Saturday, November 6, 2010

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

Five years ago was a pretty good year for me.  I had started planning to go back to Hong Kong in 2003 for my 40th birthday… and then SARS hit.  So, I decided that I would rather wait and NOT be in danger of dying!  In 2003, I had already saved enough frequent flyer miles to get an upgrade from economy class to business class on United Airlines, but I decided to make a more concerted effort and see if I could save enough for a *free* round-trip ticket.

So, I got the UA credit card, I signed up to earn miles through my Safeway card, signed up my credit cards to earn miles by dining out, buying flowers online, etc.   I transferred balances from other cards to the UA card, and by the end of 2004, I had done it!  So, instead of having to pay $1,700 for the economy class ticket, I could use that on my hotels!  Yay!

I started planning and decided that I would go to HK for 10-12 days in August.  Yes, I know, August is not really the best time weather-wise to be in HK, but… it would feel like home!  Hot, muggy, humid, with chance of typhoon or monsoon.  HOME! ;-)  It was the kind of weather where you are always soaked either from sweat or rain, and there was no real chance of getting dry.  Unless of course, you stayed inside in the A/C. ;-) 

When I was growing up, one of the special things to do was to have High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel.  This hotel is THE hotel in Hong Kong – it's absolutely gorgeous, the service is impeccable, and it is really is a piece of Hong Kong history.  I had always told myself that when I grew up and was rich and famous, I would return to HK and stay at the Peninsula.  I would be picked up at the airport in a Rolls Royce, and live in the lap of luxury.  So, I got online to find out if it was possible… and it was!  Well, for two nights.  I booked a "spa package" which allowed me to be picked up at the new airport (on Laan Tau Island  ACK!) in a Rolls Royce (not a Silver Cloud, but still very very nice!), have breakfast and lunch on the Pool Terrace and get hour-long massages and facials, and the most painful shampoo I've ever received (poor girl put extra effort into the head massage portion – I felt like she was crushing my skull OUCH!), all on my first two days in HK.  My room was amazing, and I was right in downtown Tsim Sha Tsui (Jeem Sah Jui) so I could get to the Star Ferry, the Ocean Terminal, the #7 bus, and the Metro.  Perfect!

Star Ferry heading to HK Island
Since I couldn't afford more than two nights at the Peninsula, I looked around for other deals and found one immediately across the street from the Peninsula:  the Kowloon Hotel.  The room was TINY, especially compared to what I was coming from, but mine had everything I needed: a bed, a bathroom, a hot water pot, a TV, and a fridge.  I went to the Stop'N'Shop and stocked up on bottled water, soda, beer, and juices to fill up the fridge, and some ramen noodles for quick breakfast or snack.  I took to boiling water at night and letting it cool overnight so I could refill my water bottles.  So, call me cheap, but I had more important things to spend my money on!

From my Kowloon Hotel base of operations, I was able to get a tour of the new campus of my old high school (HKIS), shop at Stanley Market, meet up with my friend Andy from high school (he now owns seven restaurants in HK), and revisit my old stomping grounds in Kowloon Tong.  What a great time!

At the "first" waterfall
I planned to relax on my last couple of nights in HK by staying at the Silvermine Beach Hotel on Laan Tau island.  I had a distant hope of being able to climb up "my mountain" to visit the Laan Tau Mountain Camp where I spent just about every summer of my life, but I didn't want to go alone and I had not been able to get a cell phone rental.  On the last day that I had time to do it, a woman came up to me at breakfast and asked if I knew anything about the hiking trails on the island… "As a matter of fact, I do!"

Small world, she was from Bowie, MD!  Who could have predicted that I would meet a fellow Marylander (I lived in Bethesda at the time) in Hong Kong, on Laan Tau island, who wanted to go hiking?  As it turned out, she didn't listen to me about buying enough water and/or food for the trek so we only made it to the first waterfall, but at least I got to hike a PART of the trail!  I was a happy camper.

The hotel was a very old hotel (I think my family had stayed there when I was LITTLE little), but just what I needed.  After the hustle and bustle of staying in downtown HK, I liked being able to relax a bit.  But, I still went back to HK on my last day to make all the remaining purchases. J  And I finally went back to Kowloon Tong. 

Good ole Lion Rock!
I think I had been afraid to go there because the rest of HK had changed soooooooooooooo much!  But I'm very glad that I finally went back to where I grew up.  I walked from the Kowloon Tong metro station, down Waterloo Road, to York Road, then over to Oxford and Hampshire Roads, and down by Essex Crescent.  None of the houses I knew were there anymore, but the new buildings were still low buildings with very few residents.  Probably exorbitantly expensive condos, but… the Asia and Dairy Farm  markets were still there!  The tennis courts and the big ole Hialeah (?) mansion were still there!  And of course, the Baptist Hospital, College (now University), and good ole KBC were there too.

I was SO glad that I had been able to get back to Hong Kong!  My trip was wonderful, and it also changed me in some important ways.  For example, after I got settled in at the Peninsula on my first night, I sent an email to my family with the subject line: "I'm HOME!"  And when I returned to my apartment in Bethesda, MD after ten wonderful days and a very VERY long flight home, my first email to the family was titled, "I'm home!"

Now that might not mean much to everyone, but to a third culture kid like myself, it was HUGE!  Ever since I left HK to go to college, I felt like I had no home anymore, especially in 1997 when HK went back to China.   My trip back to HK in 2005 reminded me that "you can't go home again", because life goes on when you're not there.  The HK in which I grew up was a lot like DC in a lot of ways:  height restrictions on the buildings, very cosmopolitan, and any kind of ethnic good you can imagine.  But now that they have moved the airport, there are no more height restrictions and HK has just BOOMED – and now it's more like Manhattan.  Which I love!  But it's not the same place. 

And that's OK, because I'm not the same person. Hong Kong grew up, and so did I!

Silvermine Bay at dawn, my last morning in HK
I also learned that Business Class is the ONLY way to fly around the world!  hahahaha

More pics from my trip here...


lacochran's evil twin said...

You go half-way around the world and meet someone from home. Another reason to always be on your best behavior... or not give a damn what people think! :) Looks like you had a great trip.

Giggles said...

Hi LACochran, thanks for stopping by! It was a fantastic trip and I learned that I'm actually not that bad a photographer, when I have a digital camera. :-)