Last month I had to make a trip to Singapore to take care of some work there. Yes, people actually go to Singapore for reasons other than mileage runs. I was able to get a favorable routing on Cathay Pacific that allowed me to stopover in Hong Kong one way and to take advantage of an overnight connection in Bangkok on the return. I planned a whirlwind itinerary around my stopovers that gave me a final result of seven consecutive nights in seven different countries.
12 October 2002
Toronto Pearson to Anchorage Ted Stevens International
My ride to the airport dropped me off nice and early around 845pm for the 1145pm flight. I was supposed to meet up with RedPanda around 9pm, so I headed straight to the desks to check in. The lines were very short this far in advance of the flight, so I used the Economy Class desk rather than the Business Class/oneworld Sapphire one. The agent working the counter was pleasant enough and checked me in quickly. My carry-on bag was slightly over the 15lb limit (I was going away for 7 days after all), but not sufficiently so that it was a problem. I was handed my boarding pass, invitation to the British Airways Executive Club Lounge and a map that gave directions from the counters to the lounge and from the lounge to the gate. Very thorough and impressive.
As I walked away from the counter, I spotted RedPanda coming in and established contact. We chatted briefly and he told me that the flight was horribly oversold today and they would need 25 denied boardings at C$400 cash each. I was very tempted to take the money since I didn't need to be in Singapore until Thursday, but my nonrefundable hotel reservations would sadly negate most of the gains, so I declined. Meanwhile, he had to rush to meet the incoming flight so I headed off to the lounge and arranged to meet up with him again at the departure gate.
The new British Airways lounge at Toronto is located by gate C24, just across from the glass partition separating general departures and the transborder area. I headed to the newsstand and picked up the new edition of "Airways" before heading over to the lounge, where I presented my invitation and was welcomed. The lounge itself was deserted as the last BA departure was just about to push back, so I had a choice of pretty much any seat - the only other denizen was a guy reading a newspaper in the smoking room. The decor of the lounge itself was very elegant with lots of reds and blues and there were a number of comfy chairs located by the windows which had an excellent view of the tarmac. I ensconced myself in one of those and helped myself to a Bacardi-Coke from the well stocked self-service open bar.
Time passed quickly as I sat by the window nibbling on some cheese and crackers. Due to the late hour, there was minimal surface traffic outside, and that too was dominated by Air Canada and Air Transat, with a pair of JetsGo MD80s festooned with the infamous lime green smiley face thrown in for good measure. The only interesting movement was the SATA Air Azores A310 pushing back after its weekly visit. Other passengers trickled in periodically and the lounge was packed to the gills when I went to freshen up around 1030pm.
Finally, just after 11pm, the lounge attendant informed us that boarding had commenced. We all gathered up our respective luggage and began the long silent march down to C29 where B-HXM awaited us. Looking out onto the darkness of the tarmac, I was almost awed by the A340, but one look at the oversized hairdryers hanging from the wing brought me back to my senses. What a lovely aircraft spoiled by such a pathetic power plant.
My friend was already working one of the boarding lines, so I attached myself to the end of it and slowly inched myself towards the jetway. Along the way, my travel documents were checked twice and my boarding pass stamped to presumably certify their validity and authenticity. I finally made it to the front where my boarding pass was taken and I was wished a pleasant flight.
As expected, the aisles were blocked by various passengers struggling to hoist their carry-ons into the overhead so I had a chance to take a quick look at the new Business Class seats as I waited to head back to Peon Class. The seats looked rather comfortable, but I can see why the concerns about people sliding off in the horizontal position came about. The coach seats were also of a new design from my last CX trip, with the advanced StudioCX system having been installed in the interim. I settled into my aisle seat next to a young lady from Hong Kong at the window. The amenity kits had already been placed into the seat pockets and consisted of the usual CX fare of an eye mask, socks, toothbrush and elastic chain. There was a pillow and blanket on the seat, which I strategically relocated under the seat in front of me and settled down. Seat pitch was a bit tight for my size, but I was able to stretch my feet into the aisle so there was no problem per se. Needless to say, the flight was completely full in every class, with nary a spare seat available.
Doors closed on time at 1145pm and we taxied out to the runway. Captain Kevin Houghton introduced himself and his crew as well as informed us of the 6h30m flight time to Anchorage. This being my first ride on an A340, I was eagerly waiting to see if the underpowered engines were noticeably different during the takeoff roll. I guess the relatively light fuel load played a role in my first impression, but we were airborne quick enough and climbed normally out into the darkness of the Ontario night.
Once we leveled out, the IFE system began screening the news while the crew passed out menus and prepared for the supper service. As the crew came around yet again with hot towels, I leafed through the IFE guide and identified which movies I wanted to watch and set myself a tentative schedule of sleep/wake to enable me to watch them. The supper menu for coach class is given below:
Smoked Chicken and Prawn Salad
Steamed Chicken Rice with Black Mushroom
Stir-friend Pak Choy
Stir-fried Noodles with Pork and Mushroom
Linguine Alle Vongole
(With Clams and Gourmet Tomato Sauce)
Bread Roll, Butter
Tea - Ceylon, Japanese, Jasmine
The meal service commenced from the rear of the cabin, so I quickly headed to the washroom to freshen up before the meal commenced. I must have been gone 5 minutes at most, but when I returned to my seat I couldn't help notice that an old Chinese lady had occupied it instead. Unfortunately, I speak no Chinese and she allegedly spoke no English, so every attempt on my part to communicate that she was in my seat was met with a stubborn blank stare that only old Chinese women can use effectively. The woman in the window was kind enough to translate for me and after a quick exchange informed me that the old lady claimed that the Flight Attendant had told her to take this seat.
I was not amused and headed back up the aisle to locate a Flight Attendant who was quickly approaching this row with the meal service. To my total surprise, she told me that YES, she had told the lady to take my seat and that I would have to relocate. Evidently, the old lady was a wheelchair passenger who had been seated in a window seat next to another wheelchair passenger, which was not permitted for safety reasons. I picked the wrong moment to go to the lav, so my seat was selected as the sacrificial lamb for the involuntary swap.
My new seat was to be 70A. This is quite positively the worst seat on the aircraft. It is in the absolute last row of the aircraft beside the galley and does not recline fully as a result. Additionally, the tapering of the fuselage at the rear reduces the available seat width by almost an entire inch, and the legroom is correspondingly reduced as well due to the proportional increase in space occupied by the IFE system box.
With no real option, I squeezed myself past another ancient Chinese woman into the window seat and uncomfortably surveyed the mess that the previous occupant had left. Thankfully her amenity kit was still sealed as was the headphone packet, but the floor of the seat had an unfolded Chinese language newspaper untidily folded, and the seat pocket had a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be biscuit crumbs.
To make matters worse, this row had already been given their meal, so I rang my call button to alert the Flight Attendant. She arrived quickly enough and I asked if she could bring my meal. She smiled politely and promised to bring it by once she was done with the service. Fair enough. So I waited. And waited. And then they came around to do the Tea service. So I asked her again to please bring my meal. She smiled politely again and promised to do it once she finished the Tea service. So I waited. And waited. And then they came around to collect the used trays. So I asked her AGAIN to please bring my meal. She smiled politely again and promised to do it once she finished clearing the trays. So I waited. And waited. And then gave up hope.
In the meanwhile, the ancient woman next to me had fallen asleep and was snoring loudly. I tried to rouse her so that I could get out into the aisle and go to the galley myself to scavenge for food, but she snored on. So there I was, high over the Canadian prairie, trapped in a cramped seat, tired and hungry, surrounded by Chinese newspapers and with a jackhammer running in my right ear. I was not a happy camper.
Thankfully, the IFE system soon began its second cycle and I was able to channel surf to locate my movie choice. My pick was "Bend It Like Beckham", the story of an Indian girl in London who aspired to be a soccer player. What a fabulous movie. I spent a few years growing up amongst the Indian community in Hounslow and excitedly spotted a number of my old familiar haunts in the film. Movie done, I napped for an hour or so and then awakened as we commenced our descent into Anchorage around 215am local time.
13 October 2002
This was my first trip back to the United States since my rather unsavory incident with the INS in April and I was understandably nervous about the brief transit here. Before touchdown, announcements were made for passengers to prepare to deplane with only passports and to leave carry on luggage on board. I had taken a number of precautions to avoid any trouble with US authorities and had anticipated this, but my hands were literally shaking as we descended through the darkness and touched down smoothly at Ted Stevens International around 230am local time. Anchorage was fairly bustling considering the late (early?) hour, with freighters for UPS, Singapore Airlines, SAT, Kalitta, Korean Air and NCA lined up on the tarmac. We pulled into gate N8 between the NCA cargo 747 and a Korean passenger 747 and the disembarkation commenced.
The legal status of passengers during this stop is a somewhat grey area referred to by the US Government as International-To-International Transit (ITI). Since CX has no traffic rights to/from ANC, technically the passengers aboard the aircraft never actually enter the United States. However, since CX operates OTHER services into the US, they are required to electronically upload passenger data to the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) and the INS must verify the accuracy of that upload to ensure that CX meets its overall APIS accuracy targets. They do this by simply scanning the physical passport information of each ITI passenger into their system and reconciling that against the APIS upload at a later time.
Unfortunately, since my passport is issued by an Embassy, it is not machine readable, meaning that the INS officer has to manually enter my information into the system. I hung around till the end of the process and then presented myself. The bored officer didn't give me a second look as he reluctantly typed in the information and sent me on my way. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed immediately to the payphones to leave a message for my lawyer that all was clear. I also called my mother in India to wish her a Happy Birthday and a couple other calls to folks concerned about my ANC transit.
Calls made, I wandered the terminal in search of some food. The cafeteria was bustling and I was intrigued by the concept of a "Reindeer Dog" on the menu. On inquiry, I was informed that it was indeed a reindeer meat sausage, which meant that I absolutely had to try this. It was excellent and unsurprisingly tasted a lot like venison. My hunger pangs temporarily satiated, I wandered over to the gate where the Asiana 747 had just arrived for a similar refueling stop en route from the East Coast. I quickly bored of that and then headed over to look at the Delta 757 parked in darkness a couple gates over. By now, it was quickly approaching our departure time and I returned to N8 to discover that they were waiting on only 3 passengers, including me. I rushed aboard and back to my jail seat, with the doors closing about 5 minutes behind me. The new crew introduced themselves, the safety demo was screened and we headed off to the runway at a brisk clip.
13 October 2002
Anchorage Ted Stevens International to Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok
I had been pleasantly surprised by the A340's performance on the first leg, so what followed was totally unexpected. Our flight time for this leg was a relatively lengthy 11:55, meaning that our fuel load and takeoff weight had correspondingly increased as well. As we accelerated along the runway, I felt the first signs of the infamous sluggishness. Then we lifted off. And just seemed to hang there as we climbed slowly and painfully into the sky. Good grief. This thing was having more problems getting up than Bob Dole without Viagra. At that moment I realized just what an underpowered piece of shit the A340 really was.
We finally leveled off after about 30 minutes and the crew came around with a beverage service. I tried to strike up a conversation with my ancient seatmate, but she used the old blank stare routine. I swear, that look had to be of Ming Dynasty vintage. Suitably chastened, I turned my attention back to the IFE system and tuned into "Wind talkers" starring Nicholas Cage. Meanwhile, the jackhammer snore had started up again. Jeez, how can she sleep so much?
That done, my next movie was "About A Boy" starring Hugh Grant after which I decided to grab some significant shuteye. This of course was easier said than done considering the overly cramped quarters and the running soundtrack from my seatmate. I tossed and turned for a while, but eventually managed to get a decent 4 hours. I awakened absolutely ravenous, having consumed only the Reindeer Dog and the lounge snacks in the preceding 24 hours. Thankfully, my seatmate/jailer had gone AWOL and I took the opportunity to escape from my corner and head to the lav to freshen up. On my way back to the seat, I stopped by the galley and asked if they had any kind of mid-flight snack available. To my surprise, I was politely told that they had run out of the instant noodles, BUT they would be serving breakfast in another 90 minutes. Disappointed, but satisfied with the answer, I headed back to my corner right before the jailer returned and tuned into some sitcoms.
A few minutes later, the jailer was restless. Having slept incessantly since Toronto, I guess even she was feeling the strain of this "night without end". She flagged down a passing Flight Attendant and they exchanged some words in rapid fire Chinese. To my horror, the FA returned a few minutes later with a steaming hot cup of noodles for her. I was wild. To calm myself, I switched the PTV over to the airshow. We were almost over Taiwan by now, but I noted that we still had almost 3 hours of flying time left. Our ground speed was an absolutely pathetic 458mph. Argh. That damn A340 again. They should all be broken up and parted out as lawnmowers.
Finally, with about 90 minutes remaining in the flight, the crew commenced the breakfast service. The menu listed our choices as an Omelet or Congee. I consider myself to be a very accommodating and adventurous eater, but I draw the line at congee. That is positively the vilest substance to have come out of China since Marco Polo exported the bubonic plague. Of course, with my wonderful luck, they were serving from the front of the cabin and by the time they reached row 70 the only option left was... you guessed it... CONGEE. I was almost delirious with hunger by now, but I politely declined the entrée and asked for an extra bread roll instead, which I consumed like a wild animal.
As we droned onwards, dawn broke, transforming the blackness of the seemingly endless night into a delightful series of colors, beginning with a deep violet and progressing into a fabulously brilliant shade of orange as the sun first peeked out from over the horizon and then emerged with its full glory to bless a new day. We commenced our descent north of Hong Kong and descended through a low cloud base over the water. The sheer volume of maritime traffic has always fascinated me and I watched spellbound as we approached and finally landed at Chep Lap Kok just around 640am.
14 October 2002
Hong Kong SAR
As we taxied towards the terminal, the Captain came over the PA system and informed us that we would be docking at Gate 1, which brought a muffled cheer from the FAs on the jumpseat behind me. For those unfamiliar with Chep Lap Kok, Gate 1 is located right beside the immigration counters and saves what could be a 20 minutes walk from some of the gates at the far end. The airport was very quiet at this early hour and we pulled in beside a 744 just arrived from Europe.
My carry-on was still stowed in the bin above my old seat, so I decided to wait until most of the crowd had cleared before attempting to retrieve it. I was one of the last passengers off the aircraft and wearily made my way towards the immigration desks, glad to be able to finally stretch my legs. The lines were nonexistent at this early hour and I breezed through without a problem. The customs officers were picking some arriving passengers at random to X-Ray bags, but they lazily waved me through without a check. Finally, I emerged into the arrivals hall in Hong Kong almost 23 hours to the minute after checking in at Toronto.
A friend from flyertalk had very kindly given me a one time pass to the Health Spa at the Regal Airport Hotel and I decided to proceed over there to rejuvenate myself before heading out. On the way, I stopped by an ATM and withdrew an appropriate sum of local currency. The Spa is located on the 3rd floor and was easy enough to find. The attendant on duty there collected my pass, issued me towels, locker keys and a pair of shower slippers and directed me towards the changing area.
The Steam Room had just opened, but I’ve never been a fan of that and headed straight to the showers. The water was warmer than I’d have liked, but the shower was extremely refreshing and I emerged a refreshed man with the fortitude to take on a new day. As I dumped my towels in the laundry basket, my hunger pangs struck me again and I resolved to get some breakfast before going anywhere.
When I misconnected in Hong Kong last year, CX had put me up at the Regal Airport Hotel with breakfast coupons for the excellent buffet offered at the Café Aficionado on the lower level. The breakfast is a little pricey at HK$158 (US$20) for the buffet, but I knew that my ravenous self would be able to do it justice and I made a beeline for it. The coffee shop was quiet at this early hour with the only other patrons being some uniformed Flight Attendants for what appeared to be one of the regional Chinese airlines and a couple of Korean Air pilots. I was quickly seated at a corner table and a cup of coffee was delivered as I headed to check out the spread.
The culinary offerings were extensive with everything ranging from Noodles to Salmon to Eggs to Fruit available. I gorged myself on this veritable feat for a good half hour, savoring the Dim Sum especially. I don’t know what it is, but Dim Sum simply tastes better in Hong Kong – even the mass produced stuff on the buffet.
Now that I was appropriately stuffed, I headed upstairs and took the walkway back to the Arrivals Area. I had booked myself into a hotel just across the Chinese border in Shenzhen for the first night, so my first stop was the counter for the Long Win Bus Company, which was unfortunately not open yet. The A43 bus leaves every 20 minutes on a 45 minute run to the Sheung Shui KCR station, from where the border crossing at Lo Wu is only 4 minutes away by train. The bus fare is HK$28 (US$3.50) and the train fare is HK$20 (US$2.50), making this not only the quickest, but also the easiest and most economical way to get to Shenzhen from the airport.
I purchased my ticket and boarded the bus, making sure that I was able to snag the front row seats on the upper deck for the view. It was a lovely morning in Hong Kong and we had a great view of the aircraft taking off as we drove away. The ride passed quickly as we headed across the Lantau Island Link bridge and then onto the highway before arriving at Sheung Shui. I purchased a standard ticket to Lo Wu and grabbed the first train headed in that direction. The KCR trains are pretty decent for a local transit service, but one look at the crowds at Lo Wu waiting to get back convinced me that they got quite crowded at peak hours.
I disembarked at Lo Wu and followed the crowds past the large signs that say “TO SHENZHEN” with the appropriate directional references provided by arrows. Our first stop was the outbound Hong Kong immigration counters where the crowds were split into those with HKG documents and foreigners. Immigration was a breeze and I emerged on the other side of the counters in the middle of a bunch of duty-free shops. There was a small walkway to China which I followed, noting with interest the large, prominent sign warning “NO PHOTOGRAPH”.
14 October 2002
My first stop on the Chinese side was the visa office on the upper level. There is a tiny sign directing you there which is very easily missed, but fortunately I had done my homework in advance and knew to proceed upstairs. There are two offices there, one issuing visas for the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone only, and the other issuing a full-fledged regular Chinese visa. The Shenzhen SEZ visa restricts the bearer to spending 5 days in the Shenzhen SEZ area and costs HK$100 (US$12.50), versus the regular China visa which is HK$180 (US$22.50) for a 6 month single entry or HK$300 (US$37.50) for a 6 month double entry. However, while the SEZ visa takes less than 20 minutes to process and requires nothing more than a simple form, the China visa needs about 2 hours to approve and must be accompanied by supporting documents and photographs. Citizens of most countries are welcome to use these visa offices, but a board listed those who must apply before arrival, most notably the UK and Pakistan.
My itinerary called for just one night in Shenzhen, so I chose the first option. Accordingly, I obtained a visa form from the dispenser machine on the side and filled it in. There were 4 counters in the office, with 2 assigned for application submission, 1 for passport return and 1 for groups, and things ran pretty smoothly. The office was pretty crowded, mainly with East Europeans, and the man at the counter warned that it could take a while for them to clear the backlog. He quickly verified the validity of my passport, handed it to a girl sitting by a computer behind him and gave me a plastic token with a random alphanumeric combination printed on it in lieu of a receipt.
I wandered around the dingy upper level for a minute or two, taking care not to stray out of earshot on the off chance that my random alphanumeric combination was called early. Finding absolutely nothing of interest, I returned to the office and began telepathically messaging the lady behind the counter to process my passport quicker. It almost felt like a bingo game as the lady called out “B17”, “A28”, “C41”, etc…, each followed by a squeal of joy and someone rushing to the front of the room waving something in the air. Thankfully, my number was called after about 15 minutes, so I paid the fee and collected my passport suitable endorsed by the appropriate authority.
Back downstairs, I skipped the Duty Free and headed directly to the immigration desks. The line here was again split by nationality, but there were only 3 desks open for “Foreigners”, each with a long line in front of it. I picked one at random and spent my time filling in the arrivals card while we slowly inched forward. Finally, I reached the front and handed over the documents to the unsmiling woman who stamped and returned them without so much as looking up at me. Customs was X-Raying all bags, but that took all of 15 seconds without any problems and I finally set foot onto the soil of mainland China.
My hotel tonight was to be the Forum InterContinental, located just 300 yards down the street from the Joint Inspection Building. It was clearly visible from the exit, so I didn’t bother to break out the maps and decided to go visual instead. I walked past the imposing Lo Wu Commercial Plaza, took a quick left, crossed a pedestrian bridge and found myself in the hotel driveway.
Uniformed porters immediately rushed up to try and grab my rollaboard, but I politely declined and headed straight to check-in. I thought that I had reserved an excellent rate of HK$620(US$80), but it turned out that the actual rate was quoted in Chinese Yuan, making it an even better value at RMB620(US$73). The girl at the desk was very polite and efficient, but gave me the disappointing news that my “Deluxe” room would not be available for another 30 minutes.
I wasn’t particularly agitated since it was still only 11am, but I was pleasantly surprised when she handed me two coupons for the Lobby Bar so that I could kill the half hour painlessly. I wasn’t really in the mood for alcohol yet, but a couple of ice-cold Coca Cola worked wonders to re-hydrate me after spending the last few hours in the heat and humidity. I leafed through the South China Morning post for a while and the girl from the desk came up to me soon enough and informed me that my room was ready.
As I waited for the elevators, I perused the plaque on the wall which listed all the heads of state that had stayed at the property over the years. A very impressive list, ranging from George Bush the elder to vague dictators of some African country I had barely heard of. The elevator up to the 22nd floor was quick enough, and I headed down the corridor to my room.
The room itself was very nice, with a full size window overlooking the city of Shenzhen. There was a fruit basket containing the standard generic offerings, 2 bottles of complimentary water and an envelope containing a welcome note from the manager. The TV had about 30 channels, but only a handful in English including CNN and HBO.
I napped for a couple hours, awakening around 2pm. A quick shower and I headed out to explore. First stop was the imposing Lo Wu Commercial Plaza across the street. This is a seven level shopping center that puts conventional malls to shame. I’ve been to both the Mall of America and the West Edmonton Mall, and although both of those are larger in terms of square footage, they don’t hold a candle to Lo Wu Commercial Plaza as far as selection and prices go. Interestingly enough, every vendor in the Plaza quotes prices in Hong Kong Dollars rather than Yuan. If you are paying in local currency, you must add an 8-10% surcharge.
I spent a few hours exploring the Plaza, my only purchase being a pair of fake Cartier sunglasses for the rather reasonable price of HK$50(US$6.25). The original asking price had been HK$120(US$15), but I was proud to have been able to negotiate it down. Bargaining here has gone hi-tech. In the past, language barriers meant that customers and shopkeepers essentially yelled and gesticulated at each other in mutual non-comprehension until one gave way. Nowadays, the shopkeeper types a number out on a calculator and hands it to you. You then hit cancel, type in your offer and hand it back. This continues until an acceptable midpoint has been reached and cash is exchanged for goods. Amazing how technology has even simplified this aspect of life.
Now that the plaza had been thoroughly explored, I headed into town and wandered through backstreets for while, simply trying to get a feel of the city. Soon enough, twilight was upon us and I decided to grab a bite to eat and head back to the hotel for an early night. Along the way, I passed a small hole-in-the-wall barbeque shop that was displaying some very interesting wares in the window. I popped inside and managed to communicate that I wanted to try some duck. The price was very reasonable at just HK$80(US$10) for the whole duck (neatly chopped up to go) plus 3 cans of Asahi beer.
Back at the hotel, I discovered that they had delivered turndown service in my absence, complete with a plate of fresh cookies on the bedside table. I looked out the window at the neon signs of bustling Shenzhen and realized with great irony that this was still an allegedly communist country. Granted, this was probably not representative of most of China, but the sheer extent to which commercialism had penetrated here left me almost speechless.
I kicked back and channel surfed through the limited English offerings as I consumed my duck, washing it down with the beer. A couple of cookies made a perfect ending to a hectic day and I was glad to climb into bed around 11pm.
15 October 2002
Woke up as the sun was rising and I relaxed a while before heading out to grab some buns for breakfast from a nearby bakery. Back in the room, I watched Monday Night Football with Chinese announcers, but gave up at halftime with Seattle leading San Francisco. I never thought I’d actually be wishing for a John Madden soundtrack.
After a shower, I packed up my stuff (making sure to put a spare bottle of water in the front pouch of my bag) and checked out. It was a horribly warm and muggy day, and I was drenched in sweat by the time I reached the Joint Inspection Building down the street. I followed the familiar signs for foreign nationals and arrived in the departure immigration control area.
There were about 25 desks open today, with only 2 of them assigned to foreign nationals and the remainder to locals. As a result, the lines for foreigners were about 100 deep, while the officers at the other desks literally sat around doing nothing. To make matters worse, the departure card dispensing machines were broken, meaning that each person could only fill out the form after they reached the counter, causing even more delays. I stood in a line for about 15 minutes, progressing very slowly, until someone who appeared to be a senior officer showed up and read the riot act. They immediately opened up 2 more counters, had some low level peon hand out cards to all of us in line and then set a stack of cards on the table by the machines for future arrivals. Things speeded up considerably as a result, and I was through to the Hong Kong side about 15 minutes later.
15 October 2002
Hong Kong SAR
Hong Kong immigration was significantly less painful, but the KCR station was teeming with people heading into the city. Not wanting to be stuck without a seat for the 40 minute ride, I decided to splurge on a First Class ticket for HK$66(US$8.25) instead of the regular HK$33(US$4). It was a very wise move, with the regular compartments filling up quickly. The ride itself was comfortable and fairly painless, with the compartment never getting much more than half full.
I alighted at Kowloon Tong and made my way to the MTR side of the station where I purchased a single journey ticket to Sheung Wan for HK$10(US$1.25). My routing required that I change trains twice, from the Kwun Tong line (Green) to the Tseun Wan (Red) line at Mongkok, and then again to the Island (Blue) line at Central. The transfers could not have been easier. There are illuminated signs inside the subway car that inform riders of their current location, upcoming stations and even which side the platform will be on. There are also announcements in both English and Cantonese advising of interchange points. Finally, unlike most other cities, transfers are actually conducted on the same level by simply walking across the platform, rather than having to take stairs or escalators.
The ride to Sheung Wan took about 25 minutes including wait time and I followed the signs for the Shun Tak Center exit. The Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal is located on the third level of this building and there are plenty of signs pointing travelers in the right direction. The Shun Tak Center also has a mall in the lower levels, offering a wide range of shops. There are automated luggage lockers located at the northwest corner of the building, offering storage for pretty reasonable rates.
I decided to grab some food before setting sail, so I headed over to one of the local eateries rather than eat at the McDonald’s located right beside the ticket counters. The cafeteria I picked had a lunch special of “Goose Rice” for only HK$28(US$3.50), which I ordered. It was served together with a bowl of insipid broth and a cup of soy milk, neither of which I particularly fancied. The entrée itself was very tasty and filling though – well worth its reasonable price tag.
Appetite satiated, I headed to the counter and purchased my ticket to Macau from the TurboJet counters. The cost was HK$130(US$16.25) for a one-way in Economy Class. There was Super Class available for HK$232(US$29), but I didn’t really care to pay the extra money for a slightly larger seat and a plate of sandwiches. Tickets are issued for a specific sailing, but passengers are allowed to standby for any other sailing at no extra charge. Services operate around the clock, at 15 minute frequency by day and 30 minute at night. Night fares are also about HK$40(US$5) higher.
My ticket was for the 115pm sailing, but the time was just shy of 1pm so I figured I could try for the earlier one on standby. I headed quickly down to passport control where a very bored immigration officer stamped me out of Hong Kong. At the gate, I noted a long line of standby passengers already waiting for the 1pm sailing and decided to head directly to the 115pm sailing’s gate rather than try my luck there.
The gate area was typical of an airport waiting room with lines of chairs for passengers and a podium for the boarding agent. Once the 1pm had sailed, an agent came over to our gate and began handing out seat assignments. This is done by removing a numbered sticker from a chart and placing it upon your ticket receipt creating a makeshift boarding pass.
TurboJet operates 4 different types of equipment on this route, with our sailing due to be operated by a TriCat. The TriCat interior is laid out aircraft style with seats arranged 14 across in a 3-4-4-3 configuration on the main deck. The upper deck is for Super Class passengers. My seat assignment was for 34K, a middle seat in the last row. There were overhead bins available to stow luggage, which I utilized before taking my seat. Seat numbers were also color coded, with the color representing the nearest emergency exit.
The seat itself was pretty comfortable, with a pitch of about 34 inches and a recline comparable to that found aboard airlines. The seat pocket featured a safety information card, a Duty Free catalog and a TurboJet magazine which featured information about their various services and destinations. As we taxied out of the dock, the safety video was screened on the TV screens located at the front and middle of the cabin. Finally we entered the open harbor and opened up the throttles, the acceleration being quite impressive, especially in comparison to the Airbus 340.
During the ride, the cabin attendants came through the cabin handing out Macau arrivals cards and offering a variety of duty free items and refreshments for sale. The prices were reasonable, but I really had no use for either so I passed. There was also a news magazine and a Macau tourism documentary screened on the TV screens. Journey time was a quick 55 minutes and we arrived at the dock in Macau exactly on schedule at 210pm.
15 October 2002
I retrieved my bag from the overhead and was the last passenger to exit into the Macau Ferry Terminal. I followed the signs to the arrivals area and cleared Immigration without a hassle. Customs was also a breeze and I emerged into the arrivals hall by 220pm.
The currency of Macau is officially the Pataca, abbreviated as MOP and consisting of 100 Avos. The Pataca is pegged to the Hong Kong Dollar at a fixed rate of MOP1.03 to HK$1, but both currencies circulate at par in Macau. In fact it is possible to go an entire trip to Macau without ever handling the local currency.
When researching Macau hotels, I had found a great Internet-only rate of MOP300(US$37.50) on the Holiday Inn website. The hotel boasted a free shuttle from the Ferry Terminal, so I followed the signs to the relevant area and found the expected green van waiting patiently. The driver was very friendly and immediately set out on the quick 5 minute ride.
The peninsular area of Macau is very small and so pretty much everything is within walking distance of the attractions. The Holiday Inn itself was located in the middle of a tourist area and had a casino on the first floor. I presented myself at the desk to check-in and was immediately escorted over to the Assistant Manager’s desk where I was invited to take a seat while he processed my registration. A waiter brought me a cold towel and a glass of juice as I waited. If only every Holiday Inn could be this nice!
Registration complete, I was handed a folio with my key cards, a coupon for a free cocktail at the bar that evening and the Assistant Manager’s business card with an invitation to call on him if I had any problems. He introduced himself as Edgar Montinola Berzosa and accompanied me to the elevators before taking my leave.
My room was on the non-smoking 25th floor and was a typical Holiday Inn room without a view. Again, there were 2 complimentary bottles of water in the room, as well as a small fruit basket. The TV here had more English selections, so I relaxed with CNN for a while before taking a quick shower and hitting the streets of Macau.
Armed only with a tourist map, I wandered down Avenida Do Rodrigo Rodrigues towards the Casino Lisboa and then further down Avenida Almeida Ribeiro. I stopped off at the post office to get some stamps for postcards I was mailing, noting with interest that most of the employees had signs saying they spoke Cantonese and Portuguese, but English was in short supply.
I spent a while wandering around this area, doing some shopping and looking at the various Portuguese churches that are sprinkled around this part of town. As twilight approached, I stopped off at a local bakery and picked up a Macanese specialty of a Fried Pork Chop Bun and headed back to the hotel.
The “Frascati” restaurant in the hotel had an advertisement in the elevator touting a weekday special of a Macanese-Portuguese “semi-buffet” dinner for only MOP68(US$8.50). This intrigued me, so I headed off there around 9pm and inquired about the “semi-buffet” concept. Evidently, this means that you get to order your entrée from a selection of 4 house specialties, but you can help yourself to a wide selection of appetizers, soups, salads and deserts. I picked the lamb as my main selection and it was quite excellent. Macanese cuisine is a very fascinating hybrid of Chinese and Mediterranean influences and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
After dinner I headed out to sample the city by night. It seemed that every street corner had a travel agent, a juice stall and a hooker. Alas, the hookers were neither as cheap as the travel agents nor as fresh as the juice. After being solicited about five times in two blocks, I decided to head back to the hotel and turn in early.
16 October 2002
I awakened bright and early with the intention of heading out across the China border to Zhuhai for some shopping. A quick call to the concierge desk to check on logistics had them not only give me the requested info, but also set up a late check out. I headed out around 930am and grabbed a cab to the Barrier Gate at the northern border. As I was getting into the cab, the doorman handed me a printed card with the hotel address written in Chinese, advising me to keep it for the way back. The ride took about 10 minutes and the cost was MOP30(US$3.50). There was a fairly large crowd at the immigration counters, but the lines moved quickly and I quickly passed through to the other side and set off on the short walk through no-man’s land into China.
16 October 2002
Zhuhai SEZ, China
The Chinese inspection facility was much more modern than the Macanese one, and sported a large gold sign proclaiming it to be “GONGBEI PORT”. There was a Duty Free shop located at the entrance with very reasonably priced international brands. I browsed a bit, but decided not to buy yet.
On entering the actual facility, I spotted a sign saying “VISA OFFICE” and headed over there. This counter was for the “Full China Visa” and they directed me towards the Zhuhai SEZ visa counter which was located one level above. Similar to Shenzhen, this visa allows you to spend upto 3 days in Zhuhai Special Economic Zone and costs only HK$100 (US$12.50). Unlike the bustling office at Luohu, this one was manned by a single guy who appeared to have been napping when I walked in. He was extremely friendly and efficient though, and I had my passport back with the appropriate endorsement within 5 minutes.
Back downstairs, I headed to the now familiar “Foreigners” line and took my place behind a small group of Koreans. While waiting, I was approached by an elderly Chinese woman with what appeared to be a package from the duty free shop. She whispered to me that she would give me US$50 in cash to carry the package through Customs and hand it over to a guy on the other side. I politely declined, but she persisted, raising her offer to US$75. Finally, one of the Koreans said something to her in Cantonese and she backed away muttering under her breath.
I cleared formalities without any further ado and emerged once again in mainland China. The concierge had told me about an underground shopping plaza located right across from the inspection facility and I headed down the stairs. The stalls had barely opened at this early hour, so I decided to scout around for some breakfast first. One thing that caught my eye was a familiar portrait of Colonel Sanders, except with signage completely in Chinese. The girl at the counter spoke no English so we had to communicate by pointing at pictures, but I finally got myself a Crispy Strips Combo with a Pepsi.
Appetite satiated, I hit the plaza to shop around for various gifts. The prices here were significantly cheaper than in Shenzhen, and I was able to pick up some decent stuff including jade and leather as gifts. I then wandered the waterfront for a while and took a quick stroll into the nearby urban areas. Finally, around noon I decided to head back.
Exit immigration was painless again, and I was very amused to see a old Delta Air Lines sticker on the door of the Immigration Supervisor’s office. Market penetration at Gongbei border crossing in China… Leo Mullin must be thrilled! Once my passport was stamped, I noted with interest that the Chinese entry/exit stamps seem to use a very poor quality ink compared to most other countries. The red ink had, in all four cases, smudged onto the facing page.
16 October 2002
I walked back towards Macau past the crowded Duty Free shop and entered the dingy building that serves as the Macanese Immigration checkpoint where I filled out my arrival card. To my surprise, the officer at the counter spent about 10 minutes going through each and every stamp in my passport (and there are quite a few) before finally nodding and stamping me into the country.
I headed straight for the taxi stand and climbed in to the first cab there. I didn’t expect the driver to speak English, so I handed over the card with the hotel address. To my surprise, he smiled and said, “Oh, don’t worry. I speak good English!” as he drove off. We chatted a bit as we drove along the waterfront, and he pointed out the Causeway to Taipa Island as well as some other local landmarks. Traffic was a lot lighter than earlier that morning and the fare came to only MOP25(US$3) this time.
Unfortunately, my shopping in Zhuhai meant that I had exceeded the limited capacity of my rollaboard. As a result, I had to break out my "backup bag", a canvas tote that folds up nicely into the lining of the larger bag. I strategically repacked and hurried through a shower with the aim of catching the 130pm courtesy shuttle to the ferry terminal. Checkout was quick, and Edgar was there again to thank me for my business. We discussed my impressions of Macau while I waited for the shuttle, which arrived a few minutes late, loaded me up and immediately headed off on the 5 minute ride to the terminal.
At the terminal, I headed immediately for the ticket window on the upper level where I purchased a one-way to Hong Kong on the 2pm sailing. I asked whether they wanted me to check the extra piece of luggage, but the lady of the window said that due to the light load today, I could carry it aboard if I liked. Outbound immigration was cursory and I headed off to the gate. Along the way, I heard an announcement for the final call on the 145pm TriCat sailing, so I quickly asked if I could get on that instead. Sure enough, it wasn't a problem and I was assigned a window seat on the left side with both the aisle and middle seat open. As I trooped aboard in a quick trot, the crew closed the hatches behind me and we pushed off before I had even located my seat. We cleared the Inner Harbor quickly and accelerated nicely again as we entered the open water.
The ride back to Hong Kong was very similar to the outbound journey and we docked at the Shun Tak Center 1 minute early. Immigration was painless as usual, although the poor officer had misplaced his "PERMITTED TO REMAIN UNTIL" date stamp and had to hand-write my clearance with an embarassed apology and shy smile.
16 October 2002
Hong Kong SAR
First step was to grab lunch, which I felt very guilty buying from McDonald's but it was the most convenient option available now that I was burdened with 2 pieces of luggage. I was fascinated to find that traditional breakfast items such as the Sausage Egg McMuffin's were on the menu as all-day options, including Combo Meals. Lunch complete, I headed down to the MTR and caught the first train over to Central where I navigated the maze of tunnels and headed over to the Airport Express side of the station.
The "In-Town Checkin" counters were crowded, so I took the opportunity to head over to the Cathay CTO next door to pick up a paper timetable for a friend who collects them before buying my ticket from the Airport Express machine for HK$100(US$12.50). For those unfamiliar with the system, you need to purchase an Airport Express ticket simply to access the checkin desks. The ticket is then validated for travel to the Airport on the Airport Express train. I headed over to the onew`orld Sapphire desk and checked in. The agent was very pleasant and tagged my bag to Singapore, as well as issued me my boarding pass and an invitation to the WING/PIER complex at Chep Lap Kok. This was to be my first visit to those hallowed portals and I accepted this holy grail of lounge passes with an appropriately respectful bow before safely stashing it away in the inner pocket of my jacket.
Now that I was checked in, I headed back down through the interminable tunnels to the MTR station. A friend of my dad's had scored an excellent deal on a laptop at a shop in Mongkok Computer Center, and I had decided to head over there to see if I could replicate his luck. The MTR deposited me at Mongkok station and I emerged from the relevant exit into the hustle and bustle of a typical Hong Kong evening on Nathan Road.
The Mongkok Computer Center is a 3 story building located about 2 blocks off Nathan Road and has about 150 different computer vendors there, selling everything from complete systems to peripherals to software. The prices are quite unbelievable by Western standards and I have never been disappointed by the quality of any purchase I have made from there over the years.
I wandered the narrow, crowded corridors for an hour or so picking up flyers and comparing prices, until finally deciding on the system that I was interested in. A further 30 minutes of questions about warranties and servicing followed by a brief bargaining session, and finally the deal was done. I even managed to get the salesperson to throw in a free case and ethernet cable. All in all, I was extremely pleased with the deal and I wound up paying just about half of what I would pay for a similar system in North America.
Proudly clutching my new baby, I headed back into the cauldron of Nathan Road, browsing some stores for a while and grabbing a snack from a corner store. I had no clue what the snack was, but it looked like fried squid or octopus and I ordered it by pointing at a picture menu. Needless to say, it was excellent.
As darkness fell, I headed back underground to the MTR and went over to Central to catch the Airport Express. The train was empty at this hour and I settled down comfortably with an entire compartment to myself. The ride was typically brisk and we pulled into Chep Lap Kok station after just under 25 minutes travel time.
I had one chore to complete before going through passport control, and that was to find a postcard of Hong Kong's skyline to mail to a friend's skyscraper-crazy 8 year old daughter. I found an appropriate image at the bookstore and quickly scribbled a note. The post office was closed, but I had enough loose change leftover to enable me to use the machines to purchase the postage.
All tasks completed, I retrieved my boarding pass and prized lounge invite from the safety of my jacket pocket and headed through the immigration checkpoint. My exit stamp was endorsement number 8 for the day, a new record for even my well-used passport. I was then faced with the most pleasant dilemma that a traveler ever has to face.... Wing or Pier. There was no gate posted for my flight yet, so I decided to sample the Pier to begin with. Accordingly I headed down to the train and journeyed to the outer reaches of the concourses where this oasis of tranquility was located. And that is when things began to go horribly wrong....
17 October 2002
Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok to Singapore Changi
I descended the escalator into the lobby of the Pier and was immediately accosted by the greeter who welcomed me and asked to see my lounge invitation. I presented it and began walking towards the inner sanctum, when I heard him say, "Excuse me, Sir".
I turned and asked if there was a problem. Evidently there was. My flight was scheduled to depart at 3am on the 17th, and it was still 930pm on the 16th. According to his interpretation of the rules, my entitlement to lounge access would not begin until the same calendar day as my flight, which would be at midnight.
I argued the point with him briefly, but I have long learned that debating with an Asian who thinks he is just doing his job is probably the most pointless activity that one can engage in. I asked about the possibility of using the showers briefly, but was again politely rebuffed. Alas, my glorious entry into Xanadu would have to be delayed for another 2 hours.
As a oneworld Sapphire, I am entitled to use the lounge of any partner carrier on the day of travel, so if Cathay were going to be asses about it, I would simply try another partner. Accordingly, I headed to the British Airways/Qantas lounge where the very polite attendant swiped my card and welcomed me in with the warning that they were closing at 1130pm. That put me close enough to my midnight deadline for parole into the Wing, so I was satisfied.
This lounge was quite crowded, with twin 744s leaving for London in the next hour, but I managed to find myself a comfortable chair where I settled down with a magazine, some finger sandwiches and a Bacardi-Coke. I asked one of the attendants about the possibility of grabbing a shower, but there was a waiting list for these that was way too long for my liking, so I decided to wait for the Wing instead.
Time passed briskly as I relaxed and nibbled and sipped and read. Almost too soon, the attendant was making the final calls for the second Heathrow flight and I grabbed my stuff and headed out with the last of the stragglers. Since I had time to spare, I made a beeline over to the SAMSUNG free internet terminals for a bit and posted indignantly on Flyertalk about my experience with the gatekeeper). At about 1145pm, I decided to head over to the Wing. And there my indignation turned into fury.
To begin with, the attendant insisted on seeing my boarding pass, oneworld Elite Card and passport before allowing me into the elevator. Fair enough, I was very dishevelled and desperately in need of a shower. He collected the pass and I headed upstairs making a beeline to the washrooms. I get to the showers and I see a sign up saying "closed for cleaning". Ah well, I'll have a drink first. Nope, bar is closed. How about relax in the Reading Room? Nope, its been roped off. How about a snack at the Noodle Bar? Sorry, closed. So I go to the ticketing counter and ask where exactly I should seat myself for the next 3 hours. The reply? Gate 7. "We are closing at 1215 sir - you have to go downstairs now".
So let me get this straight. Cathay gives me a lounge invitation that isn't valid until 12am, but also isn't valid after 1215am? And then wants me to camp out by my gate for 3 hours before my flight? Is this some sort of sick joke?
Back downstairs, the only flights left on the board were the trio of 3am Cathay departures to Taipei, Osaka and Singapore plus the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Bangkok and Addis Ababa. To make matters worse, our flight was due to depart from a remote parking bay. Obviously, the sins of a past life were suddenly catching up to me en masse with a vengeance.
I spent much of the next couple hours alternating between the internet terminals and napping on the floor as the janitorial staff vacuumed around me. Finally around 215am, I headed to the elevators and descended to the holding room for the remote gates. A quick headcount revealed 7 of us sleepily waiting for the three flights. Around 225am, three buses pulled up and a matronly woman marched out and called out names. The first 4 of us were herded into the Singapore bus, 2 others into the Osaka bus and the last remaining passenger into the Taipei bus. Inside was another CX agent who explained that these flights run primarily for cargo and are usually restricted from carrying more than 40 passengers. Our aircraft were accordingly parked over by the Cargo facility on the opposite side of the field and we would be driving out there.
The ride across the tarmac in the dead of night was a wonderful experience as we navigated between dormant aircraft and along the perimeter until we reached the Cargo terminal. The trio of Cathay 777-300s were parked there being loaded up for their respective journeys and our bus deposited us beside B-HNE. For the trivia minded, this airframe was actually the first 777-300 ever built and was Boeing's prototype for type certification as N5014K. We boarded through the airstairs located at door 1L and had to walk all the way through this long aircraft to get to our seats. For balance reasons, all passengers had to be seated in the rearmost cabin for take-off and landing.
In addition to the 3 other passengers on the bus, there were 4 Flight Attendants being deadheaded to Singapore to cover a flight the next day who were already on board, thus creating a passenger load of 8 aboard an aircraft that seats almost 400 under normal circumstances. They stayed out of the way and unobtrusively took seats towards the rear. I immediately settled myself in a 3-section by the window and lay down after raising the armrests and fastening my seatbelt. The crew came around to take pre-departure drink orders (a first for me in coach!) and hand out the amenity kits. I wolfed down my orange juice and fell asleep before the engines even started up.
I slept through most of the flight, and awakened only as the captain was announcing our descent into Singapore. The crew had thoughtfully left a landing card in my seat pocket as I slumbered, so I freshened up quickly and completed it as we were on short finals. We touched down on runway 1R just after 620am and quickly taxied to our gate at Terminal 1.
17 October 2002
Since I had meetings in Singapore in the mid-morning, I was now in desperate need of the shower that I had been denied the previous night in Hong Kong. Accordingly, I decided to try my luck at the British Airways/Qantas lounge here, which I knew had the appropriate facilities (unlike CX's lounge in Singapore). The lady at reception was somewhat surprised by my request, but my dishevelled appearance and oneworld Sapphire card did the trick and she let me through with a smile, pointing the way to the showers.
The shower stalls here were small, but more than sufficient for my needs. I picked one in the corner as it appeared slightly larger than the others. A fresh towel in a sanitized bag was placed on a wooden bench inside, and there were hooks on the wall for clothes. There was also a small alcove before the shower stall, with a small sink. Toiletries consisted of two dispensers on the wall of the shower, one each for shower gel and shampoo.
The warmth of the shower was invigorating and I emerged into the lounge 30 minutes later feeling a completely new man. I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a breakfast bar from the breakfast bar and headed out with a heartfelt thank-you to the lounge attendants.
Immigration was a breeze and my bag was already placed next to the carousel by the time I arrived to pick it up. I emerged into the awakening arrivals hall at Changi just after 7am and followed the signs to the MRT station. This is actually located in Terminal 2, so I caught the train between the terminals which took a few minutes.
The MRT Changi extension is brand new and the station was even more gleaming and spotless than the rest of Singapore. Unfortunately, the ticket system had me totally confused and I had to seek assistance from the man in the booth, who very kindly showed me the ropes. They had recently transitioned to a card ticket system, but you had to pay a S$1(US$0.65) refundable deposit for each single ride purchased, and then get a refund at your destination. A highly convoluted and inefficient system in my opinion, but then again no one ever argued that Singapore was a logical city.
The ride to City Hall station took just about 30 minutes, with the carriage filling and emptying at alternate stops. After alighting, I followed the signs to the SunTec Center and wound my way through a maze of tunnels until I emerged right across the street from my hotel, the Conrad Singapore.
There are good hotels in this world, and then there are great ones. The good hotels take pride in meeting your every need. The great ones are able to anticipate your every want. The Conrad Singapore is one of the great ones. The moment I walked through the door, I was greeting by a gentleman in a suit who introduced himself as Andrew and escorted me to the front desk. As soon as he saw my Hilton HHonors Gold VIP Card, he told me that I should use the Executive Lounge upstairs to check-in and dispatched a girl to accompany me there.
Upstairs in the lounge, the agent at the welcome desk had already been alerted about my arrival and greeted me warmly by name. I took a seat across from her desk as a waiter brought me a cold towel to freshen up and asked if I would like a drink. My checkin was processed briskly, alas with the sad news that the room on the Executive Floor that they had blocked for me had still to be cleaned. However, I was free to use the Executive Lounge until that time.
I told her that I had some meetings in the morning and inquired about the possibility of storing my bags until I returned. She pressed some sort of button under her desk and a bellman soundlessly appeared at my elbow about 20 seconds later. He tagged my luggage and gave me a receipt, assuring me that it would stored till my return. I thanked both of them and headed back down the elevator where I set off for my meetings.
Business complete, I returned to the hotel right after 1130am and was again met by Andrew, although this time he greeted me by name and told me that my room was ready. As he escorted me to the elevators, another minion appeared at his elbow with a folder containing my room keys as well as a welcome letter from the manager. It was obvious that the well-oiled machine was delivering the clockwork service that they are reputed for.
The room itself was nothing supremely large, but definitely spacious and tastefully decorated. There was a fantastic view of the "World's Largest Fountain" at SunTec Towers from the window. To my surprise, my luggage had already been delivered to the room and was sitting in the corner. Andrew spent a few minutes explaining the various features of the electrical and communications systems, which included a complimentary in-room copy/fax machine and high speed internet for a charge.
Once he had left, I collapsed on the bed for a nap and was awakened about an hour later by 9V-SVA calling to ask if I was free for lunch. I told him to head on over, and showered quickly while he was en route. We headed off to a nearby food court to eat, and I tucked in to the delicious food. These organized food courts have become a staple of Singapore dining in the last few years, replacing the more traditional and highly tumultuous hawker plazas.
After lunch we chatted in the room for a while, then headed out as he showed me around the local area. He headed home around 6pm and I headed up to the Executive Lounge to see what the complimentary reception was like. Among the snacks on offer were Shrimp Canapes with mango chutney, Lamb Samosas with minty yogurt sauce, Unagi rolls and Chicken Satay. Needless to say, it was all delicious and I was highly impressed.
Back in the room, the housekeeping staff had delivered turndown service in my absence. Unlike most hotels, this consisted of a lot more than simply folding back the covers and throwing a mint on the pillow. The covers had been turned down, the TV turned to face the bed with the remote control on the pillow, a plate of chocolates had been placed on the bedside table along with some magazines and the Conrad Teddy Bear had been tucked in under the sheets with only his face showing. Finally, there was a cloth spread on the floor by the bed with my bedroom slippers neatly laid out on it so that I would not have to set foot on the floor when changing into them. What an absolutely wonderful touch. If God lives in the details, then the Conrad Singapore is truly heaven.
I napped for a couple hours, awakening in time to head down to the food court across the street where I had a delicious Korean dinner of Bi Bim Bab for the bargain price of S$7(US$4.50). The SunTec fountain was performing its daily laser show, and I watched part of it briefly before heading back upstairs and collapsing into bed absolutely exhausted.
18 October 2002
Despite having turned in early, the lack of sleep from the previous night had caught up with me and I
"The A340-300 may boast a long range, but the A340 is underpowered" -- Robert Milton, CEO - Air Canada