Following on from my somewhat debilitating trip up and down the side of Victoria Peak, I more or less stumbled off the tram and rolled my way down the hill back into the skyscraper central. And, though I did mean to find the building sometime during my stay, I incidentally ended up at the front of the HSBC headquarters building. Along with Kansai International Airport, built 100% on a manmade artificial island off the coast of Osaka (Japan), the HSBC building fascinated me as a kid and has continued to command my respect ever since. To begin with, it was one of the first large-scale office buildings to truly embrace the ‘open plan’ way of doing things. Secondly, in order to get as much as natural light into the building as they could, they built a huge mechanism, the sunscoop, a series of 24 mirrors that can rotate to capture and reflect the sun into the buildings atrium. But what I found most fascinating was aside from just being built out of mostly prefabricated pieces, there’s a serious rumour that the whole building in fact was purposely designed to be able to be taken apart and rebuilt in its entirety in another part of the world if necessary, if the delicate ties between the British and Chinese were to ever become strained. And even though the building’s not really anything compared to the others near it anymore, the fact that all 587 feet of it can be moved and was so technologically advanced at the time makes it pretty amazing when you think about it. Following on from that, I managed to get lost down one of the many side streets that more or less make up the less-commercial aspects of Hong Kong before arriving at the departure point for the mighty ‘Star Ferry’. The Star Ferry are noted as the ferries that cross the Hong Kong harbour regularly and are painted in bright colours – probably what a lot of people think when they think of Hong Kong.
In truth however, the Star Ferry, throwing the romantic notions of it aside for a minute, is no more than a high-volume high-speed method of crossing the harbour for the citizens and residents of Hong Kong. As I stood there waiting for the boat to begin loading, everyone sort of just stood around me looking like they were all half asleep. But, suddenly, with the blast of some horn, a gate automatically began to swing open and before I knew it, I was literally being carried onto the boat whether I wanted to or not. And once everyone’s on, the boat departs, sprinting across the harbour as if we were in immediate danger of catching fire, which truth be told, we probably were. With the speed being maintained for the whole journey, it wasn’t long before I was back to my hostel to discover that we had a bit of a problem. Earlier in the morning, with a hangover the size of all the bottles of beer I’d had put together looming on the horizon, I had rather stupidly put some of my belongings not only in the ‘imaginary storage’ space of some impersonal American guest who was on the bunk below me, but had also put a pair of flip flops on his bed. Oops. Because while I accept it was a childish thing to do, the cost for doing so had been high. My flip flop (I say flip flop, as there was now only one) was resting delicately on top of my backpack, along with the rest of my belongings and it had been very carefully constructed by the looks of things to exhibit maximum frustration on his part. Obviously an attack such as that couldn’t be tolerated so I elected instead to respond even more childishly, for reasons still unknown to me, by taking his top blanket and using it as a towel in the shower, since I discovered upon exiting it that none were being provided by our salubrious accommodation.
But, needless to say, after using it, I was overcome by a sense of guilt – or more likely, a fear of being found out – and instead decided to hang it out the window to dry while I got ready to go out. So, I opened up the window and took in the less-than-scenic views of the courtyard that made up the centre of our ‘mansion’ (in name only). Knot tied in blanket, I headed out to get some water and some sort of a McDonalds, the only reliable food which I was now relying on 100% for sustenance. Once again, and it surprised me because it was really quite early on in the evening, accompanying me back to the hostel against my wishes was the local hooker, who evidently hadn’t yet been able to make the distinction between wealthy white westerners and white westerners with actually less money than she had herself. But when I got back, changed into my shirt and went to grab the blanket, I became acutely aware that something quite calamitous had occurred during my absence. Quite simply, my knot-tying skills had never exactly been first-rate. The blanket had come away from what I had tied it to and fallen right down the courtyard and was now looking like an off-white diaphragm breathing in and out, placed strategically on top of one of the many air conditioning ducts sitting at the bottom of the courtyard. But, survival of the fittest and dog eat dog and all that, I just left it there and went on out, reckoning that if it was that cold that he needed a blanket, my intrepid American friend wouldn’t think twice about taking mine. And after that, there was no way I couldn’t have a good night, buoyed by the laughter I continued to have throughout the night thinking about what had happened.
When I returned however, I found that my key would no longer open the rapidly-decaying wooden door into the room and rather than let me in, the American decided to exact his petty revenge (how had he even found out that the blanket had disappeared I wondered?) by failing to respond to my efforts at getting in. Which was annoying at first, but I would imagine anyway, significantly more annoying over time for him, particularly after I summoned the help of the local y-front wearing receptionist who proceeded to then punch and kick the door violently, even though, I reckoned, the spare set of keys might be more than enough really. Finally, more than an hour later, I made my entrance to the room to be greeted by the American now getting ready to leave for his morning stroll (it was around 7am to be fair to him), who insisted that he would no longer require the services of his alarm clock for as long as I was staying, given my propensity to arrive back and create noise (which I may add wouldn’t happen if he’d open the door or reception would replace my key) suitable for waking up around 7 in the morning. A fair point, and to be honest, one I felt I had to sleep on. Immediately. And with that, I pretty much passed out in bed, in my clothes, not to wake up until midday the next day. So I can safely say after the couple of nights I was there that, when you hear (and if you travel, you will hear someone say this) that Hong Kong’s nightlife is rubbish or pathetic, you can tell them, no it definitely isn’t, it’s actually very good if you know where to look – just make sure your key works in the door well in advance of your late-night return.
Among the other highlights of my brief trip was a trip to the local theme park; yes there is a Disneyland in Hong Kong I believe, but along with having the biggest Mickey as the old joke goes, it also came with the highest price tag for what was essentially a day of thrills to try and give our collective livers something else to think about for a change. Although in truth, it wasn’t the best park I’ve ever been in and one of the major excitements of the day was a trip up, wait for it, one of the ‘world’s longest escalators’. They definitely weren’t lying either, I began to get a dose of vertigo or something about halfway up the thing, not because it was so high but because I suddenly became overwhelmed with the fear that I may fall asleep or pass out from boredom and end up falling all the way back down to the bottom. The following day, it was off to see some traditional temples but not before stopping into the 7-11 for some Asian snack food and it was here that saw me make some terrible choices. Whereas in Europe and America you can nearly always predict with some accuracy what the snack is likely to taste like or be, the combination of Asian hieroglyphics combined with their overuse of colour and underuse of actual depicting images meant that I ended up with a packet of crisps that were flavoured with something most unsavoury. On the bright side, the temples were very nice though – and there was a bin for the convenient disposal of rubbish somewhere around the gardens. Finally, on the last night, as I was packing, I began to realise that the area around my bed was eerily void of anyone else’s belongings – had I outlasted the American? It was an unthinkable thought but as time went on it seemed more and more possible. Even as I stood in the lift leaving the hostel I was half expecting to see him waiting there with another fresh criticism or insult but no! Instead I went quietly, a couple of hundred euro poorer, unbelievably red from the heat (even in December) and, most likely, with the onset of all manner of liver problems.
And another two packs of the crisps that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out. And, of course, one flip flop…