – end of normal hockey season, summer hockey yet to start it’s a bit more of a challenge to get to know people. With this in mind, it was time to turn to google: Hong Kong, expat, forums turned up a few hits, and there does seem to be a fairly lively expat online community. One such posting was that there was a leaving drinks bash being organised for Saturday 26th May – with all welcome, even newcomers. The location was due to be a pub called the Dublin Jack – which I do recall seeing, but can’t remember where exactly. Checking the lonely planet (and online) suggests it’s in Soho/mid-levels so I figure I can doublecheck where it is a few days beforehand and then make a decision on the Saturday as to whether to go or not.

Mid-levels is a pretty cool area, and as it’s up the hill they’ve built an escalator to take the strain out of getting there. This escalator runs down for a short time in the morning and then up for the rest of the day until about midnight. Considering the heat and humidity I have to say it’s a great idea. What’s no so great is me going up and down a section of mid-levels repeatedly searching for the Dublin Jack pub. Being a typical bloke, I’m certainly not going to admit failure and actually ask someone. That would have the following unfortunate consequences; I’d be admitting I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, and I’d probably ask someone who didn’t speak English. After about the fifth sweep of the same section of mid-levels I decide to give up and come to the conclusion it’s not where the book says it is. In disgust I head over to Lan Kwai Fong to have a drink there. It’s still nagging in the back of my mind that I know I’ve seen this pub before somewhere.

As I’m about to walk into the Bulldog pub I see above it is a separate pub served by a small door to it’s right… called the Dublin Jack. It’s only taken me the best part of two hours and lots of traipsing up and down the mid-levels in completely the wrong place, but at least I’ve found it. As can be inferred from the name, it’s an ‘Irish’ pub as it has Dublin in the name and serves sausages and mash as one of it’s dishes.

When Saturday comes I duly head along to the Dublin Jack, and completely bottle joining the group who have gathered for the leaving drinks. Instead I have a couple of bottles of beer and watch Australia narrowly beat Wales at rugby. After drinking two beers I’ve summoned up enough courage to go and say hello, with the plan being to have a few drinks, meet a few people and then get home for a sensible time that night… It’s 4:00am (and pouring with rain) by the time I finally crawl in to my apartment/boxroom. As is always the case when I meet new people I very quickly lose track of faces to names. Collected some business cards so hopefully will figure things out in the future. Apparently there’s a pub quiz in the Bulldog pub below that quite a few go to every Tuesday. Watched England get thumped by South Africa which was quite amusing – although I seemingly got lumped into the England supporters group which wasn’t quite so amusing. And apparently I don’t sound Irish. All in all a very entertaining evening – and far better than a table for one.

I was due to go hiking the next day with Chris from the office – however, conveniently this has had to be cancelled due to the inclement weather. In other words it’s likely to be torrential rain with thunderstorms at any moment. This is good news, because:

  • I’m horribly hungover and the prospect of hiking is not a nice one
  • We were due to meet at, for a Sunday, an unsociably early time (9am)
  • About midday it absolutely tips down with rain, and it would have been thoroughly unpleasant

Bank Holidays

June 10, 2007

They have loads of bank holidays in Hong Kong. About 16 days I think. Unfortunately, if they fall on a Saturday or Sunday, that’s too bad. It also seems no-one tells me in advance that there’s one coming up. So it was a bit of a fluke that I realised it was Buddha’s birthday on May 24th. Having had a bit of a washout at Cheung Chau, and the fact that it’s the bun festival on the same day, I’ll stick a bit closer to Hong Kong island and head off to one of the beaches on the south of the island. This involves catching a bus. Normally back home buses seem to be used almost exclusively by crazies. Or maybe it’s just every time I catch a bus the local crazy decides to catch the same one.

So, it was with a small degree of trepidation I set out for the bus station in Central to catch a bus to Stanley. Again, Hong Kong’s public transport is fantastic compared to the UK. Big double decker buses with air conditioning and televisions to keep you entertained during your trip. Payment is by exact fare only – or by the ever useful Octopus card. A massive HK$10.60 to Stanley, which is about 60p. Somehow I can’t see buses in the UK being that cheap or as comfortable. Having said that, I can’t see a television in a UK bus lasting very long either…

Stanley is an excellent little town – with a beach on one side and a harbour on the other. Today in the harbour they were holding dragon boat racing which seems to involve long thin boats stuffed full of people and a drummer. In the race I saw, there were four boats lined up against each other and when the race is started the rowers start paddling for all they’re worth. It’s a bit of a blur of water and paddle as they race down the ‘track’ all the while the drummer is beating his drum in, presumably, an attempt to set a pattern for the paddling. I’ve since found out that what I saw were probably heats to qualify for the real races sometime in June where there will be lots more boats, some of which are made up of corporate teams who will hire a junk ship sail a group of employees out, have a bit of a race, and generally get pissed. Sounds like a fun company day out.

I also took a bit of walk round Stanley – saw another temple, and Murray House. Apparently Murray House used to be in Central, but was taking up some land that someone else wanted to build so it was taken apart. However, unlike most older buildings in Hong Kong, it wasn’t destroyed – simply put in storage for a while. It was dismantled in 1982, proposed to be rebuilt in 1990, and was finally rebuilt in 1999. Once rebuilt there were bits left over which they couldn’t figure out where to put… not too dissimilar from model making and putting together Ikea furniture then.