Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The flâneur

Right, left, right, left, right and so on. No doubt taking his cue from Luke Rhinehart’s novel The Dice Man, a recent acquaintance told me in Shanghai how he goes about exploring cities these days. For years much of his travel has mirrored mine: airport, plane, airport, taxi, hotel, conference, taxi, airport, plane, airport, sleep. Sick of this routine this peripatetic tycoon decided to make an effort to be different and see a unique slice of each city he visits. Now, when he gets a spare moment (and he always makes time – at least two hours) he heads out of his hotel and takes the first right, then the first left, then the first right and so on. This wonderfully random way of exploring appeals to me no end and will no doubt form the basis for many future blog posts, as (doff of the cap in Paul French’s direction for this lovely word coming up) what Baudelaire might have called a flâneur -- "that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps".

Monday, June 29, 2009

Oink, oink

The door of the airplane opened. Four masked men strode in. The one in front raised his gun, pointed it at the forehead of the air steward nearest him, and pulled the trigger. The steward survived. His temperature was deemed okay. Swine ‘flu and the associated paranoia from 2002’s SARS epidemic had driven authorities in China to new levels of extreme fear mongering. As each and every international plane touches down on PRC soil a team of four, clad in white forensic overalls, surgical masks and best of all ski masks (!!) enter each plane before anyone can leave. It’s like a scene from a low grade Hollywood disaster movie. The temperature guns are pointed at everyone’s forehead. Anyone slightly suspicious gets a second actual thermometer check. Then we are allowed to proceed. Leaving the plane, we’ve filled in a form saying we have no life-threatening lurgy, which another masked official takes ahead of passports. Pig paranoia preeminates.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sweat fest

Returning to Hong Kong this past Saturday was a quick reminder of why I hate Junes there; because you still have another three months at least of extreme humidity to put up with. Now in years past I have gradually got used to the return of the humidity as it permeates the atmosphere from April onwards. This time I flew in from London, headed into town, up and out of the Airport Express and past all the ludicrously priced shops of the International Finance Centre and headed out of my hermetically sealed existence of the past 16 hours onto an external elevated walkway. Hong Kong's offices are the coldest in the world, while outdoors have some of the highest humidity levels anywhere leading to curious common pneumonia occurrences. As I pushed open the glass door to head outside I noticed the T1 sign was up -- a typhoon was circling in the area. The oppressive heat hit me, smothered me really from head to toe. BOSCH --- it invaded every pore of my body straight away, hitting harder than a Springbok tackling a mauled British Lion. When typhoons hover, the air around Hong Kong tends to get sucked out of the atmosphere; the humidity climbs to 98%+ and even the hardiest, sinewy of locals has a sweaty brow. Within seconds my body taps switched on, perspiration popping from every part of my body. The alcohol from the flight is coming out neat and staining my shirt. This time of year is like walking in a sauna 24/7, with tshirts needing urgent changing all the time. This past weekend was about as bad as it gets. Time to get the hell out of here and head back to the cooler climes of the mainland.