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This article is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

Hong Kong Revisited John Needham

A grey, luminous, spring day, already humid. Clumps of bamboo frame a view of rugged green hills and a silvery bay. The shoreline is all coves and headlands, and from here the sea looks enclosed, like a lake. I could be an old Chinese scholar gazing down from his mountain pavilion. But 'here' is in fact my mother-in-law's front door-step, in a Buddhist retirement village in the New Territories, a few minutes drive from the city.

It's reassuring to find that Hong Kong still has its quiet places. When my wife and I were courting in the sixties, a ten-cent ride on a ferry or a short drive in a car would always take us to some beach or hill that felt like the Outer Hebrides. And I still have a vivid memory of swimming, one hot summer's day, just up the coast from here, with two colleagues from the university. We basked in the warm sea, flopping over occasionally to dive to a cooler depth; there was no sound but the murmur of the waves on the shore; between the glow of the sky and the glitter of the water the world seemed melting to a spaceless, timeless haze; a lotus-eating sort of day. But our floating dreams were abruptly disturbed by a deep hollow 'boom' - a sound rather felt than heard, a vague, powerful force that gave the whole surrounding body of water a sudden push; then left everything just as before.


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