28 January 2010

Dolomite Contraction

I found this note in the mailbox today. At least it was something. In the age of e-mail and texting instead of letters, and junk calls (at 2:16 a.m. last night!) instead of bulk post, our home mailbox normally contains nothing but spiders.

The flyer perturbed me, though not because of its funny English. There are enough lowbrow blogs which rely on awkwardly translated English signs in Asia for a jab at cheap humor, and I don't do that. Though I'm not sure why anyone in crowded Hong Kong would pay for "Interior Contraction", and I'd surely like to know what Mr. Cheung means by "Dolomite Decoration". I love the Dolomites. I've hiked the mountains around Cortina, stumbled upon natural sparkling water springs deep in the forest and indulged in delicious Austro-Italian cuisine. But an Alpine chalet would be out of place in Wang Tong. Here they prefer fake Spanish villas. (Damn, I did do it. Sorry.)

What disturbed me then...? Well, did you notice something else about the language besides the grammar? No Chinese! It isn't even bilingual. Unless Mr. Cheung knows the nationality of each household in the village, I'm guessing that everyone got an English flyer. Is that what Wang Tong has come to? Has it reached the tipping point and turned into a white ghetto?

For the first 15 years that I lived here, the population of non-Chinese villagers remained pretty steady: a rotating population of Filipino renters and a handful of longterm expats, mostly English, plus this Yank, who all like to live tucked away far from the madding crowd. But in the last few years there has been a steady trickle of new houses being built and immediately sold or rented to young Caucasian families, who are attracted to the semi-rustic country lifestyle. There have been no Chinese newcomers. No Mainlander would be caught dead living in the countryside; too much a reminder of their recent past, and anyway, like crows, nouveau riche Mainlanders are attracted to shiny objects, like the brass faux Louis XIV kitsch and marble foyers of overpriced urban "luxury" apartments. Native Hong Kong Chinese would never move here from the outside; they're afraid of the trees (see this post). So the blanching of Wang Tong is, in the long run, inevitable.

I'm not some Lord Jim trying to defend my remote Chinese rural idyll from the ravages of western civilization. Change is unavoidable. Surely it can never go to the sickening extreme of other enclaves, such as Discovery Bay on the other side of Lantau, a dominion unto itself of such manicured Americanized suburban ambience that it feels as if a meteorite from Scottsdale, Arizona crash-landed there. Or could it?

Maybe Mr. Cheung just thinks that no Chinese would hire him, either because they have a cousin/in-law in the business or, more likely, he knows that no self-respecting Hong Kong Chinese would squander money on renovation that could be better spent on speculation in futures derivatives. For now, for the sake of diversity in one sleepy little village, I hope that's the message of the yellow funny-English flyer.

04 January 2010

The Stream Diggers

They're digging up the Wang Tong Stream. Well, that's a good thing. During typhoons and heavy rains a lot of coarse sand washes down from the granite hills, down through the village, and replenishes the beach a few hundred meters downstream.

Trouble is, ever since the government's ill-conceived "training" and concreting of the middle section of the stream for "flood control", storm water shoots through the channel like wild horses, without any natural streambed, plants or twists and turns to slow its course and catch some of the sand and then release it downstream gradually during more relaxed, normal river flow.

Just where the concrete ends there's a ninety-degree turn in the river. I don't understand the physics of liquid motion dynamics, but as the raging waters smash into the turn with a wallop, so apparently does much of the sand and, rather than turn the corner with the water, it simply accumulates. After a while, a miniature delta begins to form, narrow arteries of water cutting through sand islands. Garbage and various forms of ick and goo which are illegally discharged upstream get stuck there, and the sand islands crust over with algae. Yuck.

Cue the Drainage Services Department to come in every couple of years to dig it out. Look how much they piled up in just one thirty-meter stretch. Later they'll load it a bit at a time into that motorized cart on the left and haul it out to the beach.

The workers were naturally suspicious when they saw me walking around them taking photos. A gwailo -- foreign devil -- with a camera usually means one thing: an official complaint about something. Gwailos are always complaining, interfering with hard-working Chinese just trying to earn an income for their families, or to blow at the horse races, or maybe even both. I smiled and assured them that I merely found it "interesting" to watch them work. I'm sure they didn't believe me, but they smiled back nevertheless.

I understood their worry. Nine out of ten times when government workers creep into our village, it's usually for sinister purposes: installing unnecessary guard rails, erecting yet more nanny-like warning signs, concreting even more lush green hillsides "just in case" of mud slides, or building their odd little "temporary storage depots" for equipment, that they always seem to forget to take down. There is plenty to complain about.

As I left them, even I felt a sense of relief that this was a rare case of government doing something necessary, cleaning up after themselves, leaving behind no trace, and no complaints. It's as unusual as a blue sky in the smoggy Pearl River Delta. Strange, the skies were blue for much of the day as well.

A government project that makes sense and a blue sky. What an uncommon day it has been.