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The difference ‘six little hours’ can make


OPINION: If the plan to spend a billion rand to partner with an English football team worked and tourists flocked to South Africa in their numbers – people from a clean, organised, polite and well-maintained country – what then?

Hong Kong turned out to be vastly different to what I was expecting. Picture: Lance Fredericks

FOR THE past few weeks I have been dutifully working remotely for the DFA, well to be perfectly honest I am working very remotely – in fact I am working so remotely that I am six time zones and, as it turns out, three worlds ahead of my fellow Kimberlites.

You see, when an opportunity recently arose for me to visit Hong Kong I jumped at the opportunity – after all, who wouldn’t?

OK, maybe there are a few people who wouldn’t jump because, before I left, if I mentioned the trip I was about to undertake, some family, friends and acquaintances – out of genuine concern, I must add – started cautioning me about the dangers of visiting the Far East.

“Have you heard how out of control the Covid pandemic is in China?” … “Be careful of eating the meat there! You’ll never know when you’re eating rat or dog.” … “Those people are dirty; you have to watch out. They sommer spit anywhere in the street!”

The negative comments and warnings became so overwhelming that I eventually stopped telling people that I was travelling to the Far East.

But, because of the negative comments that had come my way already, maybe it’s understandable that I alighted from the airbus at Hong Kong International Airport with a quivering sense of concern and trepidation.

“How am I going to navigate my way through these backward people,” I wondered as I approached a security official at the end of the long passageway that led from the plane’s exit door.

The young lady, neatly dressed and groomed, didn’t say a word, but simply directed the passengers where to go. And even here things started changing in my head. This young lady did not point out the direction we were to go with her index finger; she motioned with her open hand like a maître d would direct a guest to their table at a posh restaurant.

It felt more like she was inviting us to walk in the direction she was indicating rather than herding us. The very gesture – remember I had been in the country for 12 minutes at this point – started causing a paradigm shift in my head.

From the airport I boarded the subway train from the airport to Hong Kong Island where I would be staying for the next few weeks. The subway car was spotless! The people waiting for the train, and on the train itself during the commute, were quiet; those who were speaking were speaking in hushed tones so as not to disturb or bother fellow commuters.

I had used the subways in New York City, and compared to Hong Kong, the US experience was chaotic – loud, icky and overwhelming. I have also travelled by train in South Africa … no, never mind.

The subway train to Hong Kong Island stops beneath a mall … yes, a shopping mall with high-end shops from wall to wall and upwards for a few dozen stories. When I got onto the streets of the city, I didn’t tell my host but my eyes were darting around looking for the vats of bubbling dog meat on the streets that I had been told about.

There were none.

The food is of an exceptionally high quality too. Picture: Lance Fredericks

There were also no puddles of spit, no smell of urine – human or dog – and ZERO litter. And just like that, the paradigm completed its 180-degree swing!

In this city, in fact, there are fewer trash cans on the streets than any city in South Africa. But there is no litter on the streets … none! Everyone obviously has taken it upon themselves to keep their city clean.

Everywhere you look, throughout the day, maintenance is being carried out all the time. The public toilets – even ones I visited on a hiking trail – are spotless, not even a hint of an unpleasant odour.

Oh, and by the way, there are trucks that go around the city washing the sidewalks down with high-pressure hoses and disinfectant – no, not for Covid, just for hygiene.

When I say this city is clean, I mean C-L-E-A-N!

Even in the older villages, the streets are not strewn with litter. In fact there is no litter at all. Picture: Lance Fredericks

One thing that had me worried though was the prospect of dealing with the crowds. And I didn’t have to wait for too long, but I was surprised once again … like on the subway train, the crowds on the streets and in shops are quiet, reserved and courteous. Not once did I see someone get impatient or push past anyone.

Oh, and I walked through the city a few times, and in three weeks I have heard cars’ hooters being honked, I kid you not, nine times in total.

As for the roads, they are smooth, level and well marked. The road surfaces are like velvet and this is true everywhere I have been from Hong Kong Island to KowLoon to Lantau. Oh, and by the way, I have heard that Singapore and Japan are in even better nick!

The city of Hong Kong is more like an oasis than a bustling city. Picture: Lance Fredericks

Now, pardon me if I sound a bit harsh, but looking around the places I have visited on my working holiday, wide-eyed tourist that I am, I wondered what a tourist from Hong Kong would think of my homeland.

I am wondering because a recent article on this newspaper’s website made me sit up when I read that “the South African government plans to sign a nearly R1 billion deal with English Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur in the hopes of attracting tourists to the country.”

Naturally I was relieved and hopeful when I read later on in another article that this was all hogwash, a rumour … hearsay. It was a bit of a concern to me personally, however, that the notion of that R1 billion expenditure was not actually denied, but what was denied was that certain people were not aware of it.

Now I am wondering, why would anyone spend close to a billion precious rands to lure people to a country that is in such a sorry state?

I mean … imagine if the government were seriously considering such a cash outlay! How would they have come up with such a hairbrained scheme? Who would they have consulted? Have they really, I mean REALLY thought this through?

I ask because, if the plan worked and tourists flocked to South Africa in their numbers; people, let’s say, from a clean, organised, polite and well-maintained country – Hong Kong for example – what then?

Because I am realising every day on this trip that countries in the first world and my country, that feels as if it is rapidly sliding into the third world, are separated by just six time zones.

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