Elly McDonald


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TripAdvisor review – JW Cafe at JW Marriott Hotel, Hong Kong (April/May 2017)


“Gold-star friendly service with a world of fine foods”

Staff at the JW Cafe at JW Marriott Hong Kong MADE my Hong Kong stay, along with my mother’s.

On the first morning one of the chefs assisted me in putting together a “local Cantonese breakfast” from the buffet. Every day after that, waiters Noble and Ricky helped me choose different takes on congee (rice porridge) with different condiments, including Chinese pickles, boiled egg, jelled mushrooms, sesame seeds, fried spring onion, peanuts, black seaweed and a kind of Cantonese fried doughnut. I had mini spring rolls or similar deep-fried savoury pastry with my congee, then two dim sum – different types each day – and fresh fruit to follow. I was never hungry!


Noble and Ricky pointed out the Cantonese favourites for me: pork and shrimp dim sum, banana-leaf parcels, fresh dragonfruit. They were friendly and cheerful and excellent company. I appreciated that their supervisors, Alex and John, permitted the wait staff to engage in conversation with us visitors and even to sneak us occasional ‘added value’ treats. The Cantonese cakes (mmm the little cake with black seeds!) were wonderful mid-morning! I loved the sweet buns and the light wafer tubes, too.


JW Cafe offers a magnificent buffet – not just Cantonese, not just Chinese, but a wide range of cosmopolitan cuisines to every taste, and a delightful baked goods section. The lunch menu is good too, with – again – a fabulous Cantonese buffet, and also dishes tailored to Western tastes. The Peking Duck wrapped in soft taco with a choice of hoisin or ketchup sauces was a first for me 🙂

Staff at JW Cafe can’t have known my mother and I were newly bereaved, with me travelling in place of my father’s booked trip. We could not have been better cared for.

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TripAdvisor review – Splendid Tours in Hong Kong: Lantau Island, New Territories, Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong“Making it possible to Boldly Go – thank you, Splendid!”

My father died immediately prior to a holiday in Hong Kong he’d planned with my mother. The travel operators, Luxury Escapes and JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, very kindly permitted my mother to transfer the travel dates and to take me as her companion in place of my father, but she was not keen: in fact, at 82, newly bereaved and with a heart condition, she was adamant she was not going. But at late notice she announced she was game, because she knew my father wanted us to go as his proxies. We could not possibly have enjoyed Hong Kong, or explored Hong Kong, without the wonderful tours and team at Splendid Tours, booked on our behalf by JW Marriott Hong Kong concierges. Splendid Tours’ half-day and full-day tours were the backbone of our itinerary.

We experienced the day trip to Lantau Island, including the Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, Tai O fishing village with a short boat trip, and a beach stop, with Ben as our guide…

… a half-day trip to the New Territories Wetlands, including visits to Kam-Tin heritage village, two Buddhist monasteries on the Buddha’s birthday, a visit to Lam-Tsuen wishing-tree, and time shopping at Stanley St Market, with Terry as our guide…

… a half-day introduction to Hong Kong Island, including Victoria Peak and a sampan ride on Aberdeen Harbour, with Timothy as guide…

… and an evening dining on Jumbo Floating Restaurant at Aberdeen Harbour, following night shopping at Temple Street market, with Terry and Shirley as guides…

I cannot thank Terry, Shirley, Ben, Timothy and Johnny enough for their knowledgeable and entertaining commentaries, their kindness, their patience and their experience. My mother and I both had the BEST time.

We both recommend Splendid Tours unreservedly.


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TripAdvisor review – Man Ho Chinese Restaurant at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong

“Gourmet Cantonese cuisine with outstanding service in beautiful surrounds”

I am 56 years old and the banquet for 2 I shared with my 82 y.o. mother the Man Ho Chinese Restaurant might just be the best meal I’ve enjoyed in my life! We are neither of us strangers to fine dining or grand hotels, and this trip – just after my father’s death, with me travelling in place of my father – might not have been predictably a time of wall-to-wall joy, but Sam, who served us our banquet, made every moment memorable for us, and the meal was sublime.

We had several banquets during our stay, a repeat visit, in Hong Kong. The menus were similar, featuring Cantonese classics such as shrimp and corn soup, and mango pudding, but the Man Ho Restaurant was way superior to the very disappointing banquet we had the following night at Tien Ye Restaurant in Pacific Place mall downstairs (where the service was insulting) or on Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen Harbour (fun and friendly, but a tourist experience rather than a culinary adventure).

I am particularly impressed by the Man Ho Restaurant’s Cantonese dish Deep Fried Kagoshima Pork Roll with Foie Gras, Red Onion and Ginger, and with the extraordinary, subtle flavours of the light Poached Seasonal Vegetable with Wolfberry in Superior Soup. The mango pudding was light and fresh and the mini egg tart had perfect pastry.

Bravo, and thank you!

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TripAdvisor review – Flint Grill & Bar at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong (April/May 2017)

Flint Grill & Bar JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong restaurant“Exceptional service in elegant surrounds with Western-style sophistication”

My mother and I cannot thank Donna and the staff at the Flint Grill & Bar enough for making our last evening in Hong Kong so special. I ate tender Wagyu beef steak with Dijon and white asparagus with a fantastic light mayonnaise. My mother ate white fish with vegetables. For dessert we were surprised with a wonderfully light tartlet of chocolate and chestnut with (I think) hazelnut glace. I’m reliably assured the apple pie is magnificent too. We were primed before our meal, as we were on previous nights, by cocktails prepared with good grace by the Flint Grill & Bar bar staff. I can highly recommend the Snowy Rose lychee cocktail while my mother enjoyed the Distinguished patron (orange and rosemary). I’ll need to return to try the blackberry-ouzo cocktail now!

We loved the ambience, the decor, the earth-striped textured wall paper and especially the tubular light fittings. Thank you.

Flint Grill & Bar JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong light fittings



TripAdvisor review – JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong (April/May 2017)

JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong night exterior.jpg“Friendly, welcoming, cheerful service in top location”

My 82 y.o mother and 85 y.o father were booked to spend 5 nights at the JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong when my father was diagnosed with aggressive untreatable pancreatic cancer and given only weeks to live. JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong and the tour operator, Luxury Escapes, very kindly agreed to allow my mother to re-book the dates and to take me in my father’s place after his death. I cannot thank the hotel and its staff enough. We were welcomed and treated with such kindness and friendliness by every staff member we met. The levels of service were well beyond what I might ordinarily have expected and I don’t think staff had been primed that we were bereaved.

I particularly would like to single out for thanks the staff at the JW Cafe, where we were guided in “eating like locals” by Noble and Ricky, under the smiling eyes of their supervisors Alex and John (the buffet and menu are cosmopolitan – I asked to be directed to local dishes).

Sam at the JW Marriott’s Man Ho Chinese Restaurant assisted us through a banquet for 2 that might be the best meal I’ve had in my life.

Jenny who did our room cleaning was like an aunty to us.

Gary at the Concierge Desk booked us four half-day and full-day tours through Splendid Tours, which took the anxiety out of exploring not only Hong Kong Island and Kowloon but also other islands and the New Territories. Gary also directed me to Lord’s Tailors so I could fulfil my promise to my sister to have dresses made. Lord’s Tailors are Saville Row quality and not cheap, but my sister now has a silk wardrobe for the races.

Phoebe and Ren at the Concierge Desk took care of our limo, airline and wheelchair arrangements while Frankie advised me on tipping.

In all, it was a dream trip for us at a time when being surprised and delighted was magic. Thank you, JW Marriott Hong Kong.




Getting it wrong in Morocco (9 May 2014)

Until Morocco, despite all evidence to the contrary, I believed I was an okay traveller, and reasonably culturally sensitive. I am not. After Morocco, I understood I never had been.

By the third day was I was in free fall, plummeting fast. But from the outset I was a canary, loosed, in a world too big for me.

On the journey from Tangier to Fez there was a square hole, quite large, in the floor of the bus. People standing in the aisle clung onto railing to avoid falling into the hole. Dust engulfed us. The woman next to me fell asleep with her head on the bag on my lap. A young woman, she was obviously exhausted, oblivious. A small amount of something dark and sticky – date juice and saliva? – dribbled from her mouth and stained the jade green cotton of my bag. I felt protective, didn’t want her disturbed. When she woke she was embarrassed.

At a stop midway some passengers bought mint tea at an outdoor stall in the desert. A man in his 30s bought me a Coke – in the classic barley-sugar twist-shaped bottle – and I let him. He spoke good English, was companionable, told me about Fez and invited me to visit his extended family who lived in the mountains. They’d roast a lamb. I worried about entanglements. When we reached Fez, he seemed politely irritated as I shed his company.

In Fez, the hotel I had chosen was beyond luxurious, perched on a crag overlooking the walled city. Its public spaces were filled with contemporary recreations of medieval tessellations. Small water fountains bubbled. In Tangier, I had purchased a djellaba kaftan, lapis lazuli coloured, gaudy and sequined. In a burst of optimistic Orientalism, I wore this to dinner at the 5-star resort restaurant. The well-heeled French clientele averted their eyes, signalling that mix of pity and contempt: the French women wore filmy black cocktail dresses with spaghetti straps. The maître d’ was curious that I was a woman alone, astonished by my outfit. He asked what the words on my key-ring meant. My key-ring had an image of orange flowers and, from memory, the words: “Be happy. Laugh. Love life.” I translated this in my best school-girl French. His expression of astonishment increased.

I couldn’t eat the dish I ordered. It was huge. I didn’t understand chicken pie with sweet pastry, with cinnamon and sugar.

Next morning I rose early and went down to the pool for a swim. The pool was on a parapet offering a remarkable vista, right across Fez. It was deserted, except for a pool attendant, who carried a pool scoop and was cleaning the pool, in a desultory way. The pool attendant waved me towards him and initiated conversation. He gestured for me to get out of the water so he could point out the major landmarks of Fez, in French. When I stood by him, he stepped behind me and enfolded me in his arms, drawing me in towards his body. I stepped away.

At the hotel’s taxi rank, I asked a cab driver to take me to the famous historic mosque I’d identified as being a mandatory cultural visit for an art and history maven. The cab driver informed me I was not permitted to visit this mosque. He, however, could propose other places of interest: a spice shop, where I declined to make any purchases; and a ceramics shop, where the owner told me I really must try harder to haggle, that it destroys the fun when tourists just won’t try, and eventually delegated his son to haggle on my behalf. I left with a dozen fired pottery bowls of varying sizes, most of which broke en route back to London. There was also a carpet emporium, where I failed to resist the one rug I really admired, inevitably the most expensive.

Some time between that afternoon and next morning I lost my watch.

On the third day I decided not to engage with local guides and not to buy anything. Instead, I woke early and walked down the mountainside to the medina. The Fez medina is the oldest intact walled city in Morocco. It’s a time-travel warren of narrow winding alleys and medieval Islamic gateways, or “babs”. Women and small children squat against walls lining the alleys, selling chili and capsicum, coriander and onion, and shrunken, faded oranges. Every so often the alleys open into small tiled squares with a fountain as centrepiece. As I passed by doorways, I could glimpse broken tiles down dark hallways. Some houses had satellite dishes atop.

I got lost. A lot. For a while I despaired of finding my way out of the medina, of re-orienting to my clifftop resort hotel. But I emerged into open space outside the wall, only a sprawling cemetery between me and the cliff, between me and the resort. I like cemeteries, as cultural artefacts. I respect them, too, as I understand “respect”: I recognise them as places where the dead are buried, where loved ones rest, endowed with religious significance. I didn’t think of myself as someone using the cemetery to take a short cut. I saw myself as a sombre  visitor, solemnly, purposefully, acknowledging the tombs.

I was not seen this way by others. A man visiting a grave, with several other men, became agitated, angry, at the sight of me wandering. Perhaps I trod on graves inadvertently. Perhaps I simply should not have been there. The angry man yelled at me, kept yelling, then pursued me. I became frightened. As I picked up pace, then tried to run, I stumbled on the kerbsides of graves. I was scared.

Another man, all in white, with a white turban, stepped in front of the angry man and blocked his pursuit. The man in white spoke to the angry man in a calming voice, creating space for me to make my getaway. I scrambled through the graves until I reached the far side. My progress was panicked, not dignified nor respectful.

By the time I reached the gates of the hotel I was somewhat calmer. As I turned towards the hotel entrance yet another man, tall, in a djellaba, called out to me, “You can’t get through that way.”

I was intrigued. Again, I stopped.

“You can’t get there that way,” the man said, hastening to my side. “You have to go around. Here, let me show you.”

I let him escort me around the high outer wall of the hotel. I soon gathered he assumed I was searching out the fourteenth century graveyard, which, he informed me, lay down a steep drop on the far side of the resort, shadowed by the hotel. It was a site of interest to tourists, he said, due to its association with the Crusaders. As the ninth and final Crusade ended late thirteenth century, I was confused: did he mean the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula?

Whatever its associations, the Crusader graveyard was a dangerous place. In fact, Moussa (as he introduced himself) advised tourists against visiting. The site was frequented by cut-purses, and cut-throats. It was secluded, entirely hidden from view. A bad place.

We by this time were secluded, hidden from view. I had misgivings. Moussa took pity.

“You are a kind person,” he opined. “A good person. You should not be visiting these places. You should not put yourself at risk like this.”

He looked grim. Tall, handsome. A plausible avenging angel. He loomed over me.

Moussa offered me some tanned leather goods to purchase. His family ran a leather tanning business, quite possibly the one I’d visited the previous afternoon, where the young guide who spoke five languages fluently had grilled me on how to emigrate to Australia. Older male employees at the tanning business had drawn me aside and asked me what we’d spoken about. I told them he wanted to visit Australia (“You do realise that airfare cost is five years income for me?” the young man had said). The old men look amused and annoyed. “He is mischievous, that one,” they told me. “Always pestering Japanese women tourists. Don’t listen to him.”

I chose from Moussa’s backpack a teal-stained bag with moccasin stitching. I fumbled for coin. You don’t have to buy anything, he said.

Moussa told me he lived in the Berber village immediately behind the 5-star resort. When the resort owners were approved planning permission, they pressured the Moroccan government to bulldoze the existing village. It was unsightly, they’d argued. Squalid. Not a good look to attract upmarket tourists. So instead, a showcase village had been built. Its facades were perfect, exactly the right exotic note. But there was no sanitation, no running water, no electricity, no school.

As we prepared to part, still hidden from sight by a rock over-hang that almost formed a cave, Moussa gestured to my empty plastic water bottle.

“Can I have that?” he asked. “In my village, where we have no running water, we are short on water containers. We can re-use that.”

I nodded and gave it to him.

When I got back to the hotel my earrings were not there. I made phone calls to truncate my Moroccan visit, cancelling the Marrakesh stay. The nearest flight back to London was from Casablanca, which meant my return ticket from Tangier was, as the airport employee told me, “inutile”. Overladen with luggage (mostly pottery), drained by the stifling airport departure lobby heat, I tore that ticket up. Afterwards it took me months to get an Air Maroc refund without the physical ticket as evidence.

At Casablanca airport I heard overhead announcements in French advising that my flight was delayed. I was caught in a scrum of men pressing the Customer Service desk for information. Some of the men groped me. The air was heavy with sweat and stench. My French was adequate to the occasion.

I understood viscerally that I am no traveller. As I took my seat on the plane, I felt limp with relief. A young girl sat next to me. She was bright eyed and beautiful, thirteen years old. She was returning to Manchester with her parents after a visit to relatives in the Atlas Mountains, where she’d met the cousin who later in the year she’d marry.

“It will be a big marriage!” she enthused. “Lots of people, lots of food! Dancing and music! And my husband is so handsome. He is 15. I like him very much!”

She looked at me, her thin face lit up, her almond eyes star-like.

It never crossed my mind to report our conversation to UK Social Services.


Under an overhang
Where no one can see
No one is watching
You and me.
Tales of subversion
Resentment and pain
No one is watching
Nothing to gain.
Tear down a village
Put up a fraud
No one is watching
Maybe they’re bored.
Theme park Morocco
Fuchsia and blue
No one is watching
Me and you.
No one is watching
No one can see
They’ll come to take you

They’ll ignore me.



Black cat crossing (4 March 2014)

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument (because I do love argument), that I write some short stories that pivot on actual incidents from my own life.

For example, tales from the 53 bus, the routemaster bus – along with the N53 and the 54 – that travels through south-east London to Trafalgar Square. The linking theme here would be race.

Or the curious incident in Fez, Morocco. Theme: state repression, terrorism and the clash of North African and Western cultures.

Or something about the poison of gossip, running like mercury through corridors in glamorous West End offices. I’m thinking of the First Emperor, in Ch’in, whose tomb – legend has it – is lethally protected by a moat of mercury.

Or something about a cat that died. Make that two cats. Maybe four. No cat death should go unremarked.

Maybe something about families where children’s names and pets’ names constantly get mixed up. Or perhaps it’s not a cat who died but instead a father.

Maybe something about disorientation and over-stimulation in a megametropolis? Being lost? Being scared?

Lots of places to start.

Second: how to change the POV. The protagonists might be someone else who witnessed or participated in those episodes.  Someone actual or fictional. Or it might be me only older, or younger, than I was at that time. Or me as I might have been had my history then been other than it was.

Lots of places to go.

An image of a black cat crosses my mind. Heading somewhere I might follow … ?

HUNGRY GHOSTS SUITE – Exercise towards short stories 4/3/14

Hungry Ghosts on the N53

It’s night
And this bus takes forever.
This is the endless bus
The one that travels everywhere.
The ghost bus.
Spectre people sit glum
Sunk in jackets
Flesh grey and loose
The air about them heavy
with the absence
of connection. No conversation.
This bus tours history
Traverses an empire
Conveys a common wealth
But inside all are worn
Too tired
Too hollow.
It’s too late
For the dead.


Under an overhang
Where no one can see
No one is watching
You and me.
Tales of subversion
Resentment and pain
No one is watching
Nothing to gain.
Tear down a village
Put up a fraud
No one is watching
Maybe they’re bored.
Theme park Morocco
Fuchsia and blue
No one is watching
Me and you.
No one is watching
No one can see
They’ll come to take you
They’ll ignore me.


The office is divided
by corridors: this side
that side
In the centre a common meeting ground
With its wall-size red logo
W for War
The foot soldiers tramp
through the common area
primed for hostilities
ready to do damage
and die. Metaphorically.
They know so little.


God sees the sparrow fall.
But does He care for cats?


The shadow puppet is practising for death.
It moves in jerks.
No voice.
It is diminished,
Its rictus face a memento mori.
It dances, stiffly, behind a screen.

Big City

It’s a laser beam battle
In the city centre
Spears of light thrusting forward
Flung backward
The angles are askew
The speed an assault
The sound all surrounding
the pavement in revolt.
I cannot find my way.
The light darts target me
Shattering what’s solid
Glaring through dark space
Spinning me off centre
Blaring blasting blinding
I cannot find my feet.