24. Exposed: how Cruise would be ferried (if he lived here)

The heat is on, and that can only mean one thing on the island: it’s time to upgrade to DeLuxe class on the ferry, something my socialist affectations have been loathe to endorse until now. In fact, the 19 dollar price tag (£1.40) hardly suggests I’m going to find Salvador Dali and Mia Farrow munching on butterflies up here, or even Brad and Angelina promoting their latest wine, but the top deck, with its relentless air-conditioning and ‘superior’ view (i.e. layers of condensation through which it’s hard to make out the lesser, more interesting harbour craft) does have a moreish quality, especially in this weather. There is elbowroom, a table to work at, and a crewmember to tidy up all the sweat-clotted tissues it took to get this far.

Cruise and Chinese lanterns

Public transport is generally fantastic in Hong Kong, only ruined by one thing: other people (millions of them). Here in DeLuxe there are noticeably fewer of them; this is where the cool crowd hangs (an old man examines his McDonald’s breakfast suspiciously, a teenage couple stare at me with detached fear, a mother and daughter bicker softly). And it’s all very nice…for a while. But this isn’t a city that was ever meant to be enjoyed in (relative) isolation. Long before the ferry docks I have mentally braced myself for the next stage of my journey, involving as it does a march through ultra-modern Hong Kong station, amongst viciously elegant commuters, followed by a packed MTR ride.

Music at the ready, all systems go, I head below decks (inhaling the scent of hot metal and steaming armpits) from where I can beat the rush as we disembark. Here is where I used to belong: amongst ‘my’ people – the workers, dreamers and misers paying only 12 dollars a ride. A feeling of betrayal washes over me. What have I become? What do they think of me now? I look around to try and gauge the reactions of my old comrades (anger? indifference? angry indifference?) but find them difficult to make out, my glasses having almost completely steamed up due to the change in temperature.

De Luxe Ferry

Price: HK$19 dollars / HK$28 at weekends (one way)

Sea Miles: ask local operator for details

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23. Rat-tle my timbers: it’s a snake!

While my first SNAKE ENCOUNTER (I can sense the view count soaring already) was not as petrifying as that involving a metre-long cobra recently trapped in a Sai Kung doorway like a passive-aggressive draft excluder, the beast was still long enough (1.25m) to make me think twice about skirting round it (I won’t specify its exact location as it might risk scaring potential guests away). Eventually its dopey countenance and small head gave me the confidence to make the leap. As in most snake encounters (I suspect) ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BAD HAPPENED yet to say my heart rate didn’t increase would be a fib.

Employing the principle that the best antidote to such a meeting is often a refined dose of venom, I found myself watching Vice News’ Snake Island documentary soon after my SNAKE ENCOUNTER. And yes, it did make me feel better. In fact, watching a fresh-faced, youthful journalist with his whole life ahead of him camping on an atoll packed with squirming serpents is guaranteed to make you feel better about pretty much anything. Try it.

Exhaustive Word Diving™ research suggests my laissez-faire intruder (small head, brown features) was probably a RAT SNAKE, unlikely to lash out unless threatened (I took this to mean intellectually: fortunately I was struck dumb).

Ratty ratty rat snake

Discovering that my ‘lone wolf’ was actually a ‘rat’ inevitably led to a degree of disappointment. Not only is the name a bit, well…ratty…but there’s actually far more frogs in our well-maintained, if tendril-heavy, Ballardian enclave than rats (so far as I can tell). My Polish neighbour told me coolly that the last time he saw a snake here it appeared to be unsuccessfully trying to wrest back control of its own head from the still-jumping frog it had just eaten. The adrenalin fully worn off, I reached the conclusion that my encounter wasn’t so remarkable after all. Maybe I, and my future guests, should be grateful for that?

22. Restaurant review: Les Copains D’Abord, Peng Chau Island

Good news for all those worried about the gentrification of old Hong Kong at the hands of slick European gastronomes: the counter-revolution starts here…. and from within!
Appearance: shabby-chic shack in dusty town square at high noon
Sheriff: out of town
Waiting staff: roguish
Menu: “Non.”
Food choices: bread platter; mushroom pizza
Drinks: beer, wine, water
We ordered: pizza (x 2)
They said: “Sure, but we can only make one at a time.”
We said: “C’est la vie/Non e un problema.”
Entertainment: kids chasing bubbles in the square
Best enjoyed: with old friends
Do not take: high-octane business contacts
Price: unanticipated
Stars: 3.27/5
Conclusion: Cordon Ramsey would rob this place of its charm but next time we hope the French chef is back from sourcing the delicacies we were hoping for…