Hong Kong- and an Explosion of Experiences

We left Australia, flying out of Melbourne and knowing that this elongated excursion had little more time to run.

But there was one more set of thrills to be had before we turned our noses towards home. Australia, as we all know, is a long way from the UK and anyone with a brain cell realises that the civilized way to do it is to have a stopover. And if you aren’t time-poor, it’s even better to stretch the stopover into a few days.

This means, of course that you need to choose somewhere you want to see, somewhere worth the time. We’d opted for Hong Kong, the nearest thing to China but with a westernised twist. These days I’d be uneasy about visiting this commercial outpost of China, fearful of unrest or draconian laws since it was hauled, kicking and screaming under Chinese government rule. But this was before the protests and the unrest and all was calm.

Our hotel was in Kowloon, which is across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. Our immediate area was teeming with commerce, especially street food stalls selling a plethora of foods- some recognisable but many not. Plucked fowl were hung by their feet from the tops of stalls as were other, unidentifiable body parts. We needed to eat, of course and were keen to sample street food, but didn’t know where to start. Eventually we found a stall selling pork balls and settled for those; unadventurous but safe!

In order to see Hong Kong Island we had to get across Victoria Harbour. There are ferries but we opted to go via the metro, which runs underneath. Navigating and understanding the vagaries of ticketing and where to go was not easy- it never is in a foreign city- but we managed it. On the crowded train I was struck by the fashion sense of the beautiful young women passengers, most of whom were dressed wonderfully and with immensely vertiginous footwear.

On the Hong Kong Island side there were more bustling alleys full of food stalls and I wondered how it was possible to sell such an abundance of meals and snacks. But then, the entire place is packed solid with people, notoriously so, as is evident in the forest of skyscrapers soaring up to dizzying heights. New blocks were being constructed everywhere despite the fact that there didn’t seem to be any more room for them. The scaffolding for these constructions was all of bamboo poles, which was an eye-opener!

The trams that ran along the main streets had a character of their own. Unlike the long, sleek, snaking trams of European cities they were individual vehicles, quaintly old-fashioned and colourful, begging to be ridden!

Next week; Night markets, the misty peak, the restaurant conundrum and a foray to the mainland via unusual transport.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

New York 1997. Part 2.

So-New York then; sans car but with enthusiasm and itchy feet.

We walked, we got a sumptuous breakfast in a swanky diner. We took the subway to Penn Station. With no way to drive to Niagara we’d decided to try the train. How hard could it be? After managing, with some difficulty to decipher the timetable, we bought two tickets to Buffalo, from where [in our ignorance] we assumed we’d be able to access the falls. The tickets were for Tuesday morning, leaving us some city exploration in the meantime.

We left the station and went to the pier to get a Circle Line ferry trip around Manhattan Island with tour guide narration, an informative but foggy voyage marred by rain, the sights described mostly obscured by thick mist. The tall skyscrapers of the skyline had their heads in the clouds. Nevertheless the famous landmarks of New York duly appeared-The Empire State Building, The World Trade Centre, The Statue of Liberty, all misty but thrillingly real. We passed the apartments of the rich and famous, learning of outrageous property prices and chugged under the Brooklyn Bridge. A chilly wind sprang up. We sipped hot coffee and leant on the cylindrical outer cover of the engine for warmth. On board we encountered a Welsh rugby team, while the English wife of a businessman confided that she would probably go and see a Broadway matinee that afternoon to escape the weather.

The rain continued as we disembarked and walked towards Theatreland and Times Square then on to Macy’s. It is unthinkable to visit New York without ascending the Empire State Building but with ‘zero visibility’ we were told to buy the tickets and return next day when the weather just might have cleared up.

When we got to Greenwich Village the towering skyscrapers gave way to brownstone terraces decorated with iron fire escapes. By this time my jacket, supposedly impermeable had allowed the layers underneath to become soaked. We found a bar and had beers, punch-drunk from the bombardment of experiences. We had walked for hours. Revived a little by the Greenwich Brewery ales we headed off to find a subway, going via Christopher Street and discovering a whole shopping area of gay shops, sure enough crossed by ‘Gay Street’. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to peruse the wares and we browsed a couple of stores, innocent displays of ‘sportswear’ in the window and increasingly outrageous as we moved through the shop. We exited, passing one or two intense young men and a somewhat older man sporting a luxuriant wig. At last we located the subway and sank down gratefully to be conveyed all the way back to Westside Studios.

We returned to Times Square for the evening and to find somewhere to eat. Times Square is a magnificent overstatement in neon, surpassing all but Las Vegas in trashy vulgarity and is completely wonderful. The Chinese restaurant we selected must serve nice meals, we imagined, because a number of Chinese were eating there. On requesting beer we were firmly shown the teapot on the table. Our selection of three or four dishes to share was rejected by the waiter. ‘You very hungry?’ he asked. ‘Three is enough!’ This provoked much hilarity, as never before had either of us been told we’d ordered too much food in a restaurant-and of course, New York, like the rest of America enables the diner to bag up uneaten meal portions, ‘to go’.

We dragged ourselves back to the hotel. Tomorrow was the Empire State day…