HK & Lamma Island

Sweet savoury breads for breakfast. There is a specifically HK style of baking. I don’t know if it extends to mainland China. The sweet bun is also available salted. With raisins. Red bean. Coconut. With cream, of some description. Or pierced by a short sausage, also sweetish. Although, I guess, the categories of sweet/savoury don’t sit with the cuisine or the palate. Maybe sweet/sour, which are complementaries. Salty. Also complementary.

We ascended from the end of Jubilee St. by a series of covered elevators, some flat, some with small steps, some with big, to Conduit Rd. It’s supposed to be 800 metres. But in the heat, as Q. said, felt like a spaceship into the sun. Halfway up, we got off to have a look at Soho, and you never know this with HK, whether you’re seeing the recommended or authentic view of a street or place or have gone slightly sideways along the vector of place into a view which may not be yours alone but which will not meet the consensus as to what that place was meant to be like.

HK offers this experience of many-faceted place over and over. Then there’s downright error. What I thought was the Norman Foster Building is not his at all. His looks like a series of meccano spans stuck on the front of an otherwise conventional and modestly sized block. Not far from Central. It is supposed to feature the longest single span escalator in … perhaps a long time? … and is cooled by circulating seawater.

The Soho we saw had food markets, fresh fish and crabs and prawns and clams and abalone, fish like catfish, and surprisingly big fish, some like cod, or gurnard, and rockfish, red and horny, displayed in polystyrene boxes with a network of aerator tubes keeping them fresh, although some, losing ballast, had gone belly up. At least they were alive upside down. It had vege and fruit markets, and pickle and fresh herb stalls all down both sides of several streets, steep streets, with cats, the first we’d really seen here. Pickles in open barrels of large artichoke-type things in a slime of chilli-red. And salted prawns and dried tunny fish, similarly open to the air and available in bulk. Along with the now familiar DIY hardware shops, which sell everything, from coasters for the ubiquitous trolleys – used to ferry stuff about the streets – in every size imaginable, to tap fittings. (Strange that the building-sites use handled buckets more readily than wheeled buckets or boxes or even wheel-barrows.)

Soho also boasted cafes of various sorts and burger bars, but it was the stalls of primary produce that were most compelling.

Having reached the highest point of the Great Escalator, we had to find our way back down again. We had decided should the weather be good we would take a ferry to Lamma Island.

The journey to the ferries took us through a tree-filled gully, with apartment blocks on one side elevated above the steep incline on concrete stilts, maybe twenty metres of stilt before building, and, above the gully, a series of interlocking overpasses, with walkways depending off them, and in its middle, the old gothic-arched hillroad, a bridge over a stream from high in the hills behind HK, the stream coming out of its pipe, and staggered stairs down the water course, and a sign announcing the danger of flash flooding. We followed the stream until it entered a grate, disappearing under the city, along, apparently, with a great many others, to debouch finally into the sea.

We had come to Lan Kwai Fong, just a lane really, but renowned for restaurants and bars. Which the area seemed to be full of, precipitously balanced, as ever, on top of each other, sticking their signage and their aircons out into the streets. Although here there was also bunting advertising brands of liquour and a persistent smell of expensive tippling.

Lamma Island took us away from the eternal stand-off between Hong Kong Syy (side) and Kowloon Syy (side) to the Waiheke of the harbour. Odd to do this. Mad, in the midday sun. Which is appropriate for the sort of place it is: a colonial retreat the Chinese haven’t quite cottoned on to. We were later told that with 1997 many of the Brits went home, but the island still retains an unhealthy number in its overall population of around 10 000.

We were going to Yung Shue Wan because it had been recommended that we walk over the island from there to Sok Kwu Wan, the latter having the better fish restaurants. The recommendation hadn’t reckoned on 32 degree blazing sun. So, after an half hour of warm sea air we set off blindly away from the village at which we’d just arrived … going up one side of the hill to a series of deadends, then down again, and away in the right direction this time, until we discovered that our destination was a further hour away on foot.

It was a beautiful place, chaotic, carless, with path-works ripping up the narrow pavements and half-quad-half-truck things, powered by oversized lawnmower motors – with pull-cords – racing up and down, hither, thither and tooting madly, at pedestrians – on the paths – and further, bicycles, it being an island of bicycles, except that a bicycle is no good for carrying dirt or pipes – and you could see that the drivers of these crazy things were enjoying themselves, cowboys.

Black butterflies flitted across the path to feed on a red honeysuckle. We changed our plans and went to the beach instead.

Hung Shing Yeh beach boasts a full contingent of lifeguards with a lookout made of concrete, rather deco, its colour coordinating with that of the lifeguard building and the two-storey changing rooms, massive, with showers enough for fifty or sixty at a time downstairs. The beach may have been poorly attended, but the uniformed guards kept careful watch over those few who were there. And on the shark net stretched across the bay only a hundred or so metres out.

Thankfully here was some shelter, a belt of trees growing out of the sand, frondy sort of trees. Q. and I swam, J. hid from the blazing burning sun. Wading out through the bottletops, plastic bags and spoons and other objects was slightly offputting, but no more than the warning of the Spanish woman we had passed that there were many little white fish. Are they nibbling? I asked. Naively. Of course she meant jellyfish. Or lice. Or jellyfish invisible like lice.

But I saw no little white fish, felt only the silky swish of plastic bags as they brushed over my calves, and jumped at the slightest indication of a bite, while Q. happily fished out of the sand a series of mystery objects, including a plastic bag and a cable-tie, from the murk. A four-foot murk at most. With waves so predictable as to seem artificial. Simply the wake of a passing… What was that spider type boat? arms out both sides? Was it sucking sludge?

The ambience was further qualified for the beach being overlooked by Lamma Power Station, its three massive chimneys the first thing you see of Lamma Island. A coal-fed plant it powers all of Hong Kong Syy, including its many islands. Lamma Island does however have the ‘territory’s’ first wind-turbine, behind a hill from the beach where we were. The second landmark on approach. 71 metres tall. ‘It is expected that 350 tons of coal could be reduced annually when the turbine starts operation.’

Having almost an hour before our ferry back to HK, we had an excuse not only to dine early but enjoy the cooler air of early evening looking out over the bay at Yung Shue Wan. I had Szechuan chicken with dried fried chilli as a a vegetable. J. fish noodle hotplate. Q. the local fish and chips. And we sipped our gin and tonics. And grilled the waiter about the cost of electricity and the changes brought about by the handing-over of HK to the Chinese. His resentment was mainly towards the Chinese for slapping an extra 20% on energy costs on Hong Kong Syy while subsidising those costs Kowloon Syy.

Ferry and MTR home. Overshooting our destination and having to walk our final night more blocks and blocks of Quarry Bay … again. The street like a moebius strip: landmarks repeating at intervals down it but transferred to the other side. A characteristic of the city to derange sense of place.