Thursday, 9 December 2010

Ferry journeys

We have days. I imaginatively call them On-island days and Off-island days.

On-island days are spent in similar ways. Arguing. Why can't we have pasta again for lunch? Is anything really really wrong about pushing a sister off a balcony, really? Who drew the prettiest dragon? Why are my dragons rubbish? How can you say that about these jeans? It's only a rip up one leg from ankle to waistband. I mean, look at you, mother. You hardly dress for success.

I look forward to the off-island days.

Off-island days, we catch a ferry. We go exploring. We travel in all directions. We go anywhere. Do anything. We might meet friends on Hong Kong Island or visit galleries and museums in Kowloon. We go walking, climb hills, and see green.

Sometimes, in the middle of our off-island day, we must run the gauntlet of soulless money junkies cramming the shopping malls. It's unavoidable. The malls are our quick cut-throughs to and from our destinations. But even the malls offer amusements. I can play games like counting the number of near misses between stiletto heels and escalator treads.

Whatever we do, an off-island day means we board the ferry out in the morning and back in the evening. It's always an experience I look forward to. Off-island mornings, I feel childishly excited, anticipating a voyage at sea, boarding the boat that takes us into the formless waters and the start of our adventures.

The ferry makes a great chuff chuff noise, and is big enough to reassure you that it won't sink, but it's small enough that you can look to the front and wonder how everyone would act, if the helmsman suddenly went berserk and steered us off to the Philippines.

By boat, on the deep sea, there's always a frisson of unpredictability, helped when Tiger leans to me after watching the white foam, and earnestly asks, What happens if there aren't enough life jackets for everyone?

Once I saw jellyfish; once a squadron of police boats circling a container platform; once the harbour safety boat buzzing around with danger, leakage, hazard, swimming in its wake; once a pirate sailing ship; once a Spanish galleon.

We all have, by now, our favourite seats on board, and yes, off-island days, we join the whole group of commuter type people who do that funny walk the moment the gates to the gangplank swing open and we all surge forward. The run that pretends to be a walk. The walk that's really a run. It adds to the anticipation. Will I get my favourite seat? The one with the uninterrupted view where I can easily slip into that reverie about the volcano exploding and then Hong Kong being consumed by a giant squid? Or will I have to sit scowling with my arms folded because someone's head is in the way, and last time it ruined the squid chomping denouement.

If we can get our favourite places (mine: outside, starboard to Hong Kong, fourth seat back, horizon, cool breeze, flick of sea spray) then for half an hour, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger shut up, and stare out to sea. I like this too. They become hypnotised by the waters and the waves. Sea monsters, maybe. Or shipwrecks swum around by mermaids, water horse, and skeleton fish.

When we reach Hong Kong island, the ferry journey ends, and our day begins again. We cross the sky way footbridge, to overlook the construction companies at work with diggers and scrapers, dumpers and fillers. They're moving Hong Kong Island closer to Kowloon, advancing the harbour with concrete, step by step, in ongoing projects of land reclamation.

We all know, it's not reclamation. It's stealing.

I console myself. This time in Hong Kong isn't all lost. Tiger runs to the pier gates at the end of our off-island day. She wants to secure the seat she needs. She waits, impatiently, for the ferry to arrive, the gates to open, and for her water journey to begin.