Travel 2008 – Macau, Hong Kong, Days 8 – 11

Saturday, 14th/Tuesday, 17th November 2008 – Macau, Hong Kong, Days 8 – 11

I was still feeling pretty rough on Saturday morning so breakfast was a slice of white toast, two imodium tablets and a very milky coffee, before we eventually headed for the paddock. Anyway, having encountered the world’s most unusual bellboy on the way in (Sam Bird insisted on hefting the laptop bag up the stairs for us so we didn’t have to wait for the lift!) we left our stuff in the office and went to the media lounge for a cold drink (and a wilting processed cheese sandwich that tasted of absolutely nothing).

After a suitable pause we headed downstairs and out into the heat in time for the F3 group photo shoot, which as usual happened early of schedule (basically there’s a drivers’ briefing at 11.30 and they march them straight to the scrutineering bay where the photo is to be done – so it has to happen as soon as possible or they start to wander off in all directions and you never get them back; also Brendon Hartley, possibly the world’s palest Kiwi, starts to complain about being out in the heat).

The photoshoot was chaotic as usual, with the local photographers having to be beaten back to a sensible position so everyone could get a shot. The drivers, on the other hand, were oddly well behaved this year, with only Jaime Alguersuari acting up by trying to pull Mika Maki’s head off (in an affectionate sort of way).

After that it was time to skulk in the air conditioned press office where Roberto, the Italian journalist, was busy trying to block the vents. He always opts for a desk right under the unit, and then always complains about being too cold. We have this performance every year… Anyway, the race was reasonably restrained, with more common sense than might have been expected. We sat in on the press conference, wrote the report and filed it then walked back to the hotel in time to change and head out to the annual Grand Prix Club party, at the Taipa Houses Museum as always. It’s changed a bit, at least in terms of the view. The first year we came we were faced with a lagoon and marshes full of wading birds and frogs, but now, although the lagoon is still there, the skyline is now dominated by Rhe Venetian, and there’s yet more construction going on around it. A far cry from our second visit when the fireworks had to be cancelled because there were migratory birds roosting all round the marshes. I doubt the birds can find anywhere to roost now. Sometimes the sheer pace of change in Macau is breathtaking, and not always in a good way.

This year the food didn’t seem to be as good as in previous years, with a change of caterers. It’s always been the Lisboa till now, but this year the Tower was the supplier of choice. Of course it could just have been that I wasn’t feeling too bright, but there certainly didn’t seem to be the ranger of choice this time out. The same applied to the drinks with beer or red wine offered and white wine proving very hard to come by yet again. I realise it’s a cultural thing, but given the number of Westerners, it seemed a little short-sighted.

From there we decided to go on to the Mandarin Oriental (and persuaded the organisers to divert one of the buses there specially) for a nightcap – which turned out to be a not very good but very expensive caipirinha… The place was almost deserted (I gather the WTCC boys were mostly staying at the MGM Grand this year which would account for it), though we did run into Danny Watts and Fiona just leaving the bar, seemingly after a sponsors’ function of some sort. All I can say is she’s very small for a 6-months pregnant woman, and looking remarkably well on it, though they insist they are not breeding a racing driver and the sprog can play golf or tennis instead.

I had been planning on going out to Melco or braving the approach to Fisherman’s for the morning warm up session on Sunday, but I still wasn’t feeling well enough to be away from the toilets for that length of time, especially as the temperature was already in the mid-20s and rising, so I settled for watching it on the flatscreen TV in the lounge of our suite, while organising and posting the photos I’d taken so far. I was quite pleased that I’d managed to keep so well ahead of the game this time around, and would only have a few to sort out on Monday and send to as well as putting them all up on Flickr. I also needed to pack as far as possible because I had an appointment on Monday morning and if we did go out to party I knew I wouldn’t feel like doing it then (if I even had time). At lunchtime we wandered down to the paddock, just missing seeing anything of the first WTCC race (which meant Alain Menu won, something he only seems to do when Lynne’s not watching – he can dismiss this as “bollocks” as often and as vociferously as he likes, but in 20 years she’s never actually seen him win a race – if he wants us to show up and watch, well, it’s his career after all).

In all fairness I should point out I had much the same effect on Phil Andrews back in the day, so much so that I started to avoid watching his races. Just to proved I brought him bad luck, we were once on our way to the same awards dinner at the Hilton on Park Lane and we walked the last bit together. In that time he managed to lose his girlfriend’s dress off the hanger that also had his suit on. In the few minutes it took him to realise and retrace his steps, it had vanished… They had to very hastily buy her a new dress, not easy at 5pm on a November Saturday!

However, I digress. We settled in for the afternoon, and I went off to take photos on the grid. Every year there is a lion dance and every year the drivers are all hoicked out of their cars to stand in line and be presented to the Chief Executive of Macau, Edmund Ho Hau-wah.

Now normally the great unwashed horde of photographers are not allowed anywhere near this part of the event. This year, however, they insisted we went and stood facing the driver line up.

I have to say it was no place for the faint-hearted (or the claustrophobic) and how in hell were the Chinese photographers there tall enough to lean on me.

It was a relief to escape at the first possible opportunity, though I did get some nice shots of both the drivers and the lion dancers, and it also meant we didn’t have to fall over the sponsors’ “girls”, most of whom it should be said, are not selected for their ability to chew gum and walk at the same time, especially on 4-inch spike heels! Not only that but they think they have a God-given right to shove their way through ahead of everyone else. On principle, and because women still have a harder time being taken seriously in motorsport than they should, I refuse to take photos of any of them, no matter how much they simper when they see a camera. If my editor wants photos of them, he can send someone else to get them. And rant over… and breathe!

Anyway, anyone interested in what happened during the race can go and find the reports here.

After the race we finished work around 6.30 and the prize giving dinner was due to start half an hour later. Working on last year’s plan, we’d taken fresh clothes in the laptop bag, so it was a case of hand back the locker key, the extension lead and the photographers’ tabard (they ended up in the bin), get our $200 deposit back, and then change rapidly in the ladies before walking across the road to the Fisherman’s Wharf Convention Centre, where we arrived just behind the committee and were greeted with more lion dancers! We made our way into the building, encountering an entertainingly baffled Formula BMW driver, Michael Christensen, who was trying to find an escalator that was going up! So that’s the latest in a long line of confused Danes. By this point I was pretty hungry – we’d skipped breakfast and lunch so the proverbial scabby nag would have looked good to me round about then. We sat down and despatched a plate of canapés and half the bread rolls for our half of the table in pretty short order! After that, dinner eventually got under way. As ever, I had to try and eat my dinner while taking photos, which meant Lynne and Wendy had to fend off the waiters who kept trying to take any unattended plates away, but I still managed to get enough sustenance to feel a lot better.

After the ceremonies ended, and the lights came up, I wandered across to harangue a WTCC driver or two, having a chat with the Priaulxs, Joerg Mueller, Jordi Gene, and just for good measure, that well-known and seriously scary double act, Alain Menu and Rickard Rydell, who started by getting into an argument about which one of them I like best and ended it reminiscing about when they were both in British F3! Unfortunately this was 19 years ago and we all remember it well. Damn but we’re getting old! This year we opted not to party afterwards (especially as there seemed to be varying opinions as to which party to go to – the MGM Grand was one venue, the MP4 was another, and the bikers (along with Andy Priaulx) were off to “the Irish bar” if only any of them could remember where it was! Last year’s party was so good that we didn’t want to spoil it, and the lack of any drivers’ parents was a downside too. We needed grown-ups to play with. We will certainly go next year if Kendra Abay is there, but for once we opted out. And so to bed.

I finished packing early on Monday and woke Lynne. On Sunday night the presents to diners were sets of two tea cups, in a box, which was way too big.

We dumped the boxes, packed the cups in our luggage, and hoped for the best. After an early breakfast and lugging my bag down to reception (where I booked us in for next year) I was feeling pretty good on Monday morning when I headed down towards the Mandarin Oriental and its very wonderful Spa.

I had booked myself in for the 110 minute sports massage treatment, largely because the massage therapist I’d seen in the UK had muttered about needing a lumphammer to make progress on my shoulders, and I also knew that four days on those horrendous press office chairs would have done me no good at all. I was after being reset to as close to factory settings as I’m likely to get. I was greeted at the door and my shoes taken away in exchange for very comfortable sandals, given a cup of mint tea, and asked to fill in my medical history. After that I was shown to the changing rooms, handed a robe and clean towels, and shown my locker. This contained a pair of slippers, and a silk roll of small cosmetic goodies. I went and sat in the rest room where I read the sports pages of the various newspapers and waited for Cat, the therapist, to come and get me. She remembered me from two years previously, which was good because she knew what she was up against.

The process starts with aromatherapy oils placed under the massage table, and then she takes hot towels, places them on the soles of your feet, and works from there. And it’s wonderful (if painful) to have all those knots worked loose. Afterwards, I felt incredibly relaxed and more than ready to walk to the jetfoil to meet the other two so we could transfer back to Kowloon for one last night at the Intercontinental before flying home on Tuesday.

We arrived mid-afternoon and asked for (and were given) a room with a view on the 17th floor overlooking the harbour.

It was pretty spectacular all-in-all. We repacked, went for afternoon tea, then I went for a swim in the rooftop pool, but didn’t stay long. Even with the big thick towel and the towelling dressing gown, it was colder than expected.

I like the service though. You’re met at the door, shown to a lounger (the gym attendant puts a towel down for you, brings you a large glass of iced water, and produces a hot towel for you to wipe your face/hands down on). Glyn came back from his business meeting to just as we were getting ready to go down for cocktails and the staff didn’t bat an eyelid at us bringing a third person in for cocktails… Once we’d done a pass round the canapés and it was time to go for dinner, Glyn grabbed a ride on the shuttle bus to the airport express and that just left the two of us. We’d booked a table in Aqua again, intending to hit the Japanese menu this time, though we were briefly tempted by the set menu, till we realised just how much food it would entail and we bottled out. Once again we started with a pair of raspberry caipirinhas, and then branched out with a plate of sushi between us.

It was all extremely good except for the foie gras sushi, which, needless to say, just didn’t work in any way, shape or form. After that we moved on to crab rice with crab terriyaki, which was delicious:

So too was the plate of Wagyu beef.

We couldn’t finish the rice though. Tiredness had finally and irrevocably caught up and we could eat no more. It hadn’t exactly been as quiet as we might have expected because it appeared to be full of racing people including Jaime Alguersuari and his manager, Roberto the reporter (who told us about the place to begin with so I suppose that’s not that surprising) and all of the Ombra team, in one of the individual dining rooms, glass walls all round, which probably give the best views of the harbour). Interestingly, on both occasions, despite being told that we’d have to give the table back after two hours, we were still there long after that. We’d considered walking back but we’d run out of steam so we grabbed a cab (having had the first two turn us down because we weren’t going to Hong Kong and they didn’t want to take a smaller fare). The can driver who did take us recommended calling the police if it happened another time, but right then we couldn’t be bothered.

Tuesday had me whimpering that I always want to travel this way. We got up early, having booked the limo to the airport. The hotel staff came and collected our bags, loaded them up, and sped us to the airport in leather upholstered comfort. Once there their “airport assistant” unloaded our bags and took them to the check-in desk, loaded them onto the scales, waited while we checked in, and wished us a safe journey home. From there we spent a short wait in the business lounge before boarding our Air New Zealand flight, business class all the way home, using destinations miles that I’ve earned over the years.

What can I say? A chair that folded down into a flat bed, a lovely cotton covered duvet and pillow, free water, a welcome glass of Champagne, free cosmetics, mango smoothies, fruit and yogurt and noodles for breakfast, an afternoon tea of sandwiches, cakes, scones, cream and jam at the halfway point, and a three course lunch before landing. The smoked salmon starter was excellent, with a choice of three breads (I opted for sourdough). It was followed by lamb (well, it was Air New Zealand), and I finished with fresh fruit and cheese. The wines were very good too, as were the coffee and chocolates at the end.

Please can I always travel like that? Please? Oh, and the entertainment kept me happy all the way home too. I slept for a while, worked on my photos, and watched a couple of films (Infamous, which was excellent if serious, and Hot Fuzz, which was entertaining in a daft sort of way and not at all serious). And then we were home. The luggage took about five minutes to appear and the car was ready for us at the terminal door. From there it took us about an hour to get home, where we were greeted by fresh flowers and a pair of very clingy cats. They’re over it now and can’t be bothered with the humans unless they want feeding.

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