Christmas 2000 was my first in Hong Kong.
The past two years I returned to Canada for the holidays.
This year it wasn't to be. I knew not to expect Christmas to be celebrated the same way; it's not a big deal. Granted, they decorate like there's no tomorrow, but the spirit is missing. So is the glut of gratuitous advertising, so it ain't all bad.
A tree was out of the question. Where we would put it? I'm not a highly paid expatriate executive with a fat company housing allowance living in a 2,300 square foot flat. There's not much room in 450 square feet, and without a tree, there'd be no point putting up other decorations.
What's a displaced Canuck to do? Travel!
Christmas Eve we went to Lamma Island, which lies southwest of Hong Kong Island. That's Lamma, not Llama. We arrived by high speed ferry in about 35 minutes. A short walk from the quay brought us into the main village. And the first thing we did? Why, eat, of course!
We scoped a number of restaurants and settled on one seated across from a weird black cube that served as the local cop shop. As we waited on our order, I noticed a startling number of dogs running about unleashed. Lamma wasn't populated by fuzzy South American mammals, it was populated by dogs. Lamma was Dog Heaven, a place where they could run free. It was overrun with mutts: dogs of indeterminable breed.
Lamma was also populated by babies. Babies were brought over by the tonne from all points on the map. We couldn't turn around and not see babies. Babies in arms, babies in slings and babies in strollers. Babies on parade. Baby Fest 2000. The babies were of impeccable lineage.
After lunch, I convinced Mabel to let me take her picture with one of the officers. She was hesitant to ask, but he was a nice guy and agreed to pose with her. He even answered my question about why most female cops don't carry guns. I thought it was some sexist policy, but in fact they're given a choice whether or not they wish to carry; most opt to go without. I haven't seen one who's strapped yet.
We wanted to walk off lunch; the cop told us how to get to Power Station (Hung Shing Ye) Beach. We made our way through the narrow lanes dotted with shops on either side.
Most of the stores carried basic items locals might need. However, there were several bars, and not a few stores stocking a wide variety of alcoholic beverages. Lamma has more booze available per capita than anywhere else in Hong Kong, save Lan Kwai Fong or Soho. They must like their hooch.
From one of the tourist shops we procured two hats: a bamboo sampan hat for me, and a sun hat for Mabel.
From there we trekked toward the beach. The walk took about 20 minutes along a paved path that cut through the hillside. It was beautiful: lush, green, quiet, and with wonderful, fresh air. Many couples, families, groups of kids and people on bicycles meandered along the path.
Along with more dogs and babies.
At the beach, a large power station squatted behind the hillside, extending into the sea along a natural outcropping. Its white smoke stacks jutted into the sky like fingers.
The beach was clean, and the water wasn't filled with garbage: a refreshing change. We weren't there to swim, but to kick back and relax.
We sat watching kite fliers and children playing on the beach, enjoying the calm and serenity. Dogs weren't allowed on the beach, but babies were. There's something wholesome and natural about naked babies on the beach, wouldn't you agree?
After taking photos of the scenery, we strolled down the beach toward the path.
On our way back to the main village, we stopped to buy gai daan jai, which translates as little chicken eggs: sweetened egg batter cooked into small egg-like shapes with a special waffle iron. Tasty!
In the village we stopped at the Island Bar for a drink. I was surprised and disappointed they didn't have Guinness on tap, so I settled for a Beamish Stout. Mabel had a rum and coke. She isn't much of a drinker; as usual, the alcohol caused her face to turn red and made her sleepy. There wouldn't be any naked table-dancing by my wife, thank you very much. We walked about the shops afterward to keep Mabel from feeling loopy.
As evening descended, we made our last stop at Pizza Milano, a small restaurant that featured a good selection of Italian dishes. Little did we know we'd be on the menu. Mosquitoes from Hell zeroed on our position and dive-bombed us while we ate. All year long I hadn't been bitten once; in 30 minutes the little bastards got me six times. I went to Lamma to visit, not make a blood donation.
By 8.00pm it was dark, and we boarded the fast ferry for our journey home. Many dogs were on the loose, but most of the babies, along with their parents, had long since departed.
When we returned to the pier at Central, the noise of the city was startling. It was difficult to ignore the smell of the air. The differences were glaring; we felt as though we'd been away for the weekend. A brief hop on the MTR brought us back to Causeway Bay, and a short walk took us home.
The day was unlike any Christmas Eve I'd ever experienced. Were I ever in need of a reminder that Christmas celebrates the arrival of baby Jesus, Lamma would be the place to get it.
That, and the occasional dog.
January 11, 2001
Next Tale: Christmas in Kong Kong