Prelude : An apology.
Apologies for the delay between posts, it’s been a chaotic 3 months however there’s no excuse for not posting in so long! I’m looking forward to getting you all up to speed on the most recent set of travels and activities (including finally making it to one of China’s ‘big hitters’ in Xi’an, my frantic scramble to get out of China and subsequent Hong Kong adventures, an extended tour of Taiwan and a testing but hugely rewarding summer school experience in an unusually subtropical Liverpool!) Hopefully these will serve as an interesting read for you so lets get started…
Hong Kong Queuey
I waited nervously in the immigration queue. What if they ask about my visa? Or why I’m coming to Hong Kong? Can they fine me? Detain me? Ship me back to China? I shifted my weight back and forth on my feet, uncomfortable at the thought of what might happen if I couldn’t get into Hong Kong. After being backed into an impossible corner by the situation in Rui’an (see ‘Rotten in Rui’an) I’d done the only thing I could to resolve the issue and restore my sanity: run. The problem is in China, due to the way the visa and paperwork are handled, your employer basically owns you. Even though I’d only been gone a few hours, as I’d been good enough to let them know by text message that I was leaving (so they could arrange cover for my lessons, I didn’t think It right the students suffer for the schools misdeeds) they would certainly have cancelled my visa by now. Plus El-Sisi would be on the rampage back at the school looking to exact whatever type of administrative revenge he could in retaliation for my exposing him as a liar, a bully and all-round prick. Hence my apprehension when I approached the customs counter.
Turns out I needn’t have worried, I’ve had more stringent checks walking into Tesco. It would appear travelling to Hong Kong on a British passport still holds some sway, despite the British no longer having the run of the place. After the stress of the mad dash of the previous 24 hours my relief was tangible. I’d had a window of just 9 hours between getting back from Xi’an and my flight to Hong Kong. This was my first (and hopefully last) experience of what’s known in TEFL circles as ‘pulling a flier’ – disappearing from a job and country early. The difference is it’s normally done with a lot more forethought and planning. I had a single battered hold all and my trusty backpack to cram as much of my life into as I could, abandoning various unworn or underused clothes, replaceable toiletries and miscellaneous knick-knacks in favour of the irreplaceables, memoirs of my time in China and clothes that still had some wear in them (and that still fit). I’d managed an hour sleep between getting back & packing and needing to set off again, so when I stepped off the bus and into the luxury hotel I’d somehow managed to book for under £40 a night, the first thing I did was crash out The cumulative relief of being out of China and back in control of my own life, despite the considerable financial implications, put me in an exceptional mood. After spending the day napping, relaxing by the pool, reading and drinking coffee, the following morning I bounded out of the hotel ready to explore. I had 48 hours in Hong Kong before my flight to Taiwan and I fully intended to explore my new surroundings!
As it turned out, the reason for my hotel’s budget price was it’s location at almost the exact opposite end of the island to all the tourist sites. That said, it was only a few minutes walk to an MTR station, linking me to the cities excellent and very affordable transport network. This being my first visit, I headed straight to the place I’d heard the most about from friends and websites alike: Victoria Peak. In addition to offering spectacular views across the bay and beyond, it has one of my favourite attractions in a steep uphill walk; an alternative to the steep uphill walk. The Victoria peak tramway, running from street level near central MRT station, is one of Hong Kong’s oldest (and busiest) attractions and despite getting there before 10am there was already a sizable queue. After a 25 minute wait and after being relieved of $52HKD for a return ticket (you can pay $99 for a ‘skypass’ which has access to the viewing platform on the roof of the giant shopping mall now built at the top of the tramway but it’s not for me, I was just looking for a lift) I grabbed a seat by the window and watched the rest of the crowd cram on, including some standing. This didn’t strike me as odd on a tram, but I suspect they were as unaware as I of the extent of the incline we would be met with.
After trundling up a gentle slope alongside some steps which presumably run to the top, the front of the tram suddenly vered upwards, leaving us at what felt like a perilous 45-50 degree incline, and sending the standers stumbling around looking for something or someone to grab on to. I was suddenly very aware of the fact we were being supported and kept from plummeting to Earth by technology over a century old. However the old adage about ‘not making ’em like that any more’ seems appropriate as we made it to the top unscathed and everyone piled out of the tram and into the ‘skymall’. A modern addition, this visually impressive but soulless ode to consumerism sits atop the tram’s upper stop. Choc full of gift shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and housing the aforementioned viewing platform, I found it staggering and frankly depressing how few of the people on the tram left the comfort of the skymall to explore the walks around the peak.
The tourist information centre is, creatively, an old tram carriage which has been converted and the exceptionally helpful and friendly staff talked me through the various trails around the peak. Being a) lazy, b) in exceptionally poor physical shape and c) crushed by the humidity, I went with the ‘Hong Kong Trail’ An hour-long, flat and paved tour around the extremity of the peak. I ambled around in almost solitude, stopping to take shots of the breathtaking views across Hong Kong in the spots where the trees parted.
I ended up spending a lot longer than the recommended hour just as I was enjoying being there so much, sitting to rest and take it all in at every opportunity and just drinking in both the views and the situation. Hong Kong has always been one of those places which conjures up exotic images of the weird and the wonderful, synonymous with the exotic and the unknown and now here I was, towering over it (with the help of Victoria Peak) with nothing but spare time and a desire to explore! Good times!!