|Thanks to Andrew Luk of Gagosian Hong Kong for this admirable composition. The painting was hung a little lower than the one in Athens - probably because everyone in Honkers is 5' nothing like me.|
Unable to secure a China Visa "on the fly" to visit my cousins in Beijing for a couple of days, I'd moved my onward flight forward. This meant I'd have to sit for a few hours at Beijing airport, then depart for Hong Kong same day, as the immigration rules dictate. (It was cheaper to do this than re-book the flight).
An Etihad airlines officer summoned me to the counter. It appears, madam, you do not have a valid onward ticket out of Beijing. WTF? I'd spent an eternity at the Beehive Hostel in Rome calling the eternally inconvenient United Airlines office in the USA (can you believe it? A global airline that requires you to call long distance to their terminally busy home office!), trying to move that flight forward. The problem? The supposedly updated email confirmation didn't contain the new flight number.
"If we let you fly, they will send you back here and we get fined," she said.
After much head scratching and concealed panic I suddenly hit on the idea of looking at my United Mileage Plus account on the computer of Christina, a woman whose sole ambition in life is to solve flight connection glitches. We drilled down and bingo, there was the updated ticket number. "I LOVE MY JOB!" she whooped.
This is a serious procedural oversight by United, so be warned - check for your ticket numbers in the confirmation email.
Good Morning Beijing
People say good things about Middle Eastern airlines. Those countries have money, cheap oil and a lot of those pilots fly the Royal Family around. They *should* know how to fly a plane, right, said one blogger. So I felt optimistic about flying Etihad, the airline of the United Arab Emirates. The stopover was in Abu Dhabi ($US595.40). The other choice, Aeroflot, had the cheapest Athens-Beijing fare (<$US500) but stopped over in Moscow. Hmmm, with one of the most treacherous European winters on record, do I choose a plane that goes north, or one that goes south? After overhearing that another Spot Challenger got stuck up north in tundra for 2 days, it was no brainer.
|Like staring up a peacock's butt - in a good way. The ornate Abu Dhabi airport|
|Glassy Beijing Airport - amuse yourself by making a free 3 minute call to a local|
Good Afternoon, Hong Kong
I landed in Hong Kong on a Sunday night with four days to kill - two more than I'd hoped for. At this time of the year the weather is chilly and foggy; the Peak was completely obscured. And, the Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong didn't open until Tuesday.
|The scenes that greet you in Honkers - a spectacular harbor, and rampant commerce, the old and the shiny new.|
The first thing on my mind was to find accommodation. Unlike in Paris, I failed to ignite the hospitality of the HK CouchSurfers, so I headed for Mirador Mansion in Kowloon, an area known for cheap traveler accommodations. Here, you can get a "basic box" - a little windowless room with a private bathroom for $US25-30 per night. The most famous of these buildings is Chungking Mansions, a multi-story tenement building with ground floor shops and a grimy, fluourescent-lit ghetto ambience of travelers (mostly African and Asian), permanent residents, mini sweatshops, pop up cafes, pets in cardboard boxes and little businesses small, shady and surreal. Mirador Mansion was simply a quieter version, with less itinerant corridor action and a few less cats.
|The ins and outs of Mirador Mansion, a "ghetto of globalization" like its famous neighbor next door, ChungKing Mansion - only a little more laid back|
|One of the residents|
|From outside it looks like a simple shopping mall|
|What $US10 buys you. Ultra thin mattresses, roomates with a story and ... a free window!|
"Of course!" came the snippy reply, "this is Hong Kong!"
|Modestly appointed but security is high - cameras are trained on every corner of the Kung Fu Garden hostel|
|Making instant friends at the Garden Hostel - as one does in hostels!|
One of the guests was a wealthy, 70-year young Italian gent who was originally holed up in the Holiday Inn nearby paying $HK1000 a night, but wasn't meeting anyone "interesting."
"I travel to meet interesting people," he'd said, booking into the Garden Hostel and happily tapping away on his iPad.
|"You know there's a cafe down the corridor, right?" said Bob. "Near the cat in the box." It was a private apartment, serving Hong Kong tea, omelette sandwiches and the daily paper.|
|Bamboo scaffolding is quite at home among the glass and steel|
Hong Kong is a shopping mecca, but being so close to China, you wonder if what you're getting is authentic or a knock off. I made the mistake of asking a store assistant if his iPads were real.
"What kind of question is that, look at the prices first before you make comment!" he snapped.
I ended up buying the first souvenirs of the entire trip - a pair of stainless steel stud earrings from the Swatch Shop (which I didn't see in Geneva) and a Morgan Paris top (which I didn't see in Paris.)
A great relief was the free and plentiful wi-fi in shopping centers, public areas and museums. Like a true internet addict, I think I sat in one mall for two hours surfing my iPhone.
As far as food goes, everyone heads for Temple St Night Market to buy $5 iPhone cases and eat even cheaper noodle dishes. By this time I was jonesing for a foot massage. My boots weren't made for walking this far, and I was more than ready to hand over the $HK100 ($US12) for 50 minutes of relief.
|Temple St Market. Eat.|
|Get some relief!|
Gagosian Hong Kong - the final spot!
|The threshold to the Spotty Gates ...|
Tuesday finally rolled around and I set off on the Star Ferry for the gallery in Peddar St. This was the culmination of all this madness, expense, jetlag and ridiculing by my art-educated pals. Behind the desk, Tammy had written at least three long and detailed emails to me about what to see, do and eat in Hong Kong, for which I was deeply grateful. Andrew, her colleague, patiently took a photo integrating my spot hat into one of the paintings, as you can see at the top of this post.
|Tammy and Andrew display my completed score card.|
|Andrew Luk is an artist - no wonder he took such a great shot finale shot.|
I could leave it blank, and then it would look like just one of his prints you can buy for $3500 in a cardboard tube from the Spot Shop or Damien Hirst online store. The adventure would be obfuscated. So after pacing around the gallery with the security guard eyeing my every move, I returned to the desk and scribbled "Spot On, Galfromdownunder" on the sheet.
Later, I thought, maybe it should read, "Bet your friends are laughing now." This, despite articles like this ...
So, Spot Challenge done and dusted. How best to celebrate? In Peking Duck style, of course!
|Heading to Kowloon - and the Peking Garden restaurant - on the Star Ferry|
|The view from Kowloon at night.|
|Virginia and her family treated me to dinner at the Peking Garden Restaurant.|
|Hunan chicken, jellyfish ...|
|Biking with one of my first customers back in the day: the immortal Mark Mobius in Singapore, 2009. Read about this.|
The Hong Kong Art Gallery
The Peak was still shrouded in fog so I gave it a miss, and headed for the Hong Kong Art Museum. It happened to be showing works by Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong, who, conincidentally, is a minimalist "dot painter" of a different stripe. Read about it in the shot below. Was this exhibition set up in response to the Hirst show across the river? One can only surmise ...
|Reminiscence of Jiangnan - in "just a few dots and lines."|
|Former Residence of Qiu Jin|
|Two swallows - so minimalist, there actually aren't any swallows.|
|Nest, an interpretation of the Bird's Nest stadium which housed the Beijing Olympics|
Land of hand sanitizer
"About 300 people died," said a nurse in the Tsiu Wah restaurant whose table I was sharing for my last supper in Honkers. After the outbreak of SARS, door handles were being disinfected many times a day. "Everyone was scared to go out."
|Sorry about this shot, but it says "This handle is disinfected twice a day" - HK Art Museum.|
|View towards door. The door at left is to bathroom. My back is against the wall.|
|View of room. Alarm clock is essential as there are no windows to wake you up. My back is against the door.|
"$10 buys you a lot of stories," chuckled Bob, the solar energy entrepreneur.
On the Virgin flight to Australia, the item below was considered "news."
Suddenly I don't feel so bad about spending the past week chasing colored spots.
Next: How I did this global jaunt with one Traffic Cone Bag
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