After the long 10-hour flight from Melbourne, my plane landed with an hour’s delay from the schedule at a little after 4am (the departure was delayed by more than an hour due to the late arrival of the aircraft’s incoming flight). Now comes the tough part – what do I do until 1pm departure of my flight out of there?
I thought for a moment about heading downtown. I could walk around the main street in Kowloon for a couple of hours, maybe sip a coffee, and head straight back. But somehow that was not what I wanted. Without a guidebook I opened up Google Map and glanced over the area around the airport. Tung Chung came to my attention, as I wrote here before. Some guidebook entry said that it used to be a small village but made a major transformation into another residential complex. That’s where I’ll go, where people live, and I’m sure, I was thinking, I’d find a hawker food somewhere. I didn’t want to go to any famous restaurant on guidebook; I just wanted to eat simple food with the locals.
As the plane landed, I went straight through the immigration. There was no question of “how long are you staying?” or “what is the purpose of your visit?”. They just flipped through my passport, compared the photo to me, and not a word, stamped a temp stay and passed it back to me with the carbon copy of the immigration card. Visiting Japan must feel like police questioning compared to that!
I remembered where the bus stop out of airport was. That memory was still fresh after my first trip to Hong Kong in January when I took my brother there for a short visit. Walking down the slope out of the arrival hall, I was trying to remember whether I needed the exact change. The list of bus route tells me that the fare for S1 is HK3.50. Combing through notes and coins left over from the last trip, I saw that I didn’t have the exact change. I saw the ticket counter for different bus routes and asked the auntie behind it. She said something that didn’t quite make sense, but told me where my bus was departing from (which I already knew, because I was there a moment ago) and she basically said something along the lines of pay the driver and get on board, which, again, was no news. So I went back to the bus stop and queued up. There was no shop in sight where I could buy something and get small change.
As the queue was a bit longer than when I was there earlier, I asked the lady in front of me whether I’d need the exact change. She said yes, unless I had the travel card. I used the card last time when I stayed for long enough, but this time, there was no point. She tells me I probably had to go back into the terminal to a convenience store to get small change. Nice. Just nice. That’s my second trip back into terminal (I wandered around there earlier just after arriving, couldn’t quite decide what to do). So once again I walked back up the slope, into the arrival hall, and found 7 Eleven just across. It was filled with people and a dozen people were queuing to pay for some snack. Picking up the familiar green package of Watson’s water that I used to see in Singapore while living there, I judged that I couldn’t be spending too much for it, though I had absolutely no idea what HK5.90 is worth. I could only judge that given the lowest fare on the bus out of airport, the short ride of it, is HK3.50, it should be reasonable. I didn’t know how much it was meant to be equivalent in yen or Australian dollar.
Got the change now, I went back in the new queue formed after another S1 bus had already gone. The bus went out and traveled around the grounds of the airport, stopping at another terminal, an airport hotel, in front of a large office building that seems to belong to one of Chinese airlines, and finally crossed the short bridge towards the forest of high-rising apartments. As the bus crossed, I saw a small bay with hills behind it. The sky was dark salmon pink after the sunset on a very hazy day. If only I had been more decisive and left the airport half hour earlier, I could have been pointing my camera at it. But it seems the photo hour for the day had already gone. While looking at Google Map before I left home I even imagined walking across the park to the old fishing village only a few kilometres away. But in the dark, without map, that didn’t seem to be a very good idea.
At least the air was very warm and pleasant, not too humid. Just hazy. I wonder if the yellow sand is flying this way as well, just like it blankets over everything on the east of China. When bus finally arrived at Tung Chung bus terminal, it was next to a big shopping complex. When I asked a flight attendant who was sitting next to me on the bus that was where the bus turned back, she wasn’t sure but told me that would be it. Turned out she was a fellow Japanese, but I had no special motivation to keep the tired girl from going home to rest, so I thanked her and walked across the bus terminal with the camera in my hand.
Finding a cheap hawker food turned out to be quite a challenge. With so many people living in this area, I was sure there would be a lot of people eating out. But somehow, the only eating places I could see were a few small franchise restaurants, coffee shops, expat bars and a large glass window high above the bus stop with housed the Food Republic, the food court franchise that has a few successful venues in Singapore as well. As the flight attendant girl mentioned, the factory outlet stores was there too. I’d read about it in guidebook back in January but I did not relate to the name of the place and I was standing right in front of it. Walking around the area, I saw some medical clinic complex, a couple of primary and secondary schools, condominium and their security gates, but nothing quite old and local. I was giving up on it and took the escalator up through the outlet stores busy on Friday evening (oh yeah, it is Friday night indeed), and came to the entrance of the Food Republic.
There at the entrance stood a few signs of some speciality food on offer from this stand and that, and I saw this at 180 bucks and that for 90 bucks. To tell the truth, I only had HK80 in my wallet, with some loose change, and I was actually hoping to get away with it without going to ATM. So I turned back and went back out of the building.
Walking around and around, somehow I came across an entrance to small market. All the shops were closing already, and people at fish shops were cleaning up their shelf and packing the ice into boxes. Hardware store was using the long stick with hook to bring down items hanging on display everywhere. And there they were, a few food stands, one seem to be more of pork and chicken, grilled or simmered, but I didn’t see the rice there. Maybe this one is more for people taking the meal home. The next one had stir fry and other stuff, with HK 20 meals including 5 or 6 varieties to choose from. Then there was this, where a few customers were having noodle soup in the box seat next to it, somebody is waiting to pick up take-away food, that seemed just right for me!
On the menu something in the ‘favourites’ box caught my eyes. It had mushroom/meat and the chinese character for noodle (which in Japan is used to mean ‘powder’) was there. I figured it would be ‘beef and mushroom noodle’, and I asked the girl to give me one to eat there. HK12. Cheap. Yes! After a few minutes, I got a small bowl of noodle. The uncle asked if I wanted sesami oil. I figured, why not. And then white pepper? If they ask, that must be good with it. Go ahead.
I sat down in the box and looked in to find something not quite ‘noodle’ as in the long string of white rice noodle that I’d expected. And I couldn’t see mince in it…
People who are familiar with eating in Hong Kong may know it, but this is like short pasta, rolled under hand or roller stick to make a short noodle which look just like snail (the one without shell). The soup was actually simple and good, sesami oil adding nice flavour. I flipped through the paperback on the left hand while sipping the soup with the right, and I was happy.
When I was lost at the airport for exact change, I almost just jumped on the train or the bus into town and walk there till I’m tired. But somehow I didn’t think I wanted to spend HK100 to get there, whatever that amount meant I didn’t know.
After the meal, I sat outside of the outlet stores and read the book. There was not much that inspired me to photograph. Maybe I was tired after a long project that just finished and delivered. Soon I started to feel really sleepy, so moved onto a bench inside the shopping centre, in front of Christmas decoration where couples and families stopped and photographed themselves, and continued reading under the bright light there. But even that got tiring close to 9pm, and I head down to the bus stop, this time with exact change in my hand.
After passing through the immigration, I tried to locate the shower room I used last time. This is another rule for me – always have a shower before the over-night flight. I have dry skin that could get itchy in the dry aircraft, and it is critical that I wash down the shower and apply moisturiser as much as I can. The shower in the departure lounge was HK140/US20. I didn’t have 140, so I asked how much it would be in Australian dollar. AU22, the girl says. I had 20 and was looking into the bag and finally found the film case full of coins after a few minutes when she told me they don’t take coins. Well thank you for saving 2 minutes, but I guess I had more than enough time till 1am departure. So I handed her AU20 and HK10 (now I had a very good sense of exchange rate at the end of my short stay!), had a good shower, brushed my teeth, and put moisturiser all over my face.
There was little that I could do to kill my time in the terminal. I finished the short story. The free internet terminal did not seem to be working. There did not seem to be free wifi, though my iPhone kept catching something that did not really have any data traffic. Around 11am, I was falling asleep sitting or standing, so I kept walking. I did not want to fall asleep with my camera, lenses and MacBook in my Lowe backpack. Shops were closing for the day, food court had only one or two that was still open, and people were taking a nap everywhere, but me. I walked all the way up on one wing between 20 or so departure gates, and went back the way I came. I was not quite walking straight as the weight of my bag was beginning to bother my tired body. I tried to remember how many hours since I last slept. I slept 4 hours the night before, which ended when I woke at 5am. And that would be 2am in Hong Kong. There I was, 11pm, and still hadn’t slept (I tend to avoid sleeping in the day flight so I could sleep in the night flight that follows).
1am, the passenger started boarding, not as many Japanese people as I’d expected, but as soon as I sat down in 33D and put away my bag, I was asleep. When the plane closed the door at 1:35 and then taxied down the run way, I was not conscious. I had my belt tightly strapped at my waist, my bag in the overhead, and I slept till the meal started serving. And I felt really rested. It was only a little over an hour that I slept, in the short flight of under 3 hours to Osaka, but I felt great. Touching one bite of the pork and rice, I moved onto that tasteless typical airline brownie, and washed down with the glass of water. Had two more glasses of water and soon the plane was descending down to Kansai in the dark.