Ding, Ding, Ding Went the Trolley.
The weather is slowly changing here in Hong Kong. A few days ago, there was a very slight, almost imperceptible, nip in the air. Everybody started wearing coats and long trousers. “It’s freezing” I overheard several people say. Yet, the mercury hardly dipped below 25 degrees C. The humidity has also dropped to about 65%. Perfect weather for me. The next few months, people tell me, are the best in HK.
I wish I could say the same about the air pollution. It’s terrible here, dire. I look across the harbour to the other side and can hardly see the buildings for the haze.
Hong Kong’s government said air pollution reached the highest level on its gauge at more than half of its monitoring stations, as light winds in the city failed to disperse pollutants. Recently, the pollution index reached 10+ at monitors in Central, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, the city’s main business and entertainment districts, according to the Environmental Protection Department. Other general stations recorded the highest or second-highest levels of pollution severity. The index scales from 1 to 10+, which is marked as “serious.”
“Higher than normal levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates have been recorded in the territory since this morning,” the government said recently in a statement. “The light wind also hinders the effective dispersion of air pollutants and promotes the formation of nitrogen dioxide at street level.”
Air quality in Hong Kong normally worsens in the winter months as pollutants get swept in from China, adding to the smog generated by the city’s vehicles, ships and power stations. The government plans to introduce low-emission zones and has offered subsidies for the replacement of older, more pollutive vehicles. A reading of 10+, indicated with a black warning sign, triggers a government advisory for the general public to “reduce to the minimum the time of their stay outdoors, especially in areas with heavy traffic.”
I think I have a Chinese soul!
I like to imagine that many many years ago, way back in the day, a Chinese junk was out fishing in the South China Sea. A great wind came and swept it away. I travelled around for days and weeks and months, being blown by this strong but strange and unusual wind. Luckily the fishermen, being fishermen, were adept at catching fish so they didn’t starve to death. They also managed to catch rainwater to drink. Eventually, they were blown right out of the known world and when all hope began to fade, they noticed a smudge on the horizon and this gradually turned into a green stoney island inhabited by pale-skinned hairy barbarians who spoke very strangely. They had landed in West Cork!
Well, men being men, they soon intermarried with the local population and had children who had children who and children and so on right down to today. This is why I like to believe that I have a Chinese gene inside me. When I landed on the shores of this magnificent continent, it woke up and shouted “Honey, I’m home” Not sure there’s a lot of evidence to support this theory but, hey, what the hell, it feels right. Evidence schmevidence.
I think the first time I ever heard of China was when I was a young boy in school in Dublin in the 1950s. I read a short story by Charles Lamb called a Dissertation Upon Roast Pig and the opening lines went: MANKIND, says a Chinese manuscript, which my friend M. was obliging enough to read and explain to me, for the first seventy thousand ages ate their meat raw, clawing or biting it from the living animal, just as they do in Abyssinia to this day. This period is not obscurely hinted at by their great Confucius in the second chapter of his Mundane Mutations, where he designates a kind of golden age by the term Cho-fang, literally the Cooks’ holiday. The manuscript goes on to say, that the art of roasting, or rather broiling (which I take to be the elder brother) was accidentally discovered in the manner following. The swine-herd, Ho-ti, having gone out into the woods one morning, as his manner was, to collect mast for his hogs, left his cottage in the care of his eldest son Bo-bo, and so on.
This was the first time I remember seeing those strange names and being introduced to the idea of this vast country on the other side of the world. I went to see where China was on the old battered globe atlas we had in the dining room; never actually used for dining but as a general study area for we five boys. It seemed incredibly foreign and far away and never in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine being there. But here I am now, in this amazing continent.
Another early memory I have of Asia was in the 1950s when we kids would get little model cars, Dinkys, if anyone remembers this name. They were tiny, just a few inches in length and fairly cheaply made. When they broke, as inevitably they did, I took them apart and was surprised to see that they were make from empty food and soft drink cans with Japanese writing inside. I know Japan is very different from China but again, I was fascinated by Asia and this very different culture. My father approved of the industriousness of Asian people and this must also have stuck in my mind. Quite likely because it was one of his rare positive statements; an island in a sea of unrelenting negative views.
I was in 5th year in school in Dublin in 1968, a tumultuous year in many countries in the world and even in little old backward Ireland. Flower power was beginning to waft over from San Francisco and revolutionary thought from Europe; especially France and the Paris students rebellion of 1968. The word civil rights was becoming known in the US and Northern Ireland. Chairman Mao and his strange and exotic little red book was everywhere, it seemed. The people were revolting everywhere!
One of the boys in my class was a Moaist and a revolutionary Marxist Leninist. He formed a scholars unior which was immediately suppressed by the religious order, the Christian Brothers, who ran the school. He distrubuted copies of Chairman Moa’s Little Red Book to the school. I read it’s pages fervently hoping to find a solution to my unhappinness in those strangely foreigh sounding phrases. I didn’t but it became another source for my counter-dependency where my enemy’s enemy was my friend.
I spent last weekend in a city called Shenzhen. I had a completely wrong, peception of this city as a dark satanic mill town full of oppressed overworked people. The truth couldnt be more different. Instead I found a lively, vibrant city with lots of green, great buildings and contented, happy-looking and handsome people. I was with a friend called Liang, a local man, who showed me around and was the perfect host.
Shenzhen is a major city in Guangdong Province, China. Situated immediately north of Hong Kong, the area became China’s first and one of the most successful Special Economic Zones (SEZ). According to the Government report for 2014, Shenzhen had a population of 10,628,900 people in the city and a metropolitan area population of over 18 million before which it was only a market town called Sham Chun Hui (深圳墟) which the Kowloon-Canton Railway passed through. Significant sums of finance has been invested into the SEZ by both Chinese citizens and foreign nationals. More than US$30 billion in foreign investment has gone into both foreign-owned and joint ventures, at first mainly in manufacturing but more recently in the service industries as well.
Shenzhen was one of the fastest-growing cities in the world during the 1990s and the 2000s. It’s population boom slowed down to less than one percent per year by 2013 as the manufacturing boom ebbed in favour of other industries. It is a major financial center in southern China and is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange as well as the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies. It was dubbed as China’s Silicon Valley due to this high concentration of technology companies. Shenzhen ranks 22nd in the 2015 edition of the Global Financial Centres Index. It is also one of the busiest container ports in the world. In 2007, Shenzhen was named one of China’s ten most livable cities by Chinese Cities Brand Value Report. Today, it is much nearer the top of the list and a very interesting city to live in.
A few years ago, I was a member of the London Gay Men’s Chorus. 2012 was our 21st anniversary and we put on a special concert called a Band of Brothers at The Royal Festival Hall. I still remember that shiver of delightful terror as I walked onto the stage with thousands of eyes on me. Mind you, I wasn’t alone; there were over a hundred of my brothers on stage to share the gaze of the gays in the audience. How the hell do people do solo gigs in front of huge audiences. I just can’t imagine it.
Anyway, I’m rambling again. Must be an old guy thing.
One of the songs we sang was called the Trolley Song, a golden oldie from the past. It was sung by your one with the mad blond hair, you know, and the wild red lips and the curves. What’s her name? Oh yes. Judy Garland. Or was it the other one, that Marylyn Monroe.
Anyway, whatever, I was reminded of it when I saw the trams here in Kong Kong. They’re called ‘ding dongs’ and are fabulous. They have being rumbling along the northern side of Hong Kong Island since 1904 and provide a wonderfully inexpensive and enjoyable opportunity to experience a moving theatre of scenery and street life. The first trams were all single-deck, followed in 1912 by open-air double-deck trams and by enclosed double-deck trams in 1925. About 1,700 tram journeys a day and 74 million tram journeys each year are made over six routes covering a total of 30 kilometers and 120 tram stops between Shau Kei Wan, Happy Valley and Kennedy Town. Fares remained unchanged for 13 years from 1998 until small increases the adult and child fares took effect on 7th June 2011.
Fares are still only HK$2.30, about €0.25 or £0.20 so very good value. Trams run at frequent intervals (1.5 to 4 minutes) from about 6am until midnight but can be subject to “bunching” where after a longer than usual interval several may arrive in convoy. The trams are nicknamed “Ding Ding Tram”, a reference to the bell used to warn traffic and pedestrians of their approach. When bells were replaced by a “beeper” in 2000 a public outcry led to the “ding-ding bells” being reintroduced. The current fleet stands at 163 double-deck trams which is the world’s largest fleet of double-deck trams still in service.
Trams are numbered from 1 to 166 and 168 to 170. However, either through accident or superstition tram numbers 44, 63, 71, 85, 134, 144 and 167 are missing. Tram number 50, which was withdrawn from service in 1991 has been preserved in its 1950’s condition and is on display in Hong Kong Museum of History. There are also two antique trams, “Albert” (No 28) in green livery and “Victoria” (No 128) in maroon livery, which are for private hire with catering services and have specially designed saloons. “Victoria” has upper-deck air conditioning allowing passengers a comfortable journey on hot summer days. All the others have no air-con and the windows open down fully so its very enjoyable to sit on the wooden seats with your arm hanging out of the window looking at the amazing sights of this magnificent city. I have travelled up and down the whole network and have gained an interesting perspective on the city.
I now live in Lamma Island situated only 3km off the south west coast of Hong Kong Island from which it is separated by the East Lamma Channel. The island is Hong Kong’s third largest being about 6km in length and quite narrow being about 2.5kms at its widest point. Apart from a large power station built in 1972 on the western side of the island which supplies energy to Hong Kong Island and a recent solitary wind turbine the island is virtually unspoiled and something of a contrast to its outlying island neighbours Cheung Chau and Peng Chau. It has a population of around 5,000 of which the vast majority live in the two main villages, Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan. Lamma in Chinese means “the southern tree branch” and Lamma Island was originally known as “Bok Liu Chau”. The island is very rural with some rugged scenery with granite hills dominated by the 353 metre peak of Mount Stenhouse (Shan Tei Tong) in the south, as well as tiny settlements and quiet beaches. As with its neighbouring islands there are no cars, just bicycles, motorised carts and miniature emergency vehicles.
Lamma has a very “relaxed” feel to it with a slow pace of life which has made it popular with people seeking cheap accommodation and an alternative bohemian type of lifestyle. There are many western ex-pats in the community, some of whom have lived there since the “hippy/flower power” days of the late sixties/early seventies. The island is well known for its seafood restaurants which are popular with locals, visitors and corporate guests of some of Hong Kong’s leading businesses.
Lamma is served by ferries from Central Pier 4 on Hong Kong Island and from Aberdeen on the south side of Hong Kong Island. There are separate services to both of the main villages on the island, Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan. The journey time is 27 minutes to Yung Shue Wan and 30/40 minutes to Sok Kwu Wan. Vessels are monohull and some of the boats have a small outside canopy-covered area at the rear of the upper deck. I love sitting in this area with the wind blowing in my face.
That’s it, possums. Need to get this posted. Lots more to say in my next blog in a few days. Lots more news.
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