Six months ago my 80-year-old dad called me at four in the morning to let me know he’d booked flights for him and mum to come and visit me in Hong Kong. Two weeks before they were due to arrive, mum had a fall and needed a wheelchair. Did they cancel? No, they did not. Nothing was going to stop them from making this trip.
I waited at Exit B in the Arrivals hall for two hours before eventually finding them in the middle of the concourse like a couple of Paddington Bears with their handwritten parcel labels on their suitcases. How they got past me, I do not know and neither do they. They weren’t in bad shape considering they’d left their sleepy Somerset village more than 24 hours before, arriving via Dubai. Their main gripe was that it was too cold on the airplane: “We asked them three times to turn off the air-conditioning!”
Mum does not like the cold, or the hot for that matter. She doesn’t like spicy food, or bland food. She is a big fan of salt and Tetley tea.
“This is going to be interesting,” Mick said a day before the visit as we went to collect a wheelchair from the Red Cross at a hospital in Chai Wan.
Navigating Hong Kong with a wheelchair is no easy task. This is a hilly city with a lot of steps. On the plus side, my biceps and calves are looking pretty toned now, and I discovered a whole new world of elevators. Also, I have to admit, I was loving the preferential treatment that came with the wheelchair.
At Ocean Park, we were whisked to the front of every line with the special ‘wheelchair plus three helpers’ Golden Ticket they gave us. They even stopped the cable car while mum got on. Dad, Mick and I cast our eyes to the floor in mortification as we trooped past hundreds of people to the front of the line – but we weren’t so mortified that we didn’t take full advantage of the situation at every opportunity.
Apparently my dad loves penguins, I never knew that, so he was in his element in the South Pole Attraction. Obviously the Antarctic conditions were not acceptable to mother who waited outside with her little battery-operated fan. “Does it really need to be that cold in there?” Mum, they’re penguins!
The wheelchair also came in pretty handy at Disneyland; The Peninsula Lobby (no queuing for Afternoon Tea); the (sold-out-except-for-wheelchairs) show at The Cultural Centre; Wong Tai Sin Temple and The Peak Tram. (However, I have had to promise Mick that I will never make him visit Madame Tussaud’s ever again. Ever.)
The highlight (of exasperation) of the tour for me was partaking of Chinese tea at the Lock Cha teahouse in Hong Kong Park. (Be careful not to accidentally order the Fuyuanchang pu-er tea at $38,000!) Dad and I caught each other’s eye and looked at mum as she took her first slurp of Lapsang Souchong… “Ewwwww! This tea tastes like smoky bacon!!” And apparently the moon cake is like a ‘chocolate pork pie.’ You can take the girl out of Somerset.
We went on the Big Bus, The Star Ferry, we visited Stanley, the Ladies Market, The Flower Market, The Jade Market, Nan Lian Gardens, Repulse Bay, Lamma and mum and dad saw panda bears at Ocean Park and the real Mickey Mouse for the first time in their lives.
I think they had the holiday of a lifetime and I know dad will be recounting his adventures to everybody down at his golf club.
Mick and I took the wheelchair back to the Red Cross on Saturday but the office was closed. He had to stand on my back and pass the wheelchair through the one-foot gap above the door because we didn’t want to have to come back and the hospital refused to take responsibility for it ‘til Monday. I dread to think what we would have looked like on the CCTV. “Managing Director of global research company breaks into Red Cross office,” I can almost see the headlines now. As we walked away, we were both thinking the same thing - after pushing it around for two weeks, we would miss the wheelchair… and its occupant!