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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The gay community 

One of my friends recently tried to persuade me to join a group called OUT and take part in their discussion groups and events. OUT is a LGBT social networking group that has existed for many years and is intended for all the people who are LGB or T. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, I assume.

There are meetings, talks, events and special interest groups, apparently, where LGBT people can get together and talk about stuff. Stuff that other people talk about all the time.

Why does the LGBT community need special groups to talk about photography or art or books? Or to see a show or visit a museum? I don’t think a photography group would be any better if everyone in it was gay. I wouldn’t think talking about my favourite shows would be enhanced if I was only talking with other gay men.

Why can’t we just do things with other people regardless of their sexuality? There are photography groups out there, there are theatre groups, there are writing groups and art groups.

Why do we have to do things in our own gay community, anyway? Why do we still feel the need to herd ourselves into a ghetto?

Sexuality is only part of what makes a person. It shouldn’t be a defining characteristic and it shouldn’t limit our interactions with the world to others that share our preferences.

Yes, I know it's nice to let your hair down and not have to watch what you say to avoid offending the straights but is that really a good enough reason to hide yourself away?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Goodbye Hong Kong 

I came here just over a week ago. The strangeness of the place overwhelmed me, the tall buildings amazed me, the ever present air conditioning and jetlag conspired to keep me awake and I just wanted to get on the next plane going home. I felt like a fish out of water and I was desperate for a swim.

But then, an odd thing happened and I can't pinpoint when it was. I started to get my bearings, to know the streets around the hotel. I found a street containing nothing but hairdressers and pet shops (selling puppies and kittens!). I found a road called Man Fuk Road which appealed to my inner five-year-old's Carry On sense of humour. The cheerfulness and politeness of the people and the absolute cleanliness of the place wore me down and, as the bus drove me to the station to get the Airport Express, I realised I was sad to be leaving.

The oddest thing characterises the Hong Kong people to me now. They have this odd habit of when you are giving them something of taking it carefully from you with both hands like it's the most precious thing in the world. It could be a chocolate bar in a shop or a tip for carrying your bag to your hotel room or a USB memory device but whatever it is, it is accepted with this cherished two-handed receipt and it is utterly charming.

The food, as well, is lovely. The Chinese, or at least the ones in HK, do eat a lot of very odd things that we wouldn't look at twice in the UK but the stuff I recognised was delicious. I even enjoyed the prawns, something I avoid at home. In the words of Victoria Wood: "Never eat prawns; they tread water round sewage outlets with their mouths open."

The Chinese food we get in the UK isn't a patch on anything I've eaten here.

OK, I probably wouldn't like to live here. I'm finding it hot now and it's only February. Apparently in the summer, it gets a lot hotter and a lot more humid, something I really don't enjoy. Most importantly, I would miss everyone back home, David especially. I have missed him greatly ever since I left.

I wouldn't be averse to another trip here, however. It feels like a good place to be. And I really would like to buy some cheap fitted shirts next time.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Laa-da-dee-dee-daaa... 

My hotel in Hong Kong, the Metropark, Kowloon, is lovely. As it is close to where we are working, my colleague, also called Robert, and I got into the habit of popping back to the hotel for lunch. Of an evening, we would take the easy option and have our evening meal in there. Now that he has returned to the UK, I feel less inclined to be a Billy No Mates in a restaurant in town. It somehow seems OK to eat on your own in a hotel restaurant.

This is fine and the food is excellent. The problem is that the same CD is playing in the background on a continuous loop. Every single time. And it isn't a long loop either; there are only about five tunes of generic lift muzak before it starts all over again.

You find that eventually it is continuously looping in your head as well and it follows you about during the day.

Crossing the road: Laa-da-dee-dee-daaa...

In a meeting: Laa-da-dee-dee-daaa...

Trying to sleep: Laa-da-dee-dee-daaa...

I go home tomorrow night. I will take the tunes with me in my head but they will eventually fade away.

But what about the poor people who work here? They must put in hours in the restaurant each day. How do they cope? They must be singing it in their sleep or have gone selectively deaf. Or mad.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Familiarity 

There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. In many cases this is true. Thankfully, however, not always.

I have been in Hong Kong for the last four days on a business trip.

I had a rather stressful journey getting here. My flight was on the one day when snow crippled London and the public transport I'd counted on to take me first to the office and then to Heathrow Airport just wasn't there. Nor was I able to coax my car up the oh-so-slippery slope from my garage to the road.

However, after a £90 taxi ride around the M25, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time for the flight and we took off more or less on time.

Hong Kong is indeed a strange place. When I first arrived it was scarily strange and I was reluctant to go anywhere other than the hotel or the buildings where I am running my course. However, with the arrival of the weekend and an increased sense of familiarity with the place, I summoned enough courage to go for a walk or two in my spare couple of hours and found HK to not be as scary as I had first thought.

Last night I took a walk down to the ferry terminal from my hotel in Kowloon and took some photos of Hong Kong island. Here's a panorama I assembled out of five of them.

Hong Kong Island at night 

The area where I took the photos was thronged with other photographers taking the same pictures and, oddly enough, dozens of amateur astronomers looking up at the moon. Perhaps that was the one dark place in all of Kowloon?

Last night was also the first time I had been bold enough to go into a shop and buy something. You can pass a shop and think they are selling sweets until you get close and see they are selling dried fish. I passed on that and went into a 7-Eleven to buy chocolate. I found dark chocolate Maltesers. Result!

My weekend walks also featured my fending off several people in the street intent on selling me a suit. Blimey, do they not take no for an answer. Say "no thanks" and they'll follow down the road telling you to come see where their shop is in case you change your mind. Being the only Westerner in a sea of Oriental faces does make me an easy target I suppose.

I have four more days here and for most of those I will be working. I'm not sure how much more of HK I will be able to see. Probably not much, I expect.

Now that I have become slightly familiar with the place, I find I am thinking of coming to visit here properly and have a good look around. Not sure I'd buy a suit though.

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