Despite the eventual decline of the honeymoon period and a gradual decrease in the pace of life, the last month or so has flown by. And even after finally carving out some vague outline of a routine, I’ve still found time to squeeze in some frivolity, adventure and minor orthopedic trauma.
Hong Kong has a perception as one big, congealed, homogeneous lump of concrete. In reality, beyond the hustle and bustle of Central and Kowloon the SAR is made up of an archipelago of over 200 outlying islands. Lamma (situated just Southwest of Hong Kong Island) was the most recent excursion of the Blue Girl Hiking Club – Hong Kong’s most prestigious social athletic society. Although Lamma is the third largest island in Hong Kong, it is home to less than 6000 people, has no automobiles or buildings over 3 stories. In other words, the perfect getaway from the city and a hiker’s dream. The island is served by two ports at the North and South tips, and a tame but picturesque trail links the two. The path offers mountaintop views of the small fishing villages and coastline, but is often rudely interrupted by the brutal sight of Lamma Power Station. I get that power stations have practical applications as electricity suppliers and Pink Floyd album covers, but they are not welcome on my hikes. The trail also passes a secluded and particularly idyllic beach, which provided the perfect location for a dip, a nap and a few tins of our namesake. The trail finishes in the quaint Sok Kwu Wan, a long, seafront road which mainly consists of seafood restaurants. I’ve lived a fairly conservative life thus far concerning seafood, but when it’s been pulled out the water 10 minutes prior, 10 metres away from where you’re sitting, you’ve got to get involved. Garoupa, prawns the size of a cat and the alien-looking but delicious mantis shrimp all made their way on to my plate. I mused on how I’ll happily chow down on this sea monster with antennae, pincers, 73 legs and a bloody exoskeleton that I had to open like a tin of beans, but I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to eat a beetle or even an ant. The night-time ferry ride back into Victoria Harbour is the perfect way to end the day. I still can’t get over how I can be eating shrimp in a remote fishing village that might as well be in Fiji or Hawaii, and 20 minutes later I’m pulling into one of the busiest ports in the world.
Next on the island menu was Lantau, the largest island in Hong Kong and home to the airport, Disneyland and Ngong Ping 360. I am currently on a lifetime world-wide ban from all Disneyland resorts for accidentally lighting Captain Hook in fire whilst shouting ‘bangerang’, so Ngong Ping 360 it was. This is a gondola cable car that takes you up to the mountainous region of Ngong Ping. The journey takes around 25 minutes and offers panoramic 360 views of the Lantau skyline, Hong Kong Airport, Tung Chung Bay, and the mountains and valleys leading up to the Ngong Ping Plateau. We shared our gondola with a very hospitable Indian family who gave me handful after handful of pistachios. I never would have thought of bringing nibbles…genius. Plus, I hadn’t had a pistachio since New Labour so it was quite a throwback.
Ngong Ping is home to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. One is a lovely Buddhist monastery, the other a massive 112ft high bronze statue of Buddha – hence it’s pithy nickname of ‘Big Buddha’. Having all the spirituality of a particularly skeptical sock, I’m rubbish at writing about this sort of thing. But there’s something about having these sorts of sites way up in the mountains that makes them more legit. The surroundings certainly compliment the Buddhist vibe better than car horns and tower blocks. I feel more and more that there is a direct correlation between the essence of a religion, and its geographical origins. Let’s be honest, the plain, pious and judgmental sect of Puritan Protestantism was only ever going to thrive in the bitter, rainy flats of Northern Europe, whilst the spiritually colourful Buddhism was always going to be more at home in the tropical mountains of Southeast Asia, than in Slough.
I won’t bore you with any more of my platitudes about how rugby is the single saving grace in a world full of hashtags, pumpkin-spiced jeans and spray-on skinny lattes. But I was lucky enough to witness 4 of the most hotly emerging national rugby teams battle it out as part of the Hong Kong Cup of Nations. This is a round-robin tournament featuring Hong Kong, Kenya, Russia and Chile played over 3 weeks. The occurrence of the fixtures on a school night, coupled with the relative obscurity of the sides, meant that when my fellow egg-chasers and I rocked up at King’s Park (after a few tins on my increasingly popular roof) we were pretty much the only supporters there. This, however, did not dampen our spirits and with buckets of 6 Corona for only $150 (an absolute steal in HK) we were destined to give these fledgling rugby nations the encouragement and gentle criticism they so rightly deserved. The lack of crowd meant we were basically sitting on the touchline with the coaches and substitutes, prime position for some rugby-based international diplomacy. When the matches finished we just strolled onto the pitch, chatted and took pictures with the players. It’s not everyday one meets the captain of the Kenyan rugby team!
Rugby over, beers finished and a good time had by all, but our tummies were making the rumblies that only Indian food could satisfy. I was about to have my first taste of the infamous Chunking Mansions.
Chungking Mansions is a difficult place to describe, mostly because I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Imagine an entire town inside a labyrinth of conjoined tower blocks and you begin to get the picture. Home to around 4,000 residents, mostly of South-Indian and African descent, the building also contains a market place selling everything from clothes to electronics, Indian and African restaurants, guesthouses, drug dens, brothels etc. Suffice it to say, if you need something – above or below board – you can probably find it in Chungking Mansions. Of course, my companions and I were only in the market for curry. Ideally we wanted to eat it in someone’s converted living room and by a divine stroke of luck our wish was fulfilled! Chungking Mansions…My oriented Tariq Manzils.
Clockenflap may sound like an erotic German film from the 1970s, but it is in fact an annual music and arts festival on Hong Kong’s majestic harbourfront. In my eyes, Clockenflap ticks all the boxes of what a festival should be. It takes place over three days (Friday, Saturday Sunday), enough time to fit in a shed load of acts, but not so long that it takes you a week of rocking back and forth in a dimly lit room humming The Archers theme tune before you can release yourself back into society. The size of the festival is also bang on. There is enough space to have a broad selection of large stages, smaller stages, art installations, bars, pop-up clubs and areas to relax, but it only takes ten minutes to walk from one side to the other. Even if acts clash there is nothing to stop you bouncing between stages to see them all. The variety of genres at Clockenflap was probably the broadest I’ve ever experienced. I could think of nothing worse than a festival that only had DJs playing, or only had heavy rock playing. Variety is the spice of life and the fact that I saw an Arab rock band and a Chinese hip-hop crew in the same hour delighted me to no end. Finally, the location is mesmerizing. As if standing among thousands of fellow music lovers watching your favourite artists perform isn’t enough, turning round to be met by the illuminations of one of the most iconic skylines in the world really is the cherry on the icing on the cake. I spent as much time watching my surroundings as I did watching the stages.
I managed to catch scores of acts over the three days, but it would be no fun for me or you to have to write/read an account of every act in excruciating detail. That aside, the vodka I smuggled in daily via my sturdy pair of Marks & Spencer boxer briefs made the weekend a wee bit hazy. So, as a fun exercise in brevity I shall attempt to describe my favourite acts in no more than 10 words.
Kaiser Chiefs – Landfill indie has never been so fun.
Higher Brothers – Chinese hip-hop is all kinds of mad.
Kid Ink – Pure bunkum.
The Dandy Warholes – Warm, fuzzy nostalgia like a hot bath of strawberry jam.
Stormzy – 6,000 miles from home, turned up, destroyed it #murky.
The Prodigy – Bottled insanity.
Massive Attack – I nearly cried at Unfinished Sympathy.
Blossoms – Everything that’s good about music and festivals.
Slaves – Fast, loud, dangerous, aggressive, raw, emotional, cool and utterly brilliant.
What a weekend!
The romantic way I describe Rugby football may lead to believe that it has no downsides. Alas, the pace, aggression and physicality of the game can occasionally lead to the odd strained muscle, pulled ligament, or in my case misplaced bone. Prior to this unfortunate incident I had been lucky enough to never have been hosptalised by a rugby injury, but after a fun game of ‘stick your finger where it doesn’t belong’ i.e. directly into the ground with the opposition lock on top of me, my pinky ended up resembling a bendy straw. On the plus side, Hong Kong’s public healthcare system is the envy of the world and I was excited to get acquainted with it. In a humorous turn of events, after a short spell in the A&E waiting room I was joined by the opposition fly half, who had a serious case of manky knee. It was a touching moment not dissimilar from the passage in All Quiet on the Western Front where Paul Baumer comes face to face with a dying French soldier and has a sudden flash of solidarity and sympathy for his enemy. We were not so different, just two men trying to put some points on the board. Despite this, after receiving the final score on Whatsapp, I took great delight in informing my fellow invalid of his team’s defeat.
After a routine x-ray to assess the extent of the damage to my poor pinky, my doctor used all 10 years of his medical training to yank, grind, twist and snap my finger back into place – with all the grace and finesse of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. I am still attending regular therapy sessions, but the digit is on the mend.
The approaching weeks bring with them the dreaded period of exams and assessments of all shapes and sizes. I’ll be keeping my nut down and getting some serious work done, before jetting off to Thailand for a 3-week birthday/Christmas/New Year bonanza.