Friday, 12 August 2016

Inevitable Queues and Dazzling Eats in Hong Kong

One think that immediately struck me about Hong Kong is how much Hong Kongers like to queue. No sooner does the occasion lead to a slight pause, then people start lining up one behind the other, a dynamic line of expectation waiting to enter a restaurant for lunch time yum cha, or to step onto a train (to travel to yum cha...). Queues are self-policed, and taken rather seriously; on the platform floors in the MTR stations are markers indicating where people should wait, and lines form quite regularly. There is no pushing or shoving. After a lifetime living in England followed by a six-month stint living in Sweden, I myself am very accustomed to queueing; but it is not a practice that one immediately associates with other countries. Of course, Hong Kong was a British colony for so long, it is obvious how the influence entered the territory.

Pictured above is just one of the (many!) queues that I encountered whilst in Honkers. It was outside a Szechuan restaurant close to Wong Tai Sin temple. The restaurant was inexpensive, but high, high, high up on taste.

I don't like to eat out at fancy restaurants when I am in Asia. There's just no need: you can get the most amazing meals at the humblest of establishments. This restaurant, like many in HK, seats parties squashed in next to each other at any available space; but unlike many other places I ate at during my 5-day sojourn, it was relatively spacious. Food appeared, as if by magic, through a hatch in the wall; and the waitresses paced endlessly up and down the tiled restaurant floor. You eat, dazzled by glossy pictures of food fixed up on the walls, surrounded by a glittering array of dishes in any direction you look.

And so what did we eat? This is not a food blog, but indulge me for a moment longer. Szechuan food is popular (the restaurant was packed by 5.30pm) but less common in Hong Kong, which is largely Cantonese and famous for the region's yum cha (dim sum), wonton noodles, sea food, and all manner of delicious things. We took the house speciality, noodles in a fragrant and warming soupy gravy, topped with peanuts; shared Szechuan wontons; and a dessert of sticky rice balls filled with ground black sesame, in a sweet ginger broth.

I'm hungry reminiscing about the experience, rather far away now sitting in my partner's flat, listening to the South London night that's peppered by reggae beats and the waft from the chicken shop. One day, England will have as varied, tasty, and - importantly - affordable a food culture as in Asia. I only fear  that I may be awaiting that day for the rest of my adult life!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Portals and Hubs: Singapore Changi Airport

The border is the first experience we have of a country. Some would like it to be temporary, entirely liminal, a place for passing through; but Singapore takes tourism very seriously. Arriving in Singapore at the start of my trip, the airport is clean, calm and orderly even after midnight. Proceeding down a glass-sided escalator one is confronted with a huge wall of planting, the rainforest greenery consciously reminding us of this highly-developed island nation's jungle past. It takes hardly any time at all to get through immigration, even with forgetting to fill out a landing card and having to re-queue. Past the counter, the last-chance duty-free alcohol shop beckons. Baggage control is similarly lush, and the whole airport is filled with brushed steel, glass, and foliage.

I end up spending rather a lot of time at Changi airport this trip, as I shuttle between Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong; and now await my flight home to London. The airport departures lounge is like a huge hotel lobby, studded with expensive shops and plenty of comfortable places to sit; or perhaps it's more like a theme park, a miniature Singapore within. I was also surprised to discover a butterfly garden in Terminal 3. I believe that most of these photographs are of moths. Time passes ponderously, but it is not unpleasant. The authorities have done well to create a relaxing atmosphere, where the visitor retains favourable impressions of both Singapore and air travel.