The Traveling Sparrow: 24/7 Hong Kong

I’d been working just a few years and it had always been, ever since childhood, my ambition to run an international business. I’d been offered a job and it involved relocating to Hong Kong.

I’d checked the place out and was excited. Work hard, play hard was what I’d heard!

I was off to be the General Manager of a Corporate Hospitality business. It meant 50% Restaurant Manager, 50% Sales Manager, with some fun in between.

My role included hiring the sales and operations team, putting in procedures, including the sales and hospitality methodology. This I later found meant starting from zero, with no staff and not too much training.

I was flying Cathay Pacific direct to what was then regarded as one of the hardest airports to land in the world: Kai Tak.

Landing at Kai Tak Airport

It felt exciting, but then with 5 days before I flew, I read a news report about a recent flight. A 747 with China Airlines had overshot the runway and dived into the Hong Kong Harbor with 350+ passengers, fighting for their lives!

I kept the news from the family! After all, why worry them?

I was ready to roll and made sure I got a window seat – I had to see what landing at Kai Tak was all about.

I’m sure any of you flying to HK pre-1998, will remember it well. We banked the mountains and took a straight shot toward the Kowloon high rises. I was thrilled and as I looked out the window, I could see a family sitting down to dinner – I waved; they didn’t. I guess, I wasn’t the 1st

The wheels touched the ground, the breaks were hit hard and we were down.

We de-planed fast and as i briskly walked through the airport, I never forget feeling the vibe – there was an immediate sense of urgency as people were rushing around. They all had to be somewhere and fast. I knew I was going to like this place.

Hong Kong Traffic

A car had been laid on for me and I was off to Causeway Bay to stay in the Hong Kong Regal Hotel. It was newly opened a few weeks before. I asked my driver for my first few words of Cantonese, so in future I could find my way back. He said something like “Foo Ho Jau Din” – The Hong Kong Regal Hotel. I learnt it fast

I walked into the hotel after 2hrs of travel from Kai Tak. It was my first immersion into busy HK. It was a journey I expected to take 30mins. The traffic was unbelievable, given it was after 9pm!

The HK Regal Hotel, Causeway Bay

It was around 11pm, I was tired, my eyes bleary and as I walked in I was accosted by glittering gold everywhere. Oh wow, welcome to the real Hong Kong.

I could have stayed in a typical western hotel, but I had opted for something more local and as I walked to the front desk, I was not disappointed – my name rolled off their tongues and let’s be honest my last name isn’t the easiest to pronounce in what was a remote outpost of China and soon to be handed back to them by the British. Everything moved at speed and it felt like just 5mins and I was in my 28sqm Club Room:

I needed my sunglasses!

Bags arrived, fruit was ready and waiting, turn-down service had been in. It was perfect. I was energized, BUT

I had to sleep as i was due in the office by 9am. I was exhausted and fell asleep fast, but yes as you travelers will know, 2–3 hours pass and ping, you’re awake again. Welcome to full-on jet lag

My 1st Day

I was off and running and made it in for 9am to meet the Regional Leader. A full day of learning the Corporate Hospitality ropes and the marketplace. I was young and they figured I could handle the Jet Lag and it was off to Lan Kwai Fong that was immediately at the base of the office – how convenient!

I crawled into bed around 11pm and, yep 3hrs later I was wide awake again!

I thought to my self that’s it, I can handle another short night’s sleep. Crank up the coffee in the morning and all will be well. Instead, HK being the safe place that it was, I figured I’d go for a walk at 2:30am.

As I headed down to the Lobby and it was alive with business people. Geez, I thought I’m missing out on something here.

I headed out, aiming for Victoria Park. People were bustling around but there the park was; pretty quiet, just waiting for the arrival of the Tai Chi practitioners in just a few hours.

I walked to the middle of the park and looked around.

I felt alive in the middle of this amazing city. From that moment on, i have always loved living, working and immersing myself in big cities. The energy that surrounds you is unsurpassed anywhere outside of a big city.

I decided the next night I’d come over, go for a run and run myself ragged so that I’d avoid the 2–3hrs sleep routine, unless of course my new found colleagues felt I deserved another evening in LKF.

A Night Off, Time To Sleep

They didn’t – i was relieved. I returned to my hotel swiftly, now becoming more adept at pronouncing its name. Room Service was the way to go and I went for chicken and rice and called down:

“15 minutes Sir” they said

“15 minutes? Err ok”

I thought to myself, hold on: Rice? OK that’ll be on the go constantly, so 15mins? No problem, BUT chicken in 15 and with the travel time from kitchen to service elevator to hallway to my room, how was that possible?

It arrived in 14 minutes!

All signed for and the waiter was off and running. I opened the lid and it looked and smelled great. But, as i opened up the already sliced chicken it was raw! I called down immediately.

“Err, excuse me but my chicken is uncooked”

“OK sir, you like your chicken well done?” Said Room Service

“Err, is there any other way?” I asked

Quick as a flash they were open with a new one – this time “well done”! They must have thought me equivalent to a westerner asking the French Restaurant for a ‘well done’ steak. It was then I realized real Chinese food was very different to anything I’d had from the ‘take out’ back home in the west!

It was a new week and I’d hired a new team for sales and operations. I brought in the sales team first for 4hrs of intensive training. It’s always the same in life, you learn best by doing, by failing, learning and improving. However, I’d not figured “Big Face”

Big Face

Explaining, educating, role-playing over 4hrs and I had them ready for ‘doing’

They all looked a little surprised, but none more so than I, when none of them returned from lunch. That was Big Face – no one wanted to be embarrassed

Negotiating

Finally i got a day off and we headed to Kowloon. They’d recently shut down the most densely populated place on the planet – The Kowloon Walled City: 1.2 million people per square kilometer. It was a pretty horrific sight from the photos I’d been shown but now it was demolished.

My colleague took me to the place where shirts were made within minutes, suits in hours and branded watches sold on every corner. It was fun.

We thought we’d venture in. It was a full taste of negotiations, bartering Hong Kong style.

“I make no money…..tap, tap, tap look here’s my best deal” and on we’d go tooing’n’froing on price while the store owner would keep tapping scientifically on his calculator. Rolex, Tag Heuer, Patek, Vacheron were all being rolled out. Great fun.

I enjoyed a year in HK, crossing the border to Shenzhen, living for a few months in Disco Bay, visiting Sai Kung, buying in Stanley Harbor and burning the candle at both ends.

What a place, what a culture. Long live Hong Kong!

Next stop – Sydney

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