Travel Memory – 24 hours in Hong Kong – It’s Not Just Where You Go, But Who You Go With (and never forget sparkle slippers)

(ten years ago) Flew to Hong Kong. The airport has vast ceilings, plate glass walls, tubs of live orchids, grey industrial carpeting. And in Hong Kong was dear A. who was there on business. We rendezvoused at airport and straight to the penthouse bar at my hotel, floor-to-ceiling glass windows with fab views of the harbor, and had decadent treats while I talked his ear off. Darling A. toodled off to his (much nicer) hotel, sigh. He is C-suite avant la lettre.

View was sky-scrapers, the rest of horizon is mountains. Huge harbor with lots of ships. Hotel, and generally all the buildings, had the sense of being ne plus ultra fung-shuied. Little fountains, mirrors artfully placed, pots, rocks, bells, potted orchids everywhere, whole different esthetic (bathroom counter and sink was clear plastic, very disorienting).

Next morning I had my usual: this is a big, new city and I don’t want to leave my hotel room panic. People who think I am courageous are quite wrong. I am only motivated to get up and explore because of my unending search for good chocolate. Don’t think it’s bravery, darling; pretend to have courage until you actually have courage.

After being constantly covered in the Middle East, I felt practically naked in tank top and mini-skirt, but I wore my beautiful Indian embroidered and sparkled-beaded slippers to give myself courage. Took the ferry across the harbor, walked around. Went up to the ‘mid-levels,’ collection of streets part way up the mountain. HK is built into steep mountains and there are a series of interconnected moving walkways to lift you up, one axis of streets are lined with shops and level, cross-axis are steep verticals, no stores. How sweet and clever! (Are you paying attention Seattle? But of course Seattle would never agree to such a delightful scheme. Escalators up mountains? They would rather climb up, preferably while carrying heavy loads and eating unprocessed whole grains and soy treats).

Ambled along street of antiques then somehow ended up in the ‘Soho’ cafe district – oh my dear, it was ugly. Euro bistros to the left of me, trendy Asian cafes to the right, Irish pubs, taco joints, Italian bars with marble counters, tapas. Took me five minutes to decide which place to bless with my presence, found out later it was voted “Hong Kong’s best people-watching spot” – oh your auntie is aces with café talent) Not many tourists, resident westerners all had hideous hair (bad water? lack of conditioner? hard to tell). Lots of people, not a speck of trash on the ground, windows clean, sidewalks tended but a very uneasy feeling.

After coffee took a special mini-train up to the top of one of the mountains, very pretty. Was going to walk back to hotel but realized it would be much more authentic to take a taxi, you know me, a perfect slave to authenticity (remember they drive on the wrong side). Nack seat door where you would sit is opened and closed by the driver with special lever). And speaking of adjustments, women’s bathrooms have a small urinal in them for boys so I kept walking in, seeing the urinal, walking out, checking the door again, realizing what it was and going back in.

Had afternoon tea at the Peninsula, as if you could stop moi from going for tea in a grand old hotel. Wildebeests couldn’t stop me. Sigh, walked in and thought, I was born to live here. That fabulous whiff of over-decoration: ferns in gold urns, marble tables, tassels galore, page-boys in white pill-box hats, proper linens, everything fringed, mirrors, frieze in relief on the ceiling, little fabrics covers on the solid silver teapot handles to you won’t burn your fingers.

But all is not sunshine and roses, no no no. The mini tiramisu with coffee granite revealed the dreadful mistake of a soupcon of lemon flavoring in the cream strata. Heaven forefend. The scones were oh so slightly dry; over the salmon finger sandwich we shall draw a discreet cover. Good lemon teacake slice but only good, not the melting, heart-breaking quality we so enjoy in our lemon teacakes. The strawberry jam: excellent taste but consistency a shade too gummy/ gelatinous and there were two Americans wearing black plastic flip-flops in my line of sight. Where is a good hitman when you need one?

Mini cheesecake was nice but the waiters were a bit too rushed (lowers the tone, you know, if they dash about). The étagère – a trifle too plain, no cherubs, no swans and claw feet. Not quite comme il faut, if you catch my drift. Am sad to report, but how can I hide such difficulties from you?, the candied violet on the white chocolate bouchée was slightly off-center.

Had tiny nap and went for dinner with A. We ended up with Italian: baby artichokes, rose and champagne sorbet, lobster risotto, passion fruit and champagne cocktails, duck with black truffle. Then we went to the night market and I bought pink sparkle shoes. Tough night.

Went back to the Peninsula for breakfast with A., more walking around then to airport.

Flew to Thailand, arrive to find whole line of smart new taxis and one well-used one, which is the one I ended up with. Driver picks up my suitcase, puts it in trunk and slams down the lid a few times. Won’t close. Turns suitcase over and slams it down a few more times. I am stunned to a horrified silence. Finally I manage to nudge him to one side, pick up suitcase and put in the back seat. I get in the front seat and we take off at an alarming 40 clicks an hour. We chug along (engine turning off now and then) passing all the freeway on-ramps until we find ourselves on an unlit street, no people and no other cars. We pull into a dimly lit gas station; the driver pops the hood and scuttles off into the darkness as 5 underage punks descend on the car. Turns out in Thailand, you pump gas into a valve under the hood – which one of the young punks did, as the other 4 cleaned the windows. Driver gets back in and we go to hotel at the speed of an efficient wombat.

Lovely Oriental hotel on the Chao Phraya River that goes through Bangkok. I sat on the river terrace to have Thai hors d’oeuvres, mango sticky rice (yum to the nth degree) and a cocktail from the 8-page cocktail menu, complete with pictures. How lovely to among bartenders one can trust! Return to my room to find there is no turn-down service. Do you see how I suffer? Suffer! Next morning it is early breakfast on the river terrace, with loose tea leaves in proper silver tea pots, thank heavens! A quick trip to Jim Thompson silk then airport and real life once again.