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Mills and Chung Path

Recently I discovered the Mills and Chung path on Hong Kong Island’s south coast. It is very easily accessible and on a nice day is a little gem of a walk. The new South Island MTR line takes you to Ocean Park. From there walk for 10 minutes up the busy Wong Chuk Hang Road towards Repulse Bay past some very expensive housing. Just after the Hong Kong Country Club the path goes down a flight of steps to the sea and the walk begins.



As soon as you get down to the sea there is a wonderful feeling of calm. The wide, level path winds round the coast to Deep Water Bay, past the Victoria Recreation Club and onto the beach.



The beach itself is quite quiet but then it was the middle of winter, although the temperature was 22 and it was a beautiful, clear sunny day. Looking out to sea the Ocean Park cable car is on the right and a variety of small and not so small boats ply their way across the bay. At the far end of the beach the path continues, going round the headland with views back to the beach.
Middle Island and the yacht club come into view as trees and flowers overhang the path.



The path continues round the headland and approaches Repulse Bay. The bay is dominated by expensive tower blocks, one famously with a hole built into it. The colonial Repulse Bay Hotel is still there but barely visible with all the recent developments that includes a major shopping mall.



Just off the beach is a wonderfully, gaudy Tin Hau temple. The Mills and Chung path goes no further and the next part of the journey takes you along South Bay Road until a steep flight of steps takes you up to a path that runs along the contour between South Bay and Repulse Bay Road, allowing for a quiet and leafy walk avoiding the traffic. The path eventually comes out on the busy Repulse Bay Road but it is not long before you reach Chung Hom Kok Road and head off down a long flight of steps and then follow the road round to Ma Hang Park and down into Stanley.



And yet another beach.



One of the beauties of this walk is that you can stop at Deep Water Bay or Repulse Bay and pick up a bus back to Ocean Park, Causeway Bay or Central rather than going all the way to Stanley. A good one to try if you do not feel up to anything too energetic.




New Zealand

You may wonder why I have an article entitled New Zealand listed under 'Hong Kong Diary'. Well, read on.

I recently spent a couple of weeks back in New Zealand having had few trips outside Hong Kong in recent years. To say the least it was an eye opener. From the moment I boarded the Air New Zealand flight to Auckland I was reminded of what I am missing out on by living in Hong Kong. I was putting my bag up in to the luggage rack and realised someone was behind me and turned to see a young man carrying an assortment of bags.. "Sorry, mate," "It's ok, take your time," replied the stranger. As soon as someone says that you get out of their way anyway but living in a place where people can often be in too much of a hurry to see 'excuse me' as they barge past it was very refreshing. Air New Zealand is, more often than not, an entertaining experience as the staff are relaxed and friendly while performing their duties professionally. Fortunately, I had no one sitting next to me and the 11 hour flight to Auckland passed remarkably quickly with the aid of a number of Harry Potter films.

Auckland Airport

It was a bit wet in Auckland so it was onto the terminal transfer bus in Auckland to go over to the domestic terminal for the flight down to Dunedin. For those of you who aren't sure about the world climate, this was the beginning of July and so the middle of winter in New Zealand and I was heading to the far south. Some people think that as NZ is the last significant piece of land before Antarctica it must be a bit on the cold side. Compared to its larger neighbour the climate is much more temperate but you must consider that Dunedin is 45 degrees south which corresponds to the Pyrenees in Europe so NZ is considerably nearer the equator than anywhere in UK. However, it can still be very cold, particularly for a tropical man like myself.

But I digress. Having enjoyed the flight down, picking up the rental car was a hoot with a lot of banter with staff and other renters. And then into the car. The beauty of rental cars is that you always have a newish car to drive although that can be a problem as I do not drive in Hong Kong and have no idea about the latest developments and it was a while before I worked out how to start the car. Out onto the road and after trundling round some side roads for a few km it's out onto State Highway 1 to go up to Dunedin and to my hotel, checkin and a well-earned rest.

Hotel

The first evening I popped out to the local New World supermarket to pick up some food and drink. I stepped inside and couldn't help but smile and took out my phone to take a few photos. Why would I want to take photos of a perfectly ordinary supermarket? If you have been to a supermarket in Hong Kong you would understand. Granted space is at a premium in HK and rents are ridiculously expensive which results in most supermarkets being squeezed into an area the size of a ping pong table with aisles which will just about allow two trolleys to pass side by side but, in order to increase display space, the supermarkets pile up boxes of goods in the aisles so that only one trolley can get past.

Hong Kong Supermarket....
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Not only that, but there is little if anything in the way of a store room and there is no access from behind the shop so deliveries are made through the main entrance an palettes are dumped in the aisles. I have sent photos of this to the relevant government departments but the response has been that they "meet Hong Kong standards", which suggests that HK has third world standards.

But back to New World, Cumberland Street, Dunedin. Oh, the joy. By HK standards, a huge space with a huge variety of high quality fruit, veg and everything else you need. Aisles that must be big enough to allow at least four trolleys to pass side by side but in NZ the trolleys are driven by people who show an awareness for their fellow customers which helps keep the traffic flowing. Apart from the main display shelves there are NO additional displays taking up space in the aisles. Lots of staff around who seem ready to help customers find what they are looking for. And then there's the checkout. It is not uncommon in HK to go to the checkout and while the checkout staff go through the necessary procedures to check out your purchases there is a fair chance they will not acknowledge your presence and may hold a conversation with their friends who may well be the far side of the shop. At New World a nice friendly greeting, check out the goods while a packer packs your bag, purchase complete and off you go.

Space

A recent development in HK supermarkets is the introduction of self-checkouts. About 10 years behind the rest of the world but they have arrived and, judging by my local supermarket in Happy Valley, they picked them up quite cheaply. We have four checkouts shoved into a corner where trolleys and baskets are scattered so that it is very difficult to use more than three of the terminals. If you are foolish enough to buy loose fruit and vegetables you have to find a ticket that matches what you have bought and that is not always easy. If you buy alcohol a red light flashes, this is to help prevent people under the age of 18 buying it, and a message says that a member of staff will come and assist you. This is not true. You have to go in pursuit of staff because no member of staff is on duty in the self-checkout area.

Self checkout
Check out

Despite it being the middle of winter most of the time I was in Dunedin there was blue skies and sunshine, at least during the day. Dunedin is a city of around 130000 people, the population of a couple of buildings in HK but the 7th largest city in New Zealand. It does not take long to get out of the city in search of the countryside and what countryside it is. The Otago peninsula offers winding lanes, dirt roads, isolation, seals, penguins, albatross and a castle, of sorts. The coastline north and south of Dunedin is spectacular with stunning beaches, which in the middle of winter you can have more or less to yourself, bar the odd dog taking a hearty soul for a walk. Travelling inland there are even wilder and more deserted spots. With almost artificially blue skies, the likes of which have long since departed from Hong Kong, clean air and unassuming, friendly people and roads so quiet you start to wonder if you've driven past a road closed sign.

Brighton
Brighton

Near Hoopers inlet
Hoopers Inlet

So New Zealand is picture perfect with so much going for it why on earth do I live in Hong Kong? It's a good question and one I ask myself many times and there are all sorts of reasons but I might discuss those another time.

Riots and ridicule

These are interesting times in Hong Kong. Despite it being one of the safest and least violent cities in the world we are experiencing almost daily protests which invariably lead to a violent conclusion. What has led us to this situation? Well, I might have to skip a few details but I will to try to explain my understanding of what has been going on.

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 having been in British hands since 1842. Chris Patten was the last governor of Hong Kong and tried to introduce an element of democracy. It wasn't much but it did give the population the idea it had some role to play in electing its government. Having had control of the place for 150 years it seemed a little late in the day to try to introduce democracy and it was bound to annoy the Chinese government who agreed to introduce the idea of one country two systems, so that while Hong Kong would belong to China in 1997 the agreement guaranteed that Hong Kong could enjoy a degree of autonomy and that socialism practised in the mainland China would not be extended to Hong Kong and Hong Kong would continue its capitalist system and way of life.

Although Patten introduced a degree of democracy the CEO has to be a candidate approved by Beijing. It may be cruel to say it but that rules out anyone with imagination and a desire to change anything. Don't rock the boat and toe the party line are the orders of the day. As each CEO has come and gone the willingness to fall into bed with Beijing has increased and their popularity with HK people has declined.

There had been calls for the CEO to be elected by the public or at least not just the hand picked pool of 1200 Beijing stalwarts and refusal to do this led to the Occupy Central movement which paralysed Hong Kong in 2014 but which fizzled out without bringing any changes. Our current CEO, Carrie Lam, took over with promises of listening to the public. Elections took place and a number of democrats were voted in to the Legislative Council (Legco) but foolishly decided to make protests during their swearing in ceremony. The government jumped on this as an opportunity to disqualify these legislators.

A few people spoke of Hong Kong declaring independence from China and such is China's paranoia that the party was banned and any discussion of independence was declared illegal with letters going to schools warning them not to allow any discussion of the subject. An erosion into freedom of speech.
When by-elections were eventually arranged candidates were vetted and any who had had anything to do with independence were barred from standing for election.

A Hong Kong man was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan, returned to Taiwan and, with no extradition treaty in place Lam used this as a reason to introduce an extradition bill which would allow suspected criminals to be returned to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. The mainland legal system is not one that is trusted and all sorts of organisations and individuals advised Lam not to go ahead with the bill. Unfortunately, her advisers told her to carry on and, with the demolition of any effective opposition, Lam knew she had sufficient support in Legco to push the bill through. Democrats attempts to delay the bill in committee merely encouraged Lam to bypass the discussion stage and put it straight to Legco.

At this point a frustrated public took to the streets and an estimated 1 million people marched on June 9th demanding that the bill be withdrawn and that Lam should step down. Her response was to say that she was going ahead anyway. She was clearly not going to listen to peaceful protest and so the inevitable happened three days later when a protest turned violent. Immediately Lam said the bill was suspended. The protests on June 12th ended up with some violence and there were a lot of complaints about over reaction by the police, over use of pepper spray and tear gas, and concerns that some of the police did not have visible numbers on the uniforms, which is illegal, but was explained away by the head of the police in that they were wearing new uniforms and there was no room to put the numbers.

The following week, June 16th, a march made up mainly of students and young people and with an estimated 2 million people, quietly walked through the streets repeating demands for the bill to be withdrawn, for Lam to step down and for there to be an independent enquiry into the behaviour of the police.

Realising that she had got things very wrong Lam apologised for the fact that she and her cabinet had misjudged the feelings of the people, or at least she said sorry, promised to listen to the people and to do better in the future. But the bill was not withdrawn and Lam was clearly not going to step down.

Since then the protests have continued and have become increasingly violent while Lam has virtually disappeared and, despite what she said, only seems to listen to her pro-Beijing advisers. Last week a gang of around 100 white-shirted men attacked all and sundry at a railway station and evidence would suggest that they were organised and paid for by people close to the government and/or the police.

Many members of the public are fed up with the violence and damage to property, the Legco building was invaded and damaged, and want the police to take a harder line and have organised pro-police marches. Lam and friends have said little other than that we must say no to violence.

From the demonstrators point of view, the continuing violence and changing tactics ensure that Hong Kong remains in the international news. Although many people are demanding that Lam takes some action her inaction is paying off in that the demonstrators are becoming unsure of what to focus on and many members of the public just want everything to get back to normal.

By focusing on the violence people are ignoring the real issues.

Lamma Island

When I want to go out but am not sure where to go Lamma Island is a likely place for me to end up. It has so much to offer: sleepy villages, bustling villages, beautiful beaches, lush vegetation, good walking, history, a good mix of local and overseas culture and a lot of food outlets.

Yim tin Tsai

Sai Kung is the nearest thing to a seaside resort town in Hong Kong overlooking a beautiful harbour, dotted with a range of attractive and hilly islands. On a clear day there can't be many better views. Along the water front are numerous seafood restaurants, touts for harbour tours, a drummer and other entertainers and the occasional farmers' market.

Sai Kung harbour

Away from the waterfront are some interesting back streets, pubs, a fish and chip shop, temples and lanes to explore. Sai Kung's biggest problem is that it is unique in Hong Kong, getting bigger all the time and struggles to cope with the number of people and the influx of cars.

Back streets

Along the waterfront are numerous places where you can book a boat out to one of the islands in the harbour. One that I like to go to is Yim Tin Tsai. People have moved away from the smaller islands onto the mainland and into the cities in search of wealth as it has become increasingly difficult to make a decent living. Yim Tin Tsai is a perfect example of this in that people had left the island to the point that it was virtually deserted. A Catholic community decided to buy much of the property on the island and it now has a new lease of life.

The journey to the island on the rainbow ferry is pleasant and relaxing, with the captain slowing the boat down as we floated through a school of small jelly fish and other attractions.

First impressions of the island are very positive. By the pier is an old building that has been renovated to be a museum and excellent cafe...

Yim Tin Tsai pier

...which provides a wonderful outdoor seating area where you can sip coffee and admire the view back to Sai Kung town.

Cafe

A path winds up from the pier past derelict houses and houses that have been renovated and are now used for weekend camps and meeting places for the Catholic community.

Derelict houses

At the top of the hill is a small church that has been renovated well.

Church

At the top of the next hill is a grave yard with views across to the island of Kau Sai Chau, where there is a municipal golf course.

View from graveyard

The island needs an income and much of that comes from salt pans that have been claimed back from the mangroves.

Salt pans

While there is not that much to see on the island it makes for a pleasant walk and a great escape from the city. But the fun is not over as the journey back provides some extra excitement. Rather than going straight back to Sai Kung the boat heads south and round the bottom of Sharp Island where the sea is a little less calm and the boat pauses to allow passengers to look at the caves and rock formations.

Caves, Sharp Island

The rest of the journey provides good views of Sai Kung...

Ferry boat

...and Ma On Shan mountain behind it.

Ma On Shan

Highly recommended for a pleasant and relaxing afternoon out.

Israel Folau

Rants Free speech in Hong Kong is becoming a cause for concern so I thought the story of Israel Folau was of particular interest.

Folau, for those of you who do not know him, is, currently, the number one rugby union player in Australia. He also happens to have strong Christian beliefs and publishes items to that effect on his Facebook page. Despite having been warned about putting up offensive items before, he recently published a biblical quotation indicating that, for drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters hell awaits them unless they repent.

In this era of being offended, people were offended and he is in danger of losing his lucrative, $4 million Australian dollar contract. When you consider the behaviour of some rugby players both on and off the field, Folau lives a pretty blameless life. As other writers have said, he doesn’t beat up his wife nor does he take part in questionable after match practices with young women in bars and yet few who commit such offences are hit with such a serious penalty as Folau is facing.

There are numerous issues here. Most of us believe in free speech but probably all agree that a line must be drawn somewhere and the writings of white supremacists and Nazi sympathisers tend to be seen as being the other side of that line.

Now Mr Folau’s views and beliefs definitely do not coincide with mine but if he believes in an imaginary friend that is entirely up to him. I know people whom I imagined were friends but turned out not to be but they aren't deities whatever they might like to think. If Mr Folau feels the need to declare his beliefs and express his opinions to the whole world, that is up to him. I would not be happy if someone told me that I could not express my opinions online but when you know you are going to offend people, should you still go ahead and express your opinions? Politicians do it all the time and they would be unlikely to achieve much if they didn’t offend at least 50% of the population at some point or other so at least a modicum of offence is both acceptable and almost a requirement in their case!

I probably fit into at least three of Mr Folau’s categories for hell and damnation. Am I offended? No, I am not, not even slightly, why should I be offended? It’s Mr Folau’s opinion, I don't believe in hell and damnation so I have nothing to be afraid of so it's really only Christians who would be worried and, I would assume, they already have an idea of what the bible says. If he had said that he will make it his goal in life to send all members of the offending categories to the hereafter by chopping off their heads, then I think he may have crossed that invisible line but he has said nothing of the sort. As far as I am concerned, Mr Folau is misguided but I am sure he would say the same about me, as would a lot of other people but his post was hardly offensive unless you want to be offended.

Rugby Australia has decided that he has broken a code of conduct having already been warned about the things he has posted online. That is a different issue entirely from freedom of speech and it’s for RA and their lawyers to decide but, in my opinion, they are wrong and are jumping on the “I want to be offended” band wagon. Are people right to say they will not play against a team if Israel Folau was in it? Sounds pretty daft to me. When team lists are published and shown to the opposition should they include a summary of the players' political and religious beliefs together with anything about which they feel strongly or whether they have cats in case a member of the opposition has a cat allergy. Of course not.

But, as a final word, Mr Folau likes to quote from the bible so, while he tries to protect his $4 million contract he should spare a moment to consider Matthew 19:23-26 (and similar passages in Mark and Luke) “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. So, if the bible is true, mate, you are set to spend eternity with the homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters. Good luck with that.

Pak Lap

Having been in Hong Kong a long time it becomes increasingly difficult to find new places to go and the new places become increasingly inaccessible. Last Saturday I took the train and bus to Sai Kung then another bus to Pak Tam Chung on the edge of Sai Kung Country Park and then a taxi down High Island Reservoir to Pak Lap. The taxi drops you at the side of the road from where a path leads down to Pak Lap village. It must be appreciated that the village, like many villages in Hong Kong, has no road access, the road has no public transport and the only other access is by sea, so this is, in Hong Kong terms, fairly remote.

Pak Lap Village

The path down to the village is well maintained and the village was a surprise as someone is clearly trying to breathe some life back into it. There are new buildings and two rows of cottages painted in pastel colours provide a surprisingly bright and cheerful outlook. A short way past the village you reach Pak Lap Wan (Pak Lap Bay) with a wide expanse of sand and an outlook towards Town Island and the open sea. A small eatery served a surprisingly good cup of coffee and I sat with a Buddha looking out to sea while struggling with the day's crossword.

Pak Lap bay

Back to the village I found the path to the next 'village', Tung A. The path climbed over the headland and down to Tung A which had a large hall a few restaurants and a number of fishing and pleasure boats.

Pak A

Following the path round the coast brought me to Pak A, a near deserted village by the sea where I came across what looked like the setting for a wedding, despite the remoteness of the location, with chairs set out on the pier and tables outside traditional looking village houses.

Restaurant

Just past the pier the path petered out and it was necessary to fight through undergrowth and climb over fallen trees to enter the small path that led across to the next village at Shek Tsai Wan and the path became increasingly overgrown as I struggled towards the top.

Overgrown

Shek Tsai Wan is a magnet for pleasure junks with accompanying loud music and revelry. There were buildings by the waterside which used to provide a bar but appeared derelict and empty. My intention wast to continue walking round the coast back to Pak Tam Chung but after fighting my way along an overgrown path on an uneven surface, over rocks, through plants that grabbed at my clothes and legs and at one point twisted my ankle I was getting worried. Shortly after this, the path disappeared. I slogged up and down the hillside a few times without success.

Shek Tsai Wan

At this point I had to make a decision. I was down to two bottles of water, there was no signal on the mobile phone, it was 30 degrees, I was not sure that, even if I found a path now, whether it would disappear again later. But if I turned round and retraced my steps it could take 3 to 4 hours to get back. There was no ferry service, I was on my own and while I had spoken to one or two people on the way, no one really knew where I was. I had visions of breaking a leg and becoming another statistic and a line in the news about a hiker lost in the HK countryside. I was down to my last bottle of water and the real possibility of collapsing into the undergrowth and dying of dehydration with my body remaining undiscovered for the next 6 months became a serious consideration.

With that thought in mind I turned back and retraced my steps to the ex-bar and then bushwhacked my way back up the hill, battling my way through the undergrowth and climbing over the fallen trees. With the last drop of water consumed I reached the end of the path and fought my way out to find myself - at the wedding party.

Candy and Eddit

It was 3pm. I approached a small bar manned by a kindly looking Philippina woman. "Could I have a drink, please?" "Of course, what would you like?" What relief! I was handed two bottles of well-chilled water. A middle-aged English woman came over to talk to me and explained my situation, to which she was very sympathetic. "It will take at least half an hour to walk up to the road and you are unlikely to find a taxi so it will take at least 2 hours to get back to a bus route. If you care to sit down and rest we have a boat going back to Sai Kung at 4.30."

Rest area

I was going to live! I slumped down in the rest area while Candy and Eddie were married out on the pier. The ladies in charge of the restaurant told me that they ran the place for private functions. It was simply but elegantly furnished and with unspoilt views across the bay, a remote and romantic place for a couple to be married.

Wedding

And then at 4.30 I climbed aboard the boat for an exhilarating ride back to Sai Kung. A trip to be remembered as are most near death experiences.

Return to Sai Kung

India

This year I hired a team of programmers in India to help with my work. We have been working together since February but had only ever spoken on Skype. The quality of Skype calls is not always good and accents can make audio calls hard to understand at times so it made a lot of sense to go over to India to meet the team and spend some time working together.

I've never been to India before so this was going to be a whole new experience. I was warned of the possible assault on my digestive system, the likelihood of being relieved of cash and the inevitability of being approached to buy things or services I neither wanted nor needed. As partial protection against all these alleged horrors I booked a room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Pune and flew Cathay Pacific premium economy to Mumbai.

The flight was good and they served a superb curry. Mumbai airport is modern, clean and smart, which was good as my flight to Pune wasn't for another 10 hours. On arrival I had to head straight for the toilet. Whether this was due to the curry or nervous anticipation. Not to dwell on the state of my bowels I must digress for a moment to talk about Indian toilets. The Indians, and many SE Asian countries, put a fire hose by the toilet, so that once you have done what you need to do you clean up with a refreshing jet from a water cannon. Compare that with the western approach of just rubbing your hairy backside with paper, effectively rubbing it into your skin. Not ideal.

Anyway, I moved onto immigration. Big arrow "first class and business class", I walked on to, "economy" and I joined the queue. Ten minutes later an official spotted the documents I was holding - "counter 55 for eVisas". I walked on to counter 55, where most of the other foreign visitors were lined up. Fortunately it was not just counter 55 but as it required fingerprints, and photographs it was another before I got through.

Still 9 hours to wait. I went to the airport hotel. One room left, a suite, around US$200, no thanks, but they suggested I tried the lounge downstairs. There I was able to get some peace and quiet and a pod to sleep in. At 5am Mumbai time I woke up, showered and changed and went off to kill a bit of time. Outside looked quite nice with some colourful fountains and food stalls so I stepped outside and looked around for a while before heading back inside. One thing I had noticed more or less as soon as I arrived was that there were a lot of armed soldiers wandering around and on trying to get back in I was faced with a large soldier behind whom was another with a machine gun. I had no passport, no ID, nothing to show that I was staying at the lounge and there was no way I was getting back in. Fortunately, the lounge was on the ground floor and I was able to jump up and down outside the window until someone spotted me and came out with a piece of paper. I was then sent to another gate where I was scanned for explosives and was then allowed to enter.

With my next flight to Pune I thought I might as well head out to the domestic terminal. I prepaid the taxi and was given a number and went down to the taxi rank where my taxi was not. People rallied round and made calls and eventually my taxi arrived and whisked me through the streets of Mumbai to the domestic terminal. Found my boarding pass and handed it into the soldier at the door who pointed out that I was at the wrong terminal and that my Jet Airways flight went from the international terminal.

I took another taxi back to international where I was greeted by a Jet Airways official who suggested I might like to use the business class lounge. I did and very nice it was too.

Lounge Mumbai airport

Eventually my, delayed, flight to Pune was ready to go. The flight was 25 minutes and, having waited 10 hours I realised I could have gone by taxi in 3 hours, but now I was on the plane and was ready to enjoy the views. There were none. Mumbai was shrouded in haze in much the same way as Hong Kong tends to be.

Mumbai haze

To make sure I didn't have to fight with taxi touts at Pune I had booked a taxi and had discussed my intended destination at some length on WhatsApp before leaving Hong Kong and it was a relief to see my name on a board in the arrival hall and even more of a relief to be dropped at the Hyatt Hotel..... except it was the wrong Hyatt Hotel. I was booked at the Hyatt Regency, which is what I had told the taxi but everything was fine, the receptionist told me to sit down, they would bring me a coffee and then take me to the right hotel, which they duly did. Turned out to be a good choice as the hotel was excellent and I knew that, whatever else happened in the next few days, I had an oasis to return to. At last something was going right!

Hyatt Regency Pune

That afternoon, Amulay, my contact in Pune, picked me from the hotel and drove me to his office. Driving in Pune is exciting to say the least. If there's a gap, go for it. As far as motorbikes are concerned, red lights are merely suggestions and pedestrians walk calmly across the road as mayhem passes either side. Hong Kong is crowded and everyone drives round in big cars, Pune is crowded and everyone drives round in small to medium sized cars, most of which have a fine array of dents and scratches or whizz around on small motor bikes. While cars and pedestrians seem expendable, rrees, on the other hand, are well respected and at least one road had a tree about a metre from the pavement with motorbikes, passing either side.

Pune traffic

Equally well respected were the cattle which could bring traffic to an uncomplaining standstill.

Cattle on the road

The office was quiet and functional. At least a dozen programmers worked in the computer room and eyed me with some interest. I spent most of the time in the conference room, working with various groups of programmers. The staff were great and very friendly. I must admit that accents were a bit of a struggle but we got on well and time was used productively.

Amulay took me out in the evening to Prem's restaurant, somewhere in Pune, where we spent a very enjoyable few hours, eating, drinking and getting to know each other.

Amulay

Not sure what to expect I only booked for a few days. I would have happily stayed at the hotel a lot longer and, having been well looked after, I would have no worries about a return visit.







Car horns

Rants I live on the high street in a part of Hong Kong called Happy Valley. On numerous occasions every day someone sounds their car horn, often for extended periods. For some reason drivers seem to think that traffic jams will clear faster the longer they sound the car horn but do they think that the only ones who will hear their horn are the ones who are blocking the road?

I was aware that, in other developed countries such as UK and NZ, sounding the horn is illegal except in an emergency so I was surprised to find that regulations in Hong Kong say exactly the same thing: Under regulation 43, a driver shall not use any audible warning device on a vehicle on a road except to warn any person on or near a road of danger. A traffic jam hardly meets this definition.

Sounding the car horn is illegal and selfish but for some reason we tolerate it on a daily basis. I know the police have plenty of more important things to worry about but I wonder when the last prosecution for honking took place. I don't expect a police crackdown but it would be nice to think that drivers could give a little thought to others before they honk.


Lai Chi Wo

There are some parts of Hong Kong which are very inaccessible. The north east corner is particularly remote. There is a group of islands which most Hong Kongers will never see and which can only be accessed by ferries from Sha Tau Kok which, although part of Hong Kong is actually out of bounds and only accessible with the appropriate permit.

Lai Chi Wo is a village in the north east which is only accessible by a long trip to the north east countryside and then a walk of up to two hours or a once-a-week ferry ride which only runs at 9am on Sunday or by bus to one of the remotest parts of Hong Kong and then a 2 hour hike.

I got up early and took the train to University Station. I was a bit concerned when I found thousands of people at the station marching off on the same route as myself to Ma Liu Shui pier. Fortunately, they were all heading off on a walk while I got on the ferry, although that too was packed. The journey to Lai Chi Wo takes 90 minutes and travels the full length of Tolo Harbour. This starts opposite Ma On Shan new town...

ma on shan

...and quickly moves into very remote, inaccessible parts of the territory.

ma on shan

At the end of Tolo Harbour the ferry takes a sharp left and then slows down dramatically to pass through the narrow channel between Double Island and the mainland.

ma on shan

Past a water sports centre on Double Island onto a view of a small community on Crooked Island and then to the pier at Lai Chi Wo.

ma on shan

Lai Chi Wo is another remote village from which almost all the occupants have left in search of a better life elsewhere. But in a moment of inspiration someone in the government decided that the village should not be allowed to die. The village has been preserved and a geoheritage centre and nature trail have been added so that it is now a popular tourist attraction on Sundays. The village itself is backed by a large fung shui wood and is surrounded by a fung shui wall which has brought the village its share of good luck over the years.

fung shui wall

Outside the walled village is a large open area in front of a temple where the villagers set up stalls selling food to the visitors.

open space

While the villagers must enjoy the money that the visitors bring I am sure they aren't so impressed by the crassness of some of the visitors. While I was there a large party from a Hong Kong school arrived, marshalled by a teacher with loud hailer who organised the group photo with the huge banner advertising the school. Personally, I would have thought that with displays of such insensitivity it would be better not to advertise.

Having gorged myself on snacks and the inevitable tofu fa, a soy bean blancmange with ginger syrup I started the walk back, deciding not to make use of the return ferry. Foolishly, I thought the path would be a gentle walk around the coast but there were a number of uphill slogs, usually involving a flight of steps. Along the way I passed through a number of deserted villages.

yung shue au

In Yung Shue Au, there were a number of men with chain stores, cutting down and burning off vegetation. A man, with a very English accent, told me that he had grown up in the village, gone away to UK and now worked in Hong Kong. He hoped to renovate enough of the village to be able to spend some time there each year. But the problem was that everything was overgrown, a tree grew out of one house, and there were no services, no water, no electricity, no sewerage, no telephone, no road so not a great prospect.

Over the hill and back down to the coast with views across to Sha Tau Kok which, although part of Hong Kong, is out of bounds unless you have an appropriate permit. I have yet to work out why this is the case.

sha tau kok

This eventually leads back to Luk Keng, a village which most people know for a collection of restaurants and a minibus back to civilisation.

luk keng

I don't care where you live but I think it would be hard to have a comparable day out anywhere in the world. Hong Kong offers so much variety, culture and friendly, interesting people in such a small area. Despite its small size, the vistas offered in some of the more remote parts are extensive and spectacular and, for a government that only seems interested in the annual surplus, it is fantastic that, at least some parts of the territory are deemed worth preserving.

Anthems

Rants Not everyone in Hong Kong is terribly keen on being part of China and China has done many things in recent years to make people less than happy to be taken into the fold of our brothers north of the border. One way in which people have made their dislike of the mainland government felt is by booing the national anthem at football matches. This has not gone down well and the Chinese government has introduced legislation regarding the use and performance of the national anthem. People can't just play the national anthem whenever they want, only on special occasions. You also have to stand up straight and adopt a solemn attitude. Despite one-country, two-systems, Hong Kong will have to enact its own version of this law. Most of us will chuckle at the idea of being told how to perform the national anthem but them up north are a bit sensitive.

In recent weeks I have ben watching the Four Nations rugby championship from the southern hemisphere. As with most sporting events these matches start with the performance of the national anthems of the two teams. These days, the anthems are all part of the entertainment. Argentina is one of the teams and their national anthem is more like an act from an opera, with a very long introduction and a melody that defeats all but a few. In Argentina this was performed a cappella by half a dozen opera singers, providing the orchestral introduction and then breaking into song. The crowd joined in, each in their own key, time and probably their own words. It was great fun, chaotic, full of passion and a number of players had tears in their eyes by the end.

Argentinian Anthem

The other national anthems were performed with equal passion. It should be pointed out that the singers perform live. The Chinese national anthem seems to consist of one standard recording that is played every time. Lacks a bit of feeling. There is no way that you could describe the renditions of the anthems at the rugby as being solemn and I'm pretty sure there was more than one person in a rabbit costume roaring away at the top of their voice.

No one tells the people in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa how to sing their anthems, nor when they can be performed. People are happy to take part and are proud to support their countries. If you have to tell people to show respect then there is something very wrong, which is the case with China. Any teacher or parent will know that, these days, you cannot demand respect just because of your position. Respect has to be earned and respect is not the same as fear. Unfortunately the Chinese government thinks that stamping its feet and having a temper tantrum will result in everyone suddenly falling in love with the motherland. I think not!

Housing

Rants The housing problem won't go away. Every week there is some reference to the housing shortage and how to solve it. The government is going to offer starter homes for the middle classes and has said it will not destroy the country parks in order to build more houses, much to the delight of many and the chagrin of a considerable number. No, they plan to reclaim more land from the sea.

Now, Beijing has its problems too but they have recently announced that 23 million people is enough and have announced a population cap, there's no more room. In Hong Kong we can keep building more houses, and making smaller and smaller flats for a long time yet, but perhaps we should take Beijing's lead on this one. You can argue that if people do not have anywhere to live then their quality of life is compromised but the destruction of the environment also reduces the quality of people's lives. At some point, you have to draw a line.

In the 28 years I have been in HK, the country parks have become more widely used. Some will say that there are plenty of areas of the country parks that are not used, so why not develop them. Just having the bits you use is not enough. If people use a path but do not venture off to the sides does it mean it is reasonable to develop the bits alongside the path? Of course it isn't.

I have just returned from a trip to Macau which has a few bits of remaining woodland and hillside but these are just tiny islands in a sea of huge casinos. While any bit of greenery is nice it doesn't give the Macanese much chance from the metropolis which is Macau and Zhuhai. Hong Kong is a pleasant place to live because it has such wonderful countryside in which to escape.

There are areas of farmland in HK that are no longer used and there are calls to develop those but the same argument applies, they do provide a bit of greenery and we need a few plants to absorb a bit of pollution. There are other sites in HK which are referred to as brownfield, which are sites that may have been used for some form of industry and may be polluted in some way. These sites could be looked at, as could all the old, rotting factory buildings which are emptying as HK is no longer a base for manufacturing.

Despite the housing shortage the government is looking to import people from overseas to care for our ageing population. You would have thought that, out of 7.5 million people, we could find one or two who could take this on. The trouble is, it is not glamorous and is not well-paid. We would rather reward hedge-fund managers, bankers, lawyers, accountants, etc. with ludicrous amounts of cash while people who care for the elderly earn very little so we have to look overseas. That will help the housing shortage.

Is there a housing shortage? Let me rephrase the question, is there a home shortage? How many people have multiple houses but they are mainly for investment. Many, I believe, are unoccupied. I was looking to buy something for myself recently and visited two nice flats that had been empty since they were built 10 years ago. Prices here are astronomical so it is very difficult to save enough money for a deposit so, to some extent, building more houses is in the hope that more people will be able to afford to buy their own.

Destroying the environment, be it reclaiming land from the sea or clearing areas of country park is irreversible. Is there any form of long-term plan or are we just going to keep building?

Wolf Warrior 2

This morning I had a ticket to see the new Chinese film that has been received well in China, Wolf Warrior 2 (WW2), and trotted off to the Palace in Kwun Tung for the 9am showing.

Jing Wu directed the film and also plays the hero Leng Feng who, from the opening scene in which he saves a ship from pirates off the coast of Africa, he is an indestructible, one-man army. To be honest, I really don't enjoy action movies. As soon as there is an explosion in slow motion I can be fairly sure that a film is not likely to be to my liking. Another technique I hate in films is the overuse of flashback, and WW2 overuses it. The whole thing could be described as a Jean-Claude van Chan movie, no better, no worse.

It seemed like any other action movie, other than that the heroes were all Chinese. The action came thick and fast with the soundtrack consisting mainly of gunfire and explosions and the film's blood budget must have been more than some countries' economies.

On the positive side, most of the death and destruction avoided being too gruesome, so no flying heads, and, other than the flashbacks to Leng's fiance being killed, the film did not waste time on romantic scenes that do nothing to move the story forward. For the most part, the action rarely let up.

It would be fair to say that a lot of films produced in the USA and UK are very patriotic and during World War II, clearly served as propaganda, but these days we tend to expect propaganda to be a little less direct. WW2 is Chinese propaganda which becomes increasingly less subtle, leading to the finale which is likely to leave non-Chinese open-mouthed in amazement.

The film is set in an African country which is going through an armed revolution and a number of Chinese nationals are trapped up country and need to be rescued. There were a number of references to the help that China gives to African countries and how the Chinese are friendly, popular and peace-loving. No real difference from an American film although the bit where the PLA officer explained that the PLA was unable to take any action because they didn't have the permission of the UN seemed particularly amusing.

My main interest in the film before I saw it was that the female lead was played by Celina Jade, who I taught at Island School many years ago. It was hard to judge her acting ability as she was mainly there to be an attractive female lead but it was great to see someone I actually knew up on the big screen.

Towards the end as Leng Feng leads the rescued party back to safety they come to the edge of a town through which they must pass and where opposing sides are shooting each other. Our hero stops the convoy and, using his arm as a flag pole, holds up the Chinese flag for all to see. Both warring factions call out, "It's ok, it's the Chinese". The firing stops and the convoy passes through unharmed.

If fingers were not far enough down the throat by then the final image on the screen was of a Chinese passport with the reassuring caption that wherever you are in the world the PLA will be there to help you.

Supermarkets

Rants Whenever I go overseas and return to HK I find it unbelievable that we do not make more of a fuss about our appalling supermarkets. In fact, super, is hardly an appropriate adjective.

UK has a range of excellent supermarkets, e.g. Sainsburys, Waitrose, Tesco, ASDA, Lidl. New Zealand has New World, Countdown, Woolworths, and there will be a similar lists of supermarket chains in other countries. We have Wellcome, where you are often not, and Park n Shop where you can't park and shopping can be a challenge. There are some smaller players but generally, the HK supermarket scene is restricted to these two. Of course, Park n Shop and Wellcome provide their premium outlets, such as International, Market Place and Fusion, but they are essentially the same shops and suffer from the same problems, they just have less blood and sawdust on the floor.

So what’s wrong with our supermarkets? Compared to overseas chains our supermarkets are too small. They may be designed so that the aisles may be wide enough for two trolleys to pass but shops pile up boxes in the aisles with products that may be on offer.

boxes

boxes

So instead of being wide enough for two trolleys the aisles become wide enough for just one trolley. I have no doubt that legislation in other countries would consider such practices as dangerous, if not illegal.

Add to that, the staff stocking the shelves seem to be of the opinion that the shop is there to give them employment rather than to serve customers and do little to make way for shoppers. Trolleys containing the goods being stacked may be left around the shop, usually in a haphazard manner so that they block the aisles. It is so tempting to shunt them to another part of the shop.

Most of our supermarkets have small stock rooms and no access other than through the front door whereas those overseas may have stock rooms half the size of the shop. Delivery trucks block the roads. Trolleys laden with new stock have to be pushed from the truck into the shop through the same door that customers are trying to enter and leave, usually by men who just want to get the job done and really aren't too interested in the customers. And what happens to the stock once inside the shop? Trolleys and boxes are piled up and customers find themselves removing boxes to get at the products hidden on the shelves behind them. Combined with the display boxes and the shelf stackers there isn't a lot of space left and the aisles that started off wide enough for two trolleys can be reduced to being wide enough for no trolleys.

deliveries

Having fought your way past the display boxes, the delivered stock and the shelf-stackers you head for the checkout. Some shops may be generously provided with six checkouts, of which three may even be open, while queues of 15-20 people tail back past the shelves providing additional obstructions for shoppers to negotiate. The staff on the tills, not surprisingly, do not give the impression that they enjoy their work. Quite often they will be holding conversations with their colleague at the neighbouring checkout or shouting to another across the far side of the shop. Eye contact and smiles are noticeably absent, and who can blame them, not a job I would want, but a bit of interaction with customers would probably improve the experience for both staff and customers. 

checkout

But do we need all these staff on the checkouts? Here, as in other areas, Hong Kong has failed to make use of technology which is widely used elsewhere. Modern supermarkets have self-checkouts with maybe 10 or more checkout stations supervised by one or two members of staff to deal with problems. With so many checkouts it is rare to have the long waits that we suffer from here.

self checkout

But people will say this is all well and good but other countries have more space to build bigger supermarkets and rents are not as high as they are here. This is undeniably true but, as with many situations in Hong Kong, problems could be solved if there was a willingness to deal with issues. But let's be realistic, our supermarkets will continue to be second-rate as they have a relative monopoly and little incentive to change.

So, let's provide that incentive to change. On our supermarket shelves, we see products from Waitrose, Carrefour and other European chains. Instead of just having their products on the shelves, how about inviting some of these major players to set up in Hong Kong? The government seems able to find sites to give away to expensive international schools so how about they offer a plot of land to Sainsburys or another overseas supermarket chain? A plot of land big enough to allow them to build a large supermarket with plenty of parking, perhaps somewhere central such as Sha Tin. Hong Kong people could then experience a proper supermarket without having to go to China or overseas.

Even those without cars might find it worthwhile to make the trip. All new towns should have similar facilities. The government could provide some incentives to encourage overseas chains to come here. What they must NOT do is to allow one of our existing supermarkets to take advantage of such an offer as we need the competition and Park n Shop and Wellcome need to see how it should be done. With serious competition, we might actually see some improvement in our local supermarkets.

Imagination

Rants Complaints about the poor standard of our taxi service and the introduction of Uber did not cause our government to shake up the taxi industry and insist that standards improve. Instead the plans are to introduce a premium service for which we will pay more.

Complaints that our hospitals A&E services are being misused led to the proposed increase in the fee from $100 to $180 for using the service plus the suggestion that more people should use private medicine.

Complaints that our landfills are being filled up too quickly did not bring about improved recycling facilities nor restrictions on the amount of packaging that manufacturers use but did result in the proposed waste management fee, which will be a great deterrent for those who choose to dump their rubbish in the streets, which they do at the moment despite there being no charge.

Complaints about the amount of illegal parking have led to a proposed increase in parking fines from $320 to $400, as if the wealthy are really going to be bothered, particularly when you compare the cost of paying parking fines to the cost of parking legally in one of our multi-storey car parks.

And to solve complaints about the so-called housing crisis the government introduces measures to make it more expensive to borrow money for a second apartment and yet people are still queuing up to add to their collection.

I think we can see a bit of a pattern here. Charging more will solve will all our problems, or at least that’s what the government would like us to think. Do we see improvement in any of these situations? Of course not. Fines are not the answer.

The government seems unable, or unwilling, to analyse the real cause of problems and lacks the imagination and the will to stand up against vested interests and the rich and powerful. In a bizarre article in this morning’s South China Morning Post, Alex Lo argues that, it is right to look at building houses in the country parks, despite there being plenty of other land on which to build, because the government is too spineless to stand up against the landowners and the Heung Yee Kuk.

With Carrie Lam’s cabinet waiting in the wings likely to deliver more of the same, the situation is not encouraging. We need strong government with initiative and imagination that is prepared to fight for what is right but people like that probably would not go down too well with Beijing.