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Postcard from Hong Kong- Cutting Loose in Kowloon (Not)

February 17, 2015


Tai Chih

A brief stopover at one of my favourite cities on the way back from Bali. I wish I could say that we went hiking up to the Peak and strolling through the markets on Hong Kong Island, but unfortunately the best laid plans have been stymied by the hamstring I tore in England three weeks ago.

So I’m still in a wheelchair – this one kindly provided by our hotel in Hong Kong. Never mind. Lots of people watching to do, as in Bali.

The one word that sums up Hong Kong more than any other is energy. I’ve taken to sitting outside the hotel at the top of a promenade overlooking the strait between Kowloon and the island. Joggers, walkers, old and young. An old guy standing in front of the promenade railings doing Tai Chi. A woman in jogging gear posing from six different angles for a waterfront selfie. A guy running to the railings three times in ten minutes posing stiffly for a photo taken by someone out of sight. Why the same shot three times? The search for perfection perhaps.

HK Jogging

Back in the lobby, endless group photos in front of the new year tableaux. A family of six sits in a line waiting for something or someone. Each buried in a smart phone. No conversation, no books. Just phones. Is there any other invention that better epitomises the past twenty years? Everyone talking in a personal vacuum, nobody communicating. Photos and games and Facebook and Whatsapp. What indeed is app?

For all the incessant digital exchange, it seems to me that the world through a smart phone is like a mirror. An instrument for self-absorption. A perfect accessory for the little emperors and princesses on the mainland, products of the one-child policy.

Here you can predict with some accuracy which families are from the mainland and which aren’t. If there are two or more kids, the chances are that they’re local, or maybe expatriates from Malaysia, Singapore or further afield – Australia or America for example.

In the West we read many stories about the evils of the one-child policy. Elderly parents abandoned. Female pregnancies terminated. A nation with a dangerous gender imbalance – millions of young males looking hopelessly for a mate. Not so many pundits look at the other side of the equation – the perception of the single kids. My wife knows a couple of young Chinese students in London. Their view is that being an only child is no big deal. In fact they feel lucky. All the efforts and resources of the parents focused on them alone. Could their parents have afforded to send two or three children to one of the top ten academic institutions in the world in one of the most expensive cities in the world? Most probably not.

But what of the poor? The dilemma facing the only child: do I spread my wings and go to the city, or stay at home and care for my elderly parents? And if I go to the city, and most of my earnings go back to support my parents anyway, what chance do I have of finding a mate and starting my own family? In a country that still pays lip service to the principles of communism, the one-child policy’s legacy is surely a dangerous widening of the gap between rich and poor. It may now be have been repealed, but for a generation it’s too late. The damage is done.

Back at the hotel, my wheelchair experience continues. They’ve provided me with an industrial size vehicle – far more robust than the one in Bali, from which regularly bits regularly flew off. This one is more suited to Western physiques. They’re clearly used to facilitating guests with elephantine backsides. Mine is more bear-sized, so I have a bit of room to manoeuvre.

Going through Bali and Hong Kong airports in a wheelchair is another experience altogether. So easy and fast that my wife is thinking about injuring me in time for our next trip. A preferential route through immigration. No looking up at signs and wondering where the hell to go. No messing around in duty free. But be careful what you wish for, a little voice tells me. I met another wheelchair user in Bali who looked like death warmed up. She was still suffering from the effects of dengue fever. And she wasn’t the only one. A sour-looking guy in our hotel whom I had dubbed The Professor in a previous post from Bali turned out indeed to be a professor. The reason for his permanent expression of misery was that he caught dengue several days earlier. He also could hardly walk.

The incubation period for dengue fever is a maximum of ten days, so we’re counting off the days from yesterday.

Back to England tonight. A few more weeks of hobbling around and hopefully some physio to help my recovery along. Assuming all goes well, I shall be back to my running, jumping iron-man self in a couple of months – well OK, walking will be quite enough thank you very much.

But after three weeks in a wheelchair, I will never again take for granted the ability to stand on my own two feet, and I have a new appreciation for what is a permanent reality for many.

That’s a positive I wasn’t expecting to take from what should have been an ordinary holiday, but a positive it surely is.

From → Postcards, Social, Travel

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