Hong Kong trip recap, Day 5 (part 2): The Harbour Cruise of Torment

In August 2011, I was lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong for a conference. I started to post recaps of my adventures there long ago, but got sidetracked by life. Sparked on by a request from YTSL, I will now begin to dive back in.

Where last I left off, I was part way through day 5 of my adventures. The first days of my trip were jam-packed with rather manic attempts to see as many sights as possible (day 1 and day 2) followed by much mellower days of conference attending (days 3 & 4). I had eaten lots of good and interesting fresh food, met with friends, and was thoroughly enjoying being in Hong Kong.

The early part of day 5 was marked by a conference-arranged bus tour, which was somewhat painfully entertaining in ways that were probably not intended. In spite of my suffering, I did see interesting places and took many photos. Now we return to the end of that day, when the bus delivered me, my advisor and a bus load of other phoneticians to the Harbour for our much anticipated dinner cruise.

In addition to dinner, for which I had high expectations given the wonderful food I’d eaten in Hong Kong so far, we were going to have prime views of the much vaunted Harbour light show, the Symphony of Lights:

Named as the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ by Guinness World Records, coloured lights, laser beams and searchlights perform in an unforgettable all-round spectacle synchronised to music and narration that celebrates the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong.

As we walked up the gangway, I commented on the tackiness of the pink ferry we passed. This, naturally, turned out to be our boat.

Having envisioned that a harbour cruise would prominently feature looking at the harbour, I was rather dismayed to find ourselves funneled into the interior of the boat, which was set up with round tables, and not with seats designed for looking out at the views.

Happily, there was a top deck that we could access. I rushed up to get some photos before the light faded. I was surprised by how few of the other people were up there. After the long confinement of the bus ride, I was happy to get some fresh (albeit hot & humid) air, but others seemed lulled by the air conditioning.

The boat had so, so much pink.

The rosy sunset briefly tried to compete with the aggressively rosy pink of the ferry boat before retreating behind the hills.

When I headed back down to main deck, the “fun” had really started. The dinner buffet was open, and there was live entertainment. I don’t have any photos of the food, but just try to imagine yesterday’s cafeteria food presented as ostentatiously as possible. The copious offerings included bad day-old overchilled sushi, bad reheated Indian food, as well as a host of other mediocre-looking probably-leftover international delights. For those wanting lighter fare, there was a variety of salads featuring freshly-opened canned vegetables.

For entertainment, we were treated to earnestly sung lounge music versions of pop tunes, from Wham to Lady Gaga. (The singers were so very earnest.) The spacious dance floor offered plenty of room for people to awkwardly skirt around while trying to reach the exit stairs.

At some point in the evening, there was a buzz of excitement, apparently in reaction to an announcement (unheard by me over the noise) that it was time for the “unforgettable spectacle” of the light show to begin.

Everybody rushed up the stairs, crowding onto the deck. The night skyline looked colorful and spectacular, but not actually particularly more colorful and spectacular that it had before the start of the show. Ah, yes, there were some search lights here, a flashing building there. There was this odd sense that nobody really knew when the show had actually started, or what we were really all up there to see.

We couldn’t hear any of the music to which the spectacle was allegedly synchronized. In general, there were lots of colorful and some flashing lights on the buildings along the waterfront. For a short time, there was a marginal increase in the flashing and the colorfulness. It was as hard to tell when the show had stopped as it had been to tell when it had begun. Gradually, the crowd thinned.

This colorful scene was not part of the light show:

It was fun to see the other boats and ships in the harbour, including one of Hong Kong’s iconic red-sailed junks (though I learned that it is merely a replica.)

I’m not sure why only a small portion of the top deck was open for passengers. When everyone was up to see the light show, it was quite crowded, and this space shown here was inaccessible. You may notice that there was a total lack of visible lifeboats. I can only assume that this was to prevent guests from attempting to escape from the bad food and music.

After staying around up on deck to take more photos of the colorful skyline and reflections, I eventually wandered back down and made some attempts to mingle and network. (Since that was, in part, what prompted me to sign up for the conference-arranged outing.)

Sitting around the tables was just as enjoyable as sitting with people you don’t know at the wedding dinner of some cousin you’ve barely met. But without the champagne and wedding cake. I made attempts to chat with the person sitting next to me. First, we established that there was no overlap in our research interests. Next we established that there was no overlap in our philosophy about travel. She was happy to relax by a hotel poolside when not shopping for bargains on counterfeit designer fashions, whereas I like to wander the streets and absorb as much local culture as possible. Our awkward conversation floundered.

As soon as I could come up with an excuse to the leave the table, I headed back to the upper deck, where I waited out the rest of the cruise. I’d had enough mingling, bad food and earnest lounge music. The cruise couldn’t have been more than 3 hours long, but it felt an eternity. The streets of Hong Kong, with their interesting things to do and delicious foods to eat, remained tantalizingly out of reach. I was trapped in a pink, flashy, noisy wedding cake of a prison.

I am told that my face lit up with a giant smile when the ferry boat finally docked.

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3 thoughts on “Hong Kong trip recap, Day 5 (part 2): The Harbour Cruise of Torment

  1. Hi Alejna —

    Thanks so much for the highly amusing and lengthy blog post. I’m amazed you can remember this part of your Hong Kong trip in such detail despite your visit having taken place more than a year ago now! :)

  2. That does indeed sound terrible! I’m sorry you had to waste a whole evening on it, but if it’s any consolation, the post is much more entertaining than the evening it describes!

  3. I believe a wise person once said that what doesn’t kill you makes a good story, but it sounds like this one was a close call. I don’t think I would have touched the food, for starters. Now I’m trying to think of equivalent tourist traps in the US.. I’m sure they exist.

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