A Deserted City?

Another ten days passed, but the Novel Corona Virus – now taken on a new name with disease which it causes called COVID-19 – continues to take centre stage everywhere, not only in Hong Kong and China. Alex Lo wrote in his column about Heritage Lodge and the virus related issues almost daily, while my friend Mike Rowse wrote in the same Paper about why he wouldn’t wear a mask, but not many people had made active follow-up or responses to their views, even though many of them saw their points and certainly won’t disagree with what they had said. Such is not unexpected in our City even in the best of times.

In the meantime, people were scavenging for facemasks and everything with the latest saga involving a crime of armed robbery for some toilet rolls. Su actually went for a walk in some districts and came home to tell me frantic and incredible stories which actually are not worth repeating. All these reflect a failing if not already failed City State which at least one foreign journalist has already alluded to in her column. After the storming of the LegCo Building in July last year which resulted in no immediate arrests, my friend and fellow Wah Yan graduate of the 1963 vintage had already predicted the death of Hong Kong. The conclusion was a no brainer – it is only a question of when and how.

Su has introduced a rigid regime on cleanliness at home and has laid down very strict instructions on where to leave our shoes after we return home from outside. I have just been chastised severely for a minor breach. Nevertheless, she still won’t wear masks on her occasional MTR rides or at our weekly private dance lessons, or for that matter when she was shopping. Yes, our Club where we used to have weekly classes has closed its venues to group lessons since Chinese New Year so that we now have our private lessons at the studio of our Instructor in Sheung Wan. At least one of our clubs is now closed for guests and is having mandatory temperature checks for members once they step into the club premises. All social or sports clubs apparently require staff to wear masks at work.

On social media, there are constant and repeated reports that the eight months of continuing riots and street violence have disrupted if not destroyed 70% of businesses in the City; and the virus situation certainly has destroyed at least another 20%. Now that some die hard black shirts are intent on continuing with street blockades and creating unrest, all businesses in the City would come to a grinding halt in no time. That is certainly a rather dim view, but unfortunately is shared by many people across all sectors; and no one has put forth any constructive and long term solutions as plentiful negative suggestions are continuingly being aired in all media, beginning with our publicly funded broadcaster. What a mess indeed!

Amidst all these, Su and I are determined to live an as normal a life as we possibly can. We had lined up two functions over the last weekend, on Friday and Saturday, both in the evenings, and both in the Wong Chuk Hang area, so that she had booked a month earlier a hotel which we had used before for two consecutive nights, which would have allowed us to eat and drink to our hearts’ content without worries on how to get back to Mei Foo. It was a cheap on-line booking with no provision for refund. Under the prevailing situation, however, the operators changed their policy and allowed for refund, which Su did, again on-line, with no questions asked. While we did indeed save some costs, we are wary that businesses are in a no-win situation and have been silently bearing the brunt throughout.

And what did we do on those evenings? We had a great time celebrating Valentine’s Day on the first evening, drinking lots of wine and bubblies with friends, old and new, while on the second evening, we attended the wedding banquet of a young couple – the bride was my HKU mentee from years before – who were determined to celebrate their love and life in a colourful and memorable, albeit somewhat expensive manner. But life is never perfect though, half of their invited guests could not turn up because of the prevailing perceived health risks. On our table, seven of us shared the food meant for 12 guests. The food was very good. The new couple were gorgeous, particularly the bride.

On most other evenings, we would eat at home. I would take public transport or taxi home for dinner after my meetings in Kennedy Road. As I said last time, the roads are quite deserted and taxi drivers are dying for a fare. Most of them tour the streets for more than an hour without any passengers; and at Admiralty MTR Exit C, taxis queue up for passengers during what used to be peak hours. Su is happy to demonstrate her consummate home cooking and her flexible choices and mixes of ingredients. For my part, I tried to match her dishes with the right wines, and when in doubt, bubblies never fail.

Perhaps, the worst consequence for me so far has been the advisory from the Catholic Diocese that no Masses would be celebrated publicly in any churches or chapels although they are still open for prayers. Now, even at the height of street violence when the rioters severely vandalized the HKU MTR Station resulting in the closure of most exits, I was still able to go to Mass daily when I wanted to, using buses or did more walking. Rather unexpectedly, this virus has disrupted life – my life – more badly than the rioters. It is something for all of us to think about indeed.

But the City is still not as deserted as some of the cities we have visited in our travels. A case in point was Saint-Lô, a commune in north-western France and capital of the Manche department in the region of Normandy, which we visited by car accidentally in the summer of 2013, looking for hotels to stay overnight. We drove for 5 to 10 minutes and could not see a person or a shop open. The place was almost totally bombed out and leveled to the ground during the Second World War in 1944 as a strategic move of the Allies after the landing at Normandy. After the War, it was completely rebuilt with city planning and so on so that streets are clean and the buildings immaculate, but it was rather thinly populated, and we couldn’t find anyone when we were there. That was a deserted city, at least on the day we were there! More food for thoughts!

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