Back to reality with a bump from the Far East — but fortunately not such a big a bump as the BA 777 from Beijing that touched down at Heathrow just after us…. A salutory reminder for any nervous flier that air travel has plenty of dangers.

I’m always intrigued by travel statistics: on Boeing’s website they tell you that travelling by plane is 22 times safer than by car — but I am not sure whether that is for time spent in the plane or miles covered. What I do know is that the statistic for numbers of people killed in commercial airline crashes throughout the world each year is about 1,300 and the number of people killed in car accidents is a staggering 1,250,000 annually. Here are some interesting annual statisics, which I found on a website, for the USA:

Killed in car accidents: 42,116
Killed by the common flu: 20,000
Killed by murders: 15,517
Killed in airline crashes (of 477m passenger trips): 120 (1 accident)
Killed by lightning strikes: 90

But if the above make you decide you had better stay at home, be warned! Statistically the most dangerous place in the world — ie the place where you are most likely to die – is your own kitchen!!!

PJ in Hong Kong

Now, how did I get onto such a morbid start to 2008??? Ah yes, of course, I’ve just unpacked by brain from my travels and reminded myself that morbid is what I do for a living… And on my last day in Hong Kong I went to a venerable old-fashioned panelled restaurant, the Luk Yu Tea House, (24-26 Stanley St., Central (tel. 852/2523 5464) with my publishers and the ex-pat journalist Nick Walker, who gleefully pointed out the table at which a prominent HK businessman had been shot dead by a Triad gang a couple of years earlier. This restaurant is famed for both the quality of its Dim Sum (the best I have ever eaten) and the rudeness of its waiters! Yet interestingly, however rude they might be, and however unhelpful about letting you sit where you want, rather than where they want, they would behave much better to you than any Western waiter if your credit cards was maxed out and rejected when you tried to pay the bill. The reason? “Face”.

“Face” is all important throughout Asia. A taxi driver cowered in almost tearful silence when a friend caught him out cheating us on a journey in Koh Samui. And whereas in the West if your card is rejected the waiter will come to your table and tell you in front of all your guests. (To my amusement this once happened to Richard Branson in Australia, using his own Virgin card!) But if it happened in a restaurant in Hong Kong, to a customer known to the staff, they would quietly hand the card back and say nothing. Later in the afternoon they would phone him in his office or at home and explain the problem.

Night view of Hong Kong from Kowloon

I’ve been in Thailand and Hong Kong, on a combination of finishing the last research and rewrites on Dead Man’s Footsteps, and promoting the paperback of Not Dead Enough. I find Thai people absolutely delightful and I love their food — although one has to be carefully as they eat it with a lot more chillies in Thailand than we get in Thai restaurants in the UK.

It was my first time back in Hong Kong since 1979 and I noticed a lot of changes. In many ways I liked it even more, although it has become much more “westernized” and a lot of it looks more like New York than an Oriental city. What struck me most of all was how very polite the people were — despite the crowds and that everyone seemed in a rush (and ignoring the occasional bit of spitting….) there was a general air of courtesy that many Western cities could learn a lot from. And in common with many cities around the world, Hong Kong now widespread non-smoking regulations, but, as I believe all civlized places should, it still has certain bars where it is permitted — one of which was the Dickens bar in the basement of the Excelsior Hotel where I stayed.

Lousy view from my Ban Taling Ngam office!

The hotels I enjoyed most were the Ban Taling Ngam in Koh Samui (formerly Le Meridien), I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone and the Four Seasons in Bangkok. – where we had the best Thai meal of our whole trip in its Spice Market restaurant — and I actually met, for the first time ever in the twelve years he has been running my website, Chris Mitchell (and his delightful lady Lindy). And I cannot believe I forgot to take a photograph!!!!

Hope you all have a brilliant 2008 — and please keep your fingers crossed for me on Feb 5th — I am one of three finalist for the French crime writing prize the SNCF Prix Polar Europee’n for Looking Good Dead (La Mort Leur Va Sie Bien) up against Scotland’s Craig Russell and Italy’s Gilda Piersanti. I remember a year and a half ago when I won Le Prix Polar Noir in Cognac, asking my fellow contestants (all French) how French crime writers got on with each other. They replied that they all got on extremely well, unless one of them won an award — then they hated that person! So I guess that makes Feb 5th a no-win situation!!!