Seeing a friend from university, waiting in Hong Kong’s arrival lounge made my tummy bubble with excitement. Our WhatsApp conversation when I was going through immigration resembled two giddy 14 year old girls about to see One Direction in concert. Seeing Tania’s gorgeous smiling face, instantly made me feel at home. I can’t wait to have such a dear friend be my local guide!
I stayed the first couple of nights in a hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui. This is a very central area and you can easily throw yourself into the hustle and bustle of it all. The Chinese people I’ve come across so far are lovely. But, points to note: they are very loud and they sneeze a lot. Personal space is also viewed differently here. If you’re in a queue, you’ll have someone’s warm Dim Sum breath on the back of your neck. In the airport, I was giving the person in front of me ‘English queue space’ – maybe stood about 50cm behind the man. The Chinese woman behind me actually nudged me forward saying “you go, you go.” THERE IS NO NEED TO BE ANY CLOSER!
Points to note: do not buy drinking yogurt from 7/11 in Hong Kong. It tasted like feet.
I’m in an area called Kowloon Tong. It is where Tania lives. Today we are volunteering at an old people’s home to help out with her Mum’s charity – SENsational. The charity helps to educate corporate companies about employing individuals with disabilities.
Today at the home, we chatted to the elderly, handed out goody bags and made sure everyone had plenty of lemon and honey tea (apart from the diabetics!) It really was quite an experience. I realised I didn’t have much experience with people that were very elderly and sometimes I struggled with what to say. Tania was incredible. When we visited those in the their rooms (because they could not leave their beds) I was completely speechless. One woman was frothing at the mouth, living through a drip and could not move or speak. One woman was so angry and confused and I have never been stared at with such hatred (although I’m sure it was not intentional). I have never witnessed people so old and ill before and it was quite upsetting to see. (Please be assured they were very well looked after in the lovely home!)
Back to the common room: I’ll never forget my conversation with the lady who has forgotten most of her life. Barbara has dementia. She thinks she was born in the south of England but doesn’t know where exactly. She also is convinced she is 67. Bless her, she is much older! What she does remember though, very vividly, is travelling the world at 21. Her grey eyes lit up when I told her I was doing the same. I told her I was looking forward to doing some hiking in Hong Kong. My heart clenched and tore apart when she said, “oh take me with you. I love walking.” She then held my hands and sounded desperate, “please. Take me with you.”
After an emotional rollercoaster at the home, it’s time to check-in at tonight’s accommodation. The buying multi-packs of croissants from 7/11 to last you through the day lifestyle is about to come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I still have 6 days left of backpacking. But Tania and I have just hit the jackpot… Tania works for Sassy online magazine and this weekend she has been asked to review The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. She gets a luxury stay there for free and I am her plus one. We. Cannot. Contain. Our. Excitement. The editor was supposed to do it, but she’s busy. “I’ve never had a work perk like this before” said Tania. “I got a free cupcake once.”
Just had some time in the Chinese herbal steam room. I’ve calmed down a bit so now I can talk you through it.
It is 25 floors of complete luxury. Hands down the best service I’ve ever had in my life. Do they realise I’m not important? Our room has a sensational view of the harbour. I almost passed out when I googled that it’s about 480 quid a night and a few years ago it was rated top 10 hotels in the world. I can see why…
We were served afternoon tea in our room. The jam had rose petals in. There was a white chocolate cream-cake that tasted like a white Ferrero Rocher and it may be the best sweet treat to ever sit in my tongue.
They gave us juice detox shots in test tubes because, well why not.
We had a pillow menu and sampled 9 pillows before choosing ‘NASA’ – designed to give astronauts supreme comfort.
We had a very relaxing gym and spa session. But whilst using the Chinese herbal steam room, there was a lady doing exercises. She was naked. Boobs and bush on full display. She was waving her arms around and doing lunges. ‘Feeling uncomfortable’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Back to the room and trying to wipe that sight from my mind. Physically, I’m totally relaxed. For the first time in a very long time, nothing hurts.
Safe to say I slept well last night. The breakfast was phenomenal and the service continues to blow my mind. A man scraped honey from a sheet of honeycomb for me. I went to the loo (washroom because I’m posh now) and the attendant (Wendy) washed my hands with jasmine lotion. This is not real life. It’s ok Wendy, I got this.
Tania has also been asked to review the 5* Dim Sum lunch on the 25th floor. Oh it’s a hard life. My favourite was the pumpkin and crab dumpling with chilli. Tania loved their famous beef dish – made with 96 layers of fine pastry. Dim sum after dim sum arrived and our bottomless Chinese tea meant I had to pay Wendy another visit. Then came my favourite part: the dessert. After my cashew nut cream pudding I was in a blissful food coma…. Time to hike Victoria Peak! Speaking of peaks, I think my life has now peaked, aged 21. And you know what, if this is the peak, I am more than ok with that.
After the hike, Tania says, “Liv, do you like lobster?” (She has already seen me eat lobster dumplings at lunch). That’s not the point. Tania has just been invited to a lobster tasting session TONIGHT and I’m going with her. Apparently I’m not allowed to leave Hong Kong. I’m clearly her good luck charm. My Dad messaged me saying “Gah, you could fall in a pile of shit and come up smelling of roses.” Thanks Dad. Love you too.
We quickly showered and popped on a dress and spent the evening inhaling lobster. #BackpackingLife
I’m now staying at Tania’s house for which I am very grateful. Her family are beautiful people. Today I went solo and hiked Dragon’s Back. Lots of thinking time trying to digest what the hell just happened. I have experienced true true true luxury. As amazing as it was, I also felt very undeserving of it. It was strange to feel uncomfortable about being SO comfortable. Does that make sense?
After my hiking adventure, I sat with Tania’s Mum (Faride) in what she calls her ‘Secret Garden.’ We sipped on green tea and I learnt more about her incredible charity. Faride really is such an inspirational woman. She is so encouraging and her attitude to life feels like the sun beaming through on a cloudy day.
After weaving through the famous ‘Ladies Market’ in Mongkok, Tania and I had dinner in a little local restaurant. Ah, I feel more like my backpacking self now. The unknown ‘fish balls’ are on my list of foods never to try again. I also asked the waiter for a tissue / napkin (my rookie chopstick skills meant fishy noodle juices were splashing). The language barrier meant he bought me back a pack of Kleenex and charged me an extra $3 on my bill.
I’ve smiled a hell of a lot these last few days. The last 4 and a bit months I have leaped from never wanting to go home to being desperate to be back in the UK.
Right now I only have 2 days left. I do not want to leave.