Kat, Heidi and Me

Travel Update: Hong Kong, Day 0

I left for Hong Kong today. I’m flying with Kat; The Missus will be meeting us in Shanghai next week. Kat and I came to the airport with family – I with The Missus, my mother and my maternal grandmother, and Kat with her parents.

Chris and his maternal grandmother, Christiane
I took a lot of photos of my family, but I’ll spare you and post just this one of me and my adorable grandmother.

Upon meeting, our families bonded by agreeing that we had both packed way too much stuff.

Chris and Kat at YVR with baggage
Thanks, family.

In my defense, only one of those suitcases is mine – I was bringing The Missus‘s along as well, which worked better with our itinerary. Kat, on the other hand, has no excuses.

Kat and I are big fans of food (as any witness to our innumerable Facebook food photo albums can attest). Accordingly, we kicked off our international romp with a good, old-fashioned Canadian lunch – Milestone’s signature “American burger”.

Milestone's "American Burger"
At least the bacon was Canadian.

I’m writing this on the plane, which is very nice (if a little cramped). We’re on a Boeing 747 with a pretty serious media setup. The in-flight entertainment system has over 100 movies, 500 episodes from 350 TV shows, 888 CDs, 22 radio channels and 70 video games (including one multiplayer game – mahjong, obviously). Most importantly, it has Bejeweled 2 and Bookworm Adventures. Unfortunately, games only play at about one frame per second, but that didn’t stop me from played Bejeweled for two hours.

The in-flight entertainment system on our Cathay Pacific flight
That thing beneath the screen is removable. It’s a remote control on one side and a game pad and QWERTY keyboard on the other.

This flight also had easily the best in-flight food that I’ve ever had, although I should note that that is a very low bar to meet. Kat and I both ordered the braised beef with shiitake mushroom sauce, spinach mashed potatoes, green peas and carrots. All lunches also came with a mesclun salad with smoked salmon and a Häagen Dazs ice cream bar. Those last two items really stole the show, in my opinion.

Our lunch on the flight to Hong Kong
Kat didn’t want her salad, so I got two. They were both delicious.

Beyond the technical and culinary excellence of the plane, I’ve found the cultural differences to be pretty interesting. The cabin staff are all Chinese, and all but one managerial-looking fellow are female. They practice a kind of forced, excessive happiness that goes a little further than what I’m used to seeing on WestJet or Air Canada. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but I find it slightly disconcerting. I subconsciously connect that kind of smiling with barely-suppressed rage, so I can’t help but feel that every stewardess that I speak to is angry at me.

This is obviously an irrational (and probably culturally ignorant) reaction, since that behaviour is clearly just a job requirement arising from a slightly different cultural norm. In practice, each stewardess that I have interacted with (I didn’t speak to manager-boy) has been very friendly and helpful. For instance, during the lunch-serving rush, one stewardess noticed my camera and offered to take some photos of us.

Kat and Chris in our seats on the plane
Kat and I never turn down a photo-op. Also: our seat mate looks exactly how I imagine a Chinese Jessica Brown would look.

I wanted a photo of a stewardess as part of my chronicles of the trip, so I asked the lady in question if I could take a photo of her. She demurred, saying something about needing to finish serving lunches first. I concluded that I had been given one of those very polite refusals that south-east Asian cultures are famous for. Which is totally fair – if some dude I didn’t know came to my work and asked for a picture of me, I might have second thoughts as well.

About an hour and a half later, another stewardess handed me a customer survey for the airline. Apparently they select people at random – I only saw one other passenger with a survey. It was very specific – the questions were divided into 17 classes over 8 pages and quizzed me on my opinions regarding everything from the grooming and friendliness of staff (and whether they “made me feel special”) all the way down to the firmness of my seat cushion and the sufficiency of their toilet-paper supply. The survey repeated the “grooming and appearance” questions for each group of staff – check-in counter, gate and cabin – so it seems like that’s a big deal for Cathay Pacific. It’s no wonder, then, that everyone seems immaculately made-up at all times. Or that the bathroom had four rolls of toilet paper.

Towards the end of the flight I worked up the nerve to ask a different stewardess if I could take her photo. She declined much more enthusiastically than the first – she seemed quite embarrassed by the request, which in turn made me embarrassed for asking. She then left momentarily and returned with another cabin staffer in tow, asking “Will this one do?”. This was very disconcerting, and it compounded my embarrassment substantially. I tried to stress to the lady in question that she did not need to be in any photos if she did not want to be, but she told me that she would be glad to. The other stewardess motioned us together for the photo, and by this point I was feeling like a huge creep so I did not ask to have a photo of just the stewardess (although I generally prefer photos that record who and what I saw, not me-standing-with-who-and-what-I-saw).

It’s too bad that the cabin crew member in question did not have one of the very distinctive red jackets for the photo, but I was also feeling too creepy to request costume changes. Indeed, I was feeling too creepy to say basically anything, which (combined with the lack of name tags) means that I never learned the nice lady’s name. To be honest, if the whole process hadn’t been so awkward (and therefore memorable) I probably wouldn’t be posting the photo at all. But it was, so I am.

A stewardess from our flight to Hong Kong.
I present to you one very obliging Cathay Pacific cabin crew member.

You might be wondering how my laptop battery survived long enough for me to write most of this novel-length post. It turns out that every seat has a three-prong power outlet behind the tray table, which is awesome. What those seats do not have, however, is enough space for me to type without Kat getting an elbow in the ribs. Kat would like me to inform you that this is decidedly less awesome.

Chris typing on a laptop in the cramped quarters of his airplane seat.
Not pictured: my elbow. For obvious reasons.

We were greeted on arrival in Hong Kong by Heidi, an HKU student who was on exchange to UVic last year. She showed us the ropes.

Kat standing with Heidi in our hotel room.
Kat calls Heidi her Hong Kong saviour, which is a well-deserved title.

After finding our hotel, we went across the street, where I bought a SIM card for my phone. We also had dinner at a neighbourhood restaurant franchise which is apparently everywhere in Hong Kong. The food was delicious – I had the fried octopus on broccoli, which wasn’t exactly adventurous but it seemed appropriate for the venue. It was also very inexpensive – the combined bill for Kat and I was HKD$100, which works out to about CAD$13.

A neighbourhood restaurant in Hong Kong
Heidi taught me how to pronounce this restaurant’s name, but I have forgotten.

At any rate, I am now firmly on Chinese soil, and my first full day in Hong Kong is tomorrow (today by the time of posting). Don’t be surprised if my next post has something to do with that topic.