Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grooming in Hong Kong

Yes, we are here in Hong Kong, for the second wedding of the century - brother in law to his fiancee. It's on Saturday in Bali. We're flying there tomorrow for five days. So far we've eaten out in most countries of the southern hemisphere (or restaurants selling their food anyway). My geography is not up to scratch but: That's Taiwan, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Korea, china - tea only, and Chinese buffet.

Yesterday was Hub Hub's birthday. He got a programmable universal remote control. It's what he wanted. He had a gorgeous cake at dinner - the best Tiramisu I've ever tasted and at lunchtime they took us up to the revolving restaurant - that was incredible. 62nd floor. Highest I've ever been. Double Decker buses like ants. And you don't want to miss a second.

It's amazing - a shopper's paradise. There is no VAT. There is barely any tax apparently. High rise flats don't seem to have had the negative press that they've had in the UK - every building is a skyscraper. Essentially it's unbridled capitalism - and it seems to work, for us and the eight million others or so. Except there is limited democracy, but as long as there's food on the table then people don't (allegedly) mind. One picture which sticks in my mind is the 'Legislative Council' building - our Houses of Parliament. It is smaller than Hackney Town Hall. It is the only 1910 building still standing in Hong Kong - we know because we bought a panoramic photo from 1910. What is astounding is that this tiny two storey colonial style outpost building is there, overlooking the harbour, and then right next to it is the 'Bank of China' or equivalent - all 82 floors of it - and the same on each side. It is like a pin head in a load of pens. Even more incredible is that in about two months time, this 'Legco' building will no longer overlook the harbour. Because they are filling in that bit of the harbour and building more bank offices. I was laughing about this, imagining if someone wanted to fill in the Thames in front of the House of Commons and build an office block. It does sum it up though - minimal governance and regulation, with money (investment) everywhere you look.

The most striking cultural experience has been seeing the thousands of Filipino maids celebrating their Sundays in 'Central'. They have little picnics in groups - on the balustrades, sitting on the tiles at the bus station. In fact sitting anywhere and everywhere they can. We were walking through on our way to somewhere else. Not a single male face as far as you could see. In one way it is quite unsettling. These people working thousands of miles from home - every one separated from their husband or boyfriend, just to earn a bit of money to send back. Not able to afford a meal out, not even 'congi' the local porridge. Just there, sitting on sheets on the concrete, playing with beads, with other women they know. On the other hand though, it is quite uplifting. They aren't crack addicts or doped up to their eyeballs,getting drunk. All you can hear is quiet chatter as they enjoy their only day off with all their friends, playing parlour games and taking advantage of the spotless infrastructure. Even in the most challenging circumstances, the human spirit can get us through.

The best scene though was when we met the bride to be - she was finishing work early on Monday at lunchtime. We all went to meet her to go for lunch. The look of joy on her face as she met the man, and they embraced. I felt very privileged indeed just to be here and see that.

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