Saturday, 7 July 2012
Slow Bloke To China: 5. Lee Gardens No More
The world seemed desperate then as they do now to stop diseases spreading. The airlines used to make you sit in your seats whilst the cabin crew would walk the length of the plane, holding their breath with an aerosol in each hand, spraying some unknown chemical everywhere. They never let on what it was.
'Is it safe?' I had once asked a Quantas steward and had got the typical Australian response to people who ask stupid questions.
'Yeah, no worries mate. It is a mixture of DDT, eucalyptus oil, fly spray, hair spray and some alcohol - you won't find any flies on us, mate.'
Kai Tak Airport is no more. It is in a HK$100 billion redevelopment project. The laundry bills must have decreased for passengers soiled clothing, as they looked out the window and witnessed each petrifying landing. But at a cost. Lovely Lantau Island, the site of the new airport has been ruined.
Selfishly, I remember it fondly when on a later trip to Hong Kong, I was taken to the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club's Apprentice School by the respected Australian jockey, Geoff Lane. It was quite a long journey and the boat ride from the metropolis of Kowloon really felt like getting away from it all. The further we climeb the hill, the more peaceful it got. I was on a learning mission myself. Learning about racing with a view to working in the industry when I returned to England. The school was fantastic. There was nothing like this at home. It was basic in some ways, but the cameraderie of the young jockeys and staff was exceptional. They had their own chef who cooked some of the finest Cantonese food I have ever eaten.
But now that's all gone. Progress they say.
The same has happened to the hotel I stayed in - the Lee Gardens. It's gone too. It was demolished in 1995 and replaced by yet another monolithic tower block - the Manulife Tower.
1n 1979, after a 19 hour trip I flopped onto the bed and semi dozed. In my diary I had noted that how impressed we were that there was a TV in every room. The first night was not a food lover's adventure. A cheeseburger, a Taiwanese mango and a bottle of San Miguel beer before crashing into a deep sleep.
The next morning was different. I got up early and headed for the street traders, ignoring all advice of not to eat in the street, unless you wanted to fasttrack to hospital with a case of food poisoning. I managed to find a bowl of congee (rice porridge), some boiled snake and some fried cuttlefish. I timed it perfectly and was back in time to join the others for the hotel's more European friendly continental breakfast.
After the fifth Chinese impersonation of a croissant, I felt I'd overdone it. Climbing up the bus steps for our tour of Hong Kong and the New Territories was a struggle.
Now it was a case of pot calling the kettle black as I was the flatulent passenger no one wanted to sit next to.