Blessed to be a witness

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Monday, February 14

Spare us the lounge singers

Off to watch the rugby we went, but first we stopped at a "Singapore Home Cooking" restaurant. A lovely place in a basement on Peking Road - very clean, modern, and nicely designed. Our waiter was a very pleasant, if rather doddery, octogenarian, who called himself "Joey Joey". M had her beloved Singapore noodles, while I ordered prawn sambal, an Indonesian-style curry.

While we ate, a Filipina with a stunningly good voice sang cheesy love songs to a small Bontempi organ at the back.

Of course the prawns, while being huge and delicious, were cooked in the Chinese style - shell on - and Joey Joey spent a long time fussing about how this stupid westerner would open them up. In addition to my chopsticks, he brought me first a knife and fork, then a pile of napkins, and finally a finger-bowl full of cold lemon tea.

And he was right: I made an absolute mess all over the table, but the taste was worth the humiliation. Unfortunately while we were savouring the meal, a male voice started singing very incompetently. It seemed that the lounge singer's Chinese boyfriend decided to strut his vocal chords, and he really couldn't sing at all. It was like a Japanese salaryman had been drowning his sorrows all night after an unsuccessful business meeting, and this was his 3am swansong before committing sepuku.

Then to Delaney's to watch the rugby, which was a great match despite a very dodgy early start just like against Italy, and even despite O'Driscoll and D'Arcy being out through injury. Great craic in the pub with banter between Scots, Welsh still celebrating their victory, and a load of Chinese people from Belfast (until half time, when the Welsh left and the Scots went very quiet). Reckon they've got it in them to be a serious threat to England.

Because of the rugby, we didn't get to bed until after 3 and slept until the afternoon. We had a lot to do, but it being the Sunday after the New Year, there wasn't a lot open.

My original idea was for us to travel overland up the coast as far as Shanghai through Fujian province. However on further research I found that the major transit point, the city of Fuzhou, is a dump, and direct travel would involve a 10-hour bus journey to the more pleasant Xiamen, then a 25-hour train ride to Shanghai after that. The cost of doing so would be barely less than a direct flight. Call me a wimp, but I reckon I'm getting too old to do that sort of self-imposed torture if it isn't actually necessary - and indeed enduring that sort of arrangement just for the sake of it smacks a little of a "travellier-than-thou" attitude. So we're flying. Thus we managed to book flights to Shanghai on the 18th, and reserve a hotel there. The local travel agencies appeared to be in the rip-off end of the market, especially for Chinese visas, so we booked our flight direct with Dragonair, and are going to get our visas from the consulate today.

So then in a lazy Sunday afternoon mood, we toddled over to Central and rode the escalator up to the SoHo and NoHo districts, which are an innovation since I lived here. Hundreds of restaurants and bars have sprung up all over the very steep hill around the escalator and Hollywood Road (which gives the districts their NY-inspired names: SOuth of HOllywood Road, and NOrth of it).

Lunch in a very pleasant Mexican restaurant where I discovered chipotle Tabasco sauce, which is fantastic, and M tried 'Shit Hot Hot Sauce', which made her at first say "this tastes like Worcestershire" and a couple of seconds later, with wide, streaming eyes, choke "that's been filled with thousands of chillis". So I had to try it too, of course. Once our tongues had recovered, I had soft tacos and M had the chilli, which che claims is the nicest she's ever tasted. Neither of us could finish our food: the portion sizes in many restaurants here have become enormous, which is something I don't recall from being here before. From now on we're going to share one main course between us.

We went to see 'Meet the Fockers' in the IFC cinema, which was just about OK in my opinion, then we went back to TST and decided to try the hotel bar before retiring. It's plush, quiet, dark, with a little bit of a harbour view at the far corner, and, as expected, extortionate in price. Unfortunately the table with the best view was also the one right next to the speaker, and within ten minutes of our arrival, another Philippino band had started singing. And this singer wasn't good at all. She had a very high, rasping voice, and the amp was mixed to favour the treble way too much, which made her voice drown out every other sound in the bar in a most intrusive manner. She also clearly loved the sound of her singing, and added various Whitney Houston-style vocal acrobatics to the Stevie Wonder repertoire she was grating out. Null Point from both the English and Irish judges, so we paid up and retired for an early night.

Today we've got a few things to do: buy that laptop in TST, get our visas for China in Wanchai, get me a new rucksack in Mong Kok because my supposedly fancy one is falling apart, hopefully visit Lamma Island where I used to live, and get in contact with my old mate Ding Ding who is arriving back here today from a long New Year's weekend in Japan with his wife. Oh, and maybe get my hair cut; finding anyone to perform this task is proving quite elusive.

I guess I should thank the lady singer, though, since as a consequence I'm actually up at business hours. Now all I have to do is raise M from her slumber.

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