January 6th – hot and noisy winters…

I’ve always found Japanese men’s fashion to be somewhat effeminate, but this sign is perhaps still a little blunt…

This week, this new year, brought with it a terrifying realisation: I may never be able to leave Hong Kong. Not because of any legal proceedings or ankle-tags, no, nor because leaving would mean never visiting Sissy’s again. It’s because winters elsewhere are, it turns out, extremely cold.

Over New Year I spent 3 days in Seoul, where the mercury dropped as low as -7 degrees celsius. I had to buy leggings and use disposable heat patches. It was painfully cold during the frosty nights – and barely less cold in the weak and watery midday sun. It didn’t help that I was supposed to be holidaying in Langkawi, on the beach with a cheap, pre-mixed cocktail sweating in my hand, but someone had forgotten to renew his passport and would have been turned away from entering Malaysia by scary, military types.

Since arriving back in Hong Kong, however, I’ve been strolling around in short sleeves, hiking and even swimming. It’s worth stopping for a second, every now and then, to appreciate just how good it is to swim outdoors, in the sun, on the 4th January.

For January it is. January 2017. And as predictable as it is that January will follow December, so is my New Year’s resolution to write MORE. Plus, now that I’m confined to Hong Kong for reasons of climate, much like a Victorian consumptive ordered to Brighton for the air, I should try to write about whatididinhongkong (hashtag). So – rooting around for any old topic to get the juices flowing I found myself pondering yet again a matter that has troubled me deeply, to the very core of my being, since arriving in Hong Kong nearly 5 years ago: why do people here insist on listening to music through speakers while hiking?

Go twenty yards up any mountain path and you will bump into someone with Cantonese Opera, or maybe a Cantonese pop classic, or perhaps Rihanna, bellowing from their back-pocket.

My original theories were A) exercising is sweaty work and earphones do sometimes start to slip out or B) it scares off evil spirits lurking in the forests or C) it’s to warn others who may be up to no good in the forest (peeing, fondling, burying a body) that someone’s coming. But eventually I guess I just stopped wondering, became inured to it, and finally started to enjoy predicting the weirdest snippet of music I could possibly hear while passing someone on a mountain trail (‘Last Christmas’ in May, FYI).

And then a couple of weeks ago I bought a book: ‘The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Chinese’ (I also bought ‘The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Scots’, just so I didn’t look like a complete racist in front of the cashier) in which I read about the concept of re nao and had an epiphany. And I know, I know, I KNOW Hong Kongers are not Chinese, but their ancestors by and large were – so there. Anyway, this book says that re nao literally means’hot and noisy’ – the book’s written by a proper Chinese person with a Chinese name and everything so it must be right – and is, I quote, “extremely desirable… The Chinese prefer being surrounded by others and being effervescent and vivacious, to having peace and quiet. After all, the latter is what death is for.”

Finally it all made sense: the speakers in the back pocket were for the same reason as people yelling across restaurants, every Cantonese conversation sounding like an argument, people playing games with the sound up on the MTR, taxi drivers sounding their horns repeatedly in a traffic jam as if one long windscreen-rattling blast will somehow clear a path. It all came together, re nao, and I felt as if I understood the world around me a little more.

 

Although, upon reading the ‘Scots’ version of the same book, and it’s opening declaration that Scottish people “feel that they are a rather flamboyant and colourful people, tartan inside as well as out”, I have since begun to wonder if the authors in the series were as well-qualified to write on their chosen topics as I had at first thought. ‘Flamboyant’?? ‘Colourful’?? Most Scots would rather be described as ‘Syphilitic’… Perhaps placing my faith in this series to decode the mysteries of the Chinese people was a mistake.

 

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