In case you want to take a trip in your imagination--which Somerset Maugham said was the best kind--I offer a photo to stimulate your thoughts.
We decided to try a different hotel: the Ritz Carlton. The hotel lies on a large beach. The view of open water is blocked only partially by the Palm, an artificial island created to sell real estate to wealthy foreigners. Sadly, the beach is public, so the hotel has no chairs or umbrellas on the sand. That said, the garden is huge and there are several pools. Families with small children abound.
The hotel is low-rise, having only six floors, but is sandwiched between the beach and high-rise apartments built to sell to (mostly) Russians with money. The skyline reminds me of Hong Kong, except that there is no beach. One has a very different impression of the hotel, depending upon which way one is turned. The hotel is hidden in the trees.
I noticed on the news that a huge typhoon (US translation: hurricane) is churning its way towards Hong Kong, after moistening Philippines and Taiwan.
I was stuck in Hong Kong during a typhoon, being unable to get a flight before operations were halted. I spent three days staring out the hotel window, watching the harbor hemorrhage boats (all fled to the typhoon shelter for which Hong Kong is famous), seeing debris fly through the air (mostly from building sites), and being bored (television is worthless). This was before I started imagining trash novel plots.
At no time did I feel threatened, beyond the chance of succumbing to boredom. I trusted the building codes and the building did not shake. Heavy rain prevented an afternoon stroll, and all shops were closed. This was a case of the bark being worse than the bite.
I like old movies, many of which are labeled as “classic”. I even like many, which do not merit that arbitrary label.
Last night, I watched Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, which took place in Hong Kong between the end of World War 2 and the communist takeover of China. I’m not sure the title fits to the story, but that does not detract from the film. The theme song is one of the great ones.
My romantic side informs me that I would have liked to live in Hong Kong after the war...with money, of course, and not as one of the millions of refugees from China. Scenes in the movie of the colony contrast starkly with the same areas I saw on my recent visit. Times might not have been kinder or gentler, but one can imagine an interesting life. Screenwriters did a good job of portraying British arrogance (duh!) and eliciting sympathy for the American and Eurasian, if not the Chinese. Consumerism had yet to invade the streets, and one could still find secluded beaches.
I would have maintained a foothold in each of the very different worlds. I would have tolerated the British and even enjoyed high tea and the occasional gin and tonic in some club. But, I also would have had sympathy for the immigrants and would have mingled with the local population and tried my hand at their language, unlike denizens of English clubs and houses on the higher elevations.
The good thing about imagining life in former times, is that one must not suffer from lack of air-conditioning or dodgy sanitation. Personal comfort is a key feature of daydreams. Which makes them so pleasant....
I have already written about arriving in Hong Kong, but included only one photo.
Because arriving in Hong Kong by water is one of the reasons for choosing the cruise, I want to provide more photos.
I have arrived in Hong Kong many times by air, even at the old airport. Anyone not having had the pleasure of making the approach to Kai Tak should find the YouTube video of this exciting ride. This is far more scary than the boring approach to the new Hong Kong airport on Lantau Island or any other major airport in the world.
Of course, arriving by ship is much slower and provides a chance to view the topography, but also seems to go by in a flash. One is busy taking photos left, right, and center and marveling at contrasts. Ancient fishing villages cling to hillsides, as do tower apartment blocks, which house Hong Kong's worker bees. Through the morning mist, bank towers soon emerge.
We arrived in comfort from Haiphong after one day on smooth seas. I tried to imagine the joy of anyone arriving from England after months at sea or anyone having suffered through stormy seas and had feared for their lives. The sight of any land would be comforting, but expectation of dropping anchor in Hong Kong harbor must have been a special feeling. Sailors surely drooled in anticipation of wasting all their money on Wanchai's debauchery. Now, they would have to settle for Starbucks, MacDonalds, and KFC, plus the usual local spots.
Hong Kong skyline is one of the world's most interesting, particularly because it changes with each visit. Buildings spring up where once boats anchored, and old buildings are torn down to make way for more expensive floorspace.
If one watches news reports or reads newspapers, one might be led to believe that the United States is the greatest, most-modern country in the history of mankind. Of course, being ethnocentric, most Americans are convinced of this, as are many foolish and misinformed citizens of other countries.
Being a cynic, I tend to notice what others often miss or ignore. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a slight unease on the road trip from an arrival airport to the hotel in any American city. Roads are in horrible condition, taxis are poorly maintained, and I fear a rusting bridge falling on my head or collapsing beneath the car. Rhetoric about America differs from reality. My words are surely treasonous, despite the promise of freedom of speech.
This gut feeling came to mind in a car (modern, clean, and comfortable) taking us to the Hong Kong Airport. Construction sites were dotted the horizon in all directions, suggesting a booming economy, capital investments, and belief in the future. We breezed through the most-modern tunnel I have seen and over fine bridges on the road from our excellent hotel to the modern and spacious airport on Lantau Island. The smooth and well-maintained road could never be mistaken for an American highway.
Hong Kong Chinese do not brag about their achievements, glory in a distant past, or bluster about what they are not. Being a land with a future, they do things...
What the Chinese do not do is over-control and over-legislate. Building safety is not a key concern, but some of the world’s tallest buildings seem to rise without a hitch. Where western governments demand steel scaffolding, Asians still rely on good old bamboo with connections tied by hand...even up to and above 100 stories.
Isn't that a Frank Sinatra song?
Anyways, many ends are near, but I'm talking about this trip. We are sitting in the club lounge on the 30th floor of the Hong Grand Hyatt. Outside the windows, thunderstorms rage on the horizon. The weather is good for leaving, but not good for flying. My only hope is that they will pass before our departure time.
Our flight is scheduled for twelve-thirty, which means that we will not pig out on first class food. My plan is to turn down all food and drink and try to sleep. Of course, thunderstorms over southeast Asia have been known to make flights a bit rough. I recall my first flight across this part of the world, during which I stared out the window at lightning firing at one second intervals across the visible landscape. I hope to have a calmer flight to Dubai, but will have to take what Nature serves up. In the plane, I can deny the service...
During the days of Hong Kong being a British colony, Chinese residents were usually servile and polite (on the surface). Inside, they must have been seething with hatred of arrogant British...especially the women. Ex-pats of other nations were either accepted or disliked, depending upon their behavior.
Now, servility is found only in luxury hotels, where little has changed in the service department (other than, perhaps, becoming better). Increased visitors from mainland China force staff to be bi-lingual. I notice that taxi drivers no longer speak English, but need to have the destination written in Chinese (not unlike Japan). Ex-pats tell me that life has become less pleasant and more difficult for foreigners (like Japan). Tourist are still welcomed, because they bring money. Brits are reaping what their predecessors sowed, and the harvest is usually bitter.
If one ignores past injustices, one sees a bustling, prosperous, growing Asian metropolis. Building cranes rise in every direction. Workers toil seven days a week. Hong Kong continues to be a thriving commercial port. Perhaps, the city has been set free to prosper after British stifling of Chinese ambition and drive. Hong Kong always profited from being a free trade area, but it took a communist government to unleash Hong Kong’s true potential, which seems to expand with each passing year. Men lounging in London clubs surely continue to seer at people, which far eclipse anything England did or can do.
Here is one (of many) difference between Hong Kong/China/Asia and the United Sates.
One enters the pool area at the Grand Hyatt across slabs of wet granite, which are meant to replicate a Japanese garden. An adjacent waterfall keeps them constantly wet.
Here, as in Japan, design/ambiance are more important than “safety”. People understand that life can be risky and do not expect the government to protect them from all eventualities.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.