But this deal would be more than we bargained for.
Naively we embarked on our 17-hour trip, which had a stop in Taipei, Taiwan. That was where we first learned of Typhoon Dujuan. Because of it, flights to southern Taiwan had been canceled that morning. But not to worry. We were heading for Hong Kong.
The problem: So was Dujuan.
When we checked into our hotel, the desk told us there was a Level 3 typhoon alert. But we weren't alarmed. Such an alert is not uncommon in summer and fall in Hong Kong. Businesses stay open; residents are advised to monitor the news and secure loose outdoor objects such as flowerpots. Not a big deal.
Besides, we were dazzled by our hotel, the Kowloon Shangri-La. From our elegant 19th-floor guest room, we grandly surveyed a not-very-threatening Victoria Harbour.
Jet-lagged and lacking flowerpots to secure, we decided on a nap. It was 2 p.m.
We were startled awake by the ringing phone. Groggily, I strained to focus on what my U.S. colleague was saying: Her flight to Hong Kong had been canceled because of bad weather. The typhoon alert, our hotel told her, had jumped to Level 8.
Let me digress: In the Midwest, where I was reared, I cowered under many a tornado, torrents of hail and other tantrums of nature. But we Midwesterners just didn't do storm alerts. A storm was a storm was a storm. The only meaningful numbers were trees felled, windshields broken and fingers frozen.
I'm not math-challenged, however, so I had a vague idea that Level 8 must be worse than Level 3.
The sky had darkened. We inferred this wasn't good.
Things weren't bad enough, however, to interrupt afternoon British tea at the nearby Peninsula hotel, the Shangri-La desk told us.
Determined to sip and stiff-upper-lip our way through this setback to our tight sightseeing schedule, we grabbed our umbrellas and hailed a cab.
We arrived at the Peninsula about 4:30 p.m. and found its high-ceilinged, gilt-trimmed lobby as calm as the eye of a storm. In a scene I imagined little changed from the hotel's opening in 1928, waiters in white brocade jackets ministered to well-heeled patrons, serenaded by a string quartet perched on a corner balcony.
We felt oh-so-sophisticated as we nibbled cheese-and-curry sandwiches, scones and glazed tea cakes topped with tiny chocolate violins, all artfully arrayed on a tiered silver tray.
As the treats slowly vanished, so did much of the chattering crowd.
But I barely noticed as reinforced shutters were rolled down, securing the hotel's harbor-facing entrance and darkening the lobby. As if on cue, waiters bustled by, bearing trays of lighted tea candles for the tables. How festive. I thought it was all part of the ambience.
It was 5:45 p.m., and we were full and warm and ready to go back to our hotel.
If we could.