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UAL 896 HKG-ORD (BusinessFirst)

When I purchased these tickets, I knew I wanted to use my friend’s GPU (Global Premium Upgrades), so I purchased some slightly higher priced coach tickets (technically 50% more expensive than the cheap, non-upgradable tickets).  Our outbound upgrade cleared almost immediately, but hours before our return flight we were still in coach.  It would have been quite a frustrating turn of events to pay extra for an upgradable seat, but not actually get upgraded.  Our upgrade cleared, but not until we got on the high speed train to the airport – cutting it a little close for comfort.

After we left the SilverKris Lounge, we headed off to our departure gate (Gate 65). Once we arrived, I looked around the boarding area and I felt like I was on a flight to Canada: everyone was neatly lined up, boarding pass and passport in hand, not at all like the traditional mayhem that a gate area in an Asian airport usually is.

We boarded through door 2L and turned right for our BusinessFirst Seats.  These weren’t the (relatively) great BusinessFirst Seats we had on the way to Hong Kong, our seats for the return were in the middle section, not only that, but the middle two seats of the middle section.  If I wanted to use the lavatory, I had to either crawl over one or two people.  No carrier can rightfully say they have a quality business class product if they don’t offer aisle access to every seat on the plane.

Flight: United Airlines 896 (BusinessFirst)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 9 D&G
Departure: 11h10 (13h10)
Arrival: 11h45 (11h31)

Luckily EAD and I were able to sit next to each other, and share our misery.  I am pretty sure I’d rather be in this middle middle BusinessFirst seat than an aisle in coach, but as I sat for 15-ish hours wondering if I should wake the guy up next to me, so I could go to the lavatory, I wasn’t sure.

As usual, I started my on-board consumption with some champagne.  This time, I asked for champagne and the stew corrected me, saying they were serving sparkling wine only – guess I can’t win, can I?  I had two glasses of their mediocre sparkling (but hell, a mediocre sparkling is better than no sparkling at all).

Sparkling Wine in a Plastic Glass is better than nothing, I guess.

Sparkling Wine in a Plastic Glass is better than nothing, I guess.

After the door closed, we had a quick taxi to the runway and a fast take-off roll.  We were airborne shortly after the door closed and we were on our way back home.  I was pretty tired at this point – I guess a 4 day trip to Hong Kong can do that to you.  I was looking forward to eating, then curling up and sleeping for a few hours.

The menu was new on this return flight, compared to our original outbound.  I opted for the dried out chicken breast, which, when coupled with the sauce it was served with along with a big drink of wine, it was perfectly acceptable.  I did have a cheese course as well as an ice cream sundae – which was paired with a United Port.

The meal service was completed within about 2.5 hours after the door closed and I was really exhausted at this point.  I decided to stay up and watch a documentary called “Rich Hill”, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  This film was really good and depressing.  After the film, I flipped on some Big Bang Theory and closed my eyes.  I then proceeded to sleep off and on for the next 8 hours.  I woke up, after missing the great mid-flight dirty dishwater soup (that I seriously enjoyed on the previous flight).  I killed the rest of the flight by watching some bad TV and debating on doing some work or studying French – neither of which I did.

It still surprises me that the 15 or so hour flights can go by so quickly.  I wouldn’t like doing this every week, but once or twice a year it is perfectly acceptable.  While I do think doing this trip in BusinessFirst is better than coach (here or here), I’ve done both and both are survivable, as long as you come prepared.  Bring lots of things to entertain yourself – movies and TV shows on your laptop/tablet, a book or two, plus hours and hours of music.  You’ll do just fine.

Have you taken this flight to Hong Kong before? How do you survive the two-thirds of a full day in the air?

Singapore SilverKris Lounge

We took the express train from Hong Kong Station to the Hong Kong International Airport.  The ride itself took just about 25 minutes and was pretty comfortable.  We arrived at the airport and checked in.  There were no lines whatsoever at check-in or going through border patrol.  As I was waiting for EAD to get through security, a woman came up to ask if I’d do a survey for the Hong Kong Tourism Board.  I was through security so I figured this wasn’t a scam.  The survey was supposed to take 2 minutes…after 5 minutes I just walked away.  The survey girl wasn’t pleased, but I was tired of answering her inane questions (how much was your room per night?  How much did you spend on alcohol your first lunch? First dinner? Second Lunch?)  I didn’t know the answers, so I left.

I wasn’t too keen on going shopping at the airport, but I was interested in trying out the various lounges.  Hong Kong is great if you are a Star Alliance Gold member – you can visit the United Club (which we didn’t), the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge  (which we didn’t) and a Singapore SilverKris Lounge.

The SilverKris lounge was quite empty.  There weren’t any Singapore flights leaving within a few hours of our visit to the lounge.  This was my first visit to any Singapore lounge and while the lounge had opened just a few months prior to our visit, it didn’t feel new.  I was pleased we chose this lounge though.

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge

The food spread wasn’t as elaborate as I was expecting – probably because there weren’t any real flights in the queue either.  That being said, I had some tomatoes (again, my favorite fruit on the planet), some pot stickers, a “mango drink” and then seconds of each of those. I even tried the most vile BLT finger sandwich ever created (it was just bland, gummy in texture and moist).

Breakfast at the Singapore SilverKris Lounge – Mmmm, Mango Drink.

I wanted a drink. I know, surprising turn of events, isn’t it?  The bar was staffed — or I should be clear and say that it wasn’t a self-serve bar.  I couldn’t find the bar tender – which isn’t surprising considering the lounge was nearly empty.  I managed to track someone down to help me and he and I had one of the best exchanges on the trip:

Me: Excuse me. Could I have some Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
Bartender: Huh? You want a drink? Wine?
Me: Yes. Sort of. Sparkling Wine, please.
Bartender: No. Sorry. We don’t have it.
Me: Sorry, you don’t have any Sparkling Wine? What about that right there? (Pointing to a foil topped bottle of wine).
Bartender: That’s Champagne. We don’t serve Sparkling Wine here. Would you like some Champagne.
Me: But of Course.
Bartender: Let me give you two glasses. We are understaffed for the next 20 minutes and I’d hate for you to wait.

The Lounge was serving a perfectly passable bottle of Piper-Heidsieck.  I was hoping for something a little nicer, but I almost guarantee it was better than what we would have been served at the United Club.   I will admit, I made myself a Bellini with a glass of Piper and a splash of Mango Drink.  It cut it a bit and made it much more enjoyable.

We spent about an hour in the lounge – mooching off the wifi and putting a last minute charge on my various devices.  We then packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the kind yet scarcely seen employees in the lounge and made our way to our gate.

Which of the Star Alliance Lounges do you like best in Hong Kong?  I was hoping to try out the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge, but we didn’t have enough time.  Next time in Hong Kong, I’ll give them a try.

Transportation in Hong Kong

I hate renting cars.  If I had my way, I’d never rent a car when we travel.  Sometimes that just doesn’t work and sometimes it could, but you’d be missing out on a beautiful drive (like this one).  Most of the time I can get by with taking public transportation or taxis – it ends up being more freeing for me and it helps keep the cost of travel down (even with the cost of taxis you end up spending less than you would by renting a car and parking and fueling and tolls, etc).

Hong Kong is not a City that I’d like to drive in — hell there are few places in which I’d like to drive.  Why bother when you are in such a great City with amazing transportation.  We ended up taking taxis a few times, the Metro at least a dozen times and the Star Ferry half a dozen times.

The Hong Kong Metro was great. Like Paris, it seemed like we were waiting no more than 3 minutes for the next train — even when we just missed one.  The trains were pretty packed most of the time.  Unlike Chicago, the train cars are fully connected – you can walk between cars, which also means you can cram more people in the area between the cars.   We were able to get anywhere we wanted to go via Metro (well, except our hotel, that is).

Packed Subway Car - Not Rush Hour

Packed Subway Car – Not Rush Hour

Another view -- look how far back this pack car stretches.

Another view — look how far back this pack car stretches.

You can either take the Metro or the Star Ferry to get between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  We did both options several times.  You can use your octopus card (like Chicago’s Ventra Card or London’s Oyster Card) on the Metro and on the Star Ferry.  The Star Ferry costs 2.80HKD (~$0.36USD) – by far the cheapest way across the water. The ride takes about 10 minutes and you don’t need to pre-book a ticket or a time, just show up and ride.

Inside the Star Ferry -- yes, another Chinese couple taking a selfie.

Inside the Star Ferry — yes, another Chinese couple taking a selfie.

The Star Ferry crossing the harbor - a view from our Ferry.

The Star Ferry crossing the harbor – a view from our Ferry.

Hong Kong is such a great City and the excellent transportation options is just one of the reasons.  The well thought out transit system makes a quick trip like this one so much easier – you aren’t wasting time or money in taxis or with a rental car.  In and out and across the City is as easy as can be.

Do you dig the transit in Hong Kong as much as I do?

Hong Kong Tailors

I was introduced to Ronnie of Rocky’s Hong Kong Fashions by a friend here in Chicago in 2011.  I met him in a hotel suite in the Gold Coast neighborhood.  I had an appointment and stopped off at the front desk.  My ID was checked, I was given a key to the room and sent on my way.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into, but I was excited to see what he had to offer.

My friend met Rocky (Ronnie’s uncle) in Hong Kong many years prior and had been getting shirts/suits for years.  I figured I’d give it a try and if I hated the product, I’d just chalk it up to a learning experience and if I loved the shirts, I’d consider it a win.

I was told to bring my favorite shirt to my initial meeting – a suggestion I gave to my friend EAD when we visited Ronnie in Hong Kong.  I didn’t realize how many options you have on a man’s dress shirt: pockets or no – if yes, pointed bottom or flat? Pleated back or smooth? Pleated sleeves or smooth?  One of 6 or so collar choices.  Don’t even get me started on the cuff options (French, Barrel, Number of Buttons and positioning, rounded/angled/squared edging.)  Luckily, I brought my favorite Hugo Boss shirt and said, just copy it.

On my first and subsequent visits – and EAD’s first visit, we sat down and looked through dozens of fabric books – flagging shirts that interests us.  I probably have 40 shirts from Ronnie – some traditional fabrics, while others are more elaborate.  I prefer the more elaborate designs – why have a custom shirt if it looks like what everyone else wears.

I didn’t fly to Hong Kong for another shirt (Ronnie comes to Chicago once a year and we pick up another dozen shirts or so).  I was here for a tuxedo.  Our fitting was one hour after our arrival in the country.  We went straight from the airport to the Sheraton – Rocky’s is immediately across the street from the hotel.

We were offered a beer and were measured by Ronnie.  I picked out the fabric and decided on the various options on the suit (lapel types, buttons, vents, etc).  The toughest part was deciding on the lining.  I didn’t want something simple but a classic tux needs a bold lining – something you’ll only catch a glimpse of while walking or when the jacket is taken off.  I settled on a black and silver paisley that provides a great pop of excitement in a traditional setting.

Our first official fitting was the next day at 16h00 – less than 24 hours after our arrival.  The basics of the garment were ready to go.

My first fitting for the wedding tux.

My first fitting for the wedding tux.  Ronnie checking the fitting of the jacket.

Our second fitting was 24 hours later – on Saturday afternoon.  The suits fit perfectly and we walked out with them.  We could have had our tuxes within 24 hours, but we didn’t want to return for a fitting earlier that day – we wanted to explore the City.

The first time I met Ronnie, in Chicago, I had ordered a suit. He measured me and sent me the fully finished suit back a few weeks later.  There were several issues with the suit – the pants had a HUGE rise, and the jacket just fit oddly.  I sent took photos/videos and Ronnie had the suit rebuilt.  I wasn’t 100% in love with the new suit.  The issue, I think, was the fittings.  We didn’t get a chance to do a couple of proper fittings — we did while in Hong Kong.  Now I’m very excited to send suit and sport coat orders off to Ronnie and get new clothes in a week or two.

I won’t ever buy a shirt or suit off the rack again.  Not only do they fit me perfectly, but they are much less expensive than you could find here.  Ronnie visits Cities all over the world each year.  If you are interested in setting an appointment, let me know and I will coordinate.  If you are in Hong Kong swing by and send my greetings.

Street Markets and Food

After our visit to Victoria Peak we headed down to Nathan Lane and started walking north with a plan to stroll through the various open air fruit and vegetable markets, and to see the sea food stalls.  We were using the TripAdvisor mobile City Guide to help us find our way around.  The app worked reasonably well and we only got slightly lost, once or twice.

I really enjoy these open air markets. They are so different from what we have in the US.  I’m use to getting my meat from the butcher counter or the freezer section – not from a stall on the street with the meat being stored at room temperature.  It is my American upbringing that makes me very nervous about this type of market.  I’ve never purchased food at a market like this, but I still love strolling down the aisles, listening to people haggle (even though I don’t understand what is being said).  I love seeing the little old ladies picking up their food for the day and for their families.  So much fresher and it seems so much more healthy (despite the questionable storage techniques).

This woman has worked a long day in the market.  Look at all those choices.

This woman has worked a long day in the market. Look at all those choices.

Look at these prawns.

Look at these prawns.

Fresh fish waiting to be your dinner.

Fresh fish waiting to be your dinner.

Very large carrots and other root vegetables.

Very large carrots and other root vegetables.

Dozens of bowls containing small shellfish including snails

Dozens of bowls containing small shellfish including snails

Hong Kong Meat Market

Hong Kong Meat Market

Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and Veggies

Aubergines and Cabbage

Aubergines and Cabbage

The crowded market in Kowloon

The crowded market in Kowloon

We’ve visited these type of markets in Shanghai and various points in Vietnam and even though I never purchase anything here, I love visiting.  The sights, the smells, the energy – it is such a departure from what we see in the western world.  Do you make a point to visit these markets when you travel or do you try to stay away?