When my 18-year-old son asked me if we could take one last trip together before he left for college in the fall, I struggled with the lump in my throat. I did not expect to be part of his plans for future spring breaks.
“You’re on,” I said.
We both detest the tourist trap and love the street life, but I suspected it might be hard to find common ground. Avery avoids anything that occurs before noon or involves queuing up or packaged culture – unless, of course, it’s a line for a nightclub. The beach was out: Too many opportunities for soulful discussion, anathema to a teenage male who prefers to drop the big news while you’re halfway on to a subway train at rush hour.
“How long does it take to get to China?” asked my son, who had three semesters of Mandarin under his belt, and a yen to work in international finance, but apparently no sense of global circumference. Fourteen hours, minimum, I said – insane for a week’s vacation. It had taken us that long to get home from Tahoe, he said. “I’ll sleep,” he shrugged. “I won’t,” I thought.
I fetched my computer and clicked on the SkyAuction bookmark. There are always bargains to be had on SkyAuction, but if you intend to leave in less than a month, it’s a candy store. There are tricks to winning: Packages – air and hotel, air and cruise –are usually reposted as soon as they are sold. Figure out what the last one went for, and set your top bid in advance. Scrutinize the fine print, as there are surcharges and taxes, depending on day and season of departure. Bid successfully – as I had on several prior trips – and you’ll enjoy your entire vacation for less than what the couple next to you paid for their plane tickets.
SkyAuction had several trips to China, but in March, Beijing and Shanghai would be windy, cold and wet. In Hong Kong, the weather would be warm and beautiful. I’d fallen in love with Hong Kong nearly three decades earlier, in my 20s, when I’d spent a couple of weeks living the expatriate life in pursuit of a story. I was curious to see how the city might have changed since the Chinese took over in 1997.
A few days later, I nailed the “Seven Day Tour Package to Hong Kong” for $1,700 per person, about $242 a day, with five nights in the five-star Grand Stanford Intercontinental in Tsim Sha Tsui, on the Kowloon side of the harbor. Since airfare alone ran around $1,200 per person, it seemed like a great deal.
The Rules of the Trip
This, Avery told me, was not to be one of those “mom-drags-kid” trips. We were adults, traveling together, though naturally I’d be picking up the tab. There would be no curfew for him and no forced marches through significant museums. Definitely, no guided tours. There would be unlimited consumption of char siu bao, those delectable chewy snowballs stuffed with sweet pork filling, and as many har gow — succulent shrimp dumplings — as he could hold. My side of the bargain: No matter what time, or in what condition, he tumbled into bed, he was to be awake, showered and dressed by 11 am, standing in the hotel lobby, awaiting my return from morning activities.
We did our best to settle into United Flight 869 out of San Francisco, but this was an ancient plane. I’d brought two thick novels. At least the middle seat was empty, armrests flipped up. Gradually, Avery slid down in his seat, inclining his head and shoulders in my direction, until all 5’11” of him was stretched comfortably across the row, with his head in my lap. I rested my book on his head and read on.
You lose a day when you fly to Asia. Mid-flight, as I planned what we’d do and when, I realized that our Seven Day Tour Package was miraculously reduced to four full days on the ground. With two days of flying, and one day that disappeared when we crossed the international dateline, there was no place in this plan for jet lag.
We felt cosseted by the time we checked into our room at the Intercontinental – ample enough for two double beds (I’d checked on this three times, repeating “traveling with my adult son” until they got the idea). We were blessed with an outrageous view of Victoria Harbor and the abruptly vertical, artfully lighted marvel of Hong Kong just beyond, a man-made wonder plugged into the side of a 2,000-foot mountainside.