I arrived in Hong Kong to notification from American Express that there had been fraud on my account (unsurprisingly as a result of my recent El Salvador trip) and they had helpfully cancelled my card.
This was irritating, but in typical AMEX-efficient fashion they promised to have me a new card within days, and I could survive until then on my debit card.
SunTrust cancelled the debit card the next day.
Since I only travel internationally every single month, SunTrust decided my Hong Kong usage must be fraud and blocked my card. The mindless twits at SunTrust didn’t trouble themselves to notify me of this, or even to check with me to see if it was, in fact, fraud. I discovered it only when I went to pay for a client lunch and my card was, embarrassingly, declined.
So I found myself stuck in Hong Kong, with no access to any funds whatsoever, wondering what could go wrong next.
Enter Typhoon Doksuri.
In this part of the world what we call hurricanes are referred to as typhoons. A rather nasty one was making a bee-line for Hong Kong just as I was grousing about my frozen finances. (SunTrust has no 24-hour service to help customers in cases like this, so I didn’t yet know they’d merely frozen my account, and it would be another six hours before I knew if I could even touch my money.)
Typhoons are measured on a ten-point scale, with one being the weakest (merely a tropical storm) and ten being the strongest. Doksuri was bearing down on us as a one, but was expected to strengthen to a four or five by the time it hit.
It slammed into us as an 8.
I’ve been to Hong Kong a dozen or so times in the past couple of decades and couldn’t imagine seeing the always-teeming streets so totally free of people. I wondered where they’d gone, worrying most had simply been washed out to sea.
Doksuri, while awfully good at clearing the streets, left little else to mark its passing. Though it dumped up to 10 inches of rain on parts of the territory, I was stunned at how little damage it left behind. I was terribly annoyed with Doksuri for robbing me of my planned harrowing tale of survival against the odds! It’s hardly worth hunkering down for a level-8 typhoon if all you get to see is a few blown trees and a little flooding. Couldn’t the tourism board have at least arranged for a helicopter to be blown off a building or some such? I was terribly disappointed.
Disappointing Doksuri left as quickly as it arrived, leaving behind the kind of fresh, clean air only possible after a storm. It left a usually hazy city clean and beautiful, and me eager to get back out and explore.
We hopped in a cab and headed for Stanley on the extreme southeastern peninsula of Hong Kong Island.
This one-time fishing village is where the Brits set up their regional headquarters when first they seized Hong Kong. Stanley is also where British and Canadian troops made their valiant last stand before falling to advancing Japanese troops in 1941.
There’s a lot of history in Stanley. There’s also a lot of shopping and food, and that’s where we began.
We wound our way through the crowded stalls of Stanley Market until we lucked into New Star Restaurant. New Star is a hole-in-the wall, with filthy plastic menus, a grumpy proprietor in a stained t-shirt and perfectly delicious food. We washed back salt-fried squid, sweet pork and beef satay with six beers, all for around $30. Heaven!
Stanley boasts a beautiful shoreline with two primary beaches, one ingeniously named Stanley Main Beach, as well as the equally creatively named Stanley Main Street, Stanley Plaza, Stanley Prison, Stanley Military Cemetery and Stanley Fort. (Lord Stanley seems to have been as short in creativity as he was on staying power. He shares the record for being one of only four men to be named as British Prime Minister three separate times, though poor Lord Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, never managed to last two years before being quietly ushered out of the post.)
Touring the market bearing Lord Stanley’s name is an obligatory bit of touristy delight. Row after row of stalls and shops hawking everything from t-shirts to arts and crafts thrill the senses, and though the official website warns “take due care that what you are buying is correct and not a cheapie made for tourists,” real treasure can be found here.
We discovered ours in Vincent Li’s art gallery, down one of the side alleys in Stanley Market. Vincent is one of Hong Kong’s best-known artists, and his work is gorgeous. This isn’t the cheap dime-a-dozen work you find around other parts of the market, but real and beautiful art. If you’re looking for stunning images of Hong Kong and China, check him out. We restrained ourselves to just three pieces.
Leaving Stanley we headed back across the island for dinner. Debit card problems fixed, I could now afford something besides street food, so we headed for Nanhai on the 30th floor of iSquare in Kowloon.
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the UK handover of Hong Kong to China, so the city is jam-packed with hoardes of revellers eager for the celebration crammed into already packed streets. Reservations hard to come by, but the wonderful staff at the Sheraton Kowloon saved the day, arranging a window-side table at Nanhai, which they described as fancy, pricey, but worth every penny. And it was. We gorged ourselves on scrumptious delicacies like wasabi conch, rock lobster in mustard sauce and a spicy beef curry dish the name of which I’ll never remember. Storm gone, our view of the city was startling, as only Hong Kong can be, and being able to pay for the meal a thrill I wouldn’t have fully appreciated 24 hours ago.
It’s always a good day in Hong Kong.