Saturday, November 26, 2011

Grand Tour 2011 part one

16 May 2011

I am not going anywhere for a while but you start your travel before you go don't you as they say (not really, made that up). I had a few instances of pre-trip thinking today, particularly during the Planning Theory and History field trip to Camberwell when one of the students, Hannah, found out i was going to be in Israel in September she was all like, I will be there then (with my boyfriend) you'll love it I'll send you an email telling you where to eat, and so on.
This inspired me to contact a woman called Gail my mother put me in touch with who had emailed last week with a suite of generous offers re accommodation, putting in touch with appropriate people, etc. I was pretty impressed by the generosity of this person who doesn't know me a bit. It made me definitively decide that I would spend more than a couple of days in Israel and that I would in fact go to Jerusalem and so on. I am all for it now.
I had a meeting with the financial person Roland and he told me about salary sacrifice which is when you get 50% tax-free income for the period you're away on the assumption that a huge amount of it would be tax deductible anyway, that works for me.
Then I did a lot of internet research to try and find Israel people who might be able to help me in my investigation into the Geddes plan for Tel Aviv and its perpetuation... drew a lot of blanks. A lot of computer freezes too.

I have to feed the dogs etc I can't really think about all this right now.

3 September

You think ‘it’s just a 9 hour flight’ but you have to get to the airport three hours before and us, living so close to the airport anyway, got there even earlier, anticipating something odd like checking in and then going back to Mickleham Road and eating pizza or bad salad or something anyway I was too nervous/stressed (pick the appropriate term) to really want to eat and Mia was not feeling well (she had been hungover all day) so instead we waited overly long at the appropriate check in place and there weren’t even any staff there until we noticed them accumulating behind a screen, and I went and asked when we could check in and there was some kind of disgruntled acquiescence that this might be a possibility in the very near future.

I asked some questions about boarding in a way that apparently conveyed to the nice lady that I was a dolt, and she responded in ways that in hindsight made me surprised she didn’t insist on safety pinning my name to the front of my jacket, but as it transpired I later discovered, she was so busy patronizing me she omitted to give me my boarding pass, so it was lucky I went in early, and found that out, though I still had a long wait at gate 4 but we took off in time and landed in time, so who’s complaining.

Sunday 4 September, Hong Kong

Thus far I have only seen HK airport I am in a Delifrance which I picked as as a good a place as any to transfer a few clothes to my backpack with a view to leaving my case at the airport somewhere and setting off for my one day in HK. Quite a nice apricot croissant (what many of us might call a ‘danish’) and Edith Piaf presumably blasting out the speakers 24 hours/day.

On the plane I fell asleep about 30 mins into Hall Pass, watched two episodes of the Simpsons, tried to watch Sleeping Beauty but couldn’t follow its sparse dialogue above the aircraft noise, watched the first 30-40 mins of Kung Fu Panda 2 which I decided was better seen in more comfortable circumstances and on a bigger screen, and then watched almost all of Jucy which was actually pretty good (right up to the bit where she has sex with Trevor; I suppose that’s not the end; it stopped because the plane landed).

OK. I have 3 or 4 hours to kill before I can reasonably go to my hotel, so I’m going to ditch the case, and go on an explore.

About 90 minutes later

Random you have to love, even if you sprinkle chocolate chips of staid and very predictable throughout. So, yes, I am in a Starbucks. As we all know, HK set all the precedents for globalization so you can’t point the finger at HK for having Stabuckses in it and if you are going to point the finger at me for taking advantage of its airconditioning, powerpoint and chair, then point away. It is a Sunday morning and truthfully it was the only coffee shop I could find aside from another Delifrance which I wasn’t ready for. It has given me a place to sit, drink a tepid strong ‘espresso doppio’ (better than they do them at Starbucks in Chicago, that’s for sure) and charge up both my video camera and my laptop. You’d think I’d also be signing up for some wifi thing but I don’t trust any of them to not milk my credit card forever offering me premium service until I have to fly back to HK and join a queue for four hours to make them terminate it. Already I am paranoid.

What I did which was interesting though once I left HK airport express station was just walk. I walked in an inland direction, which meant going up a lot. It was amazingly steep, the buildings were distinctively ugly, but not otherwise all that distinctive. A lot of them seem to have half their infrastructure on the outside. Then there are sporadic sprays of dense woodland seemingly inaccessible except by the eye from strategic viewpoints.

I went to an ‘international’ supermarket and bought some almonds, water and today’s paper. What I really need which I keep forgetting is bandaids (the right of my new boots rubs against the back of my lower leg strangely). The other thing I keep forgetting is a HK$ is not worth much compared to an Australian dollar, so I have to stop flinching when I fork over $18 for a double espresso. I am going to keep stumbling

On the flight I read Robert Gott’s book Good Murder, which I really enjoyed – a genuinely incompetent detective but still a likeable and understandable one. I wonder if Gott has written any other William Power books, I hope so as this was a good one. I know about three people I’d lend it to, but I also know that I am not going to lug the fucker around the world with me, so I am going to jettison it ASAP. Sorry Robert Gott but I am going to find a place to leave the book where hopefully someone else will find & read it. Perhaps this Starbucks. These people fancy themselves as readers I would say.

OK, so so far so good, I am enjoying my HK experience. I have a few questions which I will probably never have answered, like for instance why when you come out of the HK station are there all those women lined up just standing there? I know from that sentence it sounds like I’m implying prostitution but they sure don’t seem like they are trying to be enticing or anything other than chatty women waiting for something unproblematic. It was probably a spontaneous congregation in a few places that meant precisely nothing.

Taking a random tram, I noticed a vegan restaurant called Loving Hut which is apparently in Hennessy Street although directly outside is a sign proclaiming it to be Johnston Road. Since I was only randomly taking the tram (which was filling up extensively) I decided I would alight and have some lunch, even though frankly I wasn’t that hungry. As I walked back a very long and vocal protest was taking place along the road – some kind of union march, I gathered from affiliations on parts of the banners being brandished, though it was definitely not for or by English speaking people.

Arriving I discovered a strangely clean and overstaffed restaurant with a huge screen on the wall broadcasting a bizarre fragmented series of bits and pieces from a cable channel with the name Supreme Leader TV. Since the staff often had little do they would stand around and watch this nonsense, which was often a tiny picture atop translations into 20 or so different languages (the resources which must go into that!). The food was really good (I didn’t realise I was that ready for a soup of fruit and beans) and they had wifi. They also had a group of pictures of Joaquin Phoenix, Tobey Mcaguire, Albert Einstein, Paul McCartney, Anne Hathaway, Ashley Judd etc around a silver plaque proclaiming ‘Vegetarian and vegan elites. These Smart, Beautiful, Talented People Are Vegetarian. Why Aren’t You?’

It was a lucky choice to have gone in there because while I was there it began to rain heavily, and had mainly laid off when I left. I had seen something else from the tram – the Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery, no less – and decided to try my luck there.

The Gallery is apparently moving to a permanent premises next year, and at the moment occupies a few rooms at ground level. When I went in there were about four staff who were very eager to make sure I understood and experienced every exhibit fully. I did not realise how passive I was as an exhibition attendee and this seemed to surprise one guard in particular who took pains to make me interact with everything (in my defense it often wasn’t clear that you had to put your hand on an arrow projected onto a table, for instance). It was simple stuff, and veered too close to propaganda in some cases (there was a lot of talk about ‘the government are committed to closer ties with the mainland’ etc) and some fantasy as well – all these new railway lines, etc. There was also a comprehensive outline of a new town that was being built, unfortunately by the time I got to that I had a bit of an information overload problem.

Following this it was finally late enough in the day (2 pm) that I could actually check into my hotel. Wellington Street is a bit of a crappy street, and I was amazed to discover that the Butterful on Wellington is actually superb. After dregging around HK in 30 degrees for about 8 hours with a heavy backpack I was delighted to be able to enter aircon comfort, shower etc. Then it was out to do my main task, looking at the nearby open spaces – I found four, one of which was entirely under construction, another of which was locked. Another was being used by about fifty people, and another was being used by three (one of whom was sleeping). It was pretty amazing though overall.

I ate at an organic restaurant about three blocks from the hotel (just near the incredible outdoor escalator) which was great even though I once again wasn’t really hungry. My feet hurt from all the traipsing and I was of course entirely weary. But Hong Kong has been a remarkable and wonderful beginning to the trip. I suppose I should say 'and it's not over yet' though it kind of is - I have to be out at the airport again in about five hours (it's 5 am on the 5th September as I write this)

No comments: