During the course of my career, I've been fortunate enough to travel to many interesting places. Sometime around the mid-1980s, my employer sent me to visit a customer in Hong Kong. At that time planes landed at what was then called Hong Kong International Airport.
As an aside, this was originally known as Kai Tak Airport, which first opened in 1925. It was renamed Hong Kong International Airport in 1954 and stayed that way until 1998, at which time it was replaced by the new Hong Kong International Airport located at Chek Lap Kok.
Kai Tak was located on the north side of Kowloon Bay in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The main runway, which was oriented southeast/northwest, jutted out onto reclaimed land in the harbor. The vicinity was (and still is, of course) surrounded by rugged mountains, and there were numerous skyscrapers located to the north of the airport.
The low-altitude maneuver required to land a big plane at the airport was spectacular to say the least (especially if one had not been forewarned by one's so-called friends). Here's the way it went...
We were arriving sometime in the late afternoon to early evening. The captain announced that we were commencing our descent. I was in a window seat happily reading a book. At some stage I happened to glance out of the window and...
GOOD GRIEF! The plane was lower than the tops of the skyscrapers passing by my window! I could see folks eating their supper and watching television. Surely we shouldn't be this low...
I honestly thought we were about to crash... and then, just as this thought passed through my mind, the plane abruptly turned on its side one wing pointing to the ground and the other pointing to the heavens...
My heart was in my mouth. The plane did an excruciatingly sharp 90-degree turn (the G-forces pressing all of the passengers deep into their seats) ... then it leveled out and, almost immediately, the wheels touched the ground.
As soon as the wheels touched down the flaps went up, the engines screamed with reverse thrust, and all of the passengers jerked forward and had their faces pressed into the headrests of the seats in front of them as the plane screeched to a halt only inches from the sea at the end of the runway (OK, the "inches" part is something of an exaggeration, but that's what it felt like and the rest is true).
I looked around. No one else on the plane had blinked an eye. They were obviously "old hands" at this and knew what to expect. As for me ... I left the plane feeling at least ten years older than when I had happily taken my seat at the start of the day!
Hong Kong is the only place that
Just before my first trip to Hong Kong, one of my friends told me that "Hong Kong is the only place that when you get there is exactly as you expected". I didn't understand what my friend was trying to say at the time, but once I had actually arrived in Hong Kong all became clear...
Hong Kong at night
Let's put it this way... we've all seen places like Las Vegas either on television or in films. What we don't realize is that these places are always presented in such a way as to achieve some maximum effect. In the case of Las Vegas, for example, we usually see "The Strip" with all of the mega-hotels and mega-shows where all of the excitement is going on. What we don't see are the schools and churches and subdivisions with regular folks going about their humdrum daily lives.
Similarly, we usually see The Strip at night with all of the multi-colored flashing lights and fountains and street entertainment. But when you actually come to visit Las Vegas and wander out of your hotel in the stark light of day, you are presented with a completely different view ... truth to tell, it's all rather drab really.
The same thing happens in most of the "famous" places around the world ... they appear a certain way on TV or in the films, but they present a different aspect when you are actually there.
And then there's Hong Kong. This unique location has appeared in numerous travel shows, cooking shows, documentaries, films, news reports ... you name it and it's been there. This means that whether we realize it or not we've all seen Hong Kong in the morning and in the afternoon; at noon and at midnight; on sunny days and windy days and in the rain...
The end result is that nothing is hidden and there are no surprises with respect to the way the place looks. More importantly, everything we expect to see is ... well ... just the way we expect to see it...
...the hustle-and-bustle of the streets; the gaudy neon displays; the food, the noise, and the smells; the ferry shuttling back and forth between Hong Kong island and the mainland; the old folks practicing Tai Chi on every empty square foot of public space early in the morning; the rather dubious folks who approach you in the street offering "Genuine fake Rolex watches"
for a ridiculously low price (the one I bought looked very impressive and I have to admit that it worked really well for several days); and the slightly-less-dubious folks accosting you as you stroll around proclaiming that, if you are staying for at least one day, the tailor they have the honor to represent can have a high-quality, superbly fitted suit ready and waiting for you at your hotel lobby in the morning...
Ah, there's so much more... suffice it to say that: "Hong Kong is the only place that - when you get there - is exactly as you expected"
(if you are fortunate enough to go there yourself, you'll know just what I mean).Editor's Note: Please share your
Travel Nightmare stories with us. Send them to Brian Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in a future
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