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Hong Kong Diaries 7: One Year Anniversary!

17 April 16 words: Ben Zabulis

Kidnapped book publishers, crazy weather and a riot inspired by fishballs. Ben Zabulis reflects on his new life abroad.

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Bne Zabulis, one year on.

Yep, already 12 months since we fell off the boat in Kowloon - how time flies! And a funny year it’s been too. Reacquainting ourselves with life out here hasn’t been difficult, sweet ‘n’ sour meets fish ‘n’chips, an intriguing cultural dichotomy. Depending on time of year and who’s spouting, the territory fluctuates between being a great place to live (hooray!) and a right bag of shite (boo!). I know you get the idea because I noted a recent poll which placed Nottingham in the UK’s top ten best cities (hooray!), only to hear a month or so later that it occupied a similar position for deprivation (boo!); bananas the lot, can’t win ‘em all yet we stumble blithely onward.

Talking of bananas, you probably won’t know of Hong Kong’s brand of political and social shenanigans. Everything from fighting and filibustering in the Legislative Council, our mini-‘government’ famed for ineffectual leadership (I hear your collective groans of empathy), to five kidnapped booksellers (which meant Notts-based author Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang had to cancel her book tour of the region), and a riot inspired by fishballs, or the poor boggers hawkin’ ‘em. Most political bananas emanates from our pro-establishment and pro-democracy legislators, though we do have one, a popular working-class hero who goes by the nickname Long Hair. A good-to-have-around character, he turns up for work not in boring business suit but, ready for revolution, a Che Guevara t-shirt. Good to see a decent, left-wing capitalist stand up to those dastardly, right-wing communists, wait a sec…

The doomsayers reckon if we really misbehave our commie cadres n’masters up north’ll send the tanks in to sort us. So if on telly you see a modern Tank Man, one sporting a Nottingham t-shirt, pissing off a line of T-99s you’ll know the worst is happening, namely that I ain’t takin’ the pills any more. There’s greater public protest and dissent nowadays than baskets on a dim sum trolley, and we’ve even groups who advocate independence or realignment with Britain; much to Beijing’s chagrin that moth-eaten colonial flag gets an added airing nowadays. Always regarded mine as a handover relic, didn’t think I’d need it again quite so soon. In short, it’s a long way from our comradely ‘Welcome back…’ summer of 97.

Even the weather’s gone bananas, we’ve had the hottest, driest, wettest and coldest of days since records began back in the dark ages of colonialism and we hadn’t even been back a bleedin’ year. Cold? You bet. Three degrees is a pain without heating. Freezing our bollocks off, well, me at any rate, as a winter normally associated with playful pandas paid a visit. Never thought I’d see snow flurries here, let alone minus five upon high. Then, many a daft twit had to rush up a hill to experience frost as they’d not seen it before… Then, hundreds get into difficulty because they can’t handle it… Then, the emergency services (police, ambulances, fire-engines) need calling out and they can’t get up high as the narrow lanes are clogged with dickhead ice-chasers! We didn’t like this period, if we wanted cold depression we’d have moved to Iceland for god’s sake. Ne’er mind, deffo warming now as jingzhe (the waking of insects solar period) has just passed - it’s a Chinese farmer’s thing, when they hear the waking critters it’s time to get sowing and you can’t argue with that.

At least common-sense prevails in our village, well, almost. Chinese New Year had us on edge with the constant report of fire crackers, our closeness to the local temple, the favoured spot for such detonations, didn’t help. The main protagonist of this illegal activity was a tiny, stooping septuagenarian, barely four-foot tall who, cheeky glint in eye, gleefully exploded the deafening bastards whenever another evil spirit appeared, of which there were clearly many - the village constantly carpeted in crimson-hued paper shrapnel. Interestingly this sprightly neighbour, who seems to like us, had lived in Pontefract for many years, though I doubt this is to blame.

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Competing with Pontefract’s explosives for suddenness and ear-splitting volume is a lady who tends her dear mother in the house behind ours; ma’s a tad hard of hearing and easily pushing a ton. Whether booming by nature or by ma’s deafness isn’t clear but we reckon daughter’s a good’un to befriend – after all, she’ll see off a column of tracked military hardware by strident barracking alone. Add a few more village ‘bananas’ and it had us thinking we’d at first gained residency to a fascinating open asylum. But of course, these odd interruptions to our normal rustic birdsong serve merely as a dash of local colour (but not red) to this amazing metropolis. It is the year of the monkey after all, perhaps our Paul’s window display said it best…


Ben Zabulis is the author of Chartered Territory: An Engineer Abroad

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