Hong Kong is a funny old place. Usually we are shrouded in murky haze. When I drive to work each morning I have a small test of the air quality. As I emerge from the Eastern Harbour Tunnel and up on to the expressway (frequently a misnomer) I look for the towering edifice that is 2IFC – that’s International Finance Centre for the uninitiated. This modern day Cleopatra’s needle pumps up its chest and threatens all the puny buildings around it, confident in the safety of housing the headquarters of the SAR’s de facto central bank, that paragon of integrity, the HK Monetary Authority. Just as Peter West insisted (according to Max Boyce) that Twickenham was simply “HQ”, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority is simply known as the “MA”. But I digress. My test is simple. Can I see the blasted thing? And yes, indeed there are days when the Tower of Babel is simply lost in the grimy layers of HK’s bespoke verdigris. A straight ten means it stands out like a shaft of silver, when all around is dark. Zero means I can barely see the road in front of the car. Generally we get something in the 4-6 range. My test is a lot cheaper than the Observatory’s scientific approach and arguably easier for the chap in the street to understand.
But today it is crystal clear. As it was yesterday. Two in a row. If I kept records I’d check if this was a first. Just to prove it I grabbed my pocket Lumix and took this:
Aha! I hear you say. Clouds. There’s no need to be so accusatorial. I didn’t say there were no clouds. In fact we went for the blue, white and red – tricolour style – in honour of Li Na’s triumph at the French Open. The green was an afterthought, thrown in my Mother Nature. But you have to be honest, it is rather glorious.
I did consider a blog-rant about the appalling organisation at the dragon boat races today but I decided against it. Instead I share with you the drama of the garden. Most people in HK live in apartments if they live on the Island, “village houses” in the New Territories and, if you are unlucky a cage in Kowloon. Equality has not yet reached HK but fear not, the government of the PRC is working on it. Soon we shall all be in cages. Now we are lucky enough to have a house. A small house. But it has 3 gardens. One is ours and 2 are communal. The front communal garden is haven for wildlife. Why, a wild boar even invited itself to supper and ate all the vegetables the other day. We have a decent bird list for the garden. I cheat. I count sea eagles flying over even if they don’t land and therefore on this basis I also have Chinese goshawk, Peregrine, Osprey and – as they have landed in the garden – Crusty serpent eagle and Black kite. Some of them nest – mainly Magpie robins, Red-whiskered and Chinese bulbuls, Tailorbirds, Tree sparrows, Barn swallows and probably the odd Spotted dove. And it is the nests, I believe, that have attracted an unwelcome visitor. If you are an egg, nestling or concerned parent. Yes, the Greater coucal has started to visit. My wife first spotted one a few months back. Then a couple of weeks ago I saw one in the trees opposite and since then sightings have increased.
Mid afternoon the cacophony of harassment started. Every small bird in Confuciandom surrounded the bushes in the middle of the grassy area (it would be egregious hyperbole and flattery to call it a lawn) and hurled the most vile abuse at the hidden villain. After half an hour or so I saw the coucal waddle out and away from the bushes, only to scurry back in. The other name for the coucal is the crow pheasant and they are quite an attractive bird in the right circumstances. Clearly not if your offspring is on the menu.
Another 20 minutes passed and at last the coucal started to make its way along the path, still almost undercover but a rare “heads up” allowed me to get this shot:
Boo, hiss, the audience screeched, as the pantomime demon king strutted onto the stage. He’s behind you!! Then a remarkably fast about turn and the coucal picked up what looked like a small snake or long lizard from the edge of the grass and scuttled back under cover. Naturally I didn’t document this bit on ‘film’. Soon afterwards, the coucal ran across the path, through the hedge and glided away out of the garden towards some lower vegetation. I had seen one coucal already down there so probably coucal 2 was simply looking for something to feed its young for tea. Snake strikes me as infinitely healthier than beans on toast. And I doubt if a heartening meal of asp has the same dire after effects.
And so the drama ended. The audience quietly sidled towards the exit and normality resumed. The Chinese bulbul pair recommenced its labour of love, delivering juicy caterpillars and berries to the young hidden in our bougainvillea. Now even I can get that on film.
And, as they said at Roland Garros, c’est magnifique, mais c’est pas la guerre. Au revoir, mes copains.