Year Of The Monkey 2009: Sunless In Shanghai
SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1995

Year Of The Monkey 2009: Health Scare In Hong Kong

In an amusing irony, McMug and McDull are advertising Pocari Sweat, which may have been part of the cure for what I'm calling my bout of Man Swine Flu. [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 24th-26th

If I'm honest, the rot set in after we parted company with Dee in Shanghai. During the tour, she nagged us all into making sure we were drinking lots of water regularly, and even bought us rehydration salts to make sure our lost minerals were being topped up. And I dutifully followed her advice, only to forget it all once we'd checked out of the Liang An Hotel.

After a day of traipsing round the Shanghai shops and an evening of spicy food at Di Shui Dong, I had a night of bowel-related unpleasantness that would stretch over the following two days. Which means I spent nearly a whole weekend in Hong Kong tired, with stomach cramps, no appetite and frequent bouts of minor nausea. It's lucky I was doing all that in The Funnest Place On EarthTM, otherwise I'd have had a really bad time.

Yes, I'm well aware it could have been much, much worse. After all, I technically had to lie on the swine flu symptoms form I filled in on arrival at Hong Kong Airport, although I justified this to myself by insisting the previous night was just a one-off episode. Except the moment I'd cleared customs, I went to the loo and watched the world fall out of my bottom all over again. Put that together with the lethargy that came over me the following day, and you end up with The Belated Birthday Girl frantically checking me for other symptoms every few minutes, touching my forehead while we were in really hot places and saying "you're really hot!" Still, you've probably noticed by now that the title isn't H1N1 In Hong Kong: at the time of writing, it looks like I've dodged that particular bullet. (Having said that, I'm actually writing this on a plane out of HK that appears to be full of tubercular coughers, so we'll have to wait and see if that last sentence continues to hold up.)

Our base for the final weekend of this tour was a snazzy boutique hotel between Wan Chai and Causeway Bay called the Cosmo, which is like the younger hipper cousin of the more traditional Cosmopolitan Hotel two doors down the road. Terrific views of the city, directly overlooking Happy Valley Racecourse (sadly, the racing season's just finished), with a complimentary copy of Time Out Hong Kong in the room and free wi-fi in the bar. And how nice it was to be in a country with freely available internet. (True story, following on from Fischer's comment the other day: on our last morning in Shanghai, I was following my usual collection of RSS feeds and clicked on a link from The Onion entitled The Internet Allows For A Free Exchange Of Unmitigated Information. Yeah, that looks funny to you now, but I was in Shanghai when I opened that page. Didn't find out until later that The Onion was running a China special that week. Bastards. Like my bowels weren't loose enough already.)

Anyway, the combination of TOHK and free wi-fi allowed us to make plans for our first evening in Hong Kong. We knew up front that all we'd have time for in two days would be a Greatest Hits tour, starting with the traditional Friday night combo of dinner and a movie. Dinner was at Food Forum, a collection of 20 restaurants on the top four floors of the Times Square mall: so popular, it took ten minutes of queueing just to get into the lift, and then ages trying to find a place with the right combination of nice food and a free table. We found it in Oceanna, a seafood restaurant that did us each a delicious grilled barramundi and a rare (for this holiday) glass of wine. If I'd known at the time it was going to be my last proper meal for 24 hours, I'd have taken a bit longer over it.

But we had to rush, because we had our movie booked at the UA Cinema in the same mall. Homegrown product is almost as thin on the ground in HK as it was in China: looking through the listings of all the major cinema chains, there appeared to be a grand total of two new local films showing anywhere. Annoyingly, things will get better the Friday after we leave, with the release of Overheard (a new thriller from the Infernal Affairs guys) and the latest franchise entry from McDull (the faintly irritating but frustratingly popular cartoon pig, whose box office prospects must be at risk from the whole H1N1 thing).

This is Aaron Kwok doing 'intense' here. So the one film we saw in the whole two weeks of our holiday (barring anomalies like the Finnair airplane edit of Watchmen, with its closing credits compressed into 59 seconds) ended up being Murderer, a thriller with Cantopop star Aaron Kwok in the lead. For the first hour, it seems like a mashup of cliches from cop movies of the last few years - a serial killer with a taste for unpleasant gore, being chased by a detective who's finding all the evidence points back to him being the culprit, plus he's got amnesia so he's not really sure if he did it or not. By this point, you're weighing up the possibilities of who the killer could be. But nothing can prepare you for the sheer mentalism of the actual solution to the mystery: and once it's revealed, the film takes off into even wilder spirals of crazy that make it compulsive viewing. It's so bonkers, I feel I have to spoil it for you: so if there's any possibility at all that you'll ever see Murderer, skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, highlight the white space below with your mouse for the full horror.

[Ready? Okay. Here we go. The murderer is actually Aaron Kwok's five-year-old adopted son. He's really a 40-year-old criminal genius with an anti-ageing disease, who is destroying Kwok's life as revenge for being bullied by him when he was a real child.]

Told you.

Saturday morning in Hong Kong, and the only breakfast I can face is coffee and a single slice of toast. Things are going to have to be taken slowly in the short term. Luckily, Hong Kong's transport system is still as efficiently integrated as ever. Although it was a bit of a disappointment to get to Wan Chai MTR station only to find that the Octopus payment cards we've held onto ever since our 2005 visit are no longer valid. No matter: it was going to be a day of short hop journeys anyway, so single tickets would work just fine.

Our first trip was to the Peak Tram: like I said, we were sticking with the classics. Inevitably, how much you enjoy the view is entirely at the mercy of the weather, something we discovered to our cost in 2005. There was a brief spell of appalling rain when we first arrived, which seemed to get worse every time you looked out of the window. But once it dried out and cleared up, the view was as spectacular as it's ever been. And as The BBG points out, it's a view that's different every time you visit: there's always at least one more new skyscraper in the process of being erected. (Currently, it's the International Commerce Centre.)

The main thing about the Peak that changes is the level of commercial exploitation of the Peak Terminal. Since my first visit, more and more of the elevated viewing platforms have been taken over by restaurants: the latest development is the Sky Terrace, where you pay a premium entrance fee to get onto the last few bits of platform that used to be freely open to the public. Happily, there are still fine views available from outside the building, and some of those restaurants are actually worth eating in. However, because of my dicky tummy, on this occasion we had to make do with the windowless environment of Oliver's Super Sandwiches, where I picked my way listlessly through a chocolate muffin that callously reminded me of what real bowel movements used to look like.

Hey, 2IFC! Too *cool* to take part in the Symphony Of Lights, are you? Well, we can fix that. (Original photo by The BBG, subtle post-production work by me) Back to the hotel for a couple of hours napping, which at least reduced my symptoms to a mere total lack of appetite: and then it was off on a bus to catch the Star Ferry. Still the best value for money you'll get on public transport anywhere in the world, for the equivalent of 20p you get a five minute ferry crossing across the 'fragrant harbour' that Hong Kong gets its name from. Well, maybe not so fragrant these days: but at 7pm, with the sun going down and the lights coming up on the buildings of Central, it's still a wonder to behold.

Which is why when the Ferry pulls into Tsim Sha Tsui pier - a curious mixture of tourist tat shops and Falun Gong protest stands - the harbour at that end is crammed with people staring at those buildings, or pointing cameras at them. They're waiting for the Symphony Of Lights, the ludicrously over-the-top city-wide light show we caught by chance in 2005. Without the element of surprise it had back then, it's not quite as charming as it was. More unforgivably, the owners of the 2IFC building appear to have taken my comments about "shooting green laser jizz out of the end of its tungsten-illuminated glans" personally, as the tallest structure on the Central skyline no longer plays any part in the 15 minute show. Spoilsports.

By then it was time for dinner, and even emergency rehydration with a bottle of Pocari Sweat sports drink didn't seem to have got me in the mood for solids. Nevertheless, we headed back to the Cosmo, and took advantage of the discount arrangement they had with the Cosmopolitan's restaurant, La Maison de l'Orient, for our last big meal of the holiday. As the name implies, it's a very posh place with both Western and Chinese dishes on offer. It amused me to horrify The BBG by ordering sweet and sour pork there, with the excuse "I'm ill, I need comfort food." But here's the thing: it worked. The first three-quarters of the pork was a struggle, as I nibbled my way through it piece by piece. Then suddenly, as if God had transferred his Dimmer Switch from the sun to my stomach and given it an eclipse-sized flick of the wrist, my appetite came back instantly, and I wolfed the last quarter of it down. It's a miracle! (Or it could be the Pocari Sweat, I suppose.)

As I write this on the plane approaching Helsinki - in longhand, mind you, I'm not trusting Finnair's power sockets again - it looks like I'm over the worst of my ails. A couple of hours more, and we'll be back home in London. And then there's one more small job that The BBG and I have to take care of: deciding what you get to see from the 18GB of photos and video we've shot over the last two weeks. We'll get back to you on that one. We may be some time.


Suzanne Vega in the club

Sorry to hear about your health probs (food poisoning is no joke as I can testify). However I trust none of that will be included in the 18GB.

Old Lag

Oh well happy days, but I thought you were going to be in China during the Edinburgh Festival, so you do not really have a decent excuse do you?

Old Lag

In terms of social organisation and the mobile phone regret the old days when you said you would at an isolated train station in Italy at 12:45 and you would be there on the dot. The up side of 'I'm running late' from everyone concerned is that it makes life so incredibly much easier organising holidays on the run and sorting out the problems that arise that you do. Wonder how we ever managed without mobiles. Is it just my imagination or did the BBG be very anti mobile phone?

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