[Sounds like an ice cream. ;-)]
Tonight we fly out of Hong Kong bound for Melbourne. Or, at least, we’re supposed to fly out of Hong Kong. Now, here’s the thing: we’ve known that this Sunday has been forecast to be wet (very wet?) for some time. What we’ve now learned is that the reason it has been expected to be wet is that a tropical storm is spiralling its way towards us. This tropical storm, named Khanun, is expected to be upgraded to tropical typhoon status as it continues its approach. Terrific! I swear to Darwin, if we travelled to the Atacama Desert, it would rain.
We awoke to the sight of heavy grey skies scudding swiftly across our hotel room view. Normally one sees fluffy clouds scudding but this was definitely the whole looming sky that was in on the act.
A plasticized information sheet had been left in our room by the hotel staff. This card contains a description of the typhoon warning signals issued by Hong Kong Observatory. Numbers, somewhat like our Beaufort Scale for wind, are associated with descriptions together with safety advice. The numbers are not sequential, though. They are also accompanied by a graphical geometric symbol which, at some levels, provides additional information, such as wind direction. In the vernacular, these warning signals are said to be “hoisted”.
As we headed down to repeat our hotel breakfast experience, we were faced with a notice saying that typhoon warning 3 had been hoisted: “Strong wind expected or blowing, with a sustained speed of 41-62 km/h and gusts up to 110 km/h.”
Wondering what lay in store for us, watching a forecast on the TV in the dining room, we enjoyed another breakfast of mixed fare, this time including the Pork Cartilage dish which seemed to be decent belly pork with not a bone or cartilage in sight. Odd. Brave Franco.
Quizzing the reception staff, we learned that the weather was expected to deteriorate through the day to be at its worst in the late afternoon. Our flight was supposed to leave Hong Kong at 10 minutes past midnight. Wondering whether [weather?] our plane would be able to take off was one immediate concern but further information from our helpful staff raised another concern, ground transportation gets disrupted, too. Hong Kong’s bridges become subject to traffic restrictions and roads seize up: cars were taking 2-3 hours to make the normally 30-minute journey too the airport. Taxis probably wouldn’t even take us to the airport. Great! The best way, we were told, was to go by train, the Airport Express from central station.
We were largely compelled to sit in our room thumb twiddling to see how conditions developed. Conditions were clearly worsening as predicted; the grey was darker, the cloud movement even brisker and the rain sporadically lashing against our 26th floor window, heavier.
Typhoon warning 8 was hoisted: “Gale or storm expected or blowing, with a sustained wind speed of 63-117 km/h from the quarter indicated and gusts which may exceed 180 km/h.” The quarter indicated by our graphic was northwest.
While I’m twiddling my thumbs, I have time to point out another fascinating feature of Hong Kong. Wandering the streets we spotted the inevitable sight of scaffolding, ubiquitous in most cities where construction or maintenance is constant, both large installations and small. Our much-loved Derby Bar was fronted by a small installation. “What’s so intriguing about scaffolding”, I hear you ask. Well, in Hong Kong the scaffolding is all bamboo poles lashed together; not a scrap of steel in sight. This is not so surprising on the small installations, such as that outside the Derby Bar, but seeing a tall skyscraper completely covered in bamboo scaffolding is another matter.
Watching for Cathay Pacific updates on their departures page and seeing that our flight was still expected to leave as timetabled, we decided to make our way to the airport on the Airporte Express train. It had the appealing benefit of being able to check-in our bags at the train station, rather than having to manhandle them ourselves to the airport check-in desks. Great idea. The hotel staff summoned a taxi for us at 16:30. Once we’d boarded, the driver insisted on charging us an extra HK$50 for the privilege of our moderately short ride to Central Station. Adverse conditions + desperate tourists = time to capitalize. Go figure. OK, an extra £5 …
The train was excellent and not surprisingly quite busy. Each train is very long and one departs every 15 minutes or so. Good service. We ended up safely in the absolutely enormous Hong Airport on Lantau Island sometime after 17:00. We drank our way through another HK$500 as we waited for 5 hours in the only bar we could find amongst all the fast food outlets. As we drank, the typhoon warning was downgraded to 3 again. No problem! We made our lengthy journey, which involved another train, to the departure gate.
Having boarded, we were delayed almost 30 minutes waiting for a connecting flight from China but, hey, having wondered if we, ourselves, would actually get away, we appreciated others needing to make the flight too. Good luck to ‘em.
Our overnight 9-hour flight to Melbourne finally rose into the night sky.