Sunday, 1 February 2009

Back to Scotland

Was I surprised that the one plane that was late was the one from London to Glasgow? No, of course not but it was tough on Mick who was there to meet me - complete with welcome back placard! It didn't get much easier for him because when he asked if I'd had a good time I burst into tears. Yes, I had a good time. I had the time of my life.

The journey was over on 20 December and it's now 1 February. I've been busy since I've been back but that's only an excuse for not completing the story.

Still in Hong Kong

Apologies for abrupt halt to last post. PC crashed and a terrible few minutes while it restarted and I saw that I hadn't lost everything..............

By the time the taxi had got to Kowloon I was much restored and decided to stick with the plan so I asked him to drop me at Temple Street night market. I'd been told that this was where I'd get the fake watch I had planned to buy. And to date, far from melting the credit card I'd bought nothing but lunch and fares - bus, boat and taxi.

Despite all my earlier complaints about noise, people and too many shops I really enjoyed the market. It was about 10pm when I got there and it was buzzing. There were dozens of street restaurants selling amazing looking food - especially prawns and langoustine - but I was still too full from lunch to manage any.

I was offered dozens of fake handbags and plenty of fake watches but they were all far too fussy for me. Chains, buckles, sparkly bits when I wanted plain and elegant. It seemed that those who'd told me that what I wanted was too cheap to be worth bothering to fake were right. All sorts of rolex and cartier but no longines or tissot.

Alongside the designer fakes was all sorts of tat of the kind that you see in any market. I know I wasn't far from the snake market but I'm really not disappointed that I missed it!

I made my way back to the hotel and finished the evening in the bar with a cocktail - one I really like and can never remember the name of - clear white spirit and lots of lime juice.

The following morning I was up before 5 for the journey to the airport and my flight home. I couldn't believe that I'd spent 30 hours in Hong Kong and bought nothing! So at 7.30 when the shops opened at the airport and with 15 minutes before I boarded my flight I bought a real watch!

The flight home was tedious. It was very bumpy and for almost 10 of the 13 hours the seat belt signs were on. Several people were sick. I wasn't one of them but I couldn't sleep and got very bored. The flight was full so there was little room to move even for someone as short as me. About 2 hours out from London I was stood at the back of theplane and got talking to Syon (?) who was decidely twitchy and kept eyeing the emergency exit. Syon is from Tonga and is a rugby player. He's a big big guy and he'd been off and on planes - economy seats - for the previous 27 hours and had had enough!!! He was on his way to visit his brother who plays rugby here and was arriving into London on 20 December wearing nothing but shorts, tee shirt and flip flops - I do hope his lift arrived. I promised him a good steak if he made it to Scotland but I've not heard from him yet.

(Nearly) the worst experience of my life

There were hundreds of people waiting to get on to the Peak Tram. It was a fairly orderly queue until the ticket office came in sight and then it was a rabble. I was surprised that I was the only westerner. Most of those there with me were also tourists - the camera's are a bit of a giveaway - but the vast majority were young chinese and japanese folk. Whatever the age none of them had any manners and it was a complete free for all to get on the tram. Which is not a tram at all but a funicular railway that climbs just about vertically up the peak. I knew I'd made a mistake when the thing went past a masonic lodge and other buildings started to look like they were growing out of the hill at a 40 degree angle!

We all spilled out at the top and I found myself in yet another shopping mall. I'd had this mad notion that the peak would be just that - a mountain with some space and maybe a few bushes and trees. How daft can you get? Surely I should have realised by now that Hong Kong has shops everywhere?

There is a walk around the peak that is not to Gucci by way of Harrods and Matalan but it was pitch black by now and it didn't seem very sensible to head off in the dark not knowing where I was. So I did something stupid instead............

I was beginning to get blase about my fear of heights - I'd climbed a mountain (ok steep hill) in a pair of crocs, I'd stayed in rooms on the 14th & 18th floors, I'd scaled the viewing point over Hong Kong harbour.......... So going up escalators for a couple of floors in the Peak Tower would be no problem.

On the first level I found a viewing spot outside Burger King which gave me some clear views but not a lot of romance and I was still feeling ok. And there was a sign saying cash machine on level 2 so on I went. After two more escalators I realised three things. Firstly that the gap between level 1 and level 2 was several hundred feet and lots of escalators. Secondly that the escalators were suspended in space. Thirdly that I was terrified!

It had been a long time since I had a full blown attack of vertigo and I wasn't wanting one then. I gave myself a stern talking to as I came near the top of the next escalator saying firmly that I'd soon be on my way back down. Except when I got to the top, there was only a small landing to the next up escalator and no way down.

More than a month later as I write this I can feel my stomach starting to churn!

I can't have spent a long time thinking about it but I do know that I considered my choices as I stepped off that escalator. One - just fling myself over the side of the escalator and put an end to the doubt and misery as quickly as possible. Two - curl up in a foetal ball and howl. Three - eyes down, best foot forward on to the escalator up which would take me to a bigger landing and the way down.

Obviously I didn't fling myself over the side and neither did I curl up and howl though the eyes were suspiciously wet as I concentrated on not seeing anything but my feet. Coming down seemed to take forever. As I got closer to the ground I began to notice other people - adults and children travelling up and down, laughing and joking and enjoying it - you pay extra to go to the very top. I felt thoroughly sick and my knees were shaking as I finally got back to solid ground. I found a bench and sat for ages until the shakes had gone. I might be on solid ground but I was still at the top of the Peak and I really needed to be at sea level. The seething mass at the tram was even bigger than on the way up and I knew I couldn't cope with that so I got in a taxi and said take me home.

It was a spectacular drive - far too fast round sharp bends coming down the peak but some great views there and coming across from Hong Kong to Kowloon.

A little oasis of calm........

With number of shops, people and noise getting to me I was pleased to see a park on the map - between me and the harbour. I nearly wept at my first attempt to get into the park - it was a car park! I persevered, I couldn't believe that there wasn't some small piece of green remaining. My second attempt to find it was nearly as bad as I found an enormous concrete arena - very spectacular and empty but by now I needed trees.

Perseverance paid off and I finally found a very beautiful park with ancient banyan trees, and a small lake complete with flamingo's. I wasn't the only one seeking to restore their peace and harmony. There were a few people meditating, doing yoga exercises or simply sitting in the sun. Lovely!

I spent an hour or so in the park and was then up for continuing my journey to the harbour. The map suggested a walkway to a viewing point and after a couple of false starts I found it - and then found myself high above the harbour surrounded on all sides by far too many buildings to count. It was hot and hazy - similar to how it had been in LA - but clear enough for me to understand that I had never seen anything like it before and that I wouldn't be rushing back to see it again!

Lunch seemed like a good idea and I decided I was going to have something good in a restaurant over looking the harbour. I saw something that appealed and it seemed that I'd have to go into a building to get to it - mistake! The building was yet another shopping centre - designer labels this time. Even if I liked and could afford Stella McCartney, Versace, et al they don't make things that fit me!

Just as I was starting to think that I'd have to steal something and get arrested as the only way out of the place I was accosted by a snow flake who asked me if I needed any help. I hadn't realised that I had looked quite that frazzled but clearly I did. I could have kissed her but resisted the temptation as it would surely have confirmed all her worse fears about me! Instead I asked for directions to a restaurant with a view. She offered three - a burger bar, a pizza parlour and a chinese/vietnamese. I had a superb lunch at the latter - lots of starters - while I watched the boats in the harbour.

My snowflake had also given me directions for getting out of the designer hell hole and I easily made my way to the harbour front and the Star Ferry in harmony with the world again. An hour on the ferry seeing the sights and having my fortune told - I'm going to have a long and happy life - completed my relaxation and I was ready for anything.

I had been repeatedly told that I should not come to Hong Kong and not go the the Peak. I hadn't been keen - I REALLY don't like heights but I was relaxed, contented and making the most of the last day of my trip. So I made a quick bus trip back to the hotel to change and then headed towards Hong Kong proper and the Peak as it was getting dark.

Friday morning Mong Kok

I planned to see as much of Hong Kong as possible on Friday - starting early and finishing late - there would be plenty of time to sleep on the plane. But I slept longer than I intended and it was about 10 when I left the hotel heading south (?I think?) with the intention of walking to the harbour. There were people about, shops open and lots of traffic but I soon realised that Hong Kong was not fully awake yet. "Open 11 to 11" was a common sign. I have no idea how far I walked but the number of shops, people and noise soon began to get to me.

There had been two couples at the table next to me in the restaurant and I kept turning to look at them thinking they were arguing - they weren't - just having a good time, talking a lot and getting louder by the bottle.

All the conversations I passed on my way through Mong Kok sounded exactly the same - they made the average Glaswegian seem soft spoken!