Well, now that just doesn’t make any sense

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I was really excited about going to Hong Kong, especially during the Mid Autumn Festival.  It’s like Thanksgiving and New Year’s wrapped into a single holiday.  Basically, everyone takes time off (China regulates that) and visits family, goes on holiday and generally just has a nice, relaxing time off.  They have special foods for it, too, and there are always things going on to help celebrate.

Before I even got to HK, I was reading up on things to do there and came across a listing for a huge party and celebration that was set to take place in Victoria Park, one of the largest and certainly the most popular park in the city.  It happened to be while I was going to be there, so I made a note of it, so that I could attend.

I was really excited for this.  I love going to places and seeing and / or participating in local traditions, and this seemed like it was going to be a great one!  In fact, the information page that I saw touted it as one of the largest celebrations of the entire festival.  So, as you can imagine, I had high hopes.

I happened to run into another foreigner (an American) while I was wandering around earlier that day and, since that was a rarity in HK for some random reason, the two of us decided to get together later that night to go to dinner and generally just hang out after the humidity settled down to a nice, tolerable swelter, rather than an out-and-out sauna.

We had already wandered around one of the larger outdoor street markets, which was fun, albeit filled with cheaply-made stuff that I didn’t want to waste my money on, so we decided to go to the festival in the park and then grab some dinner.  We took  a cab to the park and followed a procession of what seemed like millions of people headed to what we assumed would be the celebration.

Once we got there, well . . . what can I say?  When in Malta, there is rarely a night when there isn’t a festival celebration of some kind and those parties are rowdy, loud and last into the wee hours, filled with fun, food and fireworks.  In Italy on New Year’s Eve, the party in Venice spread across the entire city, with music and lights and people shouting and having a great time.  In HK for the Mid Autumn Festival celebration in Victoria Park, there was . . um . . well, there were some lovely lanterns hanging up in the trees.  There were also some random lit-up giant cartoon characters that everyone was taking photos with, but that was about it.  Really.  A couple of places to get some questionable food and really, both of us were a little disappointed.

But the strangest thing was yet to come.  We hung around and wandered, taking photos, for about 30 minutes, when we started to hear music swelling a little bit. We saw some people start to form a circle around the source of the music, so naturally, we decided to join them.  Then we looked at each other.  And looked at the crowd, and then the source of the music, and then each other again.

Now, when you think of China, of HK and of Asia in general, and especially when you think of music, what comes to mind?  That strange Chinese Opera singing that is so quintessential?  Possibly, K-Pop?  Well, yes, that’s what I think that the two of us really thought of.

Here, though, we had not any of that.  What we had was – that’s right – bagpipes!  A full-on, loud, traditional bagpipe band – complete with kilts!  And everyone was watching them, clapping, taking photos, swaying to the “beat.”  Huh?  Okay, I get it – kinda.  HK was a part of Britain up until just a decade or so ago.  But still – this wasn’t a British festival that we were celebrating here – this was a Chinese Mid Autumn Festival.

Yeah.  I don’t get it.  And were they even British-looking people playing those bagpipes?  Nope.  Chinese / HK people.  Interesting.  And the strangest part of all was that, after the grand build up in the music, instead of a great crescendo that ends in a ‘Ode To Joy’ sort-of ending, it basically just waned and eventually died down.  No grand finale, no ending.  No sending up of lanterns or fireworks.

And in minutes, everyone had started to walk away.  Nothing left.  No remnants even that such an event took place.  Just a bunch of people walking to dinner, or to home, or somewhere else.  So strange.

I feel like I should go back there just to see if that same thing happens again.  If they have something more up their sleeve if I stay another day.  If there is a secret, hidden celebration that they don’t want foreigners to witness that is far more interesting.  It has happened to me before (see:  New Year’s Eve in Venice on Giudecca).  Just interesting . .  .


The Best Bedroom in Gatwick Airport

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I don’t even remember whether I was coming or going at this point.  Frankly, a lot of the time, I just know that I am tired, probably have make-up smudges if I have any make-up left on me at all, and clothes that are stale-smelling (unless they smell of the person next to me from the last flight; those are the worst).

Now, I have been to Gatwick on countless occasions and might very well be the only person in the world that prefers it to Heathrow for a layover.  I get it, Heathrow is huge and has a lot of very good amenities.  It’s gotten even better since I first swept through there almost two decades ago now.  However, it’s *busy*.  And I mean that in a very there’s-no-space-to-breathe kind of a way.  Sure, there are places to grab something more than a burger to eat and others to grab a nice drink or peruse the latest in travel pillows or stock up on trial-sized liquids, like toothpaste.  But what Heathrow lacks is a decent place to sleep.

And if there is one thing that a frequent traveler needs, it’s a decent place to sleep.

Gatwick has that.  Actually, it doesn’t really have a place to sleep, but when it comes to traveling, I like to think that I can MacGyver things with the best of them.  And it’s at Gatwick that, many years ago, I did my best work.

You see, this one particular time, I happened to be stuck on an overnight layover and as most people in their early adulthood, I didn’t really have the money to shell out for a decent hotel room in one of the over-priced places near the airport.  So instead, I opted to sleep in the airport itself.  I had done it before in other airports, but this time, I found myself stuck in Gatwick overnight with three other Americans – the annoying kind.  The ones that are loud, brash, can’t shut up and seem to think that everyone else within a ten-mile radius needs to be privy to their conversation.  I wanted to scream.

You see, we were forced to be inside one giant room, with an enormous vaulted ceiling and no real chairs.  I mean, there were chairs, but they all had those permanent armrests that meant that you couldn’t stretch out, so really, there weren’t comfortable places to sit and sleep. So all of us were on the floor, resting up against one of the large window walls.  No, the guy that was there by himself – he was quiet enough. The two other girls, though.  Man.  China could hear their conversation.  I was so tired, too.  I couldn’t even see straight anymore and I had a really early flight and just wanted to nap.  I asked them if they could keep it down, but their reaction was to tell me that it was their right to be able to talk all night.  Yup, they were *those* Americans.  The ones that I avoid at all costs.  The ones that opt for Starbucks over the hundreds of local cafes that exist and spend their time complaining that their aren’t hamburgers on the menus in every restaurant in France.  Those.

I am not one of those.  I needed to get away.  I needed to sleep.  I needed an escape from them.

I grabbed my large suitcase and my carry-on bag and started to try to find some place that wasn’t within the range of their conversation detailing the issues with finding a clean bathroom in London.  Like I cared.

As I walked by a set of bathrooms, I noticed that one was labeled “family room.”  I hadn’t noticed that one before during the other times that I was in this airport, so I decided to see what it was like.  I mean, it was about 1am at this point, so how many families would really be in need of something like this?  I opened the door to find a large – and I mean huge – bathroom.  An idea struck me.

I entered the bathroom, closed the door and realized that it had two locks.  Two locks!  This meant that the odds of anyone being able to get into this room without my knowledge (like, if I accidentally feel asleep or something) would be minimal at best.  I decided to MacGyver this into a bedroom for the night.  I opened my suitcase so that the lid of it rested up against the door and double-checked to make sure that both locks were in place.  I then rearranged my clothes, so that the softest ones were on the top.  I tested it out by sitting in it and leaning up against the interior of the lid that was up against the door.  It worked!!!  It actually felt something akin to a bed!

I quickly prayed that this would work – set my travel alarm (yeah, this was way back when people used those things; before all of our phones had that feature in them – heck, this was before cell phones were popular!) – and turned out the lights.  And I promptly fell asleep.  The “family room” was far enough away from the chatty girls that I couldn’t hear them and the security of the dual locking door allowed me to relax a little bit more and actually sleep.

Now, mind you, my flight was very early in the morning, so it wasn’t as if I got eight hours of bliss or anything.  And really, no matter how comfortable it was, it was still me sleeping inside of an open suitcase on the floor of an airport bathroom.  *But* it was at least four hours of good, solid sleep, which is more than I can say for many other airport / train depot / bus depot sleeping experiences that I have had in my life.

In fact, it was so good that I did it again the next two times that I happened to be passing through.  It was the best thing that I ever engineered for the purposes of a nap.  And I would do it again if I had the chance.  I don’t care if there is a family in need of the “family room.”  Sometimes a girl just needs to sleep, okay?

So, if you’re in Gatwick and in need of a nap and you wander by a room with a sign on the side saying “family room,” check it out.  You might have the same experience that I had.  you’re welcome.