32. Dolphins, drones and…dogs

It’s bad enough being a toxic bachelor but in the next couple of years there is almost certain to be a rubbish incinerator located not far from this beautiful island, as reported in the latest edition to Cheung Chau’s print media (pictured). I guess I better enjoy the natural world alongside my preternaturally single status while I can?

Incinerator news

Fortunately, it seems for now at least dolphins are willing to come and fish, in some numbers, off Cheung Chau. I’m no scientist so can only speculate that the trawling ban around Hong Kong, combined with unusually clear waters, tempted them towards the southwestern shores of Cheung Chau over Chinese New Year for a rare visit.

south by southwest

These weren’t the blighted pink variety of which we hear so much – and see so little – around Lantau (a memorable dolphin-spotting trip some years back ended in my ex-wife and I pleading with a floating plastic bag, disguised as a sentient mammal, to transmogrify and forgive us our human sins) but big, muscly, grey-backed things, powering themselves through the water as a handful of tourists and scattering of insouciant fishermen looked on.

Adding to the experience, the two rare beasts I call my parents were beside me, all signs being that the island’s spookily good behaviour (too cold for snakes yet a tree-climbing lizard obliged us by munching on a fat fly in clear view) would continue for the duration of their visit.

Which made the next episode all the stranger. Not used to seeing dolphins whilst I’m floundering around the island, I’m even less used to seeing drones, but the delicate-looking dervishes are as identifiable as they will soon be omniscient, and I had no doubt what type of creature was welcoming us to a usually isolated beach near our viewpoint, a camera slung under its exoskeleton.

While most Hong Kong couples settle for walking, or wheeling, a beloved pooch around at weekends, here we came across a man in his mid-20s taking his drone for an airborne stroll. Unable to fuss over the thing, or adjust its tartan onesie, his partner – sporting impenetrable shades – appeared less than thrilled with her suitor’s devotion to it. Or at least to the giant remote control he was clasping. Because despite the pilot’s concentration it wasn’t completely clear who was master and who was mastered as the mechanical menace hovered around the edges of our photos and videos, emitting a kind of embarrassed whirr as its altitude fluctuated. Perhaps the youngsters looked embarrassed too. The sunglasses, and lack of opportunity to pet their…pet robbed us of any chance to exchange niceties, despite the mutual view of ancient coastline.

Just then a scraggly pack of the island’s much-maligned wild dogs appeared on a rocky outcrop high above us and began to howl, though whether in an effort to reclaim this ownerless territory from man or machine I can’t be sure. Either way, I’ve never been quite so happy to see them.

To find out more about the threat posed to Hong Kong’s islands by the proposed waste incinerator you can visit:

Living Islands Movement

Time Out article, July 2014

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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?