Memories of Hong Kong on a trip to London

One of the things I used to love about living in Hong Kong took place only about 100 or so metres above it.


Back in the day, the city’s airport used to be a short taxi ride from downtown. The largest planes in the sky would fly west over the waters of Victoria Harbour, turn a half-circle to head east, then descend low through the teeming warren of streets of the Kowloon Peninsula, nearly scraping the six-storey buildings as they screamed past.

On the final approach, after the landing gear had been lowered, the plane would make a quick slicing arc to the right as it passed a beacon, before finally landing on a strip of landfill in the bay. Though there had been fatal accidents over the years, it was a tribute to piloting skills and maybe a bit of sheer dumb luck that in all the time Kai Tak airport was in operation, not one plane landed on top of all those people living just across the road from the start of the runway.

I was sitting in a window seat my first flight into Hong Kong in January, 1994. I’d been told about the landing, that I was in for something spectactular, but I never expected to see what I did. Through the evening darkness, I looked out the window at the buildings slipping past and suddenly in a flash appeared a figure seated at a kitchen table, the glowing blue light from a television set reflected off a pair of glasses like two flickering orbs. It was there and gone in an instant. By the time I tried to see something similar on the next apartment, we were past them and on the way down. I used to love that ride, and on every flight in hoped the winds were right so that would be the approach we’d take.

Why did I think of this on the way into London?

Because once past the motorway wasteland and into the outskirts, sitting on the bus from Stansted airport on the way to Golders Green tube stop I became fascinated with the scenes laid before my window as we drove by. I saw the silhouette of a man wearing a turban, a bedroom plastered with magazine posters, a dining room with an old-fashioned chandelier, a man getting up off the sofa, a shadow creep across a ceiling, curtains ranging from bedsheets to lace.

Whether it was some form of drive-by voyeurism or mere curiosity, I found myself compelled to keep looking, craning my neck to get the shortest of glimpses, somehow trying to peer beyond the mundane to discover something special, discern from that glimpse what sort of life they must live.

© 2008 lettershometoyou

10 Responses to “Memories of Hong Kong on a trip to London”

  1. February 7, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    A pilot friend of mine once told me that Hong Kong airport is one of the most difficult airports to land in. In 1981 we had to take off from there in a cyclone and I was trembling more than the plane, which was experiencing one of those metal stress test things. Terrifying!

    Those were the days. They closed it about 10 years ago after flattening an island in the waters west of the city and building a new airport upon it. We left before they opened it.

  2. February 7, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Amazing photo. Is it yours?

    errr..no…. but I’m sure Cathay won’t mind. ;.)

  3. February 7, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    WOW! What a photograph. Scary stuff indeed.

  4. February 8, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I trust that you have been to the new HK airport at Chep Lap Kok (which always reminds me of a New Zealander with sore lips giving a blow job). The new airport is superb, but can never equal the buzz of Kai Tak. Funny you should mention what caught your eye first; it was the same for me. Clotheslines and TV screens!

  5. February 9, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    That’s a wonderful photo! Kinda scary too.

    There’s a similar set-up in Gibraltar. But they actually have to close one of the roads when planes are taking off and landing for obvious reasons .

    Woah! Now that’s one runway I wouldn’t want to be on at any time. I hope they have not only a gate for that road, but three guards at either side and a waiver to sign.

  6. 6 douglas
    February 17, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    ARGH! what a stunning shot. stunning! THAT is HK right there. Just astonishing the thots that picture brings to mind of 13 years in Honkers. (heavy sigh). Hope you liked the pics I sent to you and the Fam. BBye

    Hi Douglas, will be sending you personal pics soon. Did you send them to my gmail?

  7. 7 Falk
    September 22, 2008 at 1:54 am


    Just stumbled on your blog while browsing the net for some pictures of Hong Kong (which I’ve never been to, but for some reason attracts me, maybe I’ll go someday, who knows) and thought I’d share this picture from Airliners.net that I find quite mesmerizing.
    Is it the grainy look of the picture ? The slightly old paint scheme of the plane ? The cheesy banana with sun glasses, or the banking of the plane ? Probably all that together ^^.

  8. September 22, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Howdy Falk – thanks for that link. That’s what it used to look like! It was soooo loud.

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