Thursday, January 9, 2014


We made another trip to Hong Kong in early December.  I managed to score cheap airfare again, which is always a plus.  The weather in Zhanjiang had been sunny and balmy but we weren't quite so fortunate in Hong Kong.  Although it was warm, it was also overcast.  And really smoggy.  Unfortunately, the wind was blowing from the north bringing all the flatulence from the economic miracles in the Pearl River Delta.  It wasn't exactly the eye burning, cough producing, semi solid smog that has been making international news lately, but it kind of put a dent in our plans to enjoy the scenic wonders of the outer islands.
We are fortunate to live in a city that has decent air quality, and more specifically in a part of town that is cleaner.  There isn't an overabundance of heavy manufacturing, and the maritime winds tend to dissipate the worst stuff.  Hong Kong can have lovely, clear days, but only when there is a good wind from the seaward side, otherwise it suffers from the same rancid air as Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

We did make a day trip to Lamma Island, which is about a 30 minute boat ride from Hong Kong island.  In spite of the smog, it was a wonderful break from city life.  For one thing, there are a lot of birds.  We saw herons, sea eagles, swallows and many others.
We don't have a lot of birds where we live in China.  They have been eaten.  Really.  Life under Mao was a hungry time, and people ate whatever they could get their hands on.  There is also this compulsion among certain people here to anything living.  I have a friend who saw an owl being displayed as the catch of the day by a restaurant.  There are establishments that specialize in cooking anything anyone brings in. Even though we live on the sea I have never seen a seagull.  Really.  They ate them all. Older folks still try to catch and eat song birds, although I have noticed in the last five years, birds are making a bit of a comeback.  The old folks are dying off or getting too slow to catch them.

Anyway, we saw a lot of birds, enjoyed a good seafood lunch, strolled through the village and had a nice hike to a decent beach.  It was a Tuesday, so it was not crowded.  Lamma Island does not have cars, just paved walkways.  There are some small vehicles for deliveries, and bicycles.  It really is a separate world from the rest of Hong Kong, and very laid back.  The trail system goes all over the island. You can climb to a temple and get a good view on a clear day, but since we wouldn't be able to see much, we opted for lounging on the beach.  I think I'd like to go back on a nicer day and go for a vigorous cruise on the trails.
We had a good evening the night before in the Soho district.  It was Brian's birthday, so we decided to have some proper pints at a decent bar.  There is a civilized place in Soho we like a lot.  They have an excellent selection of European beer on tap as well as decent liquor.

Zhanjiang does not have a decent bar.  The only places people drink there are Karaoke bars and they are nasty places.  I've been taken by Chinese friends to high end clubs.  You get a private room, well appointed with comfy sofas, chairs and a private bathroom.  You get iced beer, yummy snacks and any other drinks you might want.  They even have hostesses to join you if you wish.  It all seems pretty nice until the Karaoke machine is turned on.  With Chinese there is only one volume setting for a Karaoke machine, and that is "11", so conversation out.  Nearly all the music selections are Chinese, except for "Hotel California", which everyone wants the foreigners to sing.  The Chinese music is either some kind of pop stuff, or something that sounds like patriotic anthems.  There is no break in the music.  Someone always wants to sing.  If you are lucky, the guy can carry a tune, but even then it's painful.  The men all start smoking a lot.  Chinese cigarettes tend to smell a lot like someone set a cat on fire, so the air gets pretty harsh.
They play dice games in which the loser has to take a shot of whatever is being drunk.  I've played it with both watery Chinese beer and another favorite beverage of theirs, red wine and 7Up.  That is how your evening is spent.  No conversation or interaction. The best our city has to offer in the way of a good watering hole is a well appointed room with bad drinks, toxic air and sonic overload. It's OK for a savage swill fest, but an assault on my Occidental sensitivities.   Our social drinking is done in restaurants or in private homes.  
Hong Kong is also a great melting pot of people.  Virtually everyone in Zhanjiang is Chinese.  The biggest difference in people here are locals and non locals.  The non locals can't speak Cantonese.
Hong Kong, on the other hand is like a good people zoo.  You have an excellent variety of humans and people watching is a fine pastime.  You hear lots of languages, Cantonese being the prominent tongue you hear from the Chinese.  You can hear Urdu from the Pakistanis, Hindi from the Indians, Tagalog from the Filipinos, and of course, English.  There are lots of Africans and housekeepers from Indonesia.  In the rich business areas you find Europeans with big foreheads and tight sweaters speaking European.  
A big difference for a foreigner in Hong Kong is that people don't generally gawp at you like they do in China.  You get to be anonymous.  That's kind of nice sometimes.