I had not been to Hong Kong before. Nor, unsophisticated naïf that I am, had I ever been served marinated duck tongues, stewed chicken feet and boiled pigeon heads by a waitress called Eeyore. It was a whole new world.
I was still reeling from the fact that within five minutes of checking into my hotel — the Luxe Manor, just off Nathan Road, boutique and very bijou — I had given £300 to a complete stranger on the understanding that he would deliver me seven tailor-made shirts and a two-piece suit for which I had just had the briefest of fittings. He had jumped out at me from the shadows, plucking urgently at my sleeve and hissing. I thought he was trying to sell me dirty postcards or even his sister, but no, all he desired in this world, he explained, was to make me a suit. So disorientated was I in this neon jungle that I couldn’t even remember which street it was I had been accosted in. I spat out a hen’s knuckle and accepted that I’d see neither cash nor tailor again.
I was in town for a long weekend and the following morning I booked myself a guide, if only to ensure that I didn’t fall into such sartorial or culinary traps again. Sidney was a delight: Hong Kong Chinese, fluent in English and with an encyclopaedic know-ledge of his city. I told him that I wanted to do and see as much as I could in two days flat. ‘How American,’ he said, giving me a look. He was up to the challenge though and he worked his socks off.
We started by booking out of the Luxe Manor and into the Mandarin Oriental — ‘the best in Asia’. We followed this with my first ever Tai Chi lesson. ‘We will banish your depression and anger and harmonise and balance your internal organs,’ promised my 72-year-old tutor. Oh good.
We walked off my subsequent stiffness by striding along Hollywood Road and its back streets. We saw the covered Central-Mid-Levels escalator — ‘the longest in Asia’ — and the food stalls selling eggs so old that their yolks were green and their whites all jellied (a great delicacy, apparently) and fish so fresh that fillets came complete with still-beating hearts. We had the finest noodles and dim-sum I have ever eaten in Mak’s Noodles, and Sidney taught me Chinese etiquette (ask the oldest person present for permission to start; never point with your chopsticks and only take from the dish that morsel which is nearest, don’t go rummaging around. Oh, and only use a bowl for eating, not a plate, that’s for bones and gubbins).
We visited both St John’s Cathedral and the Man Mo Temple and popped into the Good Spring Pharmacy, a century-old corner shop that sold weird brown-paper-wrapped remedies. Dried seahorse and deer’s tails would sort out my seminal emissions and prevent frequent nocturnal urination, I was told; powdered gecko would help my impotence and donkey glue would prevent any dizziness and palpitations. I bought a pack of all three.
Then to the Yuen Po Bird Garden, where locals take their birds for a walk in little bamboo cages, and the flower market, goldfish market and Yau Me Tei jade market. We sailed around Victoria Harbour in a junk and took the funicular to the top of Victoria Peak.
On Lantau Island we took the cable car — ‘the longest in Asia’ — to the Giant Buddha and had a vegetarian banquet in the adjoining Po Lin monastery. We visited the Tai O fishing village built on stilts, and searched the dried fish stalls for a treat for Sidney’s mother: shrimp sauce — ‘the best in Asia’.
We had dinner of shark lips, pig throats and fish organs in Hutong, a restaurant famed as much for its thrilling views of Hong Kong as for its food (which was indeed delicious — I was getting a taste for the bizarre) and followed this with the obligatory late-night trawl round the bars of Lan Kwai Fong. It was a whirlwind of sights, sounds and tastes and I was completely smitten. I’m desperate to return. On my last night, Sidney and I having said rather emotional goodbyes, I treated myself to a slap-up feed in the Mandarin Grill. Way beyond my price bracket, of course, but one of my best meals ever, complete with exquisite wines. I had to go somewhere posh. After all, I had a rather natty new suit (and shirt) to show off.
Jonathan Ray is wine editor of the Daily Telegraph.
Air New Zealand flies daily to Hong Kong from Heathrow. Return fares (inc taxes) start from £413 for Economy; £949 for Premium Economy and £2,367 for Business Premier. For further details visit www.airnewzealand.co.uk or call 0800 028 4149.
Double rooms at the Mandarin Oriental cost from £282 per night B&B. For further details visit www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong or call 00 800 2828 3838