This week I have been mainly...discovering parts of the New Territories I never knew existed.
I think I have mentioned before that in my time in Hong Kong I have never worked in Central, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay or any of the other typical gweilo haunts. My current job is in the New Territories, but unfortunately not very close to where we live. The most convenient way to get there is by KMB bus, but in this case 'convenient' is relative rather than absolute.
There is actually a bus service that runs from close to my home to nearby my office. The small drawback is that the service is rather limited (to put it mildly) and runs in one direction only. Coming home by bus means changing once or twice, and is quite slow. Buses are all very well, but they'd be much better if they didn't keep stopping to let other people on and off - which reminds me of the story of the High Court judge who decided to try travelling by bus: he instructed the driver to take him to his club...
So I was pleased to discover a minibus route that appeared to be a good alternative. In truth, I am not a big fan of minibuses - they aren't exactly 'gweilo friendly' and the drivers are often rude and unhelpful, but if you know where you are going they can be fast and convenient (as well as dangerous and uncomfortable).
On Tuesday I tried this route for the first time, and the first section was entirely as I had expected, but then it took a strange diversion that I hadn't expected. No problem, and before long we were close to the destination. When everyone else got off a few hundred yards from the terminus I should have taken the hint, but I stayed in my seat. Bad decision, because the minibus then set off in the wrong direction and embarked on a high speed tour of various places I didn't know. Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I stayed onboard and hoped that it would turn out OK. Fortunately it did, and eventually the minibus reached its advertised destination.
Today I tried the return journey. Again, the first part was exactly what I expected, but then once again a fairly short distance from my intended destination, most people got off and the minibus set off into uncharted territory. Based on my earlier experience, I was hoping that this was just a diversion and I would finally arrive at the office. Well, it kinda did. It turns out that the route terminates somewhere in the middle of nowhere (at least as far as my view of the world is concerned). At this point everyone gets off - well, actually only one person, because all the sensible passengers had disembarked earlier - and the minibus heads back. When I remained onboard, the driver realized that I was lost.
I have to say that the driver and his colleagues were very helpful, and after that I told them where I wanted to go (in Cantonese) the driver said something or other that I didn't understand, and allowed me to stay onboard (without paying again). After a short wait, the minibus set off again and a few minutes later I recognized where we were (which was close to the office). The driver then announced the name of my building and indicated which way I should go - now that's what I call customer service!! I take back all the rude things I have ever said about minibus drivers. Well, most of them...
Makes me wish that I knew Hong Kong a bit better, and that my Cantonese wasn't quite so pathetically limited.
When I lived in London, I made a conscious effort to try alternative routes, both driving and on public transport. In part it relieved the boredom of commuting, and it also gave me options if there was a problem somewhere (or I had just missed a train). It was also useful when London stations were closed because of bomb threats and it became essential to find an alternative route.
Even so, there are large parts of London that remain a mystery to me. I suppose that I know most of the major roads (including the nightmare that is the North Circular Road), and a fair part of the railway and underground system, but I can easily get lost if I stray away from the places I know.
I suppose the same applies in Hong Kong. I've lived and worked in enough parts of Hong Kong to feel reasonably confident of where I am going, but buses and minibuses often seem to have rather obscure places as destinations - and follow strange routes to get there. I can cope with buses that have destinations such as 'Tuen Mun Town Centre', 'Sha Tin Town Hall' or 'Tsuen Wan West Station', but what does 'Jordan Road' mean, and where is Riviera Garden?
I've made relatively few bad mistakes - I once went almost as far as Ma On Shan before I realized that I had missed the bus stop where I needed to change, but that's the only one I can remember. Someone who shall remain nameless got on a bus that she thought was going up the hill on the short journey to our home (at the time) and discovered too late that it was an express bus going somewhere completely different and the next stop was a very long way away!!
Of course, one big advantage in Hong Kong is that you can always jump in a taxi, though it's a bit embarassing when the driver tells you that your destination is just around the corner, as happened to me when I was I was totally lost in Kowloon Bay many years ago.