As mentioned more than once, El Terreno, the barrio (neighbourhood) on the outskirts of Palma where I live, is a doggie paradise. Everybody has a dog and I know them all, impressed by their names like Connor, Toulouse, Zeus, Athos and Byron.
I should have called Koldbrann something noble like that, but when I got him back in 2012, how was I to know that I would one day live in a place with 1. lots of Swedes and 2. intellectually curious people?
Well, scratch 2. for now, but I'm leading up to it.
The reason why I gave Koldbrann such a, some would say horrible, name - it means Gangrene in Norwegian - is that my first dog ever, (2002) was called Piles. I told people it was because he was a pain in the arse, but of course he wasn't really. I just loved the name, and liked being able to say I was "living with Piles".
This was well before people started calling their dogs "fur babies" but even then I said we were just living together as flatmates, not "mother and child". I was and am against the idea of treating dogs like children when they are so clearly animals and, unlike children, will never grow up enough to start picking up their own poo.
So when Piles died of kidney failure and, about a year later, I found Koldbrann, I thought I would continue with the tradition of naming my dogs after afflictions. 'A slight cough' didn't sound dynamic enough, and although I did toy with the idea of 'Anthrax', I thought it would be safest to give him a Norwegian name, seeing no one would understand.
I told Chinese people his name was 老闆， Lou Baan - close enough and not unapt, seeing it means Boss and he looks like a cross between Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List and a sea lion.
How was I to know that, five years later, I'd be living in a rats' nest of Swedes? "Gangrene! That's not at all a good name," they say.
Oh how I wish I had called him Bjørnulf (Bear Wolf) or something instead, because around here, people think his name is Cobra! Ahhrghhh as if I would name my dog after a snake! Even 'Shingles' would have been better.
But my downfall came the other day, sauntering through nearby Bellver Forest. A woman with her own dog, a beagle, took an interest in Koldbrann.
"Cómo se llama?" (What is his name?)
"Koldbrann. No, no es Cobra. Es Koldbrann. Es un nombre noruego." (It is a Norwegian name.)
And then she said this dreaded thing that no local had asked me, but I knew this day would come: "Qué significa?" (What does it mean?)
Reader, to my eternal shame, I lied! I couldn't bring myself to answer "gangrena" and risk seeing her make a face like a Swede. I told her
"Es un nombre de viking. Koldbrann el naranja". (It is a Viking name. Koldbrann the Orange.)
and then legged it out of that forest as fast as Koldbrann could be arsed to walk (for he is an ancient geezer who has been through a lot).
I can never lie again, so that's out. Next time I must tell the truth. I'll just have to hope no one else possesses the same intellectual curiosity as this beagle owner, and stay away from Norwegians and Swedes until Koldbrann dies.
Maybe I should have just kept his original name, 汪汪， Wong Wong, which means Woof Woof in Cantonese. I should have known that all I had to do to make my dog's name go from being the same as every other mutt's to super special, was to change continents.
I imagine it's like a long and happy, sometimes turbulent, marriage. You don't just stop thinking about the guy just because he's, well, dead.
And you don't stop thinking about and laughing at the funny bits. In the case of Hong Kong, its government's addiction to signage, for example.
When I visited Hong Kong again for the first time in three year and found it to be rather less than its former self (aren't we all) I didn't think it was in any way the fault of ordinary Hong Kong people. They have been hammered non stop since the spring of 2019 and are now worn down.
No, it's only the government that has dragged the place down and with such astonishing efficiency. My criticism and scorn must be laid at its door, and by extension, that of the CCP itself.
One of many ways in which the Hong Kong government is imitating its masters up north is the ever increasing use of signage. We foreigners used to laugh at it even in the late 1900s or early 2000s when "everything is illegal" signs started springing up, especially in parks and near beaches.
Travelling all over mainland China all the time as I did, I was used to seeing signs everywhere telling people to do this and not do that, while the whole time praising the glorious Communist Party as the saviour of China (for "solving" problems that the party itself had created). These signs and posters came from a long tradition in China of Big Character Posters, which the communists fervently embraced as a great way of brainwashing people
and getting rid of political enemies. Even more fervently than even the newly "liberated" Hong Kong government after 1997 embraced its northern masters (while securing British or Canadian passports for themselves and their children, just in case).
So inspired by the stern signage in mainland China, Hong Kong started a softer version, not threatening with death or anything, just helping. Just explaining. Oh, the signs! I loved them. The signs helped me speed up my ability to read Chinese characters, because I wanted to see what they actually meant. (Send me a PM on Facebook if you want to know!)
So for a signage loving entity like the Hong Kong government, covid must have come as manna from heaven. Now they could cover what little was left of empty space of Hong Kong, with huge plastic Big Character (and cartoon) Posters. I had expected this and wasn't disappointed.
Beware of personal hygiene! Indeed.
The HK government signage makers weren't the only ones benefitting from Covid. For dogs, normally a hated outcast in public spaces, a whole new area of several square metres opened up during this difficult time:
Right? Without this explanation, how would a dog owner, let alone a dog, understand what the space was for and why? Here in Mallorca, in contrast, they don't seem to understand how much explanation people really need. On the sliding glass door of Porto Pi shopping mall there's just a symbol about the size of a large postage stamp, saying "Pet friendly"...
On my last morning in Hong Kong, sauntering along the waterfront of Central, I came across this gem. It was as if some government official had thought "here is an empty space that MUST be filled, but I'm fresh out of 3 metre wear a mask posters... Oh! I know!"
Another victory for your own safety.
I hate liver, the worst of all foods, but love paté. And I love the light and hate the dark - but only the dark of night. The dark of 4 o'clock in the morning, on the other hand, yeah, baby!
It all began during hard lockdown in Mallorca. Suddenly it was a crime to go outside, but if you were lucky enough to have a dog, you were "allowed" to take it outside. I can't remember if it was 25 or 40 metres - whatever it was, it was something ridiculous. Well bugger this, Koldbrann the dog and I agreed, we will live like we've always done with long walks in the morning. And if that means getting up at 4 o'clock, so be it.
I figured no Mallorcan policeman would be awake at that time, and I was right. We lived free and without masks, (unlike the people of Hong Kong). So I got into the habit of waking up at 4 and going out in the dark. It made me feel good, like I was doing something strangely like ... building self discipline. And when I'm on holiday, supposedly to take a break from the many duties of dog ownership, bugger me if I still don't get up before 5 and go out.
Just before Christmas I went to Valencia on the good ship Ciudad de Mahon (Trasmed) and what a pleasant journey that was. Smooth as silk and with excellent wifi. I luxuriated in beautiful, somewhat classic furniture, bars and restaurants, while feeling sorry for the people huddling on deck, trying to light their cigarettes.
Why fly when you can travel in style? Also the ferry terminals are 15 minutes' walk from my house, so a big win on all fronts.
In Valencia I thought I'd lie in till at least 6:00, but what do you know? Before 5 I was out of the hotel, trawling the streets like a weird travel person (or stray dog).
So that is my life now. I recommend it! It's the best time of day. Imagine having a whole town all to yourself, watching a city wake up, the coffee shops open, people starting to emerge. And then, eventually, the glorious sunrise.
The good habit has become an addiction; my legs need the walk, dog or no dog.
I met up with my sister in Alicante and it was the same thing there, as in Dénia. Out, out before anybody else, own the town, shoot the dawn.
It doesn't hurt that all these Spanish towns are so incredibly romantic looking and beautiful, made for early morning photography.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, they say. Well, it's working, for I have one out of three: Health! (Touch wood!)
Another thing to hone personal discipline that I have done and am still doing, is learning Chinese (Cantonese of course; the REAL Chinese) and Chinese characters. Once you have fought through the first few hundred, there is no turning back!
Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! I will show you how easy Chinese characters are, when you know a couple of tricks. Yes it can easily be done on Skype.
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.