Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kowloon Cocoon

Day 3 - Friday July 30th - we had a busy day. Considering that the children and I woke after mid-day on Thursday it was an achievement to be up at 9:00 HK time (2 am in London). After Theo and I had breakfast and feeding Quentin we set out to collect Martin and then proceed to The American Club for a potential new members tour. We were leaving Kowloon and heading for the first time to Hong Kong Island.

In London taking a taxi with a buggy and 3 year old is straight forward. Theo hops in the cab, then I wheel the buggy in, apply the brake and then sit down and buckle Theo and I in. As they taxis here are like a standard car (e.g. like a NYC rather than London taxi) I was concerned about the logistics of getting Quentin out of the buggy, breaking down the buggy and getting it and Quentin into the taxi. This became a non-issue as the Harbourview Place/W door staff were incredibly helpful. I called down to reception to say that I wanted to take a taxi and explained where I was going. After making the final preparations I was just about to walk out the door when I was greeted by a door man, Michael, who had been sent to assist us to the taxi point. Once arriving at the taxi area Theo hopped in the taxi as usual and then Michael held Quentin while I broke down the buggy. Someone from the W door staff put the two buggy pieces in the taxi trunk (boot). So that I was not just holding Quentin I strapped him into the baby bjorn and then he was buckled in with me.

We took the tunnel underneath the harbor and then proceeded to the IFC complex where Martin works (2nd tallest building in Hong Kong). It was highly vertical and felt busy - like being in mid-town Manhattan. Parts are also reminiscent of being in Chicago as there are various road fly-overs like the L with a plethora of ground level shops. From the IFC we went on to Tai Tam to the American Club's country site.

This proved to be a much longer journey as the taxi driver got lost multiple times. This did have the benefit of an unplanned tour of the far side of the island. He apparently took us the long way around so we saw Repulse Bay, one of the favorite beaches but which I had read yesterday in the paper had just suffered from an oil slick of unknown source. We then stopped at the HK International School (high school) which he had thought was our destination. Then we went out farther on Tai Tam road, onto Tai Tam Reservoir Road and went over a dam on an incredibly narrow two way road. We climbed a windy hill to be greeted by a sign to Shek O (far point of the island that I hear has a nice beach) and a sign pointing to number 28 as being in the direction which we had come from. So, back down the circuitous mountainside road, over the dam and then he stopped at the HK International School (middle school campus this time). I was delighted to see that the school mascot was (of course!) - The Dragons! We stopped at yet another apartment complex before finally pulling into the American Club 'Country' site (as they also have a Central location) more than an hour after I left with the children from Kowloon.

We took a tour of the club facilities. While the facilities were really nice (a pool and children's pool; a really fun children's play area; restaurants; squash courts; tennis courts) it felt a little weird to be at this haven of Americana in Hong Kong. Having lived in the UK for so long I found it odd to be in a club in a foreign country where everything on the walls is from America. I was also jet-lagged, tired, and incredibly hot (as it was now midday and part of the tour was outside). While the American Club seems nice (except for a lot of steps up and down through the club) I am a little concerned about being surrounded by Americans who don't like being in Hong Kong. Hopefully this will not be the case. The club was pretty quiet and we were told that most of the members were away to visit the US during this time of year. I obviously need to give it another chance when I'm not jet-lagged and tired and when we take a more direct route so it is not such a long travel time.

The way back we again drove over the reservoir road and then back into the more densely populated areas. There was high-rise after high-rise of apartment building, many looking in shabby disrepair, as we approached the more central area. Seeing so many very tall skyscrapers makes you realize how densely populated both HK Island and the area across the harbor are on the mainland. It is still difficult to comprehend where all those people are in the city (I guess working in other skyscrapers...)

Our next stop was the immigration office where we had to get our Hong Kong ID cards. An entire high-rise is devoted to Hong Kong administrative paperwork with different floors for different purposes. It was pretty efficient with us entering and beginning the application process in one corner of the 8th floor and then proceeding around the floor. I was not very happy that we had to provide both of our thumbprints - I hate the idea that China has a copy of my fingerprints. This is especially so as the same data protection that we enjoy in the US and UK (though of the course the UK has had large recent data leaks too...) does not exist here. Yesterday the papers talked about how data from the MTR (subway/tube) card registrations had been sold. I guess this is similar the frustration that everybody without a US passport feels when they visit the US. Well, they have the fingerprints now as it was mandatory to get our HK ID cards which are mandatory with our visa. Quentin was again a star at the immigration office. The woman who was processing our application (and fingerprinting us) held Quentin for me so that I could complete my paperwork while Martin took Theo to the loo. She was absolutely delighted to hold him and Quentin was smiley as ever - he did his bit to break up the monotony of a bureaucrat's day. Interestingly, the final stop was one where they re-verified our fingerprints and asked us some final questions before we were given our temporary ID cards. Our permanent ones with the fingerprint and other information in a microchip will be ready in a few weeks.

It was now well past lunch time so in addition to everything else we were all hungry. Martin led us through the Wan Chai district on an elevated walkway in which I felt like I was part of a great river of Chinese people. The smell from the street level wafting up was of a massive Chinatown. The river deposited us at the Wan Chai MTR station which we took two stops back to the IFC - while the subway ride itself is relatively quick getting down to the subway was time consuming with a buggy as we had to find and then wait for lifts. We had an adequate VERY late (it was 4:00 by this time) lunch to everyone's relief. At 4:40 I left and took the two boys by myself on our first MTR ride without Martin. It was just one stop under the harbor to the Kowloon station and we were back to our apartment just after 5:00.

It was a real relief to arrive back in Kowloon to our (sort of) familiar mall beneath our building. It just seemed less crowded, more relaxed and more comfortable back in Kowloon. I found this interesting because before we came over I had one former expat tell me that I would not like Kowloon because "it is almost like you need a passport to get there" and it is "crawling with Chinese".

The pool was closing early Friday night so I was pleased to make it back in time to visit the pool to recuperate a bit from the busy day. The boys and I were at the pool by 5:30 and spent a little over an hour there. It was really lovely to swim with them.

Afterwards I finally made it to the supermarket in the mall. If I felt comfortable in my Kowloon Cocoon before the supermarket was the icing on top of the cake. The supermarket is absolutely incredible - it has products from all over the world. The supermarket is called 360 and it is aptly named. Many of the products are organic but most of all the variety and the quality were impressive. Anything that I could have wanted from the UK that I can't find in the US or from the US that I cannot find in the UK were available in this store. More on the supermarket later....

No comments:

Post a Comment