Notes from a Strange Island: Artificial
I live in an artificial community. There is an artificial beach, an artificial promenade, and an infinite horizon swimming pool, with granite seals spurting water from their mouths, and a view into the infinite blue-grey Hong Kong haze, with just the hint of brown pollution.
The sea here is artificial too. It’s still and waveless, a limpid, health-and-safety-conscious body of gloss blue-grey, that melds into a matt sky the same colour. The ripples lazily slop against the artificial shore, and I point into the haze where the mass of Hong Kong Island is possibly visible and I say to my daughter, who is four, ‘That is where you were born.’
She is riding on my shoulders and I can feel her turn to look. She wears a white and red uniform, and a bright pink Dora the Explorer cap. She squints into the pollution and says, ‘It’s not there.’
Hong Kong is not there. It is only there on clear days, when southerlies blow all the pollution back north, and we shade our eyes and look across twelve kilometres of gilded blue water straight into Hong Kong Harbour, with the vast mass of blue Victoria Peak dwarfing the spikes of the two giant sentinels: the IFC and ICC towers.
But today – like most days - all we have is haze and pollution and a plastic flower that has fallen from a Saturday afternoon wedding bouquet.
I saw the couple through the clubhouse screen of shrubbery. They were Hong Kongers in Western dress, standing at a microphone making a speech, the focus of a semi-circle of standing guests - all watching the event over the heads of the people in front of them through the periscope square of their mobile phone or camcorders: as if they needed the camera screen to really see what was there before them.
Now that couple is really married, and we are still walking along the promenade, past a Filipina with two golden Labradors.
I look over the edge and see the ripples lap, splashing up and into the granite boulders, finding ways in amongst the rocks.
The rocks here are crammed with offerings from the sea. We’re downriver of China, and the stuff that comes down the Pearl River is legendary. Dead pigs, dead people, crashed ruins of polystyrene boxes – pitted and nibbled by sea worms; the branch of a tree that doesn’t grow here; nets and thick ship rope tangled with weed, blue and white striped tarpaulin, thin rope, nylon twine, a long bamboo pole tapering at one end and diligently wound with blue electrician tape just starting to unwind from the thick end.
Whoever planned this place, ten, fifteen, perhaps twenty years ago, decided that this promenade was one where the people who bought the flats would come to walk and sit and wonder at the newness of their new community. There are lines of wooden park benches, the kind you would find in a London park, lined up in threes, like Mainland families, the fat child in the middle.
But no one does come here. Someone else, an official, a bureaucrat, an unreal person who sits somewhere in the haze and makes up rules decided that you’re not allowed to do anything here: skating is banned, ball playing, cycling, scooting – so the only people who come here are the Filipino helpers walking dogs, ladies, and security guards who wander up and down, smiling generously and looking for something to stop.
Only my daughter and I come here and this morning we’re walking along the promenade, past the plastic flower and the ‘No Fishing’ sign and the ‘No Climbing’ signs and my daughter’s attention has wandered.
‘Look,’ my daughter says. ‘There’s the crab.’
We come to the tiny bit of sand in the crook of the promenade where we turn towards the new hotel which is full of Mainlanders on their Disneyland resort holiday.
We stop. There it is. The crab is real.
It’s sand coloured and walks sideways and rearranges the rubbish that washes up on its meter square of beach. Today there’s an unrolled flaccid condom a single brown plastic sandal lapping in the water.
The fog horn sounds from Kowloon side. The note is low and sombre and resonates for the length it takes for three breathes in and out. The crab stops to listen.
The fog horn sounds again. We stop and wait.
Surely, something, is going to happen.
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