I first visited Hongkong in 1984. My American boyfriend wanted me to meet him there for the weekend because he was working in Guangzhou and I was living in Manila. It was my first trip outside of the Philippines and yes, I was 27 and never been away from the farm. Jerry made all the arrangements and you bet, it was always the best money can buy. I know that now.
Jerry told me to just follow the sign after I clear immigrations and customs and he would be outside the door waiting. I was so nervous I just wanted to see him and know he was there. And there he was just as he said. We headed towards a black car with a uniformed driver opening the door for us. He told me we were staying at the Peninsula. Ok, I have been to the Pen in Manila, but what do you call this car? I have not seen one like this. Rolls Royce, he said.
When we arrived at the hotel, he mumbled something about afternoon tea. I was not interested in tea or the afternoon --I was mesmerized by the "grandeur" of the hotel lobby. But back then my vocabulary was very limited I could not have used mesmerized and grandeur at the same time. It was more like “Wow! Damn, look at this sh..”
We got to the room, and the first thing Jerry said was " don't pack that robe in your suitcase when we check out, I am not paying for it" I did not notice the robe hanging in the bathroom until he mentioned it. Jerry is just so romantic that way.
Our room was overlooking the water with the view of the buildings across in the Hongkong side. Jerry took a picture of me looking out the window. He gets tickled, he says watching my eyes grow big from excitement. We ate and shopped. And after seeing all the Chinese trinkets on the sidewalk, the pearls and the 24 carat gold chains and bangles in every corner and no money of my own to buy, I hinted to Jerry that I needed a blender. See? It’s only 35 Hongkong dollars. But he said I don't need it. Then he bought me a Hermes scarf from the Hermes store. I never wore it, but I still keep it, just to remind me the difference between need and want.
In 1986 I married someone else, also an American, and in November 1997 for our 10th wedding anniversary, Don and I came to Hongkong. It was the first for Don but this time it is different because Don did not have money like Jerry. We stayed at the Salvation Army’s Booth Lodge. We checked in around 2 a.m. wide-awake, Don started humming Amazing Grace while I checked out the bathroom. Definitely not The Pen. Don’s always happy anywhere; we sat in bed singing hymns until we fell asleep. The lodges’ cafe was its’ redemption because it was like having a meal in your porch. One time while out shopping, we found ourselves sitting in a restaurant where no one spoke English but we did not want to leave because the food on other people’s plates made us salivate. We managed to order using our hand pointing at other people’s food. Food and shopping in Hongkong we love but the elbow-to-elbow crowd of people made me feel claustrophobic. In fact, when 9/11 happened, the pandemonium on the street of New York reminded me of one afternoon when Don and I were walking back to the lodge and people packed every street you could not walk fast if you wanted to. The first couple of days we were in Hongkong we learned to just duck into an eating-place, which is everywhere whenever the crowds overwhelmed us. One time we ducked into a jewelry store and came out with pearl earrings.
Don loved Hongkong but he loves the flight attendants of Cathay Pacific more. Even flying cattle class, Don always acted like he was eating in a Michelin-star restaurant. He would run the flight attendants rugged asking for this and that. I would remind him we were at 32000 feet- under the mercy of a pilot not pampered by a chef. He loved the Cathay Pacific attendants "because they are always pleasant and gentle unlike other airlines" is his standard line when he brags to our friends. "And they are sooo pretty." Now, that part ticked me off.
Don really enjoyed his first trip to Hongkong, that even during the SARS panic, he refused to fly on another airline. When we flew in 2003 to supposedly retire in Cebu, he was not well. As soon as we boarded, Don immediately flopped into his seat making the other seats next to him his own. We were told at the Cathay Pacific counter the plane was almost empty because people were afraid to fly because of the SARS.
In 2005 my daughter Chat and her husband John honeymooned in Asia with Hongkong as their jump off city to get back to the US. Chat liked Hongkong because of the shopping – she bought all kinds of imitation anything ( she gets the flu if she does not buy) and she loved the train system. She would love the horse and buggy too as long as it would take her to the mall. And John? He crinkles them lips and rolls his eyes. Yes, even with his almost real Rolex.
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