Hong Kong: The Giant Leap

November 17th. 3 hours sleep. Packing very much incomplete. What do you bring to the other side of the world? So I throw a few things in the bag as fast as I can, quick breakfast, out the door. I look back at the house one last time and think ‘whoa… won’t be back here for a while’. So we meet at the airport at 11.30, have a coffee with the two families, thinking ‘whoa the day has finally come’, while they think ‘oh no, our boys are leaving’.

The flight to Heathrow went smoothly and then it started to hit us just a little, we’re not in London to see Big Ben, we’re going somewhere far away today. We boarded the flight to Hong Kong and hoped to God we would get a few hours sleep so we would have some energy for the next day. Somewhere over central Russia, while trying desperately to sleep, we look at the GPS on our screen and see our location. That’s when it truly hits home and there’s no turning back.

We arrive in the airport and all of a sudden we stick out like two sore thumbs, a few westerners about but for the most part, we’re outsiders, and what a great feeling. Instantly it was intriguing to look around and appreciate their culture, their way of life. We checked into our hotel and it was pretty lush, the view from our room – fantastic. Of course, a lot of our first 2 days were spent there; we dealt with jet lag pretty badly. We slept little during the night and lots during the day, apparently its worst travelling east, ‘west is best’ and so on.

And what is the worst thing to happen to you while being severely jetlagged? Probably getting lost in a very very big shopping centre. There were no exits. Well, there were but they weren’t marked, no signposts or anything! I believe it is a marketing tactic, if you’re stuck inside, what can you do but shop? We weren;t really interested in buying Gucci bags or Louis Vuitton dressed though. It was like that episode of Father Ted, ‘it’s Ireland’s biggest lingerie section’. I think we were in there about an hour and a half before finding our freedom.

By Saturday, we began to wake up and get our bearings. We began to see what an epic city Hong Kong is. We visited the biggest Buddha in the world at the top of a hill which was really impressive. You could see it from miles away, we also took a cable car across the islands to get there which was pretty uncomfortable seeing as the floor was made from glass. We also took a tram to the highest point in the city, overlooking the great buildings from above. The one negative aspect of Hong Kong is that the city is often grey with smog and so our view of the city was somewhat tainted.

One of the most impressive things about Hong Kong is the skyline. I sincerely wonder if it can be matched anywhere in the world, we twice visited the best spot to view the colourful, fluorescent lights of the skyscrapers and while being incredibly impressive, it’s also quite peaceful to gaze at. Each night a light show is put on amongst the great towers and it is said to be ‘amazing’. Diarmo and I could have done a better job with glow sticks.

On Saturday night, we ventured into the drinking quarter of Hong Kong, as we Irish do. It seemed that the drinking quarter in Hong Kong is quite small but there is a fantastic atmosphere at night time. Our teams Liverpool and United were on separate screens in one of the bars, the first time we saw football on an such an ungodly hour. This we would have to get used to.

I spotted a beautiful Asian girl across the bar and said ‘Diarmo,  12 o clock’, without any hesitation he walked me over and used the highly effetive opener of ‘Have you met Damo?’ and he walked off. So the lovely Chinese girl and I had a great talk and several drinks were had. Later we headed home in a taxi and all of a sudden I realised there was a woman beside Diarmo. I remembered her from earlier asking me was I ok and if I needed help. She reminded me of my old child minder, maybe she was minding Diarmo too. She did take care of him alright.

Before leaving Ireland, Diarmo had the brilliant idea of buying cheap suits in Penny’s in preparation for two Hong Kong events: The casinos of Macau and a night at the horses. Macau is Asia’s answer to Las Vegas, perhaps not as in your face but certainly less tacky. We literally giggled in the door of the MGM Grand thinking we were James Bond and Bruce Wayne in our suits. Our luck failed us in the MGM however and we left to find another casino, on the way finding the greatest fountain in the world. We watched in awe as the water fountains danced around to Debussy playing in the background.

I saved myself in the next casino, winning back a lot of what I’d lost while Diarmo’s luck continued to slide. Neither of us came home with a profit (certainly not Diarmo) but it was all about the experience. We did have this idea though that we would spend the night in casinos winning thousands and get a helicopter back to Hong Kong the following morning. Ah the dreams of youth.

Within 5 days we were able to find our way around Hong Kong and Kowloon with ease. The transport system was brilliant, the underground trains were clean, efficient and you can actually breathe on them. They also have these little cards in Hong Kong that you top up and use to pay for travel fares but also to pay for things in the newsagents. So simple and so effective, these guys are way ahead of the game. We also went to the top of the ‘Dark Knight’ building, where Batman flew across the night sky to capture the evil Mr.Lao only two years before hand.

Hong Kong also have their own Disneyland and of course we had to go; the magic never dies, aged 8 or 80. Unfortunately, on this day, the magic died a little bit. The good thing was there were no queues (unlike Paris or Florida), the bad thing was, it was poor at best. Great for kids aged 4 to 5 but nothing really entertaining for anyone else. And the Magic Castle was about the size of a shed. We were also in shock after an hour of looking for a bar and then being told there is no alcohol sold in Disneyland Hong Kong. It’s not that we needed it that badly, but when you’re told there is none, it makes you really want it. So we rode Space Mountain 3 times and left.

On our final night, we went to Happy Valley, Hong Kong’s answer to Cheltenham racecourse and the suits came out again. The racecourse sits amongst the skyscrapers of downtown Hong Kong and it’s a fantastic sight. It was a brilliant night out, only costing ten HK dollars which is about one euro. How much we spent on the horses is another story altogether. The pictures tell a pretty accurate tale. Afterwards, we went for a drink to celebrate a very enjoyable first week on the other side of the world. We were in a quiet bar having a pint when we spotted a few very pretty girls. I remember talking to them for a while but I remember being invited by some Chinese people to come to an underground club which cost 20 euro to enter. There, Diarmo and I drank champagne and danced the night away.

I have never missed a flight in my life, but the next morning was the closest I’ve come. Almost simultaneously we awoke, still in our suits, at 12 pm, 2 hours before our flight was to take off, panicked and began to throw everything into our backpacks. We made it though, in Hong Kong you can check in at the main train station – 3 islands away from the airport. Now that is efficiency.

We really loved Hong Kong, it is very Western in its structure yet its soul is Eastern. A great place to ease you into South East Asia, very civilised, such friendly people, such an interesting culture. We travelled around the city by tram which is a must not only for the price (20 cent regardless of distance), but also because you get a great feel of the city atmosphere.

Sitting upstairs in the tram, with the warm breeze blowing through the open windows, you can gaze out at the streets, at the many shops and stalls selling anything from dried seafood and knock off watches to designer boutiques like Gucci and Calvin Klein and the many buyers, sellers and onlookers zooming by. It is difficult to tell the rich from the poor in this city and the great thing is, it doesn’t seem to matter. Each one is as friendly and as good-natured as the next.

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