Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Welcome to the Hotel, it’ll quarantine ya
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Just don’t get a case
Plenty of room at the Hotel, it’ll quarantine ya
Any time of year (any time of year)
You can find it here
– The Eagles (almost)
And so after my around the world in 89 days tour I am back in Hong Kong. To be precise at the Regal Airport, a couple of stone throws from Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1. It’s a hotel I have used on numerous occasions during my various sojourns over the years but I have never checked in for quite this long before.
That’s because I’m now on day three of my seven-day hotel quarantine, the still compulsory stipulation for Hong Kong residents (and fully vaccinated others) arriving into the Special Administrative Region.
The Regal is a decent airport hotel but staying here for a week confined to my room and overlooking the airport car park is a stultifying, wearisome (and expensive) experience – albeit a considerably easier test of stamina than the 14 days I did on my last return from abroad a year ago.
There’s much talk in the media here that new Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu is about to ease the seven-day constraint to ‘4+3’ (the 3 being home quarantine), which will at least make my pretty intensive travel schedule over coming months (Cannes, The Trinity Forum, numerous store and terminal openings) a little more manageable.
Otherwise it’s effectively going to be a rerun of this journey in simply having to stay on the road for weeks or months at a time. That might sound ok but it’s an alternative that starts to wear you down in roughly equal proportions to your costs ramping up.
[UPDATE 8 AUGUST: The Hong Kong government has this morning reduced inbound quarantine to ‘3+4’ – three days in a hotel plus four days of ‘home medical surveillance’, allowing trips to office and malls, starting 12 August].
Flying out of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok and into Hong Kong International Airport presents the starkest of contrasts.
Suvarnabhumi is swinging back into something resembling full action with all its shops not only open but looking really good. None more so than the simply dazzling (in multiple senses) Gucci boutique. Its digital façade must be among the most impactful sights in the travel retail world and the brand’s equally swanky neighbour Louis Vuitton has also put on a gorgeous showing.
With other luxury newcomers Bvlgari, Dior, Cartier and Chanel also looking resplendent, it’s clear that King Power International and its partners are back with a bang as you can see from my video below.
And then… welcome to Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), one of the world’s great gateways turned, alas, into a mass processing facility.
I tell reporters on my team not to use the word ‘handled’ when referring to airport passenger traffic but the term seems apposite to describe the HKIA arrivals experience.
That’s not to criticise the staff here who do a superb job in managing the intricate process of facilitating each and every passenger through documentation checking, COVID-testing and despatch to their respective quarantine hotels. And, in between all that, traditional airport functions such as immigration, baggage collection and customs also need to be attended to.
The whole exercise is military in its precision and pretty fast given the complexity but nonetheless it is daunting to even a veteran traveller such as me and wholly dispiriting. And that’s before you even get to your quarantine hotel.
After travelling through 11 countries in the past three months, where not just travel retail but life in general has moved on so far from the darkest days of the pandemic, the arrival experience here is a sobering reminder that life won’t be back to normal in the Special Administrative Region for a while yet.
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL, IT’LL QUARANTINE YOU
As regular readers of this Blog will know, my around the world trip has not been without incident. And I have maintained that hapless tradition here.
Having bought three wines (a Babich Pinot Noir and Selini Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and a Vasse Felix Chardonnay from Margaret River in Western Australia) at King Power Duty Free, I managed to leave them somewhere at HKIA during the multiple stressful processing stages.
However, astonishingly, I have since been tracked down through google search by a fellow passenger, also called Martyn, a non-COVID variant on my name, who picked up my goods and offered to return them to me (sans the Selini which I have donated to him for his kindness) post our respective escapes from quarantine.
The considerable consolation of opening a nicely chilled bottle of New World white on our first night in confinement eliminated, I called up room service at the Regal.
“Could I order a bottle of white wine?”
“We have Chardonnay.” Well that narrowed down my choice. It turned out to be the house 2019 Chardonnay from South Eastern Australia called Regal Supreme. Not bad, though certainly not supremely good. And not, I repeat not, worth the HK$388 (US$49.40) plus 10% service charge (total bill HK$420/US$53.50) the Regal is charging.
Regal Supreme gets an average three stars on the Vivino wine review site, which I think fair. The price is not, however. And there’s certainly nothing ‘supreme’ about the food. As the photos reveal, they’re the kind of meals you might experience on a military base, probably in the enlisted men’s mess. We have taken to ordering lunch and dinner in from outside or from the hotel’s room service menu as I suspect many guests have.
Let me qualify my comments by saying I hesitate to complain about the food or the hotel. Many in the world are starving and would be delighted to receive such regular daily sustenance. It is certainly edible if not particularly palatable. And the hotel cannot avoid the fact that it has to serve up the food in plastic trays delivered outside your door. The staff here are doing a good job; I have a decent room with an interesting view (more of that in a moment); and seven days is hardly an eternity.
Also, I can afford to pay for alternatives. But my point is that many others cannot. Staying at this hotel costs around HK$1,400 (U$178) per room per night, a cost that most here (who are simply returning to their Hong Kong homes) would not normally incur.
I watched an Indian family check in alongside us on Friday evening. They had two rooms for Mum, Dad and two children. The Mother was making some special quarantine meal requests; no way could such a typical family of four be ordering in each day. So there is a responsibility, I think, on every quarantine hotel operator to provide food of decent quality and not to overcharge for any alternative.
Rather than pick at the distinctly unappetising lunch option that just arrived outside our door today, I ordered a Regal Club Sandwich. Decent enough (and with some tasty French Fries on the side) but at a regal HK$198 (US$25) so it should be.
The Asahi Super Dry beer on the other hand was pretty good value at HK$50 (US$6.35) so I shall console myself with a couple of cold ones while taking a break from my Interim Quarantine Bureau work, gazing at the sights of freedom outside.
I also have an excellent bottle of Writers’ Tears Irish whiskey to hand. It was the perfectly named accompaniment last night for watching my beloved All Blacks get destroyed by the Springboks in the way Keith Moon and the Who used to trash hotel rooms, though the Boks did so far more comprehensively.
To my left I can see the hugely ambitious SKYCITY taking shape, a vast project covering some 25 hectares. It will be anchored by a 350,000sq m space called 11 SKIES, which will eventually become Hong Kong’s largest hub for retail, dining and entertainment. It’s an important reminder that better times are coming here and that we just have to be patient.
I am doing just that. To keep fit I am doing a mile’s walking each day (that’s 200 lengths of my ten-step room). And to ward off bordeom I heartily recommend the COVID equivalent of the old Pick-up Sticks game.
In this version (I guess we should call it a variant) you use swabs instead and push them up your nostrils. Takes a while to get used to but with practice (and I am getting lots) it’s quite fun).
In front of Terminal 1, the Chinese, Hong Kong and Hong Kong International Airport flags are fluttering in the wind, symbols of their shared fate in dealing with this cursed pandemic.
To my right, I can make out parts of the HKIA apron and airfield. Like a prisoner watching birds take flight outside his cell, I am drawn to the aircraft on the ground and the encouraging sight every few minutes 0f one taking off. Like me, soon enough, though this time – for a couple of weeks at least – only as far as home. My world tour is done.