New year. 2012. Possibly the year of apocalypse, possibly not.
Best not to take any chances. If this is the last year, let us not squander it on mundane work. Off I flew from the nest once again, dipping and soaring on my way East.
First, London for a walk in the frosty park, coffees and beers with pals. Next, Dubai – just for 14 hours. Enough to be reminded of all the glorious Middle Eastern efficiencies by Emirates’ baggage handling (mouth spray is no substitute for toothpaste), enjoy drinks and a boogie with some lovely pals and sneak some playtime with the tinies before breakfast. Then Hong Kong for a night and a day. Not long enough to bother with sleep, I decided.
Acquainted myself with the airport 7Eleven, settled down for some writing and waited for daylight roaming hours. Daylight came and I found myself slightly chilled in the cool 15 degrees wondering why the AC was still blasting on the buses. Wandered around sightseeing in that vague, detached delirium that comes from too long without sleep and a body clock that doesn’t have a clue what zone it’s in. Took the bus almost as far as it would go before walking back in the opposite direction as far as my little legs would carry me. Which is quite a long way.
Jumped off in an odd spot on the main road alongside Victoria Park and nipped in to see the hostile flower sellers lining all their new year wares up in very neat lines to flog during the day. Chinese New Year falls in January and will be celebrated over several days but the bulk on the 22nd. We are entering the year of the Dragon, fortuitous for new projects and new babies. The whole city is decking itself out in providential signs to usher the year in. This means red envelopes hung from trees, chrysanthemums, alien fruit and little oranges. I didn’t have time enough to stop and ask what or why.
It’s bizarre, the long road that snakes from the airport right through the centre of town. I was expecting all sorts of shiny, glassy newness, like Dubai or Shanghai. Instead, parts were fairly shabby and rundown, like Dubai’s Deira or Karama district, the buildings jaded by harsh sea breezes and strong sun. Over, under, alongside, between these roads twist a network of spaghetti footpaths, allowing pedestrians to navigate as freely as cars. I followed these for a time, enjoying the process of getting gloriously lost and despairing at the dearth of public toilets. Come lunchtime, I jumped the bus to the top of the famous Peak. It’s justifiably famous since it provides superb panoramic views of the city and all its towering might. I was lucky with sunshine and a light breeze to warm my chilled bones. I had planned to do a hour’s hike around the top of it but tiredness and jetlag were beginning to get the better of me so I settled instead for a bask in the sun on the rooftop terrace and a walk back down the old road. That beat my lazy thigh muscles back into shape.
Sauntering back through the city’s scrapers, among the kids kicking out of school I stumbled across the zoo and gardens. Spent some time with the fabulous lemurs, pheasants, cranes, gibbons, and ORANGUTANS (delight!) who were leisurely chewing up a cardboard box, either eating it or placing pieces on their heads.
I’ve noticed a developing interest in libraries. I think it started back in Boston when I visited the majestic public library and JFK memorial library. It continued in the sticks of Cape Cod (where they’ve wedged a whole ship into the first floor) and Maine where I came to realise how much of an important social role libraries can play in binding a community. They’re rarely just about books. There are social clubs, kids clubs, parent groups, cookery classes, discussion groups, talks, seminars, you name it. The library in Maine is part-funded by money from the Stephen King Foundation, which realises their worth and provides support for them throughout the state. Then I went to the Swansea University library back in the UK (I didn’t realise til writing them down how much of a focus they’d become!), ambling around the dusty corridors and remembering the long, procrastinating hours spent in similar surrounds at university. And my most recent ‘hit’ was the Lockhart Road public library in Honkers. I don’t really know why I went in. I was just drawn to it for a nosey and was buoyed to see kids doing homework with their parents; adults absorbing information on myriad topics in several languages; discussion rooms; computer groups; an active debating society; and two people sleeping.
After the thrill of the Orangutans, I was spent. There was nothing left but to drag my ass back to the airport and get on the final plane, bound for Phuket. As soon as I got on, my head hit the tray table and I was asleep, drooling into my scarf for most of the three hour flight. Sexy.
Hell, it feels good to have the bag back where it belongs.