Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Leaving on a jet plane, San Francisco to Hong Kong

So we're in the United departure lounge and a line forms well before boarding time. Hmm, what's going on? Nobody knows. An employee is walking along looking at at boarding passes. I step in and show her mine and she says, "You're okay." Well, okay! There is a garbled announcement about changing the type of plane and thus seat assignments. I get back in line. The woman behind me is talking about being in line upstairs and now downstairs - "Ridicerous." Yep, it is that.

We had some of the best seats on the plane - 2 vs. 3 abreast where the fuselage starts to taper at the rear, but the switch in plane results in us being in a 3 abreast row (aisle and middle seat) and, what else, "the world's biggest Asian" (Leslie's words) in the seat in front of Leslie.

The first meal was okay - about on a level with China Air (which ain't great) - meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad, roll. After the meal the stewardess came down the aisle selling wines and liquors, saying, "Wines? Lick yours?" Okey dokey. Photo: HK harbor/Central

Meal #2 was (what can I say) ridicerous - a bowl of ramen noodles. Sheesh. Meal #3 was okay - a hot turkey and cheese sandwich - I'm always grateful for my Tabasco - and before we know it (14 hours and 35 minutes later we were on the ground in HK. Photo: inside the Chungking Mansions (much brighter than in the past)

Customs/security was easy, changed $50, bought Octopus Card (debit card for transpo), and after some walking around found some Air Asia staff who could tell us nothing except we wouldn't be getting any money back on the tickets we had to Bangkok.
Pretty tired by now, we walked down the walkway to the bus stop and took off for the city. Straightaway a woman (Filipina?) offered Leslie a snack - yeah, we needed something good to happen. Got off at the Mong Kok MTR, walked around corner and down 2 blocks to the stinky tofu place and into the Sincere House and on up to the 7th floor and into the more or less lobby of the Dragon Hostel. They were holding our room and Leslie checked it out as "OK." Registration came to a sudden stop when Leo, the desk guy said he couldn't change our traveler's checks - after I'd counter-signed them. This yielded a high degree of angst on my part, phone calls to Stanley, the owner, and finally, a plan for someone from the Dragon to go with me to their bank to explain why the checks had already been counter-signed. Stanley says to Leslie, "There's nothing we can do tonight. Go take a shower, relax, have supper. I told Leo to think about this and he will come to you and explain what is next."

We went downstairs, got 2 beers, back up to the room for snacks and beer and basically passed out.

In the morning we fixed coffee in the room (with our trusty 20 year old HK water heater), showered, and headed for the Fu Ho Cafe (Mimi's) for breakfast. On the way I saw a man picking his nose both nostrils at the same time - a finger in each. I never saw that before. Photo: they keep the lungs of fish inflated in the fish market

Beakfast was the usual - eggs, pink meat product, sausage (don't ask), toast, coffee. Mimi wasn't there, but nice to see her brother, who kindly stuck a finger in each glass of tea (the kind of tea that just comes with each meal). The 1st time we saw that was our 1st trip to Hong Kong - we thought the waiter was doing a number on us - now we know, that's the way they serve it in low rent cafes.

Now all we have to do is figure out what next with the Bangkok airport closed for the forseeable future. Some people are flying HK to Kuala Lumpur and thence to wherever, so that's one option. We could also take a train HK to Hanoi. Fly to Jakarta. Sit tight and hope the airport opens - which is our plan. It's a major hooraw trying to sort out tickets, flights, etc. Flying a budget airline like Air Asia has its downside for sure. Har Har Har, they have an English phone line, but you have to speak Chinese to use it. Photo: shrimp wonton soup and vegetables at Tsim Chai Kee Noodle shop

An hour ago a woman who works for Stanley took me to the bank they use to unscrew the traveler's checks, walking single file along the crowded streets. I changed the TCs - no problem with her help.

More futile phone calls - email attempts (oh sure). So we head for the airport where we discover that Air Asia has gone into hiding - no flights, so no employees! Of course it took almost two hours to find that out, waiting at the ticket counter with other hapless travelers.

Altogether, a complete failure, except we eliminated all options except hoping for better sometime later. The bottom line? We're frazzled, jet-lagged, uncertain, scuffling between the two of us ...

Back at the guesthouse we learn via trying to book other flights to other wheres, there aren't many flights no fully booked or not cancelled. I go for a walk to find something to bring back to the room for dinner. Walking north, past where I've been before except once, 3 years ago when I got totally lost, I find a pretty nice every-day stuff type street market. I buy a mediocre bun with a Chinese sausage in it from a street vendor, then go into a restaurant with some noble looking roasted ducks hanging in the window and get BBQ pork on rice to go - AHA! Caught a big-time winner on this deal - brilliant char sui rice. In the GH office we learn that the Thai Prime Minister has been ousted, so there is hope for the airport opening. We read for awhile, I fall out, Leslie goes to the GH office to call USAA back in the USA to start contesting the money we expect to lose on the Air Asia tickets. She ends up talking to "Frank in San Antonio" who reassures her that all will be okay.

Wednesday: today looks like our 1st actual day to just be in HK . Whew, so far, a hard trip. Breakfast at Mimi's Fu Ho Cafe - Gimme 2 a them Lumberjack Specials (pink meat, etc.). Caught the bus to Tsim Sha Tsui to make the Chungking Mansions scene. The ground floor is spiffed up to some extent - fewer angry looking young Middle eastern men milling around, hallways lighter. We ran into "the Everly Brothers" - two Pakistani men we 1st saw (and named) in 1978 on our 1st time though. Leslie talked with the younger brother - still skinny after all these years, now stooped, but still here. Anna, the Filipina internet cafe operator has gone to the UK, but her place is still going. We spent some time in a tiny elbow-to-elbow internet cafe (can listen to Qur'an for free while surfing). Then across the harbor on the Star Ferry - yeah - yeah - yeah, Allahu Akbar, man.

Walked through the massive IFC Mall and across walkway and down to Connaught Road to our favorite wonton (not hardly like your average American Chinese restaurant wonton) soup cafe (Tsim Chai Kee) for shrimp wonton soup and vegetables with oyster sauce. Photo: when in HK, always ...

Back across the harbor we visited a little up the narrow stairs Buddhist store, then caught the bus up Nathan Road to the Sincere House (where our GH is), falling out for an afternoon rest and then back to the same char sui restaurant for pork and duck on rice.

Thursday we took the train the the Tai Po Market to meet Phil K, an internet friend who lives in HK (see Oriental Sweetlips link). We hung out in a Starbucks talking, then walked around the market area and on to a huge dim sum place. We were joined a friend of Phil's, Regis from France. Thanks Phil! Good to meet you in person, not to mention Megan and Oliver (photo below - notice who took center stage).

Leslie and I were in HK in 1978 and ate breakfast most days at a Russian emigre bakery named Cherikoff's on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui - good food, good times - now it's a McDonalds and this evening on a small crowded lane in Mong Kok is another much smaller Cherikoff's - give me joy. I got 250 gms cookies which seemed expensive at $14HKD, until I tasted them - butter, alright. I'm walking along, past 2 hour hotels and related estblishments, happy and smiling - sweet. This discovery calls for a nice cold one - Kowloon Dairy milk (none a that 2% for me).

Friday (scheduled departure day): more pink product for breakfast and then to our room to shower, pack and hope. I go for a walk and discover a people's food court up stairs at the Fa Yuen Street market - there's even kind of a balcony! By now Leslie has figured out how to check flight status online and is doing so every hour or so in the GH office. She's also counting money kind of obsessively - we need this much for airport bus today and again in January, the ferry costs $1.7HKD, soup is ... so on and so forth.

We take off on a last Star Ferry/wonton noodle soup/Pacific Coffee run. We learn that Bangkok Air has cancelled all flights and HK Express has cancelled everything until 12/24. Pretty uncertain. There was weird moment in Pacific Coffee when they were playing a Bob Dylan song - Dylan & HK go together about like CK and Prado. Everything takes a long time and we're back at the Dragon Hostel about 1600 (That's 4pm, Leslie).

Saddle up and head for the A21 bus stopand we're off to the airport and an uncertain flight. When we get to the departure area we see that all flights to Bangkok have been cancelled - except for ours. Waiting, waiting, get boarding passes, on through secirity where they find my unsecured bottle of Tabasco. Was it my honest face? My handsome face? My anguished, "Noooo!"? The woman smiled. put it in a baggie and sent us on through. Waiting, waiting, boarding, and were in the air! Photo: market

This is the 1st time we've been to HK that it wasn't magical. I think it was a combination of uncertainty, anxiety, age, the potential for losing a fair amount of money, a complete lack of info from Air Asia, and general tiredness. Oh well, what can be great every single time? I'm hoping we can lay about in the aircon in Bangkok with expeditions to assorted food vendors, read, relax.


Philip said...

Hi Charles & Leslie

Glad to hear you made your flight. You must be relieved, but sorry to hear this time round wasn't so great. Hopefully you will come again and have the chance to make amends (oh, and next time bring your hiking boots).

All the best


p.s thanks for the link

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