Our journey began with a slight problem at the airport: we discovered that we did not have three cases of 23 kilos available for our combined flights on Cathay Pacific (Susie) and SAS (me), but one of 30 kilos and one of 23. The man from Cathay Pacific told us that there would be an estimated charge of about £600 for one extra piece of luggage in the hold, which he calmly explained to us with a sympathetic and pained look on his face.
We filled one case to the max of 30 kilos, but still had about 7 kilos to get rid of. Susie had the brilliant idea of filling the bike bag with clothing, putting the bike back ‘nude’ in the suitcase, and ditching the spare, now-empty case (it was pretty knackered anyway). Our new pal at Cathay Pacific very helpfully told us that SAS might well accept this bike bag as my hand luggage, despite it looking a bit oversized. So with all our fingers crossed I said farewell to Susie until we met up again at our hotel, and set off to get this large blue bag onto my two flights.
London was a bit dicey, as ahead of me in the boarding queue I could see that they were pulling several passengers aside for having over-weight hand luggage. With a bit of flanelling and irrelevant question-asking, I edged past the woman at the desk and crammed my Big Blue Buckerton Bike Bag in the overhead locker.
At Copenhagen, it was all plain sailing: I did have to rush to make my connection dragging the bag along with me, but actually got there in time to board first, and no one seemed at all bothered about luggage. Here it was all about visas for connecting flights, and petty baggage issues were forgotten.
It all seemed a bit silly to have spent so much time trying to keep weight down when we packed at home, only to find that we ended up about 24 kilos over the limit. I had even taken a book in my hand luggage with me that had the first few chapters torn off, and put the rest in the hold for later to save weight.
My flight from Copenhagen to Hong Kong took off in a glorious sunset over the city and surrounding islands. We banked sharply into dramatic clouds and headed east, setting off to meet the sun on the other side of the Earth, about ten hours later…
As I raised the window shutters beside my seat as requested by the air stewardess, I was afforded a superb view of many of my planned destinations on this trip, the Outlying Islands of Hong Kong, directly beneath our flightpath into Chek Lap Kok airport. Each appeared to have its own weather system, and many of them were completely uninhabited.
The final sight before landing was the astounding new road bridge across from HK to Macau, which I’m told is now the longest bridge in the world.
My cab driver was called Alex, and he gave me a very different and unexpected take on the recent street protests in the city. “They’re all stupid!”, he told me. “If you make so much noise, China will be looking at you more closely!”. He was born in Hong Kong and his family had lived there for over 80 years. He remembered the rickshaw drivers and coolies (of which more in future blogs) who used to fill the streets in the past. “All gone in 1960s, now all cars. SO busy!” He said. Alex told me he was near to retirement age, but planned to keep his cab running until he dropped. “If Hong Kong is still here”, he added, eyebrows raised.
We had supper with all of the other ABRSM examiners here for the month, who swapped stories of their previous experiences on this HK tour. Susie and I took a stroll along the Kowloon waterfront afterwards, and we couldn’t help but notice that we kept passing small groups of young Chinese people, dressed all in black and wearing black face masks. They would remove them occasionally to take a drink of water or to talk on their phones, but they were clearly getting ready for action. We sat for a while and watched the spectacular skyline slowly light up in the twilight, but our eyes were closing so returned to our lovely hotel, the Intercontinental Grand Stanford (no harbour view, but looking out on one of the smaller streets facing north into Kowloon instead).We awoke to find that Hong Kong was once again the headline story in the world’s news, and that the protests had happened overnight right on our doorstep in Tsim Sha Tsui (pronounced Sim Sau Choy), unbeknownst to us, with rioting, tear gas, baton-wielding, and spraypainting. Meanwhile inside the hotel all is calm and peace with nothing to disturb our delicious Dim Sum breakfast, which is a little surreal. The South China Morning Post says that more protests are expected, but not in the same place. We’re off for a walkabout now, and will see what’s happening out there today.