Adam Bird

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Monday, 25 October 2010

Peed Off!

Not as cute as he looks

When I was a little boy, Nanny Tracey had a couple of photograph albums, one for me and the other for Auntie Jessica. In amongst the pictures of our birth and first tentative steps were written biographies of what we liked, funny things that we said and other recollections, of friends that we'd made, programmes we'd like to watch and things teacher's had said about us. Mummy and I haven't quite gotten into the same routine, but here on my blog, I can write our own recollections, things that will come back to embarrass you in the years ahead.

For example. A week after Mummy and Daddy got married, Daddy had got back home from football and Mummy said that there was a problem with the television, she couldn't work out how to fix it. Daddy took one look and said "that's not a problem, that's broken". After you had gone to bed, and Mummy herself had gone out, Daddy took a look around where the television was to see if there was anything noticeably wrong. I saw straight away that something had happened.

There was a patch of what was liquid on the television stand, but it had dried, so I couldn't see what it was. I licked my finger, dabbed it into the powdery substance and I tasted it. Just to see if I could work out what it was. It tasted distinctly like wee-wee. Don't ask me what wee-wee tastes like, by the time you read this, there will be no doubt that you yourself will know what it taste's like - everyone does! With that, I was led into two conclusions. It was you, or the cat. I had hoped that it wasn't the cat for obvious reasons. So it could only have been you, a fact which you confirmed under questioning the very next day.

When asked why you did it, you said that you didn't know, and just shrugged your shoulders. It later turned out, after we sent the television off for investigation towards repairs that it would cost us £1,100 (nearly twice the price of the television) and that it's fault had been caused by a small fire in the inside of the screen, a couple of circuits had fried and we were very fortunate that the whole thing hadn't blown up! Or that you hadn't electrocuted your dinkle!

If that had caused us all sorts of problems and pain, a little over three weeks later whilst you were watching your "films", a catch-all phrase to anything you see on television, you decided that you couldn't be bothered to go upstairs to use the toilet and would instead prefer to cause us yet more grief. Rather than wet yourself, you knew that we would tell you off, so you peed in the only place in the lounge we wouldn't be able to find it. Inside the sub-woofer, part of our surround system. Unfortunately for you, Mummy walked in just as you were finishing and she witnessed fully how you had turned the speaker on it's back and peed in the hole which the sub-woofer uses to let the air escape.

After being put straight into bed and told in no uncertain terms how cross Mummy was, she took apart the speaker in order to dry it out, but in doing so she discovered evidence that pointed towards a frequent use of this electrical item as use of Oliver's own personal potty. I arrived home to a very cross Mummy and a very sad Oliver who didn't want to go to bed just yet but who was obviously sorry and aware that he had committed a crime too many. When asked once again why you had done it, you replied, "but Daddy, yeah, it was broken, yeah, so I did it again and broke it again". Not really an explanation that made much sense, but it seemed to perfectly vindicate your actions - if only to yourself!

After seeking advice on how best to combat this rather erratic behaviour Mummy and I devised a sticker chart to reward your successful lavatory excursions, if you made the effort, like normal people to go upstairs for your tinkle, you would gain a sticker as just reward. This, so far has been working a treat, your sticker fetish was rather extreme - even for three year old standards and so this method seemed to be a perfect antidote to our little problem.

Knowing that this was only caused by your reluctance to step away from the television for two minutes to use the bathroom, your punishment was a banishing from your "films" and your sticker rewards led to half-hour allocations of time in which you could watch whatever you wanted. Whether it be "Little Einsteins", "Handy Manny", "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Jungle Junction or Special Agent Oso", all of your current favourites!

Although this whole episode could have led to some serious consequences, it is generally something that luckily we can look back on and laugh at. It has been a rather unique story to tell our friends and family, not something particularly to be proud of mind. But behavioural wise it is the exception to the rule. Mummy and Daddy are just looking forward to retelling it all over again when you bring home your first girlfriend!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Saints of New York

New York City

What makes us us? What drives us? What guides our reactions to spontaneous decisions in the heat of the moment when there isn't time for thought? Three very tough questions, which there are no real answers, but they are answers in which Roger Ellory tries to discover in his latest book, the Saints of New York.

Having written reviews of his previous two novels, and even earlier about my first Ellory discovery, the wonderful "Quiet Belief in Angels", it appears to have become somewhat of an annual blog tradition! It's only right that I keep this tradition up, after all, the author is a reader of these reviews so I wouldn't want him thinking untoward thoughts if I missed this particular book out!

We are introduced to Ellory's latest protagonist, homicide detective Frank Parrish amidst a literal blood bath as he attempts to save the life of a girl who has been attacked by her boyfriend, but things, as always don't go according to plan. Parrish, down on his luck, it seems things aren't going his way. As the novel unfolds and we are introduced to the main story line we learn more about him, more importantly, his past and the ghost of his father, New York police legend, John Parrish, one of the original "Saints of New York".

What people don't know, but what Frank does, is the truth. He knows the real John Parrish and the seemingly sinister motivation behind his actions. Once again, as is the case with all of Ellory's books, we learn the back story at the same time that the main narrative races forward at a relentless pace.  This time told in gripping dialogue with Parrish's counsellor, who was assigned to him after Internal Affairs called him to book for a transgression too many.

All the while, a homicide investigation is going on, a drug dealer turns up dead, but so too does his sister. She's not the only one, there are more and we follow Frank's journey to unravel the pieces and follow the clues. Detective work doesn't strike me as a pleasant occupation, you see the lowest, and the lowest of the low. Frank has seen it all, but this really gets under his skin.

As a reader, it's not pleasant. Ellory digs into some dark places and you are reminded that this is real, it's happening on a day by day basis. Fictitious accounts of non-fictional events. Some readers may not like it,  nothing here is glamorised or dressed up. Vermin are vermin and as soon as we acknowledge their existence the sooner we can do something about it.

In context, you take the sum of this novels parts and you'd be thinking it reads as slightly clich├ęd, particularly as a "crime thriller". You take a New York homicide detective, hard drinker, broken marriage, married to the job, a typical "who-dunnit", but as with all of his previous works Ellory takes a token formulae and adds some of his magical fairy dust and takes what has been written time and time again into another direction.

I can't think of many other crime thrillers that would have left me thinking about the three answers to the three questions I asked earlier, but once again, my whole enjoyment of these books that continue to be released on a yearly basis is that they transcend the genre. Gritty, realistic dialogue, characters that are believable and fully dimensional, the crime aspect is merely a distraction as we try and understand the person and what drives them.

Although, ultimately another wonderful piece of literature by Ellory, my main reason for it's success was what makes reading a book so special, the right one always seems to come at the right time. It may just be me, maybe it's entirely coincidental, but what with finally relenting and going to this church course with my Dad for the sake of my parents, learning about "where we come from" and the "meaning of life", it seems that I'm being thrown different answers of varying importance about this topic wherever I turn!

I'll always hold A Quiet Belief in Angels, and A Quiet Vendetta in such high regard, so there is a little bit of pressure from me onto the author to surpass that, I'm not expecting a Magnum Opus once every twelve months and would be incredibly rude (and impossible) of me  to request that! Each of his readers will have their own personal favourites, and they are what his future work will be measured by. But he has a fan here, and if one more fan comes as a result of these annual reviews then all the better for it, as it will hopefully mean more books for me to read!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Two Golden Tickets and one Golden Honeymoon

Hong Kong

Heading into October was a stark reminder of the month that had just past. A month that Stephanie and I have so many treasured memories, for it was of course the month of our marriage. The best way to describe our day would be "indescribable", but throw in the words, amazing, awesome, incredible, beautiful, joyous and we might just be getting somewhere near. We are indebted to all and everyone who came and made our day so very special, for which we will always thank you.


As the day unfolded, and we had finally became officially known as Mr and Mrs Bird, Stephanie and I could start to look forward to the moment when Mum and Dad's greatest secret became open knowledge, which was of course, the grand unveiling of our honeymoon destination.

Stephanie and I sat, alongside our parents and looked out at eight tables named after destinations which indicated where we would be spending a week together enjoying each others company and spending our first tentative steps as a married couple.

Antigua, Dubai, Dubrovnik, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Marrakesh, New York and Rome all lie in wait, and when Gareth, my best man concluded his speech by asking everyone present to open the secret envelope upon each table, Stephanie and I stopped breathing for a few seconds as we waited for a glimpse of that golden ticket which we had created together only a few weeks earlier.

People screamed in joy that they had the special golden ticket, on more than one table, but those sitting on Istanbul and Dubrovnik hadn't read the small print and didn't realise the significance of the words "Golden Ticket" waving the consolatory white ones still left our honeymoon prize a mystery, until to our left. Stephanie's brother John stood beaming and more importantly waving manically those two golden tickets which solved all at once the questions of the previous few months. Or at least it did after 30 seconds or so, our minds were busy furiously computing the words, "John", "Golden Ticket", "table name", "which one", "I can't see it", "oh", "Hong Kong", "HONG KONG", "OH MY GOD". Stephanie had started to cry, screamed the immortal words, "I love Chinese food I do" and gripped me in a firm embrace where both of us enjoyed a shared moment of excitement and stunned wonder.

A little over forty-eight hours later therefore we found ourselves, Stephanie and I sitting in a bar at the stunning Heathrow Terminal 5 ahead of a twelve hour flight east, to an alien place of which our preparations consisted of a briefly written investigative blog and four tour guides, two from my own parents and two from Carly and Reaso, who themselves had been to Hong Kong as part of their own honeymoon just a year earlier.

Twelve hour flight, perfect I thought. I'd be able to read all four guides, plus the instruction manual for our hastily purchased camera which we had brought only two hours previously to replace our own, being a victim of a stag weekend too far. What I hadn't banked on, was Heathrow Terminal 5 having a Wagamama's! My favourite eatery, ever! Stephanie "I love Chinese food I do" had never been before, so what better way to start our culinary adventure with a fusion feast from the east?

The problem lay in that filling my boots at 10.30 at night, tired with the exhaustion of the previous few days all I wanted to do on the plane was try and get some sleep. Being in confined space for that amount of time, whilst sitting next to a little Chinese lady who kept falling asleep on my shoulder and fidgeting around with the copious amounts of boiling water she was ordering from the in-flight bar meant that I spent a long twelve hours too tired to read, too uncomfortable to sleep!

Slightly tired but thoroughly excited we arrived in Hong Kong to glorious weather at 4.30 local time. The weather was a pleasant surprise as the forecast according to my iPhone weather app was for a weeks worth of thunder storms. In fact, we were to not see a single drop of rain for the duration of our entire stay. We were warned about the humidity, but the heat came as something of a surprise! As soon as we stepped out of the airport we were hit by a blast of hot air that didn't relent until we returned back to the airport five days later.

Mum and Dad had arranged for a transfer from the airport to our hotel, the Metropark in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong. Dad advised us to make our return by train, but felt we needed some time to acquaint ourselves with the underground system first, so transfer by coach offered us some initial security and a great chance to have a look around Hong Kong from the road.

What a view it was! Travelling by road in Hong Kong is quite a slow and laborious process! It is also a fly by the seat of your pants journey too. On leaving the airport, which is built on reclaimed land from the sea and the remains of a flattened island. You enter into Hong Kong Island by way of a tunnel, which is payable by toll like the Dartford Crossing, but the shear number of vehicles vying to get into the two lane tunnel funnelled down from a four lane highway is incredible! The taxi drivers are obviously well insured as they are the most persistent in making progress, they don't seem to care that anyone else is on the road, they will be first in the queue and are not fussed if another car crashes into them.

Our hotel was last in the list of drop-off's which didn't bother us in the slightest. In fact, by the time we had arrived at our hotel, we were now in darkness as the transition from day into night happens so quickly. The amount of people milling around the streets going about their daily lives was truly astonishing and slightly daunting for the pair of us. How on earth were we to get about in one piece?

With the change from day into night, Hong Kong changed from a glass, concrete and steel metropolis to a neon, florescent dashboard of kaleidoscopic colour. As soon as you leave the airport, all around you are tall, high-rise buildings. It seems as if there isn't a single building within your view shorter than twenty storeys. At night, when they are all lit up, particularly at street level with it's advertising hoardings that span the entire roadway you can barely make out the tops of the buildings as the glow of the light makes everything a little darker.

View of Hong Kong from our hotel room

We finally arrived at our hotel, checked in and made our way up to our harbour view room on the ninth floor. Despite the fact that there were nearly twenty five storeys above us we had an amazing view from our window. Having been surrounded the whole way so far by buildings in such close proximity it was a surprise for us to see such a wide expanse of space out of our window. This was Victoria Park, one of only a very few open public spaces in Hong Kong. Ahead of us lay the yet more giant buildings of Causeway Bay, and to our right over the water was Kowloon, itself home to a vast array of superstructures all lit up impressively in the evening skies.

After a brief drink in the hotel bar, we headed cautiously through Victoria Park, which was gearing itself up for the pending local festivals. Unfortunately we were to leave the day before the festivities commenced, but judging by the lights and decorations that were being put up onto various stages, podiums and awnings this is something not to be missed.

Until we reached the Causeway Bay area we hadn't really experienced the voluminous amount of people that we had been warned about, or seen on our earlier coach journey. But that all changed as soon as we exited the park and crossed onto the main road leading through into the cavernous thoroughfare. Lit up, the brightness of a floodlit Wembley Stadium, the hustle and bustle of the traffic, people milling around like worker ants flanked on either side by buildings that reached up into the heavens. Stephanie and I could be forgiven for thinking that we had arrived on another planet let alone another country.

Stephanie's first reaction was that of "everyone is looking at me". They weren't at all, but I could sympathise with her. Every man, women and child within distance of us were all Chinese or of Asian origin, which meant that everyone had dark hair. Stephanie with her blonde locks stood out like beacon out to sea! I remember seeing "Lost in translation" with Bill Murray and not being able to relate to it very well, but in those first few tentative steps into Hong Kong the entire film came flashing back to me and it all seemed to make more sense!

Despite our initial trepidation we had an enjoyable evening of exploration and our first experience of the local cuisine. With food readily available everywhere, local food from kiosks on the side of the road, to international franchises, McDonald's, Spaghetti House and Steakhouses, we wanted something a little more authentic. The trouble with authenticity is that you have to go by instinct. We walked past plenty of places, looked through the menus outside, which were mostly entirely in Chinese and through either not liking the look of the pictures or not liking the look of the building from the outside we carried on walking until we found something that seemed a bit more comfortable.

We were, for the most part entirely comfortable, both of us chose well, despite being fairly blind as to what was what. But soon after our food arrived it started to go a bit downhill! Stephanie armed with a pair of chop sticks. Beware. Trying to transport the noodles from her plate to her mouth via too pieces of plastic was an enjoyable viewing experience, watching her twirl them around like a cheerleaders majorette wasn't, particularly when she knocked over a full glass of wine into one of the dishes we were sharing. Twice!

Now had this incident occurred in England, in the Harvester for example, I wouldn't have worried, but being so far from home, culturally in a different world to what we were used to I was unsure about how Stephanie's actions would be interpreted. I wasn't thinking that we would be shouted at or thrown out, but was unsure of any etiquette required for the given situation. Later reading through our guide book I came across a section entitled "Eating in Hong Kong", there was a sentence which put my mind belatedly to rest which said, "don't worry about creating a mess whilst eating in Hong Kong, its traditionally believed that a dirty table is a sign of a good meal", or something like that!

We awoke on our first full day with our minds set on exploring Hong Kong and seeing some of the sites that this amazing city has to offer. We opened our bedroom curtains and immediately got the first of them. If, by night our view was spectacular, by day the contrast was immense. We could see nothing but buildings from across the park which stood like giant monuments, the main road, which we walked the night before came alive with traffic, taxis and trams carrying people from one place to another, whilst across the water, which was dotted with river traffic stood yet more buildings of varying heights and materials.

Seeing the trams below enticed us, and after a breakfast at the hotel we made our way to the tram stop to head further into Hong Kong, and hopefully somewhere close to The Peak Tram terminus which would take us up into the hills enabling us to see the full panorama Hong Kong has to offer.

Maybe we were too keen, or just not fully prepared, but as we made our way to the upper class section of the tram, the top deck we followed our route with the guide book which was continually acting as our bible. We soon realised that we had acted too soon and had gotten on the wrong tram. Instead of heading to our intended destination, Central, we head towards Happy Valley instead, past the football club and the stands of the world famous racecourse. Not sure how to make our way back, we quickly alighted, paid our twenty-five pence fair and made our way back, by foot the way we had came.

Our second mistake of the day. Or should I rephrase that in the politest way possible? Stephanie's biggest mistake of the whole holiday, her choice of footwear. She was wearing a rather pleasant looking pair of size five canvas shoes, with little trainer socks, and size eight insoles, which meant for every three meters she walked, her insoles would come out by three millimetres. So by the time we had walked to the tram, walked off the tram and walked one hundred yards back up the road, her insoles were hanging our the back of her shoes like flapping great tongues. We had to stop whilst she disposed of them, and once again a further one hundred yards up the road, where she moaned that her feet were hurting!

OK, I thought, lets go back to the hotel, let you get your trainers on and then we'll start over. "I haven't brought any trainers with me". Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly! We'd gone all the way to Hong Kong and Stephanie hadn't brought one pair of sensible footwear for a day's exploration in one of the worlds greatest cities. Her excuse was that she didn't think she'd be doing so much walking (we'd walked two hundred yards), even though she knew we'd be spending a day at Disney, which is of course, navigated by foot.

Despite that little hiccup, we agreed that she wouldn't moan about aching feet, I'd forgive her for her oversight and that we would purchase a pair of trainers at the soonest opportunity!

Rather than wait for the correct tram, we thought that we would attempt a speedier, cooler alternative and get the tube into Central by way of the MTR. Wow! How impressed was I by the Hong Kong tube network? We found the Causeway Bay tube station, which was signposted from every conceivable direction. Made our way down through the usual network of escalators and ticketing office stopping off to get our tickets for travel.

Bearing in mind that we were in a foreign city, a city whose natural language is written as a serious of characters that are uninterpretable by the European eye, buying a ticket couldn't have been simpler. Even if the instructions were not bilingual (English & Chinese), you could have been Egyptian and still worked out how to get a ticket from A to B. Simply select the stop that you needed by way of a touch screen, press a number for the amount of tickets required and pay the required fare. They also operate an Octopus card, which, just like our Oyster equivalent allows you discounted journey prices, the only difference being is that you can make purchases for all sorts of things throughout the city without worrying about the need for cash or debit payments. Something for Boris perhaps?

We found our train easily enough by way of perfect signage, again bilingual, but when they say that the train is one minute away, it is, unlike the London Tube, which is hit and miss at best. There are no comparisons between the MTR and the Tube. They are poles apart. All stations have a glass partition between the platform and the train, which we found to be very helpful during the rush hour carnage, certain fatalities would be commonplace without them! Trains are twice the length, twice the width. All food and drink is strictly forbidden and mobile communication is unaffected. All trains are air-conditioned and people seem to understand that there is a process in place. If you are in the front of the queue, you are next to board the train. There is no pushing, shoving, arguing, swearing, threats of violence if you accidentally bump into someone, which is nigh on impossible in most cases.

Once aboard the train, the route map is interactive, flashing lights indicate which direction you are travelling, another light flashes to indicate which stop is next and changes colour once you arrive. Automated voices even indicate which side of the train you need to exit allowing you sufficient time to make it from one side to the other.

You can see why the system is so efficient, it's all so fairly new. Whereas the London Tube has been in operation since 1863, the Hong Kong MTR has only existed since 1979, with much of it being extended since the turn of the century. By starting from scratch, you can basically build what you like. Having an obscene amount of money also obviously helps!

Alighting at Central station, by far the biggest in Hong Kong, you are again guided through the vast network of underground piazza's, shopping malls and tunnels to get to the right exit. At Central station, there are exits that go from A more or less through to Z, you simply spot the place you want to go and follow the signs until your back out on street level, or above street level as the case maybe.

We made our way to the Peak Tram terminus, via the Bank of China tower, one of the most impressive skyscraper building in Hong Kong. Although the locals don't seem to like it, apparently the feng sui is all wrong and the triangular shard corners are seen to be knifing down on the buildings surrounding it and "killing energy". We wanted to take a trip up to the viewing gallery on the top floor, but hadn't realised that we needed our passports as a security measure. Stephanie actually had hers with her, and in hindsight, perhaps she should have gone up by herself and made the most of the photo opportunities on offer.

Hong Kong from the Peak

It didn't matter too much as we were of course on route to Hong Kong's biggest and best viewing platform. The Peak. What started off as a retreat for Victorian Englishmen, to escape some of the crowds and the heat, which cools at altitude has since thrived as a tourist spot in it's own right. There are still plenty of people living in houses dotted around the Peak, but the real vocal point is the recently opened gallery, an Anvil shaped building which, combines as the furthest stop on the tram line whilst containing a whole manor of entertainment facilities, shops, restaurants as well as an open air gallery of which views of Hong Kong are to be seen to be believed.

The journey up the mountain is quite hair raising! Unlike a funicular railway which keeps you horizontal as you progress up the hill, the tram keeps you level with the tracks which carries it. In some places this can be quite steep, so as you rise with the buildings to your right, they look like they are sticking out sideways giving you quite a bizarre and unnatural view as you reach the top. Stephanie was slightly apprehensive as we made our way up, even more so on our return back down as you are carried backwards towards the lower level station!

On each of our wedding tables we had an iconic photograph of all the places chosen by Mum and Dad. For Hong Kong we had a panoramic picture of the city, taken at dusk, just as Hong Kong starts to light up and come to live which was taken from the peak. Being entirely enchanted by this image we were both really keen to see for ourselves what had been witnessed by millions of people previously. And we were not disappointed!

Looking down, first of all into Hong Kong, looking at high rise building as far as the eye can see is an awe inspiring sight. You try and put that into perspective as your eyes glance over the water, which carries vessels of all types. Passenger boats, fishing boats, cargo ships, cargo barges, ocean liners, oil tankers, the water is alive with a maze of activity. Your eyes carry on and you reach over the shore into Kowloon. Where yet more high rises carry on in yet another direction.

It slightly wears you out, your unsure about where to look! You need to take a walk around the viewing gallery to take a look around the other side, which is all flora and fauna of the hills beyond. Let your eyes adjust back to some kind of normality before going back and having a look all over again.

We were fortunate. Our trusty little guide book told us that viewings from the peak on clear days were vastly becoming few and far between, the smog and air quality doesn't lend itself to good views, but we couldn't have had it any better we could see for miles!

After a gentle stroll around the top of the peak, away from the gallery through the trees which offered little scenic windows into the city below, plus more importantly some welcome shade from the unrelenting heat! Both Stephanie and I, not known for our fitness struggled with the humidity throughout our stay. Sweat continuously pouring down our faces and into bits that are better left alone. We had to stop frequently for water or refreshment to stop ourselves getting dehydrated, particularly as we were continually on our feet, which, incidentally at that stage we still hadn't resolved the issue of Stephanie's inappropriate footwear!

Stephanie looking apprehensive

We stopped off at a place called Luk Yu, a Chinese tea-house which was recommended to us by Carly and Reaso, partially to cool down, partially to calm our nerves after our backward descent into Central. The food, although beautifully cooked and delicious, was a little hit and miss for our liking. The menu consisted of a list of items, which we read through and ticked those we liked the sound of. Stephanie didn't like the dumplings, which is one of the key components of a dim sum lunch, so had to luck her way through the remaining options. We ordered some meatballs, which we thought "hey, you can't go wrong with meatballs", but evidently you can. Very, very fragrant, more like a mouthful of pot-pourri than anything! But you live and learn, try and sample, like and dislike. It's all part of the experience!

As much as we'd have liked to of sat inside the tea-house all day and enjoy the air conditioning, we still had so much to see and we had a boat to catch!

Star Ferry

The Star Ferry is another great Hong Kong institution, like something from a by-gone age. It's a particularly refreshing experience amongst the sleek and modern architecture to sit on something so rickety and traditional. It's also incredibly cheap. Sitting atop the upper deck, the first class section as it is called for a one way trip across the water costs around twenty-five pence! It's a twenty-five pence well spent. With the waterways so full of life, you set sail heading towards Kowloon weaving in and out of the rest of the river traffic unable to help but wonder how many collisions are part of day-to-day life and whether the gap you are sailing between will be enough as it gets smaller and smaller.

Upon disembarking at Kowloon harbour, the hustle and bustle magnifies as the range of people trying to sell you there wares, or enticing you into one of there stores is quite aggressive. If you've told one person that you don't want a custom made designer suit, you've told fifty and ignoring them doesn't seem to work, they follow you all the way up the road until you've told them in no uncertain terms "No Thank You!"

We made a beeline for Harbour City, the largest shopping mall in Hong Kong and quite possibly one of the largest in the world. It really is huge! The ground floor seems to be entirely devoted to kids, kids clothes, from the posh to the not quite so, Armani Kids, Luis Vuitton for Kids, Ted Baker, Gap. Toy stores, including a whole Toy's 'r' Us and many others which if Oliver had been with us, would have seen our five days evaporate just on that one floor.

Within Harbour City, Stephanie found, mercifully a pair of trainers which put a smile back upon her face and we set off once again in search for drinks and refreshments. We stopped off outside the Peninsula Hotel, another landmark which is top of the must see list. We didn't venture inside, one look at the outside of the building said, "not a place for two yobs from Gravesend, thank you", so we went instead to the hotel next door. The Sheraton, for cocktails in the Sky Lounge.

Standing in the lift, making our way up to the 38th floor, you'd be forgiven for thinking that we were in a normal lift. Four walls, buttons on one side, the usual ambient lighting. Except the moment we started going up, it turned instantly into daylight as the lift was external to the building and three of the four walls were glass! Stephanie's face was a picture as she jumped from one side of the lift to the other closest to the door and closed her eyes, "I don't like it!" I thought it was terribly exciting, watching everything get smaller and smaller as we head towards the skies!

Being right on the river front we were afforded some incredible views. Different to those of the Peak as you were at an entirely different perspective. In line with the tops of the buildings, albeit separated by a stretch of water, you could really get a feel of how vast Hong Kong really is. We had a lovely relaxing couple of drinks, albeit at a stretch to our budget, but we were on our honeymoon, we could stretch to a bit of luxury here and there!

It also gave us the perfect opportunity to access our plans for the next few days, what we would do, where we would be going. We decided to make our way back to the hotel, have a relaxing swim in the pool, get ready for a night out in preparation for a trip to Ocean Park the following day.

Now, generally, the hotels that I have stayed in before, you make your way to the pool via an exit out the back on the ground floor into the grounds beyond. But this is Hong Kong, space is at a premium. Plus, if you had the luxury of a few yards out the back, any pool would be in the constant shade of the surrounding buildings, so the hotel we stayed in had the cunning idea of putting the swimming pool on the roof, or figuratively, the 34th floor.

If swimming at altitude seems like a novelty concept, it becomes even more surreal when there are people in nearby appartments looking down at you as they watch Emmerdale on there televisions sets! That first day in Hong Kong was all about vistas and views, all of the unique, the initial view from our room, the view from the Peak and then as day turned into night, the view atop our hotel building. All of which were entirely different, and all completely mesmerising!

That night, unfortunately is a bit blurry! We had a few drinks in our hotel bar, made our way back into Central via the more successful MTR, which we had now mastered and found ourself a nice Malaysian restaurant in a little square off a road more commonly referred to as Rat Alley. We had a really enjoyable meal, the wine flowed, we ordered too much and got talking to a couple next to us, the guy was an ex-pat from Bromley working for one of the investment banks. We seem to think upon reflection that the waiter got confused and presumed that we were a foursome as the bill we paid that night was excessively high in comparison to all the other meals we had for the duration of our stay. Never mind, we hope they enjoyed it, although being a banker you'd have hoped it was the other way around!

Not letting that dampen our spirits, we set off in search of a lively club/bar type place. I was still in an Ibiza frame of mind, so I was looking for the Hong Kong equivalent of Amnesia, but was without luck, not sure if that type of place even exists! Instead, we found a bar in the Lan Kwai Fong area and sat outside which had suitably loud music, seemingly having a decibel competition with the bar opposite which was fine with me!

That started the pair of us off on a mini-bar crawl as the Lan Kwai Fong area is littered with bars of varying types, even if it is a bit like being in the centre of London on a Friday night at times. Our last bar of the evening Stephanie ordered a cocktail whilst I was in the toilet. I came back, she showed me which one she ordered. The one that was twice as expensive as the second most expensive one! Goodness knows what was in this drink, but she got a pint glass delivered to her, which contained a few ice cubes, a splash of blackcurrent and the rest was pure alcohol of varying types!

THAT Cocktail

I played it safe and stuck with a pint, whilst I was enjoying a nice beer, watching the world go by, Stephanie was going crazy eyed and crazier eyed with each sip and inhalation of the fumes. She was struggling. I had a couple of mouth-fulls and within moments the pair of us were on a one way trip to a dangerous place! Encroaching upon peoples private group photos, as trademarked by our good friend Will, whilst laughing rather manically and realising at once that things were starting to go downhill. As history would have it, we made it back to our hotel room safe and sound that night, but perhaps we'll leave that story for another day.

The following morning, despite our nocturnal activities we awoke at the agreed time, bright and early to make our way over to Ocean Park. Mum and Dad had written us a list of places that we must visit within our stay and we were slowly making our way through them.

Ocean Park was at one point the only theme park on Hong Kong, and catered for tourists with a mixture of wildlife from the region, marine life and the odd ride here and there, similar if you like to Chessington World of Adventures back here in the UK. With the fairly recent addition of Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park has had to up it's game somewhat, which has taken some time to put in place, but we saw some of the future whilst we were there.

The key selling point for me with Ocean Park is it's location. Not only is it right on the sea, it's split into two areas. The bottom part, inland, which plays home to some of the wildlife enclosures, including four Panda bears - the first I'd ever seen. They are truly impressive creatures and seeing them in the flesh, it does make you think about the threat to their extinction and how sad it would be if they were to disappear for good.


video

The second part of the park is in and around the top of the nearby hill, is accessible in one of two ways, by cable car or a modern new addition, an enclosed funicular railway. Mum and Dad recommended the cable car, so that's where we went. Unfortunately for Stephanie that is!

She stated before we got in that she was slightly nervous and that she wasn't looking forward to this what so ever! I didn't realise that she would be that scared! You know, like, complexion changing scared! Stephanie is generally very quite pale, but for the most part that day she was quite red, a mixture of exhaustion from the humidity and some colour from the sun, but I don't think I have ever seen the colour drain so quickly out of anyone's face! White knuckles from holding the central column of the car so tightly. And then the venom! What venom! I'm in my element, camera at the ready, views from here to eternity, I didn't know which way to look, swapping seats from one side to the other, trying to get the perfect vantage point. Stephanie starts screaming at me through gritted teeth saying "stay there, do not move, keep still, I... do... not... like THIS", certainly had me told!

Ocean Park

Although, generally the rides at Ocean Park are nothing to shout about, we went a year too early, plenty of construction workers were beavering away at getting the new attractions ready for 2011, but what is there already is perfectly adequate for a day's entertainment. What made it for us was the entire lack of queuing, getting on rides straight away and what are fairly average roller-coasters, the location gives them an extra zest in thrill terms. The mine train in particular, sat precariously on the lip of the hill as you are whizzed around at high speed giving you the impression that you are going to zip off the edge into the sea at any given moment.

That day though, was hot! There was plenty of shade to escape the suns glare, but walking up and down the hillside in that heat and humidity took it out of us! Huge fans within the queue lines helped a little bit, but we were never queuing for long enough to appreciate them. We had some respite in the afternoon sitting within the huge amphitheatre to watch the sea-life show, which was highly entertaining albeit not as good in comparison to some of the shows put on elsewhere in the world. But you have to put it into context. For a long time, Ocean Park was the sole park of its type in that part of the world and built and tailored for the local populace which would have been thrilled to bits by the entertainment on offer. With the Chinese market opening up and parks popping up here there and everywhere, including Disney around the corner, peoples expectations have started to rise, but Ocean Park, to it's credit are making progress to try and meet them.

With so much to see and so much to do, we found ourselves in a bit of a dilemma. Do we spent the evening down by the waterfront in Kowloon to watch the nightly laser show, or do we head over to the Jumbo floating restaurants for a meal in another of Hong Kong's must see attractions?
Fatefully for us, we decided upon the floating restaurant! We arrived at Aberdeen Harbour after a hairy scenic taxi ride through the hills. The usual way was apparently shut due to a serious road accident (no surprise there), and got our first glimpse of the restaurants sat out on the water, all lit up in various colours which emphasised it's oriental architecture. We were both actually quite surprised how big the vessel was, although it's size is made to look a whole lot larger by the reflection in the water.

A fairly small boat takes you from the harbour, out to the restaurant, it's only about 200 yards, so doesn't take long. The interior of the building was nothing like I had imagined it at all. I though that it would be similar to the Star Ferry, with wooden floors and seating, with a Dixie Landing steam boat feel. However, instead, you have elaborate gold ornaments set amongst a kind of Ming Dynasty style hall. Large detailed murals render the walls and it feels all very luxurious.

Stephanie on the Jumbo Floating Restaurant

We had a walk around and tried to decide which of the three floors we would like to eat. Starting at the top, working down, logical. The top floor we were unable to access, the entire area had been reserved for a corporate party. Fair enough, there were still the other two floors. We had a look at the menu for the second floor restaurant, opened up to a random page. Shark Fin soup, $680, or roughly £68! Now I know that this is a delicacy, but I wouldn't even try it if they paid me £68 - the manner in which they fish for sharks only to use the fins and discard the rest of the carcass is nothing short of disgraceful. The rest of the menu seemed to be seafood or fish, which Stephanie doesn't like and never will like, so we moved on, the bottom floor it was then. Well, no, we couldn't eat there either, as we were not part of a tour group! Apparently we had to be part of an organised party to eat here, even though the restaurant appeared to be empty and that there were only the two of us. We were left with two options. To return back to the expensive seafood restaurant and find something palatable for Stephanie, or to leave and find somewhere entirely different, which is what we ended up doing.

Another cab ride later, we found ourselves in the seaside town of Stanley, famished by this point! We actually had a really, really nice meal here and enjoyed a fairly peaceful night away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. We could have been anywhere in the world that night and just the two of us enjoying our own company whilst being treated like King and Queen by the exceptional waiter that evening made up for the disappointing experience we had at the Jumbo floating restaurant.

Stephanie and I started our whole wedding adventure in the magical confines of Euro Disney, proposing to my Princess at the doors of the Princess castle like something from a fairytale. Being in Hong Kong, the location of the newest Disneyland resort only miles away, it was only right that we should make room in our schedule to pay a visit and bookend perfectly the two years of our engagement process.

People hadn't been particularly complimentary about Disney in Hong Kong, in fact the guide book which was our bible for five days was damn right rude about it. Each to there I own, I realise that. One persons pain is another man's pleasure, and Disney that day was as pleasurable experience as either of ever had.

Don't get me wrong, there are inadequacies of course, the park is smaller than all the rest, an entire "land" (adventureland) is missing from the map, which makes the list of attractions somewhat smaller than it's sister parks, but what is there, is the undisputed magic of Disney. The castle, the iconic building of which the rest of the park is built around was also slightly disappointing in comparison, but it's built that way for a reason. Rather than a tall domineering castle, the building reflects general Chinese architecture and is instead a fairly low level building of understated grandeur.

Space Mountain

As with Ocean Park, we didn't have to queue for long for any of the rides and so we enjoyed all that was on offer. Space Mountain was one of our first stops, the only roller-coaster in the park and it is fairly similar to the one in Florida which doesn't have loops unlike Paris. But wow did it pack a punch. As there was no queue we basically walked straight on. From the brightness of the outside daylight to the dark interior of the Space Mountain building we were rocketed around continuously and left stunned as we pulled back into the station as we wasn't expecting anything quite as good as that!

The other highlight for the pair of us was the Mickey PhilharMagic, a staple 4 dimensional show which can be found in any theme park in the world. This is of course Disney, so the production and execution is above and beyond anything else on offer. Wearing the usual yellow glasses, sat in a cinema seat watching in amazing clarity as Donald Duck bursts out of the screen and flies inches away from your nose, whilst providing a narrative as funny as any adult comedy. The barnstorming finale would have had me on my feet by way of a standing ovation if it wasn't for the fact that I would have been the sole contributor, the Chinese tend to be a little more conservative in showing their enthusiasm!

Spending the day meeting characters from films and having photographs taken like school kids we couldn't help but feel awfully bad. Sitting at home thousands of miles away was Oliver with his Nanny and Bampy, whilst we are shaking hands with Buzz Lightyear. It didn't seem right, but we tried to buy our way out of our remorse with goodness knows how many bits and pieces from the merchandise stores. Our only worries then was getting it all home!

Halloween at the end of October is a real money maker for Disney and they kick of celebrations real early. Watching the characters walk around in witches hats and ghouls jumping out the bushes at you didn't seem very authentic, purely because the sun was beating down and the temperatures were high enough to fry an egg on the pavement. I'm not a fan of Halloween in the slightest, but the production was as usual incredibly high value. As there was so much going on throughout the day we decided to stay until park closing, ensuring that we could stay and watch both the glow in the dark parade and the firework finale.

Before all of that, we just had time to make it to see the Stitch encounter.  We had seen this early that morning, but not really knowing much about Lilo and Stitch we decided not to bother. It was pretty much the only thing that we hadn't done and we had time to kill before the evening parade. Better to be sat in an air conditioned theatre as opposed to the humidity of the night sky. So we queued for the English performance with a sense of apathy, not really knowing what was ahead of us.

Basically, guests enter the theatre, which is themed into a space station style environment. You sit down upon a series of benches that are all on the same level in front of a large screen which comes to life at the beginning of the performance.

Up pops the cartoon character of Stitch and introduces himself to you, the audience. A few people mutter hello back and Stitch replies with a "come on, you can do better than that", typical pantomime style interaction. After the greetings Stitch tells you why his here, and says he wants to meet the two girls sitting on the floor at the front of the screen. Very clever I thought. A cartoon animation, with a live voice over. But as the performance progressed, it started to become very clear that something extra special was happening. The cartoon was animating in response to the audiences participation. How was that? It was amazing to watch!
"Hey, who is that, I recognise that man", said Stitch, "fourth row from the front, fifth person in". I counted four rows, I counted five people. Shit, I thought, that's me. Over my shoulder swung a microphone. "What's your name?", enquired Stitch. "Erm, Adam" I replied, entirely embarrassed and bright red. Thank goodness it was so dark. "Are you English?", "Yes","Who are you with?", my mind was shot and drastically trying to catch up, "My girl... wife, Stephanie". At which point I took the opportunity to get rid of the microphone, the attention and dump it all on Stephanie's shoulders.

Apparently, Stitch recognised me as a prisoner from a space prison he was in earlier, and I had escaped and was on the most wanted list! Just to prove his point, up popped my face upon the screen as part of a high-tech wanted poster. Bearing in mind that this is still all an animated cartoon, like the Simpson's, made this all the more impressive.

All through the rest of the performance, Stitch, interacting with the audience at every possible turn, whilst using my name for the punch lines to all the funniest parts. The final scenes were Stitch's spaceship being invaded and the audience was used to ensure that he got to safety by shouting out directions and commands. As he left the screen he shouted out, "Bye Bye Stephanie, look after my Adam!"

Wow! I am still blown away by that! How many times have you been to a show and seen someone pulled out the audience? It's never been me, and gladly so. But to be pulled out of that one, in something so technically outstanding was something to never forget. Stephanie and I both agreed that, even if we were not pulled out and watching the show as innocent bystanders, we would still have enjoyed it massively. Very clever stuff.

Having had such a long and exhausting day, we stopped off for some drinks within the hotel bar before retiring to bed. We had another full itinerary lined up and waking up at 11am wasn't part of it!

Panicking slightly that we had wasted a whole day we made our way towards the Lantau Island where we would be catching the Ngong Ping cable car to view the Po Lin Monastery and Giant Buddha.

After our experience at Ocean Park and Stephanie's obvious fear of all things cable car, I offered her the choice of what type of cabin she wanted. There were two type, well three, the luxury cabin was about £1,000 so we didn't even investigate that! But we had the standard car and the glass bottom one to choose from. Stephanie, I would have thought, knowing what she was like previously was going to say "normal one" without hesitation and that there was no way she was going anywhere near the glass bottom one. Particularly as from the ticket booth, you can see the route the cable car takes and it was nothing but up! Instead, her indecisiveness shone through and she said,"I don't know, you decide". I am normally a gentlemen in these situations, but as I wanted to relive the nerves of the day before last, and the fact that I was fairly fearless I ordered two tickets for the glass bottom cabin!

Ngong Ping

After nearly a week of wonderful experiences, this was yet another. It takes roughly twenty five minutes to traverse the entire route and make our way up and over a mountain and down into another one. From our cabin, which we shared with another couple and four enthusiastic Japanese teenage tourists the view from all four windows and the single glass floor was staggering! Our perfect weather conditions continued and made for some spectacular viewing.

Lantau Island is part of the complex which created the Hong Kong airport, so is mainly man made. As we progressed up the cable car, we were running parallel to the airport runway. It was a bizarre sight watching aircraft taking off on the same trajectory as we were going upwards and looking as the plane, high in the sky was lower than we were!

Stephanie held on with dear life, clung with two hands to the handrail within the cabin. The four Japanese teens were swapping seats, taking photos sitting on the floor (in which I joined them) and generally made enough movement within the cabin to make Stephanie more nervous than she already was! Luckily, our return trip back, of which there is no viable alternative was a much more sedate affair, our only companions were a couple of European businessmen on a weekend break exploring the city.

Having made our way safely to the end of the line, and readjusted ourselves to terra firma, we were able to have a look around Ngong Ping Village and head on towards the Big Buddha, or to use it's official name, the Tian Tan Buddha. I shan't pretend that I know too much about Buddhism, or what the Tian Tan Buddha represents, but it is an awe inspiring sight. Access to the Buddha is via 268 concrete steps, which in the heat and humidity seems like twice the amount. Luckily they are not continuous and there are plenty of places to stop and have a well needed rest. Weighing in at around 250 tonnes, and measuring 112ft high, it's no wonder that it took over three years to complete, it's any wonder that they managed to get the materials up and onto it's fairly isolated spot.

Big Buddha

Nearby is the Po Lin Monastery, a typical looking eastern monastery. Ornate, full of religious symbols and artefacts. Again, my lack of knowledge about Buddhism generally prevents me from describing fully what we were looking at, but the chanting of the monks and smell of incense really added to a sense of calm and peace which Buddhism aims to reflect. We witnessed several people in the act of prayer, placing incense into a holder and chanting an incantation, which we both felt obliged to find out more.

Being our last full night in Hong Kong, and wasting a good part of the day sleeping to excess, we wanted to head back to the hotel in plenty of time to see the last remaining item on our to do list. The nightly laser show, the "Symphony of Lights".
It is recommended that you stand on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong and stand anywhere on the Avenue of Stars, a Hollywood walk of fame type board-walk along the harbour front in Tsim Sha Tsui. At 8pm, music starts to play and the building on both sides of the harbour start to pulsate with varying shades of light in turn with the music. Giant laser beams pour out of the building rooftops making it look as if the building on either side are communicating with each other.

Hong Kong by night

Amazingly there are forty-four buildings all taking part in this spectacular kaleidoscopic mish mash of colour and music. It's quite difficult to know exactly which way to look, and standing as you are, amongst a large crowd of cheering tourists with flashes going off and a gasps of awe, it feels like a new years eve celebration rather than something that is a nearly a daily event.

Due to the fact that it was our last night, we were quite determined to find somewhere for a nice meal. We had already tried to get a reservation on the top floor of the Peninsula (how posh!), but it was already booked out, so without any real idea of where we were going, we decided to take an on foot tour of Tsim Sha Tsui and the surrounding areas. Our guide book was some help, we saw some really nice places! In and out of building, up and down escalators to find rooftop restaurants only to find that they were full on the Saturday night, or ridiculously expensive. We exhausted the guide book of its recommended options and stuck with following our noses. We found a nice looking Chinese restaurant which was on the third floor of an office block. We were directed into the lift by security and told where to go. On reaching the required floor we entered into the hallway, only to be faced by an elaborate portrait of a man and women, which sat behind a beautiful looking wedding cake! Ooops! We had only walked into someone's wedding reception! The waitress was quite polite as she accepted our sincere apologies and made our way back down the lift.

We wasn't being too fussy, but as it was our last night, we did want something nice, some of the local Chinese places didn't look particularly inviting, the same menu with picture description problem we had faced earlier in our stay. Nor did either of us want to go all the way to Hong Kong and eat in a Spaghetti House. But as time went on and we were still looking for some place to go we started to widen our parameters. We ended up in another office block building, way up on the eleventh floor overlooking Harbour city shopping mall in a Spanish Tapa's bar. Despite our desperation to find an authentic Hong Kong eatery, we ended up here, but we had lucked out. The food really was good and put a lot of places to shame here in the UK.

The best part for me though, was in the entrance hall as we were leaving! There was a statue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, including splinter! Which was totally random, I didn't understand it! After a photo session I asked the security guide why they were there, "yes" was his helpful reply, "Turtles, why?" I asked again, "Yes". Which was a much as I could get out of him!

Last days of holidays are not the best of times, you have to leave your room early and invariably your flight isn't until really late and your hanging around not doing much. We had a couple of choices, we could get up early, check out and head over to Macau, another Chinese province which is developing a reputation as the Las Vegas of China, or we could play safe and see some of the other sights that we hadn't had time for so far.

Despite the week long assumption that we would be going to Macau Stephanie had gotten confused with the geography and though that we would be going to the markets of Mong Kok instead. Having set her heart on shopping, who was I to suggest otherwise and it was Mong Kok that we headed towards.

If you have seen the far east on television, on a holiday show or cooking channel, you will be able to picture the chaotic market scenes in your minds eye. It was exactly as I had imagined it, except we were fully immersed into the environment, which means, the sounds of bartering, and the varying smells of fresh products, from the aromatic herbs and vegetables to the pungent fresh fish, still alive in trays by the side of the road. Cheap clothing of all varieties but lacking quality and the two of us, mingling in amongst the locals going about there day-to-day lives, like two aliens from another planet.

It was time to say farewell to Hong Kong, but we still had time for a last minute swim back at our hotel, where some in-pool frivolity earned me a new nickname of "Man-child". A European gentleman commented to Stephanie as I bombed her one last time, giving me the new moniker, which I revelled in for the rest of the day.

Our experiences gained on the MTR during the duration of our stay had prepared us well for our return journey back to Hong Kong airport. We took the High Speed route, which meant a stop off at the in town check in desk. Imagine going to London Heathrow by train and lugging your suitcases from door to door. Well here, you simply check-in to the desk at the station, they take your luggage from you, give you your boarding pass and you make the half hour train journey without the hassle and freedom to enjoy the ride in comfort and relaxation.

We were sad to leave Hong Kong. Not just as it signified the end of our five night stay, but it ended a period of excitement in our lives. The build up to the wedding, the anticipation about where we would find ourselves. Mum and Dad provided us with the means to learn about a new way of life, a different culture, a place which everyone should visit at least once in their lives.
The world is a big place, there are many places to see and many things to learn. We can say that we have been there and we made the most of our stay. We know have another journey, the journey of husband and wife, which will have its own highs, its own lows and we will be learning about each other everyday, even after thirteen years.

It's been a long post this one, partially to record everything for Stephanie and I to look back at, for Mum and Dad who gave us so much, a chance to share with them our experiences. We owe them a huge amount of thanks, a debt of gratitude for everything they gave us. One day we maybe able to fully repay them.
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