(#19 in the Annie series)
I love when Nikki said, “We’re going to high tea at the Ritz Carlton,” that she really meant HIGH tea. Not just a fancy, three-tiers-of-goodies kind of tea, but on the 103rd floor of the tallest building in Hong Kong kind of tea. That kind of high. The super-elegant kind of tea service that comes rarely in most of our lives. And it was, I have to say, a very nice first high tea for Annie.
It was also, however, a lesson in accessibility or a lack thereof.
Anne and John, Nikki and Annie and I all took our usual walk to the MTR station (there’s an entrance right below their building via stairs or three blocks away to the entrance with a lift) to travel not all that far in kilometers but took much longer than it should have. It turned out to be an hour’s journey to get to the tallest building in HK. Not because we couldn’t find it, but because once we’d arrived, we couldn’t find a wheelchair-accessible way to reach the 103rd floor. Stairs, elevators, all kinds of ways to move people on foot, but not for someone in a chair.
This was stressful because Nikki had made a reservation that the Ritz folks made clear they would hold only for 15 minutes before giving it to someone else. And we had traveled so far for this tea—deep into China and back—that we so looked forward to these moments of elegance and yummy bites.
The Ritz Carlton occupies the top floors of the International Commerce Center, which consists of 108 floors, though it claims 118 above ground and four below. (It turns out that the Chinese/Hong Kongers believe that 4 is an unlucky number, so there are no floors with the number 4 in them in this building.) The Ritz Carlton occupies floors 102-118 and has, according to its website, 312 rooms that, if you look on TripAdvisor, start at about $400 U.S. per night. Also the world’s highest swimming pool and bar (called Ozone—great name) are on the 118th floor.
This is all fine. What’s distressing is that this building opened in 2011—five years ago—and should have ideally been designed to get people high up in it without having to search for elevators, let alone change from one to another, necessitating the location of the new elevator because they are not all in the same place on every floor. (Not all the lifts go to all the floors, which is how things are done in tall buildings—I understand that.)
But from the time we entered the ground floor, it became a challenge to make our way through the shopping mall (everywhere in HK lies a mall with the highest of high-end shops—who actually shops at Tiffany, Gucci and Louis Vuitton?) and locate elevators after asking too many people who didn’t know. We’d get to, say, the 48th floor and have to find another lift to the 102nd floor, the Ritz Carlton’s lobby, one floor below where we needed to be. Do you think we could find a lift to the 103rd floor? No, because there’s an escalator that most people use to get to that one last level. Even the front desk clerks were not sure how to direct us.
We’ve done our share of escalators and stairs on this trip, lifting Annie up and down, but, without saying so, Nikki and I were done with that. Our eyes must have flashed, “Find us a lift, dammit. This is a hyper-modern skyscraper. You can’t get all of us easily to the place we need to be?”
We were late for our reservation, but the staff had held it for us, though by the time we arrived, I could see steam puffing out of Nikki’s ears. (My ears were similarly steamy.) And I realized that we have become people who say things like, “Really? You can’t make an easily located elevator to the 103rd floor? You dump us out at 102 and expect us to get this child in a wheelchair up the escalator?”
There was, of course, a lift wedged into an obscure angled corner of floor 102, but it was not obvious and involved a confusing, circuitous route around mirrored walls that created a funhouse effect that was, by that time, not fun. Worse still was the path to the lift on floor 103—more mirrors that left us utterly turned around.
But by the time we had to make our way down, we had been well fed with yummy savories and sweets and teas, and we were not nearly as crabby. But when we arrived in the 103rd floor lounge area where they serve high tea, my mood was already changing. We could see through the floor-to-ceiling windows that we were, indeed, on top of the world. Nothing like a huge change in perspective to give you a new view of things. Such a sight from, oh, about 1,000 feet high can either make your blood pressure rise or fall, depending on how you feel about heights. Mine probably soared—not because I’m fond of heights—but to see Hong Kong so beautifully arrayed before us, like sweets on the triple-decker tray soon served to us, on a clear day with fast-moving clouds and blue sky and… oh, oh, oh, what magnificent light.
I forgot all about what it had taken to get us up there as we settled into cushy booths by the windows, Anne and John on one side of a nice table, Nikki and I on the other, Annie parked in her chair by Nikki. And as I calmed down and took in the breathtaking view (it really does take one’s breath away), I thought, Well, finally. Here we are. We have almost completed this incredible journey. Our last day in Hong Kong. Annie’s last day in Asia, for the foreseeable future.
Then came the next series of thoughts: All we have to do now is get home. On the plane. With Annie and all our stuff.
As the anxiety started to work its way up my neck, I pushed those worries away. Not now, I told myself. For a couple of hours on the top of the world, I relaxed, soaking up the elegance and the view. And the tea. I had lots of good tea. The four of us chatted as grownups do, and Annie had samples of all the sweets and savories and tea; there was nothing she didn’t like.
We each got to choose the variety of tea we liked, brought to each of us in a round silvery pot. I ordered Weekend in Hong Kong Tea; Anne had Moroccan Mint; John had Choco Mint Truffle, and Nikki had French Earl Gray. Annie got a purple balloon on a stick, which she liked a lot, too.
This nice young woman delivered our tea and served our first cuppa, as they say in England.
And the food… it’s hard not to enthuse about the food. When the triple-decker plate arrived, it was all we could do not to dive in immediately—savories on the top deck, sweets on the middle deck, scones and cream and jam on the bottom deck. And yes, it all tasted as good as it looks.
And all this with the most gorgeous views out the windows:
I looked out the window behind me to see gorgeous shafts of godlight beaming onto the harbour.
John looked out a corner window to see if he could locate their apartment building from on high. He thought he’d found it.
Anne takes in the view, too, as I did… with the amazing camera on the iPhone:
And, through it all, this new mother and daughter duo snuggled and laughed, thoroughly enjoying their high tea in such a high place.
How much fun can two people have with a purple balloon? Quite a bit, it turns out, and this is how I will remember Nikki and Annie on their last day in Hong Kong. Despite the challenges of becoming a family, of getting to this high place, they persevered as a team. They made it. I get the feeling that this is a metaphor for their life together: There will be barriers. Meet them. Go the extra mile when necessary. Breathe. Have patience. Find ways around them. Laugh about them with others.
Because time with family and friends and loved ones, smiling and laughing, is everything.
I love to see your face when you’re laughin’… as Antsy McClain sings.
He also has a song that says, It’s a way cool world that we’re livin’ in.
If I look at it from a different perspective, a higher angle, I see how true that is. No matter how many challenges life presents, we have what it takes to meet them, and this journey has made me appreciate this way cool world even more.