Breathe a sigh of relief! I’m about to celebrate my 21st and Aprilmayhem will come to an end.
But not quite yet, because Hong Kong is now outside our Langham Hotel window. Down there is food like no other place, Sam, tailor to the rich and royal, Marks and Spencer whose pants accidently fit me and shops to bring our near-comatose credit cards out for a final death defying appearance.
A word about the Langham, that fragrant centre of solace in the final pause before Sydney. Even though we are not middle eastern royalty booking out half a floor, we are treated as special, wallowing in the false importance we are accorded. This time we were upgraded to one of the hotel’s recently renovated rooms. I always liked the old rooms. They were not very big but were well designed for overburdened travellers. How much better could the new ones be? The answer is, not. While they’ve gone mausoleum marble in the bathroom they’ve left out the second basin. In the bedroom we now have a marble fireplace with real logs sitting in it, but if we lit them we would be arrested. There is a set of open shelves displaying books and vases and artwork of no particular merit or use. The bed would easily sleep four and the spaces in the wardrobe are largely taken up with its internal organs. There is a laden cabinet housing items that we will have to pay for if we use them and, of course, the dreaded minibar waiting to bring about financial hardship. In the entire, designer dominated room there are only two drawers. The useful desk of yore has been replaced by a round table and two lounge chairs which tells me that people who use computers in their rooms are a tad downmarket. Yes, I’m carrying on about not much, and I still love the place, but I don’t like to see good upgrade money being dominated by interior design rather than practicality.
I took my New York sourced shirting fabrics to Sam the tailor in Nathan Road. His turbaned manager looked down his nose at them and, after waving his ruler about like a magic wand, smugly announced that only one out of the five had enough fabric to make a long sleeved shirt. Short sleeved was manageable – just. I was crestfallen. How could New York’s Mood Fabrics have been so wrong? Sam shrugged his shoulders in support of his manager – with the non-verbalised message that if you bring your own fabric you deserved to be treated as the idiot you are. I decided to accept the long sleeve plus one short sleeve (in the eye-assaulting print) and took the rest away to try another tailor near the hotel. He was dearer, but more optimistic, immediately accepting one for long sleeve and later agreeing to all three.
To escape the Saturday rain, which is depressing and dangerous in downtown Hong Kong because of eye-gouging umbrellas, we allowed ourselves to be prospected by a man with a colourful sign and supporting brochures praising his pedicure and foot massage service. He took us inside a building where he turned out to be one of the masseuses and his wife the other. He attended to Michelle while the wife donned a powerful miner’s lamp to get a better look at my disgusting feet. She went to work with some kind of scraping instrument, sending down a shower of skin flakes that resembled snow. I feared my feet would be whittled away to stumps when she switched tack with nail snipping and painful massage. Michelle did somewhat better, only having ordered reflexology. We had to admit to feeling more fleet of foot as we again joined the jostling crowd in now heavier rain.
We’d booked at one of our favourite restaurants for Saturday night: The Red Pepper in Causeway Bay. I am not much of a drinker, but I always get drunk at the Red Pepper. The reason is that the Szechuan food is so hot that in order to ward off spontaneous combustion you must drink beer. The restaurant should serve its own brand from a fire hydrant shaped bottle, but on this occasion I had to make do with Tsingtao. When you order chilli beef, chicken and green beans the chilli index is equal to that of nuclear waste. That’s what we ordered and the beer dousing did the usual job on me. We travelled by train to get there and I travelled home on autopilot, locked on to Michelle’s ankles as she led the way, mobile phone in hand, conducting a conversation with Siri.
Hotel Toaster Review
Because the Langham is such an elegant hotel, I expected an elegant toaster, maybe a Faberge French masterpiece or even the sun-fired crumpetiser used on the International Space Station. But no. I found two plain, middle aged, round shouldered six slotters. They are, in fact, no better than a long wheelbase domestic model. Each can make one piece of toast or up to six. There is an inspection lever to see how your toast is going but you must also inspect everybody else’s, and some people hate their toast being looked at during toasting. Furthermore, the timer is small and dark and can turn off the toaster by stealth while the hapless clients run out of patience and walk away.
On Sunday morning, in the interests of avoiding the consequences of the Langham six slotter toaster, we took to the subway and went across to the island for breakfast. The Hong Kong underground train system is really an underground walking system in which you cover vast distances on foot between short train rides. Our walk after disembarkation brought us into contact with the Hong Kong equivalent of the Spanish running of the bulls. Here, it is called the meeting of the Filipina girls. They are the employed domestic help to the Hong Kong rich, and Sunday is their day off. They meet and sound like migratory birds in their thousands at the railway stations and parks of Hong Kong Island.
Once through that throng we joined a queue at Tim Ho Wan, a strange little café in a long, deserted shopping arcade. It is Michelin-star famous for yum cha, and is able to process patrons in about 20 minutes. Tiny tables and hard chairs deter lingering. But the reward for such taste-haste is price and outstanding flavour – a contrast in this outrageously expensive city.
Prices in Hong Kong are through the roof compared to our last visit four years ago. Forget the cheap cassette player and clothing. Michelle went to buy a box of throat pastilles that cost A$5 in Australia against A$16 here. I love the clothes at Shanghai Tang but a cotton shirt for A$500? Because it was pouring outside we took breakfast at the Langham today where the management made the mistake of bringing us the bill before we’d finished. We were sitting down at a hundred dollar plus breakfast – bearing in mind that the Langham is not the most expensive hotel in Hong Kong. We secreted the breakfast bill under out dinner napkin and surreptitiously continued towards our lunchtime nutritional needs. Pussy’s bow came and went. The waiter kept taking away plates and we kept returning with new, laden ones. We waddled out, having done our bit to fight Hong Kong inflation.
And so it’s goodbye from me, and thanks for your company. Once again I express my awe and gratitude to Michelle for being the best personal travel agent ever and unerringly leading me to new and exciting places. She has mastered the navigational technology of the mobile phone, is a personal friend of Siri and a devotee of Uber. Without her I’d still be wandering around Sydney Airport trying to leave.