Last Time for Tea Time


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, September 18, 2004 was originally posted on September 26, 2004.

DAY 336:  If there’s one thing to mention about the influence of British imperialism in the Hong Kong territory, it’s the concept of high tea, or “tea time.”  You know, drinking tea and eating krumpets and scones with posh British accents and saying things like “Cheerio” and “Good day.”  While having high tea isn’t exactly a mainstream thing that every Hong Konger does everyday, it’s still a ritual that is practiced, particularly on weekends.  According to all the guidebooks, the place to have it is at the Peninsula Hotel, a fancy luxury landmark opened in 1928 in the Tsui Sha Tsim (TST) district of Kowloon, so fancy that if you have a reservation there and want a transport from the airport, they send out a Rolls-Royce.

Having high tea at the Peninsula (Rolls Royce not included) was the only thing we had planned for my last day in Hong Kong, especially since it was raining pretty hard most of the day with thunder that sometimes sounded like a building was imploding on itself.  When it cleared up in early afternoon we ventured out, passed the yelling fish guy on the corner, the thousands of Filipina maids out for Sunday urban picnics and the subway billboards for fellatio lubricants

FANCY CHANDELIERS HUNG DOWN from the ceiling above fine classic wooden furniture adorned with nice tablecloths and doily-type things (picture above) when Moe, Aviva and I arrived in the lobby.  There were about a dozen people already on line but it went by pretty fast since a lot of the tables were emptying out.  While waiting for our table we met Tonya, a forty-something Scottish woman traveling solo on business for Ethicon in Edinburgh.  She had a one-day layover in Hong Kong and decided to do the classic thing of having high tea.  She was born in Hong Kong and had vague memories of high tea at the Peninsula and came that afternoon for spark up some childhood memories.

“Would you like to join us for high tea?” Aviva asked her.

“Is that okay?  Are you sure?”

“Yeah, no problem, you’re alone here,” Moe said, extending the invitation. 

We were seated at a table for four by a Chinese waiter wearing fancy British digs who set up our placemats and dinnerware with a classically elegant style (i.e. no sporks).  We each ordered the “Peninsula Classic Afternoon Tea Set,” which included scones, finger sandwiches, tarts and other goodies to have with a tea of our choice — Moe, Aviva and I chose the lychee tea while Tonya, despite coming from British heritage, chose coffee. 

As we ate our fancy scones, fruits, mini quiches and sandwiches, we chat with our new friend of the day.  Tonya told us her story, how she had grown up in Hong Kong until the age of seven and hadn’t been back since.  She told us how amazed she was at the changes in the city, from the rise of skyscrapers to the multitude of chic boutiques and fashionable malls.  Life was different when she was a little girl in Hong Kong in the 1960s.  Then it was still a British territory, which meant that being so close to mainland Communist China, it was swarming with refugees trying to escape the regime of Mao.  Tonya’s family, who grew up in the posh neighborhood on The Peak where the wealthier British ex-pats resided, actually harbored and fed one of these refugees from the mainland.

“We always had to [keep him hidden] because of my father’s position,” Tonya told us.  Her father was a civil engineer with the Hong Kong government and having a lost Chinese illegal in the house wasn’t exactly a good thing career-wise.  They kept him anyway until he eventually got on his feet.

HIGH TEA WAS A NICE LITTLE SLICE of high society and afterwards the sun started to come out, giving me the one last opportunity for a sunset stroll.  We made our way to the TST waterfront, site of the Avenue of Stars — Michelle Yeoh, John Woo, Jet Li — and on the way we encountered a dress-up baseball guy and some street performances, the biggest one being a big martial arts demonstration by the Shih Chen University Sung Chiang Battle Array from Taiwan.  Lanterns were hung up for the upcoming Autumn Lantern Festival, giving my last sunset in Hong Kong a little more panache.  Sunset was followed by the usual, but never tiring lighting of the Hong Kong skyline.

“I don’t think I’ll get tired of this,” Aviva said, gazing out at Victoria Harbour.  For a little poetic justice, we took the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island — the same ferry I took on my arrival — and it was a lovely ending to my stay in the former British colony of Hong Kong:  good company, good scenery and high tea. 

THAT OF COURSE IS A LIE because I couldn’t have ended my days in Hong Kong without going out drinking one more time.  We called up Meg back at the apartment and the four of us went back to Hong Kong’s party district, Lan Kwai Fong for dinner (Malaysian) and drinks.  It was there that we had my farewell toast with not tea, but with beer.  Tea Time in Hong Kong might have been the classic social gathering the British in the colonial days, but Beer Time does it anytime, anywhere.

Next entry: Fugu Me

Previous entry: The Last Village

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Comments for “Last Time for Tea Time”

  • And I’m STILL a week behind!  This is the last entry from China—Japan coming next!  Stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/25  at  05:15 PM

  • Thanks for immortalizing the fish guy for us. Hope to see you in Japan.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/25  at  05:34 PM

  • excellent HK series. Aviva and Moe were too cool and gracious for their extended hospitality.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/25  at  08:36 PM

  • Hey Erik - awesome pics, as usual. The one “usual but never boring lighting of the skyline” is not the right pic - it looks like the martial arts demo.

    Question - why so many Filipina maids? Do you know? Just wondering…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/26  at  12:08 AM

  • NOELLE:  Thanks for the photo QA tip…  it’s fixed…

    Fillipina maids?  Hmm…. the Philippines is poor; HK is rich… one is close to the other and economically they fit like a puzzle piece.  According to Lonely Planet, for a Filipino woman to land a housekeeping job in HK it’s like winning the lottery; employers there are nicer than other countries (Filipina maids are all over the world)—although LPlanet reports there are often problems of physical and sexual abuse…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/26  at  05:47 AM

  • Noelle - If you wanna talk offline about the Filipino Overseas Contract Worker…just let me know…I can school you on the entire “phenomenon”...

    subway fellatio lubricant ads….yeah…you’d never see that here in the US…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/26  at  07:16 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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