We decided to be rich for a few days — even though it might mean some poverty later. The best place for this seemed to be Hong Kong, and in particular “our” neighborhood, the International Financial Center. That’s basically a world-class shopping mall with skyscrapers sprouting out the top and a vast transit center beneath. The tallest building in the picture below, Two International Finance Center, stands at the eastern, left, end, and our hotel, the Four Seasons, a couple blocks to the right, at the western end, eclipsing the building with the noticeable mast on top.
Though it cost a bit more, we had asked for a room on a floor above the 35th, insuring a magnificent view. But the hotel had overbooked, maybe for the New Year, and offered us one on just 18 instead. To make up for the disappointment, they gave us a suite — and one that included privileges at the Executive Club. Having now seen how the Other Half lives, I think I am beginning to understand what makes money so attractive.
Also not obvious are the hidden ports for electronics, or the portable controls for the sheers and the curtains on the windows. We operated these once, for the thrill of it, and then left them all open all the time, using Kowloon as our night-light.
On this trip we had begun seeing “Do Not Disturb” signs that operate electrically instead of relying on cards hung on the door. Here, there’s a switch not just by the entrance, but another set by the bed so that you can change your preference without getting up. I would be surprised if the “Please Make Up Room” signal didn’t light up in the attendant’s room as well.
I reckon that the suite is about the size of our entire condo back in Seattle. It has two or three times as many chairs — and definitely three times as many television sets, once you notice the little one set into the mirrored wall at the foot of the tub. The walk-in closet is perhaps better called a dressing room: it’s large enough to have its own artwork.
The suite lacks a kitchen — but of course there’s an excellent one on the other end of the phone line. Also, there are complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, an early, light supper, and snacks available at any hour, at the Executive Club.
It’s there, at the Executive Club, where they have that magnificent view — they’re on the 45th floor. The remarkable thing may be the service though. The person who holds your chair for you at breakfast isn’t so much a waiter as an administrative assistant. They’re eager to discuss your plans for the day and to help with anything involving scheduling, transportation or communication. As soon as you give your room number to one of them, they all address you by last name and title, no matter when they see you.
We were able on several occasions to wrest ourselves free from this heaven of hostelry, the first time shortly after our arrival, when we made our way into the open air to have dinner at another luxury hotel several blocks away. On our return, judging ourselves now quite the Old China Hands, we did some window shopping. Besides all the designer clothing shops there’s a big Apple store, and one just for Leicas. Quite near the entrance to the hotel there’s a BVLGARI sign — also the name on the give-away toiletries in our bathroom. We acquired some chocolate at one of the many boutique shops. The more pedestrian outlets tend to be on the transit levels. There’s a Mrs. Fields within a stone’s throw of two 7-Elevens, for instance.
Our very best purchase was an Octopus card for each of us, the equivalent of our ORCA transit pass back home — except that it lets you ride more kinds of transport, gets you discounts on some of them, can be used to make purchases at many stores (!), and then refunds your unused balance when you’re ready to leave town.
So we used our cards to go to some of the typical tourist places. We rode the Star Ferry over to Kowloon (see again that picture at top) and visited a couple of nice parks there. We took the tram (a long wait and a separate ticket) up to Victoria Peak. We rode the subway all the way back out to Tung Chung on Lantau Island and then the cable car to Ngong Ping for the classic aerial view of the airport and a look at the world’s largest statue of Buddha.
The next-to-last stop on that train line is the connection for the local Disneyland resort. An excited little girl with her extended family boarded after we did, and I started to offer my place to a mother or aunt; but Grandfather signaled that I should remain seated — it’s age, not gender, that gets you special treatment here. As they all got up to leave we wished each other a good day.
At one time Hong Kong sounded far too exotic for me, but it’s one of those places that allow the traveler to sample just the desired degree of foreignness. It offers what could be a valuable experience to many Americans: to find yourself in a situation where 1) nobody looks anything like you, and 2) nobody gives a darn.