Truth be known, when it comes to Hong Kong skies, it’s quite possible there are considerably more than 50 shades of grey.
Unlike the best-selling book people have been tripping over themselves to discreetly (or not) rip off the shelves, Hong Kong’s skies are a little more, shall we say, unpredictable.
Pollution is a problem here with a capital P.
Just like that box of chocolates in Forrest Gump, you never know what your gonna get!
Local newspapers regularly spout headings like:
“Hong Kong chokes under ‘worst’ pollution”
“Hong Kong smog worst in 2 years”
“Is Hong Kong’s pollution driving expats away?”
For 30 per cent of the year, visibility is less than eight kilometres and there are days, like today, I can’t quite work out if it’s about to rain or I’m just witnessing a thick blanket of smog hanging over the city’s famous skyline.
Asthma and bronchial infections are at an all time high and the government’s Air Pollution Index sends out hourly updates. The verdict is often “stay indoors.” Don’t try to do battle with the elements here – they pack a mean punch! (It’s a fairly fortunate thing I’m able to get to Starbucks and Zara from my home ‘without’ going outside.)
Why so extreme? Well Hong Kong’s coal-fired power stations and heavy volumes of traffic are in the firing line.
There are 20,000-plus taxis in this heaving metropolis, trawling the city, bumper to bumper, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (why is it, whenever I need one, none have vacancy lights on!)
My taxi woes aside, locals prefer to lay the pollution blame squarely at the tens of thousands of factories puffing out toxic fumes in neighbouring mainland China.
Folks, if the wind’s blowing south – we’re more than likely in for a heavy shade of grey!
But don’t let me dirty your thoughts of this gloriously charismatic city. When the sun shines and the air is clear, Hong Kong truly is a spellbinding place.
I’ve said it before…there is a very good reason why so many people come for two years and stay for 20.
In sharp contrast to the intense pace, shoulder to shoulder crowds and never-ending urban sprawl (which I quite like.. ok actually love) Hong Kongers have a much-needed and most welcome escape route.
This comes in the form of 260 tropical islands. An archipelago dotted with gorgeous beaches, old fishing villages, serene temples, lush green mountains and rugged coastlines.
Lucky enough to be invited on a good friend’s boat last weekend, we set off on a smog-free, summer’s day.
I’ve been told on many occasions – if you haven’t found yourself on a ‘Junk’ in Hong Kong, you seriously haven’t lived.
Famous worldwide for its junks, the term used to refer to the ancient Chinese fishing boats that roamed the harbour as early as 220 BC.
These days it seems the terms is used far more loosely and ‘Junk’ can refer to any motorized recreational boat (in Hong Kong anyway.)
30 degrees, wind in my hair, the beauty and serenity literally slaps you in the face the minute you hit the high seas.
So! Despite the threat of not living (when I arrived in this teeming mass of humanity, ‘pregnant’ – the thought of my burgeoning belly and I being stuck on a boat in extreme heat for several hours with a box of wine for company didn’t do much to wet my appetite, as ravenous as it was) — no pun intended but I kinda missed the boat, Junk boat that is.
Thankfully, I lived to tell the tale.
18 months later, sea legs on… the expat crowd would say now I’m really living!
First up, a spot of wakeboarding (the other popular recreational activity I’ve discovered people in Honkers like to do.)
Determined not to do it, I politely declined. “I’ll sit back and watch you all with a glass of wine in hand thanks. Cheers!”
I may have been a child of the 70’s raised on Wonder Woman, but thrill-seeking, action girl I am not.
Anything that involves balancing precariously at high speed is just not for me (or so I thought.)
So after the adrenalin junkies got their fix, we leisurely cruised on to a spectacular little inlet……ahhh the junks!
Not just a couple but dozens…anchored down in what looked like a backdrop right out of the movie, The Beach!
Music bellows from each boat, its passengers grooving onboard to the tunes and/or jumping overboard to swim to the gorgeous white sandy shore.
Diving in, I was delightfully transported back to my childhood boating days in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf. My happy place!
In fact, I could’ve easily spent a good few hours re-living my ‘mermaid’ days, but hunger was calling and we upped stumps to swim back to our Junk.
Next port of call, another charming inlet for lunch.
You could blink and miss it – but there perched high on the rocks looking out to sea was our dining adventure.
They say when you’re travelling the best experiences are when you’ve got a fair-dinkum local to show you the real deal, luckily we had just such on board.
Leaping from the jetty to the outdoor restaurant overlooking the bay, cheap and cheerful plastic tables and chairs with china bowls and chopsticks welcomed us.
Bellies full after an authentic feast of the freshest seafood it was back on the boat for some more wakeboarding.
No peer pressure but this time, I weakened. (what was that about living?!) Throwing caution to the wind I temporarily abandoned my overly-cautious side. Terrified but full of dutch courage, I jumped in and ever so briefly became ‘action girl.’
After several rounds of crash tackle with the ocean I managed to stand up for a credible five seconds. Fist pumps all round! Can I say I have officially been wakeboarding? (Just don’t expect photos of this rash show of recklessness.)
Full of salty seawater and pride we began the journey home.
Once again immersed in the energetic mass of humanity and high-rises we currently call home.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can get your 50 shades of grey, but Hong Kong is certainly one of them.
Like they say, every cloud has a silver lining…