I call them Tony’s Angels – Tony Bartolome’s bevy of Filipina beauties who provide much of the literary input for True Friends Magazine.
It was my third trip to Hong Kong in almost as many months – I first came out to the region in October after a gap of thirty years and was wonderfully looked after then by Miam (The Boss) Medrano. A little over a month later the Hong Kong Tourist Board brought me over on an all expenses paid trip (along with five other Middle Eastern journalists) as I had been asked to write a number of articles for a travel magazine. Flown over on Cathay First Class, pampered in both the Shangri La hotels, taken to a string of good restaurants and shown some more of the city’s sites (including, I’m sorry to say, the truly awful Disneyland, which was the only down side of the entire trip… but hey, don’t get me started!). I’m sure I could get used to such a luxurious lifestyle!
And being smitten by the city and its people, it didn’t take a lot to tempt me to come on over again for Chinese New Year. Once again M(TB)M pulled out all the stops for me, sharing me around all the other Angels – such an ego boost for a hot blooded male who was made to feel so very welcome by one and all.
Who could forget Amy’s smile which seemed to linger in the air as the rest of her disappeared round a corner, much like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland? Or Annabelle’s business savvy as she rushed around collecting sugar packets from the likes of McDonalds for sale on eBay? How about Marie who complained that I was too tall and proceeded to call me daddy as she skipped along the street holding on tightly and trying to flutter her eye lashes at me. “Daddy buy me some ice cream,” she wailed. “Only if you are a good girl,” she was told. (She never got her ice cream!) How about Daisy and Ines and Zyrel and Edenell and Marife and all the other Angels, too numerous to mention here?
I was taken to see the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas which for some inexplicable reason is totally missing from the HKTB’s Visitor’s Kit. This has to be one of the best must-visit places in the whole of HK. We started out by breaking into a picnic lunch by the IFC’s Caribou (much better to carry it around inside us, rather than lug heavy boxes around). The security guards tried to move us on. Not because we were making a nuisance of ourselves, but because they thought there were too many open boxes of food. What might the other visitors to the Caribou think? But Daisy placated them and they left us in peace to munch through the mountains of food.
And then it was off to Sha Tin where we met up with Amy’s friend Mercy who led us to the golden Buddhas… eventually. First we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in a kind of cemetery which was actually next door to the temple, but interesting and noteworthy all the same. And then M(TB)M spotted a path winding up the hillside which indeed proved to be the way to the temple.
I found on a website that there are actually 12,600 Buddha statues, rather than the 10,000 implied by the name. (But then, who can say? Amy lost count after the first two or three hundred anyway, as she mistakenly believed that others in the party would count the ones she had missed.) We all posed beside our preferred statues – one that I leant against was not anchored down and toppled somewhat precariously until I managed to retrieve it and stop it rolling down the hillside. (Not sure Temple of 9,999 Buddhas would have had quite the same cachet as the original name.)
We all posed with our respective zodiac animals. Me beside a tiger; Daisy in front of a dragon; M(TB)M with a rat; Amy with a cockerel; Annabelle with a dog; Mercy with an ox and Marie with her ear pressed perilously close to the backside of a ram.
Other highlights of my trip (not to mention the pizza parties in Tony’s office) included the New Year’s procession (tip for next time – stay in and watch it on TV); and the fireworks display which we watched from the IFC Mall, thereby missing the drama of one of the barges catching alight and wondering why there was so much black smoke that at times one was hard pressed to see the fireworks at all. It will all end with the Chinese character for an Ox, M(TB)M predicted. But from where we were it was all just obliterated by the smoke. Her prediction was acknowledged by a report in the South China Morning Post, however, which prompted an apology from yours truly who was ashamed that he had had so little faith in her tourist guide capabilities.
We visited some of HK’s beautiful parks – Victoria Park and Hong Kong Park and the Botanical Gardens – where there was so much to see and learn. How do you tell the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, for instance? Throw them both into a pond and see which one crawls out. Oh look, there’s a Burmese Python, said M(TB)M in the reptile house. How do you know it’s a Burmese Python, asked a member of the party, better to remain anonymous. I read the sign, she was told!
And talking of signs, HK is full of wonderful collector’s items. “For your own safety, please do not climb up … the staircases” advised one notice; whilst another by a fountain admonished “No climbing or padding”. “Closed” said another sign on a door which was blocked open and through which visitors walked.
But my favourite sign was a massive billboard positioned very close to Tony’s office. “Single unattached billboard looking for love” read the main headline, with accompanying classified ads as diverse as “Have Viagra: Need woman – any woman between 18 and 60” and “For sale: Complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 45 volumes. No longer needed. Got married last weekend. Wife knows everything.”
Aaaahhhh. Hong Kong. Don’t you just love it!