Corporate America sent me to Hong Kong last week. It’s a mixed blessing, never quite the dream vacation my friends imagine but a chance to experience a place I’ve never seen. With Pat out-of-town for four weeks, there’s no use whining. Nothing is preventing me from going. I know a man who talks about “circling the drain”. He’s just south of 80 and bemoans his skiing isn’t what it used to be. His peer group, who have slowed down, are “circling the drain”. I started to circle the drain in my 20s. He’s my touchstone for assessing my inertia – those times when I really don’t want to do something because it sounds tiring or far away or hard. Hong Kong fits the bill in all three categories. I’m off.
Central Hong Kong is an anywhere city. I could be in LA or Manhattan or Chicago or London or Tokyo – anywhere with big buildings and expensive designer stores, tons of people and the related traffic. It doesn’t interest me. Walking along the waterfront, I pass a variety of piers. Pier 6 advertises: Cheung Chau Island. I remembered this island from my last-minute trip preparation. I spontaneously hop the ferry just before launch.
Hong Kong is a city of warning signs. “Hold the handrail”, “The handrail is regularly treated with bacterial disinfectant”. I realize no one could have anticipated my coming. Even so, as I take my seat on the high-speed ferry, I can’t help but take the “Be considerate, tone down your voice” sign personally. Do they really get that many American tourists on this ferry? Did they see me approaching the gangplank and throw the sign up just before my boarding.
The two decker ferry makes the passing in 20 minutes. Returns are regular thru the wee hours of the morning. I relax realizing there’s no concern getting a ride back. When the ferry docks and I alight, the McDonald’s perched on the pier is my welcome sign. I consider hitching the next ride back. But a quick glance up and down the shoreline puts me at ease. A ramshackle mix of colorful umbrellas and patio furniture, a cornucopia of “Jersey shore meets China” style restaurants plus the flamingo pink Buddist Wai Yan Memorial College are authentic. This is more like it. This is the Hong Kong I came to see.
A short stroll directly across the island passes the requisite takeaway food huts. People everywhere are munching unrecognizable treats. I avoid selecting anything which might have been referred to as “Whiskers” or “Snowball” in its prior life. But a single potato spiraled up a bamboo skewer and deep-fried has implicit endorsements. The long, twisty potato chip is familiar, and the deep-frying process likely killed the germs no doubt lurking on this food court row. There’s a variety of seasoning shakers. I pass on seaweed and curry before grabbing the salt. This stretching of my comfort zone is moving forward, but it’s gonna take some time.
The far side of the island is the beach hang out; a girl tottering on her way too high heels as she leans on her young beau for balance, two girls primping in their cell phone reflections, a middle age Chinese surfer dude porting his Hawaiian T-shirt. A sentry line of litter queues where the waves break awaiting the signal to march down the shore. A hiking trail cuts away from the beach and thru the hills. I pass a temple with fruit offerings to buddha, a Christian monastery, various overlooks, and a sign warning “fire beaters are solely for putting out fires. Please put back in rack after using”. As I complete the trail, a man nonchalantly takes my picture. On this island of the Chinese little people, I’m clearly not from these parts, a western Godzilla. I’m OK being different. It underscores that I’m not in Kansas anymore.
Before catching the ferry back, I wander a bit more thru the food courts. The Japanese tea house deserves, and will get, a post of its own. The food courts end at The Lady of Fatima Church which houses the local school. It’s surrounded by a tall iron fence. I see a warning sign and smile to myself realizing kids are the same everywhere. I picture the little Chinese kids climbing over the fence, falling, crying, skinning their knees. I imagine the sign, and it makes sense. I know what to expect “Stay off the fence”. Or perhaps, given the penchant for safety, a single “DANGER” in all red caps. As I head back to the ferry, I glance back at the sign and chuckle “Danger, falling fruit, keep clear”. The hazard is the tree not the fence. I’m happy this isn’t an anywhere sign on an anywhere island. The unexpected has become my norm, and I like it that way.