The all new Cecilie's Pen & Wok Blog
For example, marathon runners would be allowed to eat bananas OUTSIDE WITHOUT A MASK if only they kept well away from other runners while doing it. Also, people would be allowed to take off their masks while having their wedding photograph taken!
One reader took exception to my impression that a Hong Kong where even toddlers had been forced to wear masks for three years was looking sad and forlorn. She protested that there was much happy interaction using eyebrows, adding: You see what you want to see.
Do I? I think what I desperately had wanted to see was a happy and smiling Hong Kong, vibrant, hard working and upwardly mobile. Not a sea of dentists where I was a leper who wasn't even allowed to have a coffee on the pavement.
Anyway, I had predicted this even before leaving Mallorca, so I had craftily, but which turned out to be stupidly, bought a return ticket to Sydney to see my Australian friends and get away from masks for a while.
I especially felt an urge to see my friend Lydia who had been my Cantonese student in Hong Kong from 2006, and who gave me three pieces of advice so excellent that I have been following them ever since.
1. Me: I would like to have a tv programme. Lydia: Get a video camera and make your own tv programmes!
Little did she know that I would start filming more or less the next day, and with her in a starring role!
2. Nespresso machine. On one of my many trips to Sydney (in 2015?) she showed me this wondrous thing. I had stopped smoking a few years earlier and needed a new, socially acceptable addiction. Coffee is excellent! It really blackened my teeth though, whereas Lydias' are still sparkling white.
3. Dibbern - the most beautiful cups to hold the above.
However! Talking of coffee. On the way back from Moruya, where Lydia now lives, I decided to go by train from Canberra, possibly the only station in a world capital that has kangaroos jumping around right outside the entrance.
I love trains, so this was four hours well spent, I thought.
That was before I went to the restaurant car, or the car with food and drinks for sale. I bought a coffee and... Let me hasten to add that of course I didn't expect it to be anything like all the excellent coffee I had drunk in Australia, in Lydia's place and elsewhere. But I thought it would be something beginning with Nes, if not Nespresso.
I got back to my seat with the little cup with a lid, opened it and... saw only hot water. What the? Oh, I was supposed to stir in the instant coffee myself?
But it wasn't instant coffee.
It was a coffee bag. Like a teabag, but with some kind of blackened sawdust in it. That's what it tasted of, anyway. That and some stale cardboard.
Back in Hong Kong, I fought my way through a whole "you are very very satisfied with the delivery of our experience, right?" from NSW Rail Link, the kind of questionnaire that every company sends out nowadays after you've already paid heaps for their product, expecting you to spend 10 to 15 minutes praising them on top of what you've paid. But I did it in order to get to Comments so I could advise them to stop this outrage in its track, as it were.
Ahhrghhh! All the questions were tick a box. No space for Comments or even Remarks. That was 12 minutes not well spent.
The next day I bought a non Dibbern cup out of spite, so all was not lost. Actually I hadn't much to do except for buying cups, for of course flying back into Hong Kong from Australia I had to start all over again with the QR code, PCR tests and being locked out of the eating and drinking establishments for four days...
0+0 means 0 days in prison, I mean enforced quarantine, and apparently when you fly into Hong Kong from abroad like I did with only - gasp! - 2x experimental drugs in your body instead of 3 or preferably more, you can now just go for a coffee or something, willy-nilly. Well, you still have to show a QR code, but not a vaccine pass. Or was it the other way around? Sources on the ground in Hong Kong tell me it now takes three clicks on the app, up from before, one.
I had to wait three days for that code. Twice. Well, three and a half and four respectively, because the day you land doesn't count. Well, it counts as one when you are taking the three PCR tests, the first being when you arrive and then two more, but in between tests you have to self test and take a photo of it with the date and upload it, and you register your phone number when you land but by the second test it has suddenly changed so you can only register if you have a HK phone number and anyway it's only two PCR tests now, that changed in mid-test on Monday, and... Confused yet?
I certainly was.
And so were the many, many nurses? Health officers? I spoke to, asking how the hell I was supposed to get my "Leave Home Safe" app tracking device to change from AMBER code (with which I was locked out from all establishments where the removal of the sacred mask would be necessary - not even the Hong Kong government could justify keeping restaurants and bars closed any longer) to BLUE code which would magically get me in everywhere. No one knew.
See, at this stage I was still so naïve and Luddite, I thought QR codes on a piece of paper and a letter in Spanish from Clinica Rotger were what I needed to leave home SAFELY. But no! However, after a long phone conversation with someone at the Health something department, I finally found out I could get a 'provisional vaccine' pass. And that only two unproven medical experiment jabs would be enough! And where would I get this pass into the app?
She thought a while.
"I'm not sure. But try the post office."
But of course! Duh! I should have thought of that. The post office is always the answer to all your health questions.
The next day I set off by ferry to Central, and bugger me if the Central Post Office didn't have a whole window just dealing with covid this and that. After a quick look at my phone (no need to show the stack of papers I had with me) - ping! There it was. My beautiful blue QR code that would allow me entry into all establishments eating and drinking. Yaooooo!
It turned out it would all have happened automatically on the fourth day of my stay in Hong Kong. All I would have had to do was click on Vaccine Pass in the app I had uploaded weeks before. No one in the health department, the PCR testing stations or anywhere, could tell me this. But of course!
*I started writing this just before Christmas. In the meantime, the HK government with little John Lee at the helm, has removed all codes and requirements - now you can just fly to Hong Kong, walk straight through the airport and into the nearest restaurant. IN the airport, for that matter! AMAZING. What a kindness!
You still have to wear a mask outside at all times though. Until at least after the winter, a presumably beaming Little John could assure us even while I was there. He also said "The pearl of Hong Kong is shining brighter than ever!" Quite.
Because in Hong Kong, it was 2020 all over again. AND 2021, depending on what degree of fascism you lived under. during the headiest of the frothing covid hysteria. I was of course aware of the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, in Hong Kong was forced to wear a face mask in public places, including parks, but it was still very uncomfortable to see it up close. Let alone to wear that awful thing outdoors again.
I spent the first three days running rather frantically from pillar to post, trying to get a QR code. No, not the green QR code that I had acquired in Frankfurt and apparently my only way into Hong Kong although I am a permanent resident, but another code, a blue one. Only this code would allow me to have a coffee in a coffee shop or a meal in a restaurant. Without the code, I would be reduced to begging for scraps outside 7-Eleven. Yes even outdoor restaurants, the few that are left, were closed to me. For according to Hong Kong authorities, nothing is as dangerous as the great outdoors when it comes to the spread of this mild flu.
However, all that turned into a kind of semi fun challenge, and a bizarre mission, about which more later. The many absurd rules and restrictions, changing all the time, I saw - had to see - as blogworthy; fodder for stories. Staying with fun friends on an island without cars made it all fun in all its surrealism. But what I couldn't see as anything resembling fun, and which got me more and more down as the days went by, was the masks.
Hong Kong had become a world without faces, a world without smiles. I bet no one is doing botox anymore in Hong Kong; they only have eyebrow action left to communicate effectively. The worst thing was that everyone seemed to have retreated into their own bubble.
The Hong Kong people I remembered and loved were gregarious, loud and always engaged in some kind of conversation; live or on the phone. Now people were by themselves, alone, not talking. It was a shock and hurt me in my very core.
The mask mandate was so strictly enforced, according to the South China Morning Post, that on only one day in February this year, police had handed out fines of US$ 53,000. I saw little children too young to walk, wearing tight masks and plastic face visors, although the fines "only" start from the age of 2...
My friends warned me against taking off the dreaded face nappy for a second outdoors - even while hiking or taking out the rubbish. Anything could happen if I removed the bacteria soaked rag! The police were everywhere!
Of course I didn't always comply, not only because it's STUPID, but also because I hate the thing so intensely and it gives me rosacea. Also I wanted to see if the police would really do something to me, or if the dreaded "you foreigners think you're so special" glares would occur.
Everyone was lost in their own world, staring at their phones or straight ahead.
The only incident of stranger rage happened almost on my friends' doorstep when I had been down to the village to buy beer for the party we had to have in their house because I was a social leper without a blue code and couldn't go to bars and restaurants - an Englishman (?) staring hard at my purchase and sneering: "Plastic bag". Yes correct. I carried the beer in a bag which was indeed made of plastic. Or maybe he wasn't sneering? It's hard to tell the difference between a sneer and someone who is just learning to name things, behind the stupid, ugly, useless, anti human masks.
These paper objects made in China have turned Hong Kong into an unhappy city, a downtrodden, fearful city. If I were to sum up my stay there in one word, it would be this: Heartbreaking.
It all began with Lufthansa's flight from Palma to Frankfurt being late. No wait! It all began with some HK friends saying I would need 3 unproven medical experiments (jabs) to even be allowed into restaurants and public buildings in that put-upon city. Having already seen that two of these jabs were not only useless, but with more and more reports of sudden unexplained deaths and galloping cancers popping up everywhere, I was damned if I was going to be experimented on further.
A long fight with Clinica Rotger to get a letter of exemption ensued, but two days before departure I had this valuable document in my hand as well as two QR codes on paper and in my phone. Sorted! But still not at ease. I had heard stories of up to eight hours waiting time at the airport to have your test analysed, for a start.
When I got to Frankfurt very late, I had to run across this enormous airport to catch my next flight. (Why don't they have trollies???) When I got to the gate a Hong Kong looking girl wearing a surgical mask stopped me. "Where is your code?" I talked to her in Cantonese, big mistake.
"I am not Chinese!" she huffed.
OK, OK. What code?
"The green QR code you have to fill in online. It's in your phone."
This was the first I heard about this, so it really wasn't. But what... how... I don't have a phone, I for some reason blurted out, although what I meant was I didn't have roaming outside of Spain.
I was starting to feel a bit flustered, especially when the girl said with some satisfaction that I wouldn't be allowed on the plane. Then this good Samaritan came up, a boy so kind and reassuring and possibly beautiful behind the stupid mask, speaking wonderful Cantonese. He uploaded the thing on his phone and sent it to me by WhatsApp after I had hooked up with the airport wifi. Even for him who had done it more than once, it took AGES. I later did it myself flying back from Sydney, and with all the info they wanted including the brand of failed medical experiment, its serial number (optional) and dates of jabbing and my grandmother's name and hair colour and bla bla, it took me 23 minutes.
I almost cried with relief when I finally stumbled onto the flight, looking everywhere for my saviour to thank him again, but seeing only a forest of blue masks. When I got to Hong Kong I saw another forest, or sea, of black hair standing in a massive wall to wall line, where the last time I flew there in 2019 there were just individuals swishing through the controls. Now we were all going to be severely PCR tested.
But I was so happy to be speaking Cantonese and excited about being there, that I managed to see the hazmat suits and plastic visors for the joke they were, and enjoyed the PCR test immensely! With my newly acquired green QR code I just beeped right through and I must say the HK authorities had this rigmarole down to a T and we were all, and I mean hundreds, registered, anal probed (in the nose) and whisked through in about 10 minutes.
I later met my good Samaritan, ah-Yat, again for a ... mango smoothie? in the newly renovated Central Market and it turned out he was a student of music AND a violinist with the Symphony Orchestra of Vienna! But but, how could it be? He looked like a teenager.
In another YouTube video it said he and other musicians from all over the world had come to HK in January and endured 21 DAYS of quarantine to take part in Beare’s Premiere Music Festival, only to have the concert hall closed at the last minute because of the covid hysteria that had only just started to abate somewhat when I got there, except... but more of that later. THANK YOU, ah YAT!
Fortunately my excellent friend, also called Cecilie, came over from Norway to help, and to steer the car. That's right, I don't have a licence. So? 30 years in Hong Kong will do that to a person.
I managed to book some hotel rooms and ferry tickets at least, but soon realised what had looked like downtown Mahon on the map was actually near a roundabout and petrol station 5 km out of town. No worries - while C relaxed in the pool I did something I hadn't done in what seemed like years: Took a walk in the sun. Free and free! Just strolling along with the sun on my face. It felt so good, I decided to do it again this year.
I ended up in Es Castell, a charming little harbour which, like so many other little harbours in Menorca, manages to look like a little fishing village in Dorset. And small wonder, because the English strategically occupied Menorca three times, building roads and infrastructure and apparently becoming quite popular. Like they were in Hong Kong!
Yes, how many times the last five something years I lived there did I hear people like taxi drivers sigh wistfully: "I wish the British would come back." I don't think many HK people today, if they were free to speak honestly, would say that life under the commie heal is much better. But that's speculation of course.
Another legacy of the British or perhaps another of the many occupiers of the island, or of course the Menorcan islanders themselves, is a pride in their environment. Menorca is so clean! Orderly! Even in the larger towns Ciutadella and Mahon there is none of the debris you find all around the streets and countryside of Mallorca and Hong Kong - plastic bags, plastic bottles, cans... and of course paper face masks made in China.
Ciutadella harbour at dawn
Talking of masks; on the ferry between Alcudia and Menorca, they still kept up the conceit of having to wear a mask in the enormous, airy salon. As you enter, a member of staff, very apologetic, hands you a fresh paper mask made in China. It made me gag to have that scratchy paper near my skin again. And it made me think about Hong Kong, where I am going soon. In Hong Kong they are still doing the outdoor mask thing, thinking (?) it will save them from Covid. The fine is HK$ 5,000, and is apparently strictly upheld. Of course they need some revenue in their coffers now that people are leaving in by the tens of thousands, and businesses are being slaughtered on purpose.So that will be blogworthy and a half. I have to see those frogs boiling. Almost three years of mask wearing and lockdowns will have done something to their psyches. I will get back to Menorca and its many joys, but for now, sign up sign up for LIVE crash courses in Cantonese, people! I can see you from November 5th onwards.
If you want to know what it says on this mask, sign up for a crash course in Cantonese! Today's Cantonese: 我十一月去香港! O sap yat yuet heui Heung Gong! I 11 month go Hong Kong!
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