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The long good Sunday

Apparently I’m a little late with this. Sorry about that.

It’s nice to know people are reading this stuff though. The short answer is: yes, I made it back from HK. It was only a day trip after all.

The long answer is as follows.

As usual, on Sunday I woke up at around 0345. That’s pretty normal at home since Buster, the cat, tends to start being an arsehole at about that time, but here in Hong Kong there was an altogether different reason. I’m pretty good at waking up when I need to, without the help of an alarm, mostly (IMO) because I’m good at telling myself how long to sleep for when I go to bed... but sometimes because I tactically down a lot of water before nodding off, thus setting my hydraulic alarm clock.

Unfortunately I’m also good at playing Bricks ‘n Balls for much longer than I should, meaning I end up not getting ready and leaving the hotel until just gone 5am. Bloody hell. The first train to the airport isn’t actually until 0550 but that would only get me there around 90 minutes before departure, so I’ve decided to get a cab. But down at reception and checked out, it takes 15 minutes for an Uber to arrive so I’ve pretty much lost all time advantage.

Things improve as my young cabbie drives like a lunatic on mostly deserted roads, but I (deliberately) ask him to take me to terminal 1 – only to decide I should go to the check-in desk at terminal 2 despite already having boarding pass on my phone, because I want an invite to the lounge.

Like this.

Hong Kong airport doesn’t really have a terminal 2. It has a thing called terminal 2, and it looks like a second terminal, but in reality it’s just a large building full of check-in and ticketing desks but without any of its own gates or anything. The flight departs from terminal 1, gate 511. This, I already know, is a “virtual” gate, aka a bus gate. I’m sick of these damn bus gates.

Once I’m finally at the entrance to departures I can’t see any hint of fast track. Bah. But slow track is not particularly slow. At immigration I have to decide which departure card and “you’re allowed in Hong Kong until...” slip to give up, still somewhat concerned about the specifics of my status, having crossed the Hong Kong border 3 times in the previous 30 hours. In the end no-one takes any of it off me and I’m left with a bunch of paperwork to shove in my bag. WTF?

The Hong Kong airlines “Club Bauhinia” lounge is a subterranean affair between gates 23 and 24. The lady at the desk welcomes me in, takes my invite off me, and says there will be NO announcements so I have to take responsibility for getting to the gate on time. Inside there’s about 4 or 5 people only. By now it’s about 0645, just one hour and five minutes until scheduled departure and with a bus gate I know that means I don’t have long.

Dumping my bag at one of the many empty tables I scout the food and drink: there’s booze of many kinds including prosecco, plus a breakfast buffet and, incongruously, some rough looking cling film-wrapped sandwiches. I opt for a can of Diet Coke and a plate of vermicelli noodles with some pork buns.

It’s not all that, to be honest. There are some spectacular lounges at Hong Kong airport, to which one of my loyalty cards grants me access should I be flying the correct airline... but today I am not. Later in the day I in fact read that Hong Kong airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy or bail out, so perhaps I should be glad I got to see this lounge while it still exists - for all of 20 minutes.

En route to 511 there are some nice plant displays, and then a corridor of proper art ‘n that. Once I get to the gate boarding has already started. Boarding the bus, that is. It has a capacity of around 84 people, being 6 seats and 78 standing, and takes an age to fill up. Most other people on here seem to be Russians in shell suits.

Eventually we’re trundling across the airfield, dodging other buses and planes. It’s properly light by now. Onboard I’m shown to my seat, 2K, and asked if I want a smoothie. Yes please, I’d love a smoothie.

The business class menu is already in the pocket and they’re keen to take orders before we even take off. This flight is only 1 hour and 40 minutes in length and there are numerous courses to get through. I’ll have the salmon frittata please. And to drink? Oh, champagne if you have it, thanks. The woman serving me is one of the same crew as on the way out, but if she recognises me she doesn’t betray it at all.

We taxi for aaaaaaaaaaages. For the third time in three days I’m treated to the Philippine Airlines safety video. It’s a strange thing: they’re extraordinarily proud of it, boasting how it’s the “first ever safety video from the heart of the Filipino”. Each couple of sentences is presented by a different Filipino person in a different context, showing off the natural wonder and stuff of their nation (the Chocolate Hills look great, all mound-y and stuff like a park in Ealing). But it’s entirely in English, and off-puttingly so: the none of the proud Filipinos are speaking English, but having some unsettling voice dubbed over them.

Also, they demonstrate “take off anything sharp when jumping on a raft if we’ve landed on water” with outlandish shoes.

The weather seems pretty clear as we take off, only for us to go through a level of thick, low cloud very soon into our ascent. There is just enough time to look over at Lantau Island and see the cable cars that go to Ngong Ping with the big Buddha statue ‘n that.

When the captain comes on the tannoy to deliver his spiel, I swear he says his name is Giorgio Moroder.

So long, Hong Kong. I had a blast. Let’s do it for longer next time.

Once we’re up above the clouds I’ve business to attend to. First up, I’m trying to watch a film called L Storm. Much to my fake chagrin, this is not a documentary about famed Canadian wrestler Lance Storm but rather is a Hong Kong/Filipino cop/gangster/corruption flick. I enjoy it very much, understanding the plot thanks to the English subtitles that the entertainment system tells me it isn’t displaying. I can relate to some of the Northern English characters.

Breakfast arrives sharpish, as with Friday night’s flight all in one plate. This airline knows how to do short-haul business class in my limited experience.

It’s much nicer than that stuff from the lounge. I pretty much miss the last half hour of the film because once the food is taken away (and champagne refilled) I get my iPad out to start writing up my day trip to Macau. Also some pretty stuff appears out of the window; that would be the Philippines.

Like Innsbruck but without the snow.

No idea what this is, but hey, oh, we’re approaching a large built up city underneath a lot of low cloud. This is our descent, since we’re coming in to Manila. I’m pleased to get a chance to see it in daylight.

Looks grim. I don’t fancy visiting. I especially don’t fancy visiting the bit that’s experiencing a heavily localised torrential downpour.

I’ve got entrance paperwork for the Philippines next to me, which is interesting to see but I’m not going to fill it out.

For the last 20 minutes of the flight I’ve been massively unimpressed with Johnny Outbreak in seat 1K ahead of me. He’s been coughing constantly, and rooting around in his luggage for some kind of medicine that seems to do no good at all. If this fucker gives me Ebola or bird flu or something I won’t be best pleased. But this negative aspect of the flight is countered somewhat by listening to Billy Joel’s greatest hits and humming along with My Life, Innocent Man, and Piano Man.

Queuing to get off allows me to admire the unused Premium Economy seating.

Mercifully, we taxi all the way to the terminal and get off via a functioning airbridge. There’s a long walk down the corridor to flight connections, the experience of which I’ve been steeling myself for after the comparative nastiness on Friday – with the “it took 50 minutes on the way out!” warning from the Australian lady ringing in my ears.

In the end it takes me only 9 minutes from plane to connections to transfer desk to security to lounge. What a different 30-odd hours makes: today the Mabuhay lounge is a bearable temperature, mostly empty and very well lit. The two ladies at the desk deliver a simultaneous “Mabuhay!” and tell me boarding announcements will be made.

Grabbing a seat with a table, ready to continue writing up the previous day’s efforts, I pop to the bar and ask for a tonic and gin. Seated by the table in front of me is a woman with an insanely cute puppy that everyone is cooing over. I’m delighted that the WiFi is significantly more usable than on Friday, and have what ends up being a mightily frustrating and confusing conversation with my brother about purchasing a gift for my niece’s 10th birthday.

Two and a half hours pass slowly. Once I’m done uploading the previous diary entry I’ve basically nothing to do except have a couple of beers while browsing Flyertalk, so that’s exactly what I do. There’s nothing in the main terminal I want to see, having walked the length of it on Friday and been very grateful for lounge access.

My patience runs out before any boarding calls are made, and I pack up early to make a very slow wander up to gate 2. It’s a little chaotic as there are extra baggage X-rays happening, then a document check, then finally the gate itself. Boarding starts almost immediately I’m through and hello, I’m back in seat 7A just like on Friday. For all I know this is the exact same plane as then, though the inflight entertainment system has lost its impressiveness: for the next 13 hours the UI responds terribly, taking a good 3 seconds to honour any touches. Bah!

Still, y’know, champagne and a mango smoothie is welcome. Especially because they’re cold; the cabin aircon doesn’t work and the captain apologises for how hot it is, saying that it’ll be alright once we’re in the air.

I start watching a film immediately. Creed, the latest (I think?) in the Rocky franchise. Here’s my review: what a load of old shit. We taxi for long enough that I am 40 minutes through it before we even take off, and flight time is going to be just under 14 hours. Oof.

This time around, the crew proactively say “hey, this is the business class menu, and you can order whatever you like whenever you like in whatever order you like - just tell us”. OK, let’s have a look at what’s on offer.

I opt to eat pretty much straight away, and to stick with champagne. In a welcome upgrade from the outbound, refills arrive regularly and the glass is filled up. Hurrah!

Are these floods? Or some kind of lake-fields?

Once I’m done with Creed I move on to Central Intelligence. Since this film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it cannot be anything but fantastic. I have a nagging feeling that I’ve seen it before, but memory is hazy; I assume, if true, that I watched it while drunk on a plane.

My bouche is amused.

This is a very average salad.

And some pretty average chicken and orzo.

And actually the cheese isn’t all that either. But “can I have ice cream as well?” “Of course!”

Because the refills are proactive and plentiful I end up having way too much champagne, and sleep through the last hour of Central Intelligence. Never mind. I don’t really want to sleep on this flight but all the blinds going down and lights going off isn’t helping. Still, I put on Game Night and stay awake through it all, enjoying it muchly.

Leave No Trace is up next, along with a whisky on the rocks and some nuts. Each time my glass empties it gets refilled, much to my delight. Leave No Trace is good, as is Ocean’s 8 which follows. Equalizer 2 is ... well ... I mean, I enjoyed quite a lot of it, but ... seriously ... what?

Actually Equalizer 2 causes my eyes to open very wide, because for the first time in 4 flights on the Philippine Airlines entertainment system there are swear words. He said “fuck”! He didn’t say “fudge”! The censorship has been laughably awful in all the other movies such that it’s a really notable surprise to actually hear swearing.

“Breakfast” arrives late in the flight.

Plate of fruit and some green tea please.

Also some candied bacon, omelette, and rice.

With less than a film’s length of time left in the flight I opt to sample the 2017 version of Wacky Races, a cartoon I have fond memories of from my childhood. Newsflash: the modern version is fucking TERRIBLE. Like, really, just so offensively bad. I’m sure the audience is kids who are kids now rather than kids who were kids in the late 70s but it’s a fucking TRAVESTY.

London appears. We’re a little late; after 14 hours or so of exceedingly smooth flight, we spend a half hour descent being thrown around all over the place by what seems to be a shitload of wind over SE England. Being offended by the cartoons I just spend the end looking out of the window, alternating with the moving map on the screen. For the third time in four flights the landing is brutally hard, with the crew absolutely slamming on the brakes and sending lots and lots of unsecured things around the cabin flying. I think perhaps it’s because we missed the runway and landed on the Great West Road by mistake.

Oops.

As soon as we taxi the pan pipe covers come over the tannoy excruciatingly loud. I’m still humming “Somewhere, out there, ... “ 2 days later.

Queuing to get off, I’m wondering how it is that my ears haven’t felt any pressure or popped on any of the flights. I think I expected it on my debut A350 flights because I’d read about the improved cabin air experience, but the A330? No idea.

Not being overly familiar with arriving at T3, I don’t know where to get a cab from, and think the bus station is nearer than it is. Via WH Smith for a Diet Coke I get 3 buses to Surbiton, arriving home just before 10pm on Sunday – 72 hours after I left London. I’m not inappropriately awake, nor disastrously tired. I feel like I totally could go to work on Monday if I wanted to. I mean, I don’t want to, and in the event I didn’t – I had wrestling to watch, chores to do, and a nice long walk along the Thames to take – but I totally could have done...

... which basically means I’ve proved that it’s perfectly feasible to take a day trip to fucking Hong Kong and Macau, from London, with only a single day off work. I’m so disgustingly impressed with myself. What a twat.

This trip was brought to you by the anonymous data entry clerk who made a pricing error last August, such that the whole trip cost a fraction of what it should. Thanks, anonymous data entry clerk. Keep up the good work.

Created By
Darren Foreman
Appreciate

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