Typecast at Hong Kong Airport with a beautiful reminder from Hermès

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After waking to the unwelcome sleep intrusion of a 5am wake-up call, I’m on the (airways) road all day for what promises to be a fascinating week, one that will begin with me experiencing three of the world’s greatest airports in a single day – Hong Kong International, Singapore Changi and the just-opened Abu Dhabi International Terminal A.

5am The day begins with the unwelcome sleep-breaking intrusion of a 5am wake-up call but there’s no time to complain nor to sneak another ten minutes slumber. I have to be out of here and on towards Hong Kong International Airport in precisely 75 minutes. What’s more I haven’t finished packing, having been distracted by Australia’s pulsating victory over hosts and favourites India in the Cricket World Cup just hours earlier.

There’s just time to shower, go through my travel check list and monitor my email for any important breaking stories overnight (there are three), grab a banana for breakfast and rush down to the bus that will take me to Discovery Bay North. From there I grab a cab to HKIA before my 9am flight to Singapore Changi, where a six-hour transit and visit to Lotte Duty Free in Terminal 2 awaits before continuing on in early evening to my final destination, Abu Dhabi.

6:55 I’ve arrived at what since July 2020 has been my home airport, Hong Kong International. I love its scale, its grandeur, its sheer buzz. Mind you it wasn’t always like this. For month upon miserable month through the pandemic, HKIA resembled a cross between a ghost town and a military hospital. You could almost sense the tumbleweed about to blow along the arrivals hall and most certainly you could count the number of commercial outlets open on the fingers of your hand. How good it is to see the place humming once more.

As always, I snap a photo of one of my favourite airport icons, a Farman biplane which is suspended from the ceiling at Terminal 1. The wood and fabric, French-made Farman was the first aircraft to take to the Hong Kong skies, where it was flown in Sha Tin on 18 March 1911 by pioneer Belgian aviator Charles Van den Born. It’s a glorious reminder of the allure and nostalgia of flight.

7:11 No, I haven’t visited the airport convenience store of the same name. It’s the time I have entered what looks like a very long airside security queue having simply had to show my face to the camera to enter the zone, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. I may be here a while.

7:22 In fact I wasn’t. The queue was long but there were multiple lanes open and the staff were super-efficient. Great job.

I note the powerful and nicely placed advertising for Diageo’s new Johnnie Walker Blue Label expression Xordinaire as I, along with many others, head into the East Hall.

The main Duty Zero by cdf stores in both the East and West Halls are undergoing extensive renovation. But there’s still plenty of business being done. And as you can see by the stocking up taking place, plenty of Kweichow Moutai is being sold. Evidence of reviving Mainland Chinese spend.

Sweet Dreams? More like a nightmare for Heinemann through the pandemic and in fact one of the last retailers to reopen at Hong Kong International. But now all stores are back and every time I visit they are generating encouraging sales. Welcome back.

The store space at HKIA for beauty has never been the easiest to work with and The Shilla Duty Free tries hard to manage it at Beauty&You but I always think the multiple entrances here in the East Hall could do with much more pizzazz to draw passengers in. It just looks flat.

Ah, Tumi, one of my favourite brands. I own a Tumi shoulder bag that is almost as old as me (well, I said almost, the brand was actually founded in 1975) and has travelled almost as many miles, although it’s turning out to be rather more durable. I learned a lot more about the brand’s history, values and commercial success during a recent interview with Tumi Vice President, APAC & Middle East Adam Hershman. A good read, I think.

Yet another exhilarating example of great shop window display from Hermès. It’s modelled on an aircraft cabin but look at what’s on the desk at the front, a mock typewriter with a long, swirling, beautifully coloured piece of textile rather than paper flowing from it.

Hold the front page: Could that be a story from ‘the website that never sleeps’?

Writing screes of copy on airplanes? Remind you of anyone? I am prepared to wager that I and the admirable Lois Pasternak of Travel Markets Insider are the only travel retail journalists who have ever worked on a real typewriter.

In my case, it was an old and much-loved Olivetti, whose absence I mourn to this day. Which reminds me of a sublime piece of writing by novelist Amor Towles in A Gentlemen in Moscow.

“What is an automatic garage door?”

“It is a garage door that opens and closes itself on your behalf. What do you think of that?”

“I think if I were a garage door, I should rather miss the old days.” 

As I noted in an earlier Blog, those were the old days when you created your articles line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and used Tipp-Ex (think eyeliner for writers) if god forbid you made a mistake. Even saying the word ‘Olivetti’ out loud almost makes me purr like a contented old cat. I learned my craft on it and I thank you Hermès for the beautiful reminder.

7.57 What a showstopper. Sadly I have had to decline an invitation to the Dior Christmas pop-up here on 22 November as I will be in Abu Dhabi and try as I might I cannot be everywhere. Fortunately I decided to walk all the way out to my gate at the far end of the terminal rather than take the Automated People Mover so I could peruse the retail offer along the way. So I got to see the dazzling Dior Christmas tree anyway.

The engagement, in fact the joy, that you see on these travellers’s faces sums up for me what airports should be all about

8.08 Monocle is an interesting addition to the Hong Kong International Airport shopping line-up. The global affairs and lifestyle magazine, radio station, website and media brand founded by Wallpaper magazine creator, Canadian entrepreneur Tyler Brûlé, is also as you can see a retailer. The location (near Gate 61) doesn’t seem optimum but it’s an extremely attractive shop and a welcome injection of cultural intelligence into the world of airport shopping.

8.10 About to board. No, not me, but this happy duobelow. This work, indeed called ‘About to Board’, is by Hong Kong artist Li Wei-Han Rosanna, renowned for her signature ‘ceramic fat ladies’ sculptures displaying a jolly, rustic charm. I love the concept of airports as artports and Hong Kong International Airport fulfils that brief better than most and does its community proud.

This is your final call: Three passengers about to board

8.24 It’s a long walk out to Gate 48, especially if you’re stopping to take photos all the time. Below is the nicely named KaravanStop by Nodi, a lifestyle café concept combining artisanal coffee, food and interesting space to showcase a modernised wilderness. The wilderness in this case being one of Hong Kong’s hidden (at least to outsiders) gems – hiking trails. And,no, we’re not talking the trek to Gate 48.

08:40 Boarding. Singapore (or at least Changi) here I come.

09:33 Up, up and away and within minutes of take-off we are soaring above Discovery Bay. And down there to my right on a wondrously clear day, I can just about make out my home and the ferry to Central bearing away from the pier. I will be back there soon enough but for now it’s off to Interim Bureaus abroad, my homes away from home.