Cruising with Ben 'n' Hils
It’s a funny world sure enough, talk about déjà vu, only yesterday I was battling to erect an IKEA wardrobe, the news was full of election spiel, high-speed rail budget and third-runway airport pontifications. Sound familiar? The only difference is I’d woken up seemingly not as far away as I’d hoped, here in Hong Kong where IKEA, sweetly and just a little sourly, continue to baffle and frustrate, universal suffrage is all the rage (literally!), the high-speed link to Shenzhen is expected to be late and over budget and the third runway at Chep Lap Kok is up for discussion. Hauling me pleasingly back to reality however, a seasonal sweaty drip of 30oC and the knowledge that last night’s gin had set us back a mere fiver a litre, bliss.
So why the 6000 mile shift from Nottingham to the Far East I hear you ask. Emigration? Yes, in a way. But why Hong Kong? Surely most folk head for Portugal, Canaries or even Aus. Well, a deliciously crazy place and we (me n’ Hil) both have previous - a right saga but in short we worked there before so better the devil you know! Reason for leaving? I could spew out the usual hackneyed notion of Britain’s greyness as regards cities, weather, people or even our conversation as Somerset Maugham once suggested - but no. Could it be the prospect of another five years of Mr Cameron, or exchanging Tory lies and deceit for those of Labour? Hardly. No, the main driver was simply that a change was in order, a big one mind going well beyond a new car, job or house, the sort of change that cries excitement and adventure. For me it happens every seven years or so, perhaps it’s all those rejuvenated body cells.
Anyway, Hong Kong it was and the next step, the getting there, was all down to actor Ian McShane – for enduring a cold spell in Kirkby we had taken to watching a re-run of Lovejoy on Drama, a bit sad in one way but the occasion came up trumps. During a break, an advert appeared for Fred Olsen who would run a cruise out east at exactly the time we wanted. The price was fair so we took the plunge, thus we had a departure date – three months hence - to work to. “What? You’re taking a ‘party boat’,” friends exclaimed, I think they expected a cargo ship which is more us but in this case a strict timetable dictated, having to link with a hotel booked t’other end.
Needless to say, there followed a frenetic period of batting about (they never show this on Relocation, Relocation) sorting and discarding all manner of stuff. We pared it all down to 190Kg (or sixteen bags) laid neatly on the front garden path, as if a yard sale was due, and later loaded into a Southampton-bound taxi. The neighbours must have thought we were doing a flit though it reminded more of a comical scene from Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, especially as we had a queer assortment of paraphernalia including an overbearing teddy (himself a Hongkonger and at one time believed to be a triad drop stuffed with cocaine – but that’s another story) and a dragon boat paddle, maybe useful, journey considered. It seemed a pantomime; did people really emigrate this way? The journey down had me thinking, were we leaving home or were we actually going home? Unsure, but even though I’d spent a chunk of working life abroad, such moving on a whim was a first.
Although people used to travel like this before the advent of cheap flights, or any flights at all for that matter, it soon became clear on boarding that things had mightily changed. Our best, in fact our only suitcases, the well-battered, circa 1990, ten-quid jobs from Wilko, plus a few backpacks, were no match, style-wise, for the swish, £400 gliders of the cool cruisers. And so with the air of seasoned refugees, the rag, tag and bobtail element of the manifest entered the sequin-encrusted world of the ‘party boat’. It all seemed very unreal, we on a journey with no return, the others on the holiday of a lifetime at considerable expense. We couldn’t resist an empathetic nod to the likes of steerage-Jack in the movie Titanic. And so we docked, seventy days later, at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak, a busy airport when we first arrived in the nineties, now reinvented as a cruise terminal.
Three weeks later we had a flat with roof garden – a great place for potted veg. It’s in a village with loads of wildlife and, unlike the Hong Kong of manic, a tortoise-like pace of life. Seems we’ve returned to our spiritual home, back to culture and language. No more 'Ay up me duck's which is apt really as here they’ve a quaint expression, 'Chicken and duck talk', meaning 'Aint got a clue wot yer on about.'
So far, so good. However, proving that distance affords little in the way of protection nowadays, the only dark cloud - worse than Beijing’s threats even - is the broadcasting here of Britain’s Got Talent- should’ve applied for that British Antarctic Survey job after all…
Ben Zabulis is the author of Chartered Territory: An Engineer Abroad