Monday, January 21, 2008

The weekly commute

“The Colony had therefore become for him exactly what it was already for the rest of the journalists: an airfield, a telephone, a laundry, a bed.”
The Honourable Schoolboy
, John Le Carré (1977)

It is one of the great pieces of inspired infrastructure in Hong Kong, yet for me it is now a bit of a bore. I’m on it now as I am pretty much every week.
12 years back Hong Kong’s airport was in the middle of town, the bellies of 747s nearly scraping the tall towers that dominated the then colony’s heart.
When they reclaimed land and built the gigantic and ultra efficient new airport out on the west of Lantau island, unlike other Asian cities with new distant runways (step forward Narita and Incheon) the authorities linked the city centre with Chep Lap Kok airport with a 23 minute, HK$180 return train. Travellers are able to check in downtown – a brilliant idea – and wonder around HK, bags free, while they wait for their flight before taking the train to fly out.
The route of the tracks heads underground straightaway off Hong Kong island across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon before passing the container port and onto crowded Tsing Yi island. It then veers around Lantau island crossing the truly impressive Tsing Ma bridge, sadly in the dark, and whips past a stop for Disney before alighting at Arrivals.
As useful as it is though after a while it can get boring. In this hyper commercial centre, nominally under communist rule, just like Orwell’s 1984 adverts blare out of the TV for Disney and Dior - you can turn the sound down via your headrest, but never off.
I always say to myself I’ll take the bus and that way get to see different things and no Mickey Mouses. Trouble is in fast paced HK the bus takes 22 minutes longer than the train, and, well, that’s just too long.

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