Thursday 6 October 2016

Hong Kong Diary (continued)

The Thai Trek (continued)

We leave the Akha about 6.30 and walk all morning along the
ridges to another Lahu village, in the lowlands. There are rice
fields, green and lush, and even a school here. This tribe is quite
wealthy. Just beyond the Lahu village is a waterfall where we bathe and wash the grime of three days off our bodies. The trek is almost over. We
take a path to a road where our vehicle picks us up and takes us back
to Chiang Mai. Ping agrees to meeting us that evening for a farewell
meal. Annette and I go back to our guest house, shower and change,
and go to the prearranged meeting place. Tony arrives with a Tracy
we hardly recognise. She's wearing a dress, an ornamental
clip in her dark hair, and make-up. We stand around feeling awkward and shy now that we're back in civilization, a little aware of our age differences. Ping arrives. He too seems self-conscious. He takes us to a Thai restaurant by the river where the four of us treat him to a meal, then he dashes away on some pretext. The four of us have a final drink, shake hands, the men kiss the ladies on their cheeks, and the little adventure is over. Annette and I go back to our lodgings and flop on the soft bed feeling that a century has passed since we last slept between two white

Hong Kong Taxis

Despite the fact that, at the time of writing this, Hong Kong is
a British Colony, you're more likely to find a taxi driver in Bangkok
or Tokyo who understands English. Not that there's any reason why,
in a city where the Cantonese outnumber all other nationalities by
more that sixty to one, they should feel the need to speak anything
but their native tongue. One normally expects, however, that a taxi
driver has at least a vague idea of the geography of the area in which
he works.

Not in Hong Kong.

If you're lucky and you don't end up with a newly arrived
immigrant from the mainland, or a student moonlighting to pay his education fees, you'll get a driver who knows where a district is situated.
Street names are useless unless they're major trunk roads, since
the Chinese characters and English street names do not directly
translate. I have mentioned elsewhere in this book that the Chinese
characters beneath my own address road sign 'Rhondda Road' read 'Lotus
Avenue'. It is pointless getting in a taxi on Hong Kong Island and
saying, "Rhondda Road" which is a tiny cul-de-sac four miles away at
the back of Kowloon Tong. It is equally useless asking for "Lotus
Avenue". Even if the English is understood, the driver will not have
any knowledge of this obscure road, nor any of the roads around it.
The most sensible thing to do would seem to be to learn the
Cantonese words for the nearest fairly big road to one's address and
either direct the taxi driver from there (Joh for 'turn right' and
Yau for 'turn left') or walk the rest of the way. There are
further problems here. Cantonese is a particularly difficult
language for the westerner, since it has nine tones for each single
syllabled word. If you do not get the tones right for the street name, you will be asking for something completely different. When asking for Wan Street (meaning 'Cloud Street') and instead of using tone 4 (low falling) you use Wan tone 6, you will be asking for 'Transit Street', or Wan tone 5 you will be asking for 'Permit Street', and so on, though the 9 tones. Getting the right tone depends on your ear for music.

The safest way, if you can manage it, is to have your address
written down in Chinese characters and show it to the taxi driver.
He won't wait for you to present it before roaring away into the thick
of the traffic so you have to pray a little while he reads it and
drives at the same time. However, if you want to go somewhere you've
never been before and are unprepared, be prepared for any destination
and make the best of it.

There are some classic horror stories about gweilos and Hong Kong
taxi's. A friend of Annette's once got in a taxi in a town in the
New Territories and to her relief (I know the feeling) the driver
spoke some English. She gave the name of a garage that was repairing
her car. The taxi driver nodded and set off. Quarter of an hour
later she guessed something was wrong when they drove through
marsh land and. pulled up in a muddy yard outside a set of shanties. It
was dusk, there were no lights, and the mosquitoes were clouding the
windows. Also, the stench was terrible.
"Where's this?" she cried, thinking that perhaps she was being
"Pig farm," said the driver, somewhat apologetically.
"I said I wanted to go to a Lok Fu garage."
The driver shrugged. He had done his bit as far as he was
concerned. He had driven her somewhere. The fact that she didn't
want to go to a pig farm was not his fault.
"Do you know where that is? You said you did."
Another shrug. He obviously didn't but 'saving face' he had
pretended he did. Just as a shopkeeper will say, "Wait a minute,"
when you ask for something he hasn't got and disappear into the back
of his shop, only to reappear once you've got bored waiting and gone
"What made you think I wanted to come to a pig farm?" she
Shrug. "Maybe want bacon?"
Coldly. "No, I don't want bacon, I want my bloody car. Take
me to another taxi, please. I'll pay for the journey, but I want
another taxi."
As they drive out of the marshes, he says, "You want car?"
"I want my car - it's at Lok Fu garage."
"Oh, Lok Fu?" he says, hearing it clearly for the first time.
He drives her straight there.
This is typical of many misunderstandings. Trying to unravel it
without some input from the taxi driver, which one rarely gets, is
impossible. Maybe he didn't hear the words correctly the first time,
or thought she said 'bacon' in Cantonese? No one will ever know.
The complex rubic streets of Hong Kong hold as many secrets as the
Bermuda triangle.