Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Hong Kong sojourn

Recently, I took the plunge and made a trip to Hong Kong. It was an experience that left me with memories that I cherish. Not everything was positive and hunky-dory, but certainly there were so many highlights, that this account may only do short justice to them. This account will be in series, as there is way too much to recount and I do not want to keep you away from whatever else you are engaged in, for that long (at least I would like to think what I write is engaging enough).

Pre-travel perception

Hong Kong. Meaning 'fragrant harbour'. Marketed as Asia's World City. And it is. No doubts about that. At all. My perception about Hong Kong was based on a few Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh flicks and more recently based on my interaction with colleagues who were from this pulsating city/state.

Being an intrepid traveller, after hearing so much about the city from my former colleagues, it was a rather natural choice to go and directly experience the place. And one short week, has left me with a taste for want more. Much more.

The flight experience

Departure Terminal 3, IGI Airport, Delhi
Even from Kerala, that is so well connected by airlines to the Gulf countries, rather than other parts of the world, due to the significant population working in the Middle Eastern countries, with technological advances I was able to book my trip tickets on line and get to Hong Kong. It did involve rather tedious waiting periods at the new glitzy IGI airport in Delhi, however since this was my first trip out of India through Delhi in recent times, it was memorable.

I also found it interesting that the local airline, I used is still on the learning curve as far as international travel is concerned. One of the key points being that for most international airlines, if a stop on the way to the destination lasts for more than 8 hours, usually the traveller is offered a hotel room to rest - absolutely not the case here! Spending a night sitting on one of the modern benches at the Delhi airport leaves you feeling rather bleary and with a crick in the neck. But having made the decision to go, I suppose it is part of the experience. Would I repeat it? No. We learn from our experiences, don't we? I would rather take an airline that gives me more comforts, for the price that I pay, to go long distance.

The first view

Travelling to a place that is time-wise ahead of India is always fraught with the chances of being bleary eyed and woolly headed, given the time difference with my body clock. But the excitement of the first time, usually makes it bearable.

Hong Kong, first view from air
And if the flight arrives early morning at the destination, it is more than made up by the fantastic vistas one gets to see from the aircraft window, thanks to the morning sun light.

To me, it is also a reminder that however much, I view images or read about a place on line , nothing beats being there and experiencing it first hand.

The first peeks through the clouds start getting the heart pumping a bit faster. Yes! made it, is the usual thought.

I have been repeatedly told that Hong Kong is a congested place, given that only 20% of the available land mass is used for human occupation versus the sheer density of the population residing there. Sounds similar to India, would it be? Not quite, as I discovered.

Immigration is an unusually smooth process for me. I am an Indian. I am not used to being given visas (and that too free!) on arrival in any country. At this point, bubbles a thought in my head - I really do not understand why the Indian government cannot have a reciprocal on arrival visa arrangement with at least the top 40 countries that Indians generally travel or have visitors arrive from. But that is another blog post for later.

Having gone through the smooth stamping of the passport process, picked up the luggage and freshened up at the airport itself. When everything is clean, neat, organised and sign posted, it is such a relief! Met my close friend, who had very kindly agreed to be my guide for this trip.

Double deck bus at the HK international airport
It was agreed that taking the City Bus A11, departing from the airport and arriving finally at the North Point ferry terminus, is a good option, as we were supposed to get down at Wan Chai. Turned out otherwise, though. It was a modern double deck bus that came up to the bus station just outside the terminus.

Going in, understood that while I could keep my small backpack with me, the one medium sized luggage I had, was too large for the steps to the upper deck, so had to leave it on the luggage rack near the entrance. And as this was the first views on land, I was keen to go and sit on the upper deck, as it would afford great views. So modern are these buses, that there are video cameras and small LCD screens that show the interior of the bus, allowing you to keep an eye out for the luggage as well. Unfortunately, the bus we got in, the camera had fogged up due to the humidity and the visibility was very low on the LCD screen. The only stop in the next one hour that it took for us to reach Wan Chai, was at the Macau ferry terminus, Sheung Wan. Many people got off the bus, as I guess they were travelling to Macau or getting off at Sheung Wan.

So excited I was sitting on top and enjoying the views as well as catching up with my friend, I didn't notice anything else. Came down at the Wan Chai bus stop and received a hard mental blow! My luggage was no longer there. Somebody had taken it, when leaving the bus as the stop about 20 minutes back. First time ever this has happened to me, in all my world travels. A surreal feeling. It slowly registers in my head that I have actually lost all my clothes, gifts, toiletries, etc. Luckily, I had all my important documents and the camera with me in the back pack.

Got off the bus. My friend and I were dismayed. But nothing much that we could do at that point of time. Meantime, the stomach has started growling like crazy. So first stop, feed the stomach. Rest will follow. Off to a nearby Yoshinoya - a Japanese food chain that serves pretty good quality food at reasonable prices. Lovely bowl of beef noodles with hot tea, and the stomach had quietened down. What next?

North Point bus terminus
The first thing we did was to go to the Wan Chai Police Station and register the loss/theft of luggage. Then we visited the North Point ferry terminus - the last stop for the A11. We found a bag there with the terminus official, left by another Indian traveller from Delhi to Hong Kong via an Air India flight. The immediate thought was, ok maybe it is just a mix up. The bag was not exactly similar to mine, but at a quick glance it was possible - same colour and all that. So there was hope that maybe this is all just a mix up and that when the person realises his mistake, the bag will be exchanged through City Bus.

Sadly, despite the many follow ups by my friend, various calls and emails to City Bus offices, the Macau Ferry company and the HK Police, my luggage was never located. Thus started my trip. But hold on.

It was not a write off. Not at all. Many more interesting experiences were going to happen. This was only a small blip in the other wise beautiful experience. And yet another lesson learnt.

The rest of the experience continues in the next post.


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