Honkers is still Bonkers


THOSE same old scents are still there on those same old streets. I catch the perfume of Peking duck, plump and perspiring, a little like me, as I saunter along these sultry pavements. They speak of sweat, soaking showers and dried seafood in the markets. There’s pungent coiled incense spiralling out of the temples, tempting me inside. The trim trams and red taxis are still rattling along the roads, the latter still as manic as ever. A coffin shop sits next door to a coffee shop. On Victoria Harbour it’s all rickety, rockety boats, the sea a cellulite of bumps. This is Hong Kong and in a way, it’s a homecoming.

Twenty-five years ago, as a young cadet newspaper journalist and when Rupert Murdoch still owned the South China Morning Post, I was sent to work and live in Hong Kong and gain some valuable news reporting skills. I was a green Gold Coast journo, not the jade you’ll still find in the markets here, but naïve. But, back then, journalism was all about being plunged into the deep end, and so I dove, hard. On any given day I’d be running around the sordid back streets, uncovering stories on illegal rhino horn being used in Chinese medicine. Chasing celebrating stock brokers when the Hang Seng hit record levels, and breaking a front-page yarn on Filipino maids that were not allowed in lifts in which dogs were allowed, in the lofty heights of Mid-Levels living. These were heady Hong Kong days indeed.

Last week, I returned for the first time in two decades. Wondering whether I’d find more change in this city, or myself, over the past 20 years.
Mr Chow, my limo driver, picks me up at the airport with a broad smile and a face full of opinions on the past 20 years on Hong Kong.
“We are always arguing on the political issues with China. Hong Kong people became used to their freedom. Since we went back to China we are feeling our freedom less and less,” he says.
“Before if there was a protest the police would just stand by. But now the police are becoming involved. They are controlling freedom of speech.
“The population has now grown from 5.7 million people to 7.3 million before. The Chinese people are looking for a better life in Hong Kong as they want to get a job more easily. The people from China do many things the Hong Kong people don’t like, like sitting on the floor, spitting, talking loudly and never queueing.
“We view ourselves very differently to the Chinese. We have a very different culture. We don’t like their manner and attitude. We are China but we still have one country and two systems. This is very important. We have our own life, they have their own life.
“This time you come back it will be very exciting for you. You will find it is quite a big change in some parts.”

Mr Chow is right. These days there’s funky new neighbourhoods. Soho, Poho and Noho. Urban artists are claiming the streets as public space. Hong Kong’s favourite son Bruce Lee adorns one wall. I pause for a sweet sugar cane juice in an old Chinese shop house, which dates back to the 1940s. In Wan Chai, under the flyover, I visit a “villain hitter” who beats my bad luck away with an old shoe. They’ve been doing this here for five decades. One minute I dine in ancient dim sum halls, the next, in Michelin-star restaurants. I seek solace in temples and drink in edgy bars.

In two decades I had imagined there would be little of the old charm left. How wrong I was. The same heady Hong Kong is here. And it’s a little like me. The old structure which makes me unique remains. But there have been transformations. I’m no longer the naïve, young journalist from the Gold Coast who chase ambulances for a living. These days I’m seeking more substance from my existence and my writing. I’m trying to slow down but reap more from both work and life. It’s that constant paradox and similar to how I view Hong Kong. And inside every city, and every human, perhaps that’s the key. We are all a little east and west, yin and yang, dark and light. Given how difficult it is to understand our changing selves, how could we possibly know anyone else, or any one place? Twenty years on and I’m slowly figuring it out, this life business. Embracing the impermanence that a colourful city like Hong Kong, and a constant thirst for life, can teach a willing student like me.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Hong Kong Tourism Board – http://www.discoverhongkong.com.au and Cathay Pacific – http://www.cathaypacific.com.au

Cathay’s A350 aircraft boast 38 business class seats, fine dining, luxury amenity kits and plenty of storage. While in Hong Kong, check out Cathay’s newest lounge, the Pier, which includes an exclusive Noodle Bar and Teahouse.

The Good, the Bad and the Bali

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AN item on the menu catches my eye. For around $282 I can partake in a four-course meal featuring some of the most sought-after Chinese delicacies used in traditional medicine for their health benefits, some of which are said to even cure impotency, followed by a collagen-boosting facial and seawater-infusion massage. And I can even enjoy some Birds’ Nest dishes, which, among other things, are said to increase my libido. Lust being the least of my worries, I eschew the exotic eats and treats and head straight to the spa itself where a Balinese life guard stands poolside and encourages me to run against a series of strong currents and be blissfully blasted by a range of other jets for the next two hours.
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I’m at RIMBA Jimbaran Bali, the new 8 hectare resort nestled within the award-winning AYANA’s 77 hectare grounds overlooking Jimbaran Bay. And in typical form, I’m looking for love. Guests at both properties can use all facilities, so I figure two resorts are better than one, and divide my time on the hunt for erotic experiences. While RIMBA’s “Beyond Skin Deep” package at the renowned Ah Yat Chinese restaurant is indeed tempting, I consider instead stopping at AYANA’s L’Atelier Parfums and Creations where for $80 and 45 minutes of my time, I can create my own perfume. Or, in my case, a love potion. Unfortunately, the island is all out of eye of newt, so I head on to my next destination, a cocktail at the world-famous oceanfront bar Rocks. I follow this up with a seafood dinner plucked straight from the ocean before me under a beautiful Southern Cross sky at Kisik. This is feet-in-the-sand romance at its finest, a concept not lost on a fellow female yoga friend and me as we gaze at the stars and ponder our lack of love.
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Back at RIMBA, ardent admirers of conservation will adore what this resort has created. Opened last November as a sister property to the luxurious AYANA, RIMBA is named after the Indonesian word for “forest”. This resort, which overlooks the Uluwatu Hills on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, has embraced integrity through its design and razor-sharp environmental principles.
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The ark-shaped lobby ends in a giant pond which resembles the shape of a ship which is fitting, as the lobby itself is made of recycled wood from three old fishing boats from Sulawesi and driftwood gathered by hand along a stretch of beach. On the walls you’ll find handmade bricks, in the roof-top bar recycled glass bottles, and in the rooms, furniture crafted from old packing crates. Sustainability is king here, with a rainwater harvesting and water recycling plant plus an on-site greenhouse and organic fruit garden.
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When it launched, a traditional “rainstopper” was enlisted to seek the blessings of the Gods for a dry event to ensure the perfect sunset. It worked and the proverbial sun has been shining down on this property ever since which is just as well, given there are six pools alone here.
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So with so much good, where is the bad as the title of this piece suggests? Well, I actually agonised over how to start this piece. You see, the day I arrive at RIMBA a Queensland man has been detained upon arrival at Denpasar Airport after trying to enter the plane’s cockpit during a Virgin flight. Even worse, he’s from my hometown of Brisbane and the incident makes headlines around Asia/Pacific. I am embarrassed and ashamed of my fellow countryman. Bali has become a divisive destination in the past decade or so following the Bali Bombings, Schapelle Corby’s detention and recent release, and the Bali 9, who still ponder their fate in Kerobokan Prison. And while these headlines are surely show stoppers, they have one common denominator – they have little to do with the average Balinese.
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In his book Bali Raw, Australian expat Malcolm Scott spells out in detail some of the unsavoury aspects of Bali. He talks of emerging crime and culture clashes among gangs from some of Indonesia’s other islands. Add to that recent reports of rubbish on some of this island’s beaches and it would be all too easy to avoid Bali altogether. Don’t. Boycotting Bali due to Bintang bogans is like avoiding the entire Gold Coast because of some of the strife in Surfers Paradise. Or New York because of the World Trade Centre bombings.
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And then there’s the Bali. My Bali is one of beauty, peace, culture and coconuts. Of colourful characters, crooked smiles, frangipani flowers and food, glorious food. And you’ll find plenty of these elements at places such as RIMBA which is doing its best to remind the world that Bali is indeed the Island of the Gods.
Bali may not be big – it’s only about 100km wide and long – but it’s huge of heart. You’ll rediscover this heart at Rimba and at her sister AYANA through the people, the properties, and the professionalism. Take another look at one of Australia’s nearest neighbours. You might just fall in love all over again.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Rimba Jimbaran Bali. For more information go to http://www.rimbajimbaran.com
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