There’s a typhoon headed for Hong Kong. It’s one of the largest storms on record and it’s supposed to hit Hong Kong on Sunday. We’re supposed to fly out Saturday evening. We’re cutting it a little close.
We finally depart Vietnam after our 12th hotel breakfast in a row. I tried to get coffee but there was a hotel employee defending it. I thought I had a good thing going with this country. They aren’t overly eager to do shit for you like take your bags up to the room or load them into cabs, but this lady was determined to get my coffee for me. So I waited until she left her post and went for it. I got to the coffee station, grabbed a cup and turned around to go back to my table. There she was, filling the cup I’d left at the table. Fine. Stand there and watch me double fist these coffees.
We took a cab to the airport. The driver took a call and put it on speaker phone. He and his friend talked for about 10 minutes, laughing the entire time. They were cracking each other up. He hung up the phone and immediately stated singing and making liberal use of his horn. He honked the entire 40 minute ride. A few times I saw him raise his hands in front of his face, palms pressed together in the universal signal for serenity now.
We boarded our plane and discovered that we weren’t sitting together.
Economy has its own class system ruled by the window and aisle people. Anyone with a person on either side of them is a mark who clearly doesn’t know anything about travel. It was not a full flight so I had two empty seats next to me, a rarely seen class of passenger generally considered to be holy and treated with deference and respect. I finished J.G. Ballard’s High Rise and slept the rest of the way. We bounced on the runway in Hong Kong
Hong Kong airport, when viewed at a walking pace, is a nice place. It’s huge and well organized. We stood waiting for our bags watching the belt that feeds the carousel wait until there was an empty space to feed another bag. Ooh la la.
We got our bags and our Octopus cards. These cards are primarily used for public transport, but are also accepted at a bunch of merchants. You can use them everywhere and it’s super fast. Place the card on the reader, it beeps and you’re done. You get your bags, get your card, and you’re right onto the subway into the city. Very well organized.
We checked into our hotel in Causeway Bay and received a double blow; there’s no butt washer and there’s no complimentary breakfast. I’m not sure how we’re going to feed ourselves. The room is the smallest room we’ve been in so far which really enhances the feeling that the walls are closing in on us. You want to be right on top of each other after almost two weeks when your patience is at its most generous.
We left the hotel and finally surrendered the bulk of the planning to a local guide. The intrepid Rachael Pegg, a British national living in HK whom Joe and I met a number of years ago in Los Angeles. It is a massive relief to finally have somewhere other than google and Joe’s instinct to turn to for restaurant recommendations. She took us to Dumplings Yuan. We ate dumplings and her and her mate regaled us with harrowing tales of inner city London school teaching. I think Joe and I were pretty pleased listening to someone, anyone, other than each other.
After dinner we took a ding ding, an incredibly slow but charming double decker trolley with a vaguely racist sounding name, to Happy Valley. Happy Valley is a horse track right in the middle of Hong Kong island. We used our Octopus cards to get in. We can debate the wisdom of letting people use their transportation money to access a gambling facility at another time. WE were thrilled.
The place was packed and the atmosphere was festive. There was a salsa band playing and everyone seemed to generally be having a great time. Not knowing much about horse racing we knitted our brows at the odds boards, trying to decipher the grids of numbers. Eventually we purchased a program and a frozen blackberry beer which was a little sweet for Joe’s tastes. Rachael’s friends showed up and taught us what they knew about horse betting. It was enough. Armed with alcohol and information, we decided it was time to place some bets.
In race number 6 I picked Our Hero, mostly so I could cheer for Our Hero. Joe picked My Beginner’s Luck for obvious reasons. We laid “place” bets, which means you win a reduced payout if your horse finishes first, second, or third. Out of 11 horses, ours finished 9 and 11. Undeterred, we queued up to place bets for race 8 and learned how to fill out a race card.
8 is a lucky number here and horse number 8 was called Eighty Eighty, an obvious lock. Full disclosure, it was also the favorite. I bet on that one and Joe bet on a horse called Smart Boy. We pushed our way up to the fence. The starting gates were on a different part of the track so we didn’t really see the start, but we could feel the energy. When the horses go past, it’s very exciting, but the rest of the race you’re kind of looking around wondering how these enormous animals could possibly be completely obscured from view. It’s also kind of hard to tell which horse won. They show you the race order while the race is in progress but it changes quickly and then when they cross the finish line, they take all the information down and you have to wait a couple minutes for them to post the final results. So there’s a period of intense cheering, followed by a minute of looking at each other and shrugging before finally, “Wooo!” Eighty Eighty had won.
I won $60 which is great if you don’t count the $150 I lost on the first race, but I consider that tuition fees. Having nowhere to go from there but down, we took our winnings and headed home.
When we got back to the hotel, we noticed a bar with a dart board a few doors down.
Nahhh. It’s late…