Friday, December 11, 2009

Public transport

On the way home this evening, I saw an open top tour bus blundering through all the other early evening rush hour traffic. I wondered what would possess somebody to take an open top bus tour of Hong Kong. It seems an ill-suited city to drive around in the open, what with the heat, the humidity, and the pollution. You wouldn't be taking things in at ground level, where the interesting street markets are (although the Hong Kong Government is making a sterling effort to replace as many of these with characterless malls and housing developments as it can) and I can't see that you'd really get a good look at the architecture of Hong Kong from one storey higher, bumping along through stop-start traffic.

Mostly, though, I figured the general stench would get to you. It's probably something that is more easily accomodated if you're walking around, rather than encased in some kind of unventilated, roofless vehicle, semi-trapped.

And then I got the bus home, and that stank of farts, so perhaps an open-topped bus would have been preferable as the accumulated flatulence would have gradually escaped. I suppose this is wonderful irony. Or perhaps a message that I should give the open-top bus tour a chance, against my better judgment.

I did have a motorcycle tour around Shanghai, which was a fun experience. Quite unlike anything else; our French tourguide picked us up from outside the Westin, where bewildered Shanghaiers looked at the three gweilo riding off on an antiquated contraption that some of them might have endured while serving in the People's Liberation Army.

Shanghai on a Saturday morning seemed markedly less congested than Hong Kong at any time of the day, and therefore more suitable for a tour by road. We kept stopping off to look inside buildings (there's a wonderful post office overlooking the Bund, for example) which I guess you couldn't do in a bus with a guide yelling out the names of famous landmarks while you trundled along.

But perhaps most importantly, you weren't separated from Shanghai; being fully exposed to the elements, you didn't have a pane of glass walling you off from your environment. Plus, with no roof, you could look up and around yourself without impediment.

It probably helped that our guide was incredibly enthusiastic about his adopted city, showing us all kinds of beautiful art-deco hotels in the French Concession, and even driving us round to see his apartment block.

Also, unlike Hong Kong it feels as though there's a lot of the old areas being preserved, not least because most of the new skyscrapers have gone up over the river in Pudong. I imagine this could easily be coincidence, and another wave of shiny metal and concrete will wash over the remaining sites of cultural significance, but it's nice to be able to hope. Oh, and with the city gradually sinking into the mud, and the spectre of rising sea-levels, things may vanish anyway. But you can enjoy them while they last.

I've been reading Generation Kill, which I'm enjoying immensely. "Enjoy" is probably not quite the right term to use here, but it's an impressive and very humanising account of marines under stress, while their commanders act the fool, incautiously ordering artillery just because they want to see stuff blow up, or for self-aggrandisement. It wasn't just the English who were lions led by donkeys...

My friend Hugh, who gave me Generation Kill for my birthday, gave me Gomorrah last year. I wondered why every year he'd give me a depressing book, but Hugh feels this year's isn't so much depressing as demonstrative of inefficiences in large bureaucracies. Hugh has also written a paper on attitudes to masturbation in 14th century French literature, that I would encourage anybody reading this to seek out. I'm also convinced that he was the person who informed me that it's illegal in England to enjoy carnal relations with fish (in particular skate) although Hugh says he doesn't remember doing so. Well, it would have been 13 years ago when we were at university together, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. And a lot of fish, I assume. And I would be at pains here to point out that Hugh doesn't remember enjoying carnal relations with a skate. He doesn't remember telling me it would be illegal to do so. It's not like I'm saying Hugh has ever had sex with a fish. Or if he had, that he was too drunk to remember. Not at all. No.
Having got that off my chest, I'm off to prepare: hosting the show down at the comedy club this evening, so I need to wear something... funny?


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