Refueling in Hong Kong
As it did during the pilot study, Hong Kong played the role of refueling station, a place for breathing, recouping, and preparing for the second half of the trip. And, as was the case during the pilot study, it rained most of our time there.
Though if I were to use the rain as an excuse for the fact that our cycles spent most of their time rusting on the balcony of our gorgeous apartment, I would be lying. Most of our time was spent on foot, in fact, and much of it even apart, as I wandered the city with my mother and John, and Scott caught up with his many friends in the old British Colony.
So please forgive your humble correspondents for fast forwarding through a few days spent wandering through rainy city streets, folding and unfolding umbrellas, dashing in and out of shops, purchasing much-needed goods, and generally replenishing body and spirit. Though perhaps during the fast forward, it might behoove me to mention a certain mission.
Hong Kong has long been famous for its tailors, and AsiaWheeling happens to subscribe to a certain Mr. William Cheng (and Sons). When not traipsing across the globe, sweating profusely, or bargaining over provisions, even your humble correspondents at times need to look sharp. And for that we look to Mr. Cheng. My mother and John had been somewhat impressed with the shirts I had procured from the man during the pilot study, and had decided to have some items of their own made. For John, a few shirts and a jacket, for my mother replicas of her favorite shirts and blouses. The mission was an eleventh hour success, culminating in Mr. Cheng sending one of his minions to our apartment to do some final measurements and last minute alterations to the garments.
And then, quite unexpectedly, it was our last night in Hong Kong.
We made reservations at a certain hot pot restaurant, which had been recommended by Scott’s friend, Rob. The place was jam-packed with people when we walked in, and a table with a large hole in the center was waiting for us. Inside the hole in the table was a burner, and onto the burner, of course, would go a large bowl of boiling broth. We chose a split broth, half pear and fish, and half spicy Sichuan. This meant that the boiling reservoir would be split by a metal divider into two separate sections, each of which would be filled with a separate broth. We also ordered a vast array of meats and vegetables to plunge into the soup.
With the ordering done, we headed over to a section of the restaurant where diners were encouraged to create their own dipping sauces. Here, you could choose from a wide array of oils and sauces, chopped herbs and spices, and unknown pastes. We dove in.
As is the case with most Chinese restaurants, the food came fast, and it seemed we were no sooner back from the sauce-concocting table, than the hot pot arrived, already nearly boiling. Another thing about hot pot that is particularly enjoyable is that it takes quite a bit of time to eat. We enjoyed a few hours of slowly working our way through the vegetables and meats, burning our tongues plenty on the boiling broth, and managing to splatter bits of hot oil everywhere.
As the hot pot boiled, the spicy Sichuan section began to grow increasingly intolerable. It consisted of what I believe was a pork or chicken broth with a great many floating hot peppers, and a startling kind of numbing peppercorn called Ma La (麻辣 – literally meaning numbing and spicy). It seemed that as the peppers boiled, they released an increasing amount of truly corrosive chemicals into the soup. Now, dear reader, I would be the first to challenge a fellow world traveler to a spicy food eating competition, but this soup began to get the better of even me. My stomach became a boiling furnace of spicy oil, and I too was forced to throw in the towel, switching all focus to the pear and fish broth.
It was my first defeat by a spicy dish on AsiaWheeling, and I considered it a great success. As I rode back in the cab, breathing through my fiery indigestion, I gave a solemn tip of the Panama hat to those who dared concoct such a demonic broth.
The next morning, all was well again in my stomach, and I awoke at the crack of dawn to walk my mom and John to the airport. While John packed the last of his belongings for the flight back to Iowa, my mother helped to clean a heavy coat of rust from the chains of the Speed TRs. Then we were off. As we rolled their suitcases over the uneven pavement and into the metro, I thought back on the supremely comfortable nature of travel in China. Hong Kong seemed to me the epitome of a manageable city: well-organized, predictable, easy to navigate, well stocked. And in all honesty, mainland China is not so much more difficult, especially for those who speak a little Chinese. What a fine country this was. Hong Kong had been a good introduction, but I felt that next time I needed to take them to the mainland, where the noodles and the price performance easily eclipse the old British colony.
With my mom and John safely on the airport express, I returned to the apartment to find Scott hard at work on the Internet, feasting on the last few hours of megabyte-per-second connection. Our flight was that evening at the somewhat uncivilized hour of 00:05. As a major consolation, however, it was going to be a flight on Emirates, one of AsiaWheeling’s favorite airlines. As the hour of our flight grew nearer, the sun began to sink in the sky. With a fair bit of frantic searching around the apartment to ensure that we were not leaving anything of great value behind, we once again grabbed our bags and the Speed TRs, now with freshly cleaned and lubricated chains, and headed down to the street.
We unfolded the cycles and strapped down our belongings, pulling into traffic. A constellation of one way streets continually pulled us away from our destination: the Hong Kong Central Station. An attempt to ride “subversively” as it is referred to in the latest edition of the AsiaWheeling field commands, resulted in a stern talking to by a Hong Kong police officer. No doubt had this occurred in the post-Soviet world, such an interaction would have terminated in a fine (graft). But here the policeman only politely told us to ride on the roads not the sidewalks, and to obey the same laws the cars did. This seemed reasonable, and he also explained how we could get to the station.
Hong Kong sports a large central tram-line, and it was along this that we rode. The speed of the trams is significantly slower than that of even a fully loaded wheeler, so we were easily able to use these tramways as an effective mainline to the station, ever aware of the danger of putting a wheel into the rut next to the rail.
At the central station, we checked our bags (including the Speed TRs) at a dedicated Emirates counter. The service was complimentary along with the purchase of tickets on the speedy airport express train. So with the bikes folded, padded and bagged, now in the careful hands of the folks at Emirates, we climbed onto the train. All concerned were in high spirits and excited to embark on the next chapter.
We had certainly heard many stories about Dubai. A great city, built in a matter of years out of the desert. It had been called gaudy, unsustainable, reckless, and the epitome of “Nouveau Riche.” It had also been called one of the greatest achievements of human engineering, a fascinating melting pot of cultures, and one of the most breathtaking cities in the world. Certainly, we needed to wheel it.