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.

Life is Suite in London

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LONDON is in a jolly good mood and so am I. The sun is shining both literally and figuratively upon the English capital, which, judging by the number of cranes in the skyline and the smiling populous, is finally shrugging off the Global Financial Crisis and the last remnants of winter. And the sun is shining on me too, having just checked into Lancaster London, opposite Hyde Park.
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There’s even more cherries on the cake today, as I’m catching up with an old Singapore mate, an ex-Londoner and now Geneva-based Murray, who I haven’t seen in two years. We’ve got just 24 hours and Murray arrives in his trademark flurry of excitement into which I am instantly swept. I’ve been upgraded to the luxurious Lancaster Suite – used by the hotel’s Thai owner when he’s in town – and which peers down over Hyde Park. You can see London’s most famous green space from the cavernous lounge room, the spa bath and even the toilet, and the London Eye from my bed. So lovely is this room, it seems almost criminal to leave.
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And in a city probably better known for its pollution than being lean and green, this hotel is ardently eco-friendly, boasting a range of impressive environmental initiatives which include:
• A honey farm on the hotel’s roof, home to 500,000 bees which produces on average 80kg of Hyde Park honey every year
• E-brochures available to all guests in place of print collateral
• All bottled water on site is in reusable bottles, saving 12 tonnes of glass each year
• None of the hotel’s waste goes to landfill
• Salmon is smoked on site on an old plate warmer remodelled by the engineering department
• Old uniforms, bedding and soap are donated to The Passage, a local charity for the homeless
(And, on the week I arrive, a celebration of British tomatoes, in recognition that 4 in 5 tomatoes in the UK are imported – making it imperative that I try a Bloody Mary, in the name of research, of course).
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Like English aristocrats (well maybe one and a convict mate), Murray and me sip tea while we catch up on the past, plot fantasy-filled futures and plan our day ahead in the city in which I first arrived 20 years ago as a backpacker. But it was not the likes of Lancaster London for me back then, but the Oxford Street Youth Hotel, and I still get a buzz wandering along one of London’s best shopping streets all these years later, catching ghost-like glimpses of my younger self in the reflections of familiar buildings.
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Our Monopoly-board adventure continues down to Piccadilly Circus for lunch, Murray’s marathon legs 10 paces in front of me as I plead with him to slow down. It reminds me of our Singapore Sundays, where we’d meet and spend the day exploring the sticky city, jumping on random boats, searching for beaches, and like many expats I suspect, daring to dream of what we’d do next when we left south-east Asia. But it’s not Singapore but through Soho we trek this day, and on to Covent Garden, grabbing a bar and a beer just in time to escape a typical London downpour. Then we step off the board, and across the River Thames to amble along South Bank, check out the theatre listings, snatch another brew, fly through the Tate Modern, before heading back across the river towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
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The whole day we’re chatting, scheming, laughing and in my case, limping along, by now my dress boots proving unsuitable for the pace and length of London we are traversing. But on we march towards East London and Brick Lane for its famed Indian restaurants. We could do anything this Saturday night in one of the world’s most exciting capital cities, but after eight hours of walking, blistered feet and some weeks of travel for both of us, we concede defeat and head back to my suite.
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Like a comfortable old couple we lay on the couches, drink wine and watch the Chelsea Flower Show on TV before Murray falls asleep on his assigned couch and I retreat to the bedroom. A swift goodbye early the next morning and Murray is off to Geneva, the only evidence of his stay the scent of his cologne in the bathroom which lingers like a bittersweet moment. It’s both the curse and the blessing of the insatiable traveller, who gets to meet so many people around the globe, only to say goodbye to them again, not knowing when or where in the world we might meet in the future. Several hours later I, too, reluctantly leave my sweet suite and head to the airport, this time bound for Stockholm buoyed by old faces, old places and magnificent new memories. Till we meet again.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Lancaster London. Lancaster London is a member of Summit Hotels & Resorts, a brand of Preferred Hotel Group. To write your own London adventure go to http://www.lancasterlondon.com