As we descend the steep, winding grade, the emerald green waters of the South China sea come into view and the white sands of the beach gleam invitingly. Our Uber driver is looking for a place to pull over and let us out. He asks:
“Do you want to go to the mall?”
A natural assumption. When in Hong Kong, you must shop. There seems to be a mall every 50 meters. When you’re not in the mall, you’re negotiating pedestrian traffic with street vendors selling every and anything that may or may not be legal.
But no, we are actually here for the beach, we tell him. It took us a good 45 minutes to traverse the 7.8 miles of Hong Kong traffic, inching our way from the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon to Repulse Bay on Hong Kong Island. And the beach it will be.
We negotiated our way through the tour buses, all parked in a row. The tourists, who probably have about 20 minutes or so at this stop, make the requisite trek through the sand to the water’s edge to take a group shot before again boarding the bus to their next destination.
All in all, the place is not that crowded. It is a Friday and so we’ve beat the weekend traffic. We find a quiet, shady spot to make camp with our hotel towels. It’s warm out, probably 30C (about 86F) but there is a steady breeze and the shade helps.
Just as we’re settling in, a loudspeaker blares an announcement, first in Cantonese, then Mandarin, and then in English. The English speaker has a proper British accent, no surprise given Hong Kong’s history as a colony of the Empire until just 20 years ago. The Queen’s representative asks us in the most civil tone imaginable to refrain from the flying of kites, the “throwing of disks” (aka Frisbees) or from disrupting other beach goers in any way and please, especially please, do not smoke on the beach, except in the designated smoking areas. She is so polite, I’m half expecting her to invite us to tea.
A couple next to us, conversing in Russian, is either ignoring the announcement or unable to understand. They are puffing their Marlboros.
Eastern Europeans do seem to love this place. Another couple, probably in their late ’30s, are showing all the signs of a comfortable relationship. The man is attempting to situate the towels so that he is has shade and she has sun but the towels are together. He is doing this all while being second-guessed by the woman. He will lose this battle, but perhaps not the war. That turns out to be an appropriate analogy as he plops down and opens a thick paperback book titled OBLED ’44, a historical tome about Warsaw during World War II.
As the tourists continue their parade on the beach, another parade — of giant container ships — is visible out to sea, just past the dozens of tiny forested islands that pop up out of the water. The vessels chug along, one after the other, carrying goods to and from this megalopis that has been a pinnacle of international trade for centuries.
We take a dip to cool off and the waters here are as warm as any tropical locale, and this includes Sherry’s home of Mauritius, out in the Indian ocean, off the coast of Africa.
The waters are well protected. There are life guard stations every 50 meters, patrolled by young men carrying radios and who look physically fit to swim a mile at a moment’s notice. They also patrol in the water by paddle boats and jet skis. They trade stations every hour to ensure they are staying alert. And the whole network of guards, whether stationed or mobile, is coordinated by guys in a command center, a three-story tower that could easily serve any small airport.
The only protection the tourists need, though, is from the sun. No doubt, many will be back in their hotel rooms this evening seeking salves and ointments for their reddened skin.
And if they, like us, find on this vacation that the beach is more enticing than the shops, well, no worries. Whatever goods you want to buy here are no doubt available at home. The merchandise probably started its journey to its final destination through these very channel islands.