Here's the second section of my Hong Kong diary -
Walking Caged Birds -
The Cantonese are great bird fanciers: anything else that moves,
they eat. The birds range from large mynahs to songbirds the size of
a jenny wren, and you will often see a man walking along the street
carrying a cage containing his favourite bird. They walk them like
the British walk their dogs. If the owner is in a park he sometimes
hangs the cage in a tree and rests his weary feet on a bench. Bus
and lorry drivers take them to work, placing the cage lovingly on the
top of the dashboard.
I can see these bird fanciers love their pets, but what disturbs
me is the size of the cages. Some of them are not much bigger than a
teapot. Whenever you mention this to someone, they always come back
with the old adage, "Bird no happy, bird no sing." It is true, the
birds do sing away for hours on end, but then so did the negro slaves
in the cotton fields of Alabama.
Romantic Hotels –
In various parts of Hong Kong you will find hotels with heart-shaped
neon signs and other romantic paraphernalia in their surrounds.
Rooms at these hotels are for rent by the hour. Whenever a visitor
is told about the short stays, they immediately jump to a natural
conclusion, but these hotels are not brothels. They are very respectable establishments where one can take one's wife. In fact, this is what they're for. Any apartment with a floor space over 400 square feet is a luxury
dwelling in Hong Kong. At the time of writing this (April, 1989) the
annual rent of the apartment in which Annette and I live - at 2000
square feet - is £36,000. If it did not go with my wife's job we
would be living in a bedsit on Lantau Island. It follows therefore
that poorer families, and even the not so poor, live in tiny
accommodation with extended families. When a young married couple
wish do what young couples like doing occasionally, and wish to do it
out of earshot of grandmas, grandpas, aunties and uncles, who probably
sleep in the same room, they take themselves off to a romantic hotel
for an hour or two.
The problem of privacy, or just a place in which to concentrate,
is an acute one in Hong Kong. Schoolchildren and students can be
seen using the parks, the tube stations and even the steps leading up
to shopping precincts, to do their homework, rather than return to
noisy crowded apartments. Two places they do not go, of a Sunday
afternoon, are Chater and Statue Gardens on Hong Kong Island. Sunday
is the day off for all the Filipina maids in the colony, who gather in
these two small parks in their thousands to talk and picnic until dark.