Ooh Hong Kong, I thought. Well, I’ve never been, I thought. Which is ridiculous, I thought. So … why not add a weekend of leisure onto a long planned work trip? Little did I know what was to come.
After landing in Hong Kong, I dropped my bags and hot-footed it to one of the many malls – ifc on the island in this case – to meet a curator from Hong Kong’s, and arguably what will be the world’s, most significant forthcoming cultural offering. M+ is a museum, plus. Due to open in the next couple of years, the Herzog and de Meuron building is currently under construction in West Kowloon. A peninsula jutting from Kowloon between the Star Ferry Terminal and the ever-busy port, it reaches out towards Hong Kong’s more affluent island. Fascinated to see the West Kowloon Cultural District having heard it discussed in museum world at least 15 years ago when I was a bright-eyed newbie at the V&A, I was keen to hear more.
Conceived in 2005, under the direction of former Tate Modern director Lars Nittve, it is now headed up by Suhanya Raffel. Programming is well underway – the HQ is under construction and staff already number 100. Collecting in earnest – a situation unheard of for a new cultural institution – the remit is broad. Not only will it present fine arts, but also design, architecture, film and visual culture. I can’t bloody wait.
There’s a very odd and rather patronising preoccupation with warning and instructional signs on everything
With knowledge of the typhoon scheduled to hit the following day, I was particularly keen to squeeze in a visit to Tai Kwun – the converted Central Police Station that is now a heritage and arts centre. It’s nicely done indeed – the restoration gives a sense (albeit an incredibly sanitised one thank goodness) of its former operations. There are also two looming buildings on the site (more Herzog de Meuron offerings) which do well to house exhibitions on the inside but have a really weird façade. Are they air vents? I’ve no idea. The “mind the step” signs of every single step inside also made me laugh. There’s a very odd and rather patronising preoccupation with warning and instructional signs on everything. This is peak safety signage.
The next day, having raced around in double speed as a tourist – typhoon imminent – I settled in at The Murray in the CBD. It was quite the surreal experience. I was given strong advice not to venture outside (which I was happy to take). There was an all-hands-on-deck attitude from the staff who did their best to quash the understandable hint-of-hysteria. Front desk staff joined the ranks to ensure guests were taken care of. Sitting at a booth with my omelette, facing the floor-to-ceiling windows, I watched the rain swirl and trees sway as if it was all an extended CGI sequence on a screen rather than genuinely perilous weather. Guests occasionally circled my table to get an uninterrupted view.
I holed up in my comfy room, watched the news, caught up on some reading and drew a pizza slice (it’s for a sign-writing project – I wear many hats). Despite having pretty much nothing to do, and no reason to stay up, insomnia hit hard. It turns out the excitement of a super typhoon and the 2% of you that fears the windows might get blown-in doesn’t make for a sound night’s sleep. The fear need not have kept me awake: The Foster + Partners recent refurbishment held up against the storm well. Formerly a government building erected in the 1960s, The Murray’s transformation into a five-star hotel is a successful one. In between St John’s Cathedral and Hong Kong Park, the dominant views are of the surrounding financial towers including Norman Foster’s imposing HSBC HQ. With three beautiful restaurants, a bar that serves jolly nice cocktails (groan-inducing names aside – I had a ‘Gentleman Prefer Bonds’), The Murray has everything you would expect from one of the best hotels in Hong Kong.
The following day, normal service in the city resumed. It seemed extraordinary, when one thinks of the transport chaos a fallen leaf on a track can cause in the UK. Kudos to Hong Kong. Transport was back on, shops were open, it was business as usual. The tidy-up team were out in force tackling the many fallen branches and occasional uprooted tree. This was the only real evidence I saw of the previous day’s drama, a few popped-out windows aside.
I also resumed being-a-tourist as I tried not to panic about my lack of a return flight, with BA (understandably) cancelling the original one. I explored the large streets of Kowloon, encountering a hawker I fondly think of as Reverb Queen. I heard her long before I saw her. Performing on the corner of Jordan Street, she wore white leggings, a pink T-shirt, massive shades and a sun hat. With the volume turned up to 11, she sang with gusto and reminded me of an old Bollywood soundtrack. She was so lost in the moment. I loved her sincerely and gave her some dollars just as she was being (politely) asked to stop by local police. Back on the island I boarded the tram that takes people up to The Peak, right behind The Murray, took in the incredible views of extraordinary, sprawling, ever-expanding Hong Kong and marvelled at the post-typhoon calm. C
The Murray, 22 Cotton Tree Dr, Central, Hong Kong
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