Stranded in Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong from New Zealand the evening of 29 February, en route to Dubai and Armenia.  I had originally planned on being in China at this time, but because of the timing of the Armenian mission I rescheduled my China missions to the last half of February. Little did I know that I’d be here for 10 days …

Blame on elections. They had an election in Armenia in February and there were some unhappy campers with the results – rioting and gunfire in Yerevan among other things. So when I checked my e-mails just before leaving for Hong Kong I got the message to stay put until further notice.  I rescheduled my flights until Tuesday and planned on making the most of the extra time in HK: at least I would not be travelling on Sunday which is a treat.

One of my Environmental consultants, Susana, who is based in Hong Kong had organized for a team of 80 or so from her company Atkins to participate in the ‘Green Power Hike’ which is an annual event to inspire people to better appreciate the natural environment, and to raise funds to implement environmental, educational and conservation programmes. Susana was doing the 50 km walk with two friends and I asked if I could join them for the day. They graciously accepted so early in the morning I caught the train from the airport (I was staying at the airport hotel) to town, and then the cable car up to Victoria Peak where the walkathon started. Through the power of the mobile phone I connected with Susana and her friends Diane and Liz.

There was apparently some 4,000 participants (who raised about US$ 500,000). Most were walkers but there were some runners. There were wildly varying levels of fitness apparent in the participants, as evidenced by the runners who finished the 50 km in under 4 h, to those who took up to 17:31. The photo below shows the start.

hk-walk-0

We had a fine day for the walk, with lots of sunshine but not too hot.  Although HK is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, I was very surprised at how we were able to be out in nature with the city seemingly a long way off. The walk was not easy, with lots of ups and downs, as the trails wound their way around the mountains.  They staggered the starting times with the 50 km walkers/runners starting first, then teams, 25 km walkers, and finally 10 km walkers. So every so often at the beginning we would have a wave of runners catch up to us and try to pass on the narrow trail.

At one point we walked along the top of the hill and below us we could see a continual line of people ahead and behind us, snaking off into the distances.  It made me think of the Israelites fleeing Egypt! We took the photo below at around km 35. This was the highest point of the walk. Susana is on my right, Diane and my left and then Liz.

hk-walk-1

Diane was probably the most prepared and she motored on. I helped the others by carrying their two knapsacks. By km 45 we were tiring but soldiered on and finished in 11:05.  Diane’s husband met us at the finish line and took the very poor photo below. Given the work we had done we deserved better 🙂 It was by then just after 18:30 and we were all quite tired and sore. Poor Liz did the last few miles with a very serious leg cramp. What a trooper. I tried massaging it at the end but it was like a tight steel band.  Ouch. One thing that Paul did right was to buy two pizzas, which we hoovered up pretty quickly. We all squeezed into his car and battled our way out of Big Way Bay along the very busy, narrow road. They dropped me off in civilization as I was going in the opposite direction and after quite a wait I grabbed a taxi to the train station and then got back to the hotel.

hk-walk-3

The next day I was more sore then I am after a marathon run. I am not a walker and so it reminded me of muscles I had forgotten I had. To these were added very sore feet. The latter were further complicated by a very painful big toe on my left foot. I decided to see the clinic at the airport and the doctor diagnosed it as an infection an an ingrown toenail. He gave me some antibiotics and said that I should get some minor surgery for the toenail once the infection was settled.

In fact, HK proved to be a great relief medically. After the anti-biotics had worked I saw a podiatrist who sorted out the toenail. I also saw an ENT specialist for my nose. On the flight from NZ I had a nose bleed for no reason which was the worst I had ever had. It kept bleeding after I arrived and after four days decided to get it looked at. He found some blood vessels that were problematic and once cauterized the problem was solved. HK must be the only place in the world where one can call a specialist and be seeing him a few hours later. Probably a reflection of the great hospitality that the Chinese have for visitors.

My time here was put to good use: I started catching up with my work – there was about 600 e-mails waiting for me to do something on, and in the evening went for a wander around HK. So many people, so many lights, etc. Quite the energy in the air. Also treated myself to a massage which was very good after the previous day’s efforts.

By now my trip was postponed until Thursday so I decided to decamp from the airport hotel and move to town. One gets tired of eating at airport restaurants and only having airplanes to look at! I ended up in the Shangri-La Kowloon as there was not that much choice available. A very nice hotel, it was near the water and there were lots of places to wander around in the evening. 

Since I was in a holding pattern over Armenia, I was able to focus on getting through many of the outstanding issues with my work. This was great since I will soon be working in both Asia and Europe, and the more I can get done now the less I’ll have to juggle when back in Washington. I was also able to meet with Susana to discus the work she is doing for me, as well as two of her colleagues working on other projects. After our meeting Susana took me out to a very nice dinner – commenting that I’m a very inexpensive client to entertain as a non-drinking vegetarian! The restaurant was next to the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong so after Susana went home I rode the Star Ferry across. HK by night is spectacular with all the skyscrapers and their lights.

On Thursday I found out that my trip was now cancelled.  I have another week before my team arrives and my missions start so I decided to go to Beijing and work from the Bank office there. Had I known what would transpire I would have stayed in NZ with my wife! I decided to visit Macao on the weekend so on Monday fly to Beijing.

My trip to Macao was very interesting. It is a one hour ferry ride from Hong Kong and, like HK, was under foreign control: in Macao’s case the Portuguese from the early/mid-1500’s. It reverted to China in 1999.

I caught a taxi over to the Kowloon ferry terminal. They Macao-0178departed every 15 minutes and it was surprisingly full for 9:30 a.m. Most of the people were women. I only realized why there was such demand for the ferry: casinos. Macao has become a centre of gambling for the area. As you enter into the city you are presented with a panorama of huge buildings, all of which are devoted to gambling. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Macao-0179

Taking a ferry, along with taking a train, is an activity which I associate with holidays–something special. We were treated to a panoramic view of HK island as we headed out. The boat was very fast and soon we were bounding our way through moderate waves. We passed a lot of ships, large and small, including fishing boats. I am amazed that anyone would eat food caught in the ocean around HK.  I thought of Susana who asked during our dinner where the seafood came from. She’s very sharp!

As I mentioned above, when we approached Macao there was a huge casino down by the waterfront. Macao-0204 They had built a faux Amsterdam street facing the water, along with other European style buildings. To the right of them was a large volcano – yes a volcano. When I walked past it later on I saw that they had built a miniature example of the Pohara in Lhasa, as well as Roman Colosseum, statues, etc. These sorts of structures are common in China, but I had not expected it in Macao.

Susana had given me some good advice about visiting Macao: get a tourist map and check out the old buildings.  I made my way past the touts at the ferry Macao-0184terminal, and all the buses waiting to whisk me off to a casino, and went to the Intercontinental hotel and scored a map. When I asked him for a walking route he mapped one around all the new buildings. That was OK, I could see the historical places on the map. This is not to say that the new buildings are not interesting, quite the contrary. There are some spectacular structures dotted around the county–such as the casino shown to the left. It is just that I’ve seen lots of new buildings and I was more interested in the old.

I was not disappointed. With some 450 years of European history, there were quite a few fascinating old buildings, as Macao-0186these photos show. My start point was Senado Square where there was an array of old buildings. Being a weekend, the square was inundated with Chinese and Hong Konger’s also here enjoying the atmosphere and the good weather. It’s a funny thing but you can always tell in Asia when people are having a great time. They talk very loudly.

Macao-0200

One of the buildings was called the ‘Holy House of Mercy’ or the ‘Santa Casa da MisericĂłrdia’. My wife Lis used to nurse at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Auckland and it seems likely that they were from the same Catholic mother institution.

The Catholic influence was very strong throughoutMacao-0189 Macao – in fact quite a few of the buildings were churches. There was St. Dominic’s church, just off the square, which reminded me of the church in Malacca Malaysia, another historical city dating from the same era. 

I wound my way through the very busy pedestrian streets, with many designer and other flash shops. It was fun to see that the Chinese tourists were just as fascinated by the history as I was.

Macao-0190 The next stop on my tour was the ruins of St. Paul’s church. Set at the top of a rise it consisted of the facade. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this was a Jesuit church built 1582-1602. It was destroyed by fire in 1835 but the facade saved. The facade had many statues with an oriental theme and was in surprisingly good condition – then again, they could have just replaced what was damaged and we would not be the wiser. Recently, they have excavated the crypts and we could see the coffins of those who died here, or elsewhere in Asia and whose bones were brought back as martyrs.  What was sad was that as one looked down on the tombs you could see coins: people obviously were disregarding the signs to treat the area with respect.

Adjacent to the church was Macao-0193the mount fortress which also dated back to the early 1600s. At one time this would have been near the ocean, but now it was well inland.  With its canon lined walls it was a great place to wander around. I wonder how many of them are original-again it’s China-but it’s a nice effect. 

 

Macao-0195They have built the new museum on site but I didn’t have time to visit the museum. I wandered down the hill towards town again to continue my wandering. School was now out and the children had joined the throngs of tourists.  It was fun to see the touts out selling food. One popular item was meat ‘leathers’ which they offered free samples by cutting samples off with scissors. I of course declined.Macao-0199

The tour continued with more walking, more churches and old buildings until I had pretty well exhausted the things that I wanted to see. It was time to head back to HK so I started the long walk home. As I passed the people exiting the casinos it reminded me of the one time I had visited a casino which was in 1986 in Adelaide. My lasting impression was that people were not smiling, and that was very true of everyone that I saw coming out of the casinos in Macao. Rule #1: The house always wins.

I caught the ferry back and had dinner with Marc Robson from Atkins. My Sunday plan was for a run and then catch up on things before leaving Monday. So my brief – but interesting – sojourn in HK was almost over.

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