Updated: Feb 1
The other day, after watching a report on the state of Hong Kong after the new laws on “sedition” were introduced, I was hit with the realisation that my trip there in 2017 was certainly my last to a “free” Hong Kong. Whenever I go back, if I go back, the atmosphere will never be the same as it was when I visited. With this in mind, I have decided to publish the parts of my diary concerned with Hong Kong here, that anyone who failed to visit before the bell tolled might catch a glimpse of how it was.
Yeah guess what I’m finishing it tomorrow way to mix it up Alex. So yes, yesterday me and four other people went to Lamma for the day to get away from the city for a few hours. The island was supposed to have great views of Hong Kong Island and the surrounding area. I think we left round 11 o’clock, can’t quite remember. In any case we had to catch the STAR ferry to Central, to catch another ferry to the island. STAR was something a lot of people had recommended I do, so it was the perfect opportunity to synergise. And the ferry was… a ferry. It did what ferries do. It ferried me to the other side of the water. I don’t know what I expected. At least the ferry to Lamma was a bit more exciting. Took me a second to get my sea-legs since some of the listing caught me off-guard, but I wasn’t the only one. Jenny was cold all the time all day. Philip was a manly man and never got cold. It was difficult to get any good pictures from our standing position of the end of Hong Kong and the odd little islands that bobbed by, so I gave up and just tried to enjoy the ride. Jenny started talking to a girl named Nicole, a Filipino who’s in Hong Kong to pick up a chap laptop and do some Christmas shopping. The day trip to Lamma was a backup plan since her original plan kind of got scuppered, and she sort of ended up coming with us for the day too. Yay for friends! The whole boat ride only took about 25 minutes. When we disembarked, the first things I noticed as I looked around were three huge chimneys rising up behind a hill. Immediately there was a dissonance between nature and industry. Wow a trio of cars stopped in the middle of the grid and blocked all the traffic down two lanes what complete twats. No wonder there was so much beeping outside. Anyway
Seems to be a habit recently that woah not a fan of that new pen I’ll stick with the old one for now. As I was saying, seems to be trendy recently to get cut off mid-sentence. Good job I have another 8 hours on a plane to finish everything from the last two days (three including this one) although after these first nine or so I’m confused from jet-lag time zone shenanigans, and there’s children IN FRONT OF AND BEHIND ME for this flight fuck! Goddammit! The baby’s already crying before we’ve even taken off! Oh god why?! This diary is now my only escape, so this entry will be long and intricate for the sake of my own sanity. Let me wait until we’ve at least taken off though.
Alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright. Ok. Now. The chimneys were a stark contrast with the rest of the bay, which was for the most part a quiet fishing village stereotype. Lots of little boats dotted around, and a short beach barely usable for walking on by the sea wall. The village was nestled amongst small hills thick with foliage, and telephone lines peeped out here and there. The beach was full of broken glass unfortunately, and not much fun to walk on. It certainly weren’t no North Beach I tell you what. But there were loads of food shops in the high street, which followed directly on from the disembarking area. Whole dried squids and starfish, unrecognisable deep-fried hollow cone things (still no idea what they were), whitebait that I thought was kind of gritty (oh great my old pen just exploded on me how’s that for loyalty), and of course, one coffee shop where all the white people were; five in total after Philip and Aileen went inside. Once we’d regrouped and Nicole had firmly attached herself to us not unlike a barnacle to a ship, we sort of just assumed the direction we were going in was the right one since it had a railing and lots of people walking that way. The village outside of the harbour was very rudimentary. Each house felt cobbled together in its own unique way. Some were clearly better planned than others, but almost all had a garden and several sheets of corrugated iron hanging around. A dog sat in the street at one point, overlooked by everyone else. It had a tremendous underbite and one of its eyes was fused shut by what must have been a peg or something. We didn’t stop to inspect any closer. We just felt sorry for it.
A long walk was beckoning us further, so we kept moving up through the village. I always have the same feeling when I’m deep in the countryside (the part where it becomes small-scale farming and tiny houses): I’m at peace, in a way. I’m a country lad who appreciates the sea, so the island should’ve been the perfect destination. And it was, initially. I was saying to Jenny how much fresher the air smelt compared to Hong Kong, and how much happier I felt just being surrounded by nothing in particular. Something along those lines anyway, you know what I mean. I like the countryside, is what I’m saying. Anyway, I guessed that the right path would be the one with the green railing running along it, and because I’m too impetuous for my own good, I sort of ended up leading the pack. There was a split in the road: left and right. I chose right. I chose wrong. I got sassed by the gang. Then we noticed other Chinese tourists had followed us assuming we know the way, so when I looked at them and shrugged my shoulders to state my ignorance, all of them went ‘ooh!’ which was funny. Once on the right path (being the left path) there was a quite nice view of the whole village, such as it was. A green bowl of light brown boxes. Onward we went, through quickly thickening flora, pretty red flowers, and the occasional exotic butterfly, past a half-empty stream with damp rubbish drying in the sun, until we came to the first beach of the day.
FOR GODS SAKE MY PEN KEEPS EXPLODING ALL OVER ME HOLD ON FOR A SEC. Fuck me it’s all over my hands and forearm and my BRAND NEW SCARF!! AND MAYBE MY JACKET TOO! AARGH! OK new pen time to shine. So yeah, the beach was a fun little change of pace. A decent little beach only slightly overshadowed by the massive nuclear power plant in the near distance that became a feature of any view from this side of the island. The water was freezing when I decided to go for a paddle. Some mad ex-pat swam all the way out to the shark net and back which was quite brave of them. Temperature-wise, I mean. Great, now the guy in front of me’s put his seat so far back I can’t lean forward to write properly anymore. This flight is a mess, but at least there’s only 5 hours left. Bleh.
Philip had the great idea to put his socks back on by sitting on the rocks where he could wash the sand off his feet without getting any sandier. And it worked great, right up until the point that it didn’t, and he nearly lost his sock in the surf. After a little break though, the real hiking began. The next two hours or so were spent walking down one side of the island and taking a whole lot of pretty pictures. A few boats were moored somewhere between the coast and the open sea, and my best guess is that they were abandoned. It made sense thematically if they were, as there was a massive ship on the ferry-ride there (Olympia I think it was called) was treading water and rusted to hell. But the view from the path wasn’t good enough for Jen, Philip, and I, and when a boulder appeared with a spray-painted smiley face promising off-road hiking, we left Nicole and Aileen to carry on whilst we took the high ground. The mountainside was scarred by fire, controlled or natural I couldn’t say, but it had the twin effects of making the ‘trail’ easier to follow, but making the soil/ash loose underfoot. Our efforts were in vain though, as all we gained was a clearer view of the power station, by which I mean it was the same view as from the main path, except we were now 5 feet higher. We crashed through bracken to get back to the road (a woolly cardigan is the completely wrong thing to wear on a walk like this FYI), and to the surprise of no one, had fallen far behind. Not too far, though. Hang on, is that an oxymoron? Far/ not too far? Whatever.
Nicole had this habit of holding onto my sleeve – anyone’s shirt really – and at first I thought she might be a very touchy-feely person; someone who’s comfortable enough to have physical contact with people straight away. Maybe she fancied me? I certainly found her hanging off of my arm more than more than anyone else’s. It turned out I was super duper wrong. Nicole had really painful joints in her legs that were originally caused by Judo and aggravated to a punishing level by three days of hard hiking. I happened to be the tallest so I could pull her along the most effectively. I asked her if her legs were always this bad, because if so, it was a good job I stopped when I did. She answered no but explained that when you do Judo at a competitive level you basically screw yourself over in the long run if you don’t give yourself enough time to recover, hence her penguin walk. Jenny said she’d learnt a bit of boxing as a precautionary measure before going on her trip, just in case. I was half expecting Philip to confess himself to be a gunslinger and for Aileen to be carrying a switchblade after that, since clearly everyone except me’s been trained in self-defence. Suppose I could have written a stiffly-worded letter to the attacker’s parents in the aftermath. That’d teach them.
Eventually we moved off the hillside walk and descended back into the tropics, where we took a detour to another little beach. Their plans to have me skinny-dip were thwarted (thankfully) by the lifeguard services having been suspended, so instead we shared what little food we had for lunch at one of the very thoughtful beachside BBQ installations (think a Korean BBQ outside). The food amounted to a couple of squashed egg tarts, a few cereal bars, and a wafer or two, but it was a genuine moment of friendship and contentment. I was very happy at that moment, at least. Still, we needed to move on after a little while, so it was back up and along the main path. It brought us past a vegetable patch being watched over by a scarecrow surrounded by Laser-discs. It was unclear what emotion the creator intended when painting the smile for the scarecrow. Maybe his second piece was less slapdash. I’ll be honest, it was just a bucket on a stick. You’d expect at least a chequered shirt in pastel shades for it to be at least halfway decent. Scarecrow snobs surely see several such scarecrows semi-frequently I suppose. So says Mr. Sibilance. I’ll be re-writing that to be longer and longer all day if I don’t move on.
By the time we made it to the middle of the island, where the fisheries and seafood restaurants began in earnest, it was late enough that some of us were wondering about what time the ferries stopped running. Nicole and I wanted to continue on because that’s how we be, but Jenny and Philip were a little more sceptical of ferry timings. We compromised in the end and walked to the next pier (about 20mins away) to catch the ferry home, but 20 minutes (and a cool seabird) later and no ferry would go to the mainland from there.
“Aberdeen?” I said, in faux-disbelief. “There’s a ferry all the way to Scotland?”
“No Alex, it goes to those buildings over there – that’s also Aberdeen.”
So we walked back again, but as we walked along the third beach for a second time, I noticed a dead fish on the shoreline. A bit morbid, but I didn’t think much of it. Then I spotted another one. Then another. All were the same type. Another one! The same again. I suppose they’d come from the fisheries, died in captivity, and were tossed out to sea, where they washed up on the beach here. Whatever the cause, it wasn’t very nice. It solidified the idea in my mind that there was something off about Hong Kong. All the beautiful scenery and good food and great days out held this slightly sinister undertone. The dumplings I was eating for breakfast were delicious, but I had to walk past an ivory shop to get to the kiosk. The view from Victoria Peak stretched for miles but was suffocated by the pollution. The temple had been large and overly-decorated, but the gold paint was flaking and there was a dead cat at the entrance. So it was that the ambient sounds and smells there was pleasant, but dead fish still littered the beach, along with actual litter. At the harbour, other sea creatures were kept in tens of tiny little tanks of water shallow enough for their skin to blister. Some were already dead. A fire extinguisher floated in the water, bumping up against the stone harbour wall with a dampened twang. It was time to go.
Once we were back in Hong Kong, Nicole took us for lunch at a street stall she could recommend. When it was too cold to sit outside, we opted for another place instead, n and again I was underwhelmed by the food served. More off-putting was Nicole’s insistence on cleaning all the cutlery with anti-bacterial gel, as she explained that almost all food-poisoning in Hong Kong is caused by dirty utensils. Suffice to say I didn’t finish my bowl. If only Salt Cay Alex could’ve seen me then, he’d be furious with me for leaving anything uneaten. Ah well. So after that blowout we finally got back to the hostel, and Jenny and I tried pushing for us to go out in the evening, but nothing came of it in the end. Nicole asked if I wanted t meet her for breakfast the next day, and Athena (after realising that I would only be here for one more day) asked to meet for lunch .So my day trip to Macau was scuppered by food and friends, which are honestly my favourite excuses to not do the thing. Then I tried to sleep, but someone’s snoring persisted for the second night in a row.
Oh my god I can’t believe it’s taken me nearly three days to write that, fuck me. Now for yesterday. Do you know it’s now 23:40 back in Hong Kong? I got up at 5:00 this morning. By the time I get to a bed I’ll have been travelling for nearly a whole day. No one’s saying anything but I can tell from their quick glances that they despise me for having the light on so I can write this. Anyway, back to yesterday. Thankfully yesterday was only slightly miserable because of how tired I was. I met Nicole at a hipster ex-pat café nearby at 9am, so I had all the charm and charisma of any sleep-deprived 20-something (or 30-something when I had my beard). That is to say, I couldn’t find the place at first and had no people skills at all. Nicole didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she ended up formally adopting me as her ‘little duckling’ and dragged me around shopping with her. She was looking for clothes and stationery. At breakfast, she actually gave me a new travel-size notebook that could easily fit into my back pocket, which was very sweet of her. She was insistent that I get a leather case for it to protect it, hence (one of the reasons for) the stationary store.
Sorry, needed to take a little break there because I was getting tired. Before the stationary store though, we went clothes shopping. I fought the urge to buy a really cool denim jacket despite Nicole’s best attempts to egg me on. I ended up saying I’d think about it, and once she’d finished with her shopping, we went to buy some pens. It was terribly exciting; I bought this pen I’m writing with now! Nicole was very dedicated to me not buying another ink pen (‘it bleeds over time’) and I guess since I’ve burned through two of them writing today and this one hasn’t blown up all over me, she had a point. We also bought now notebooks, and I snatched a leather binder. Nicole has been keeping notebooks for ages, so she knew exactly how to treat a diary/notebook. I really want to go into more depth, but I’m slipping away slightly. Still two hours to go before landing. I’m gonna try to get some rest.