Thursday, 14 October 2010

one picture

I recently set myself the task of selecting just one photograph from the thousands that I've taken over the years that would sum up Hong Kong for someone who has never been here. And here it is (the explanation follows):

The first thing you will notice is that there is nothing in this picture that tells the viewer it was taken in Hong Kong. This is deliberate. Although it has one of the finest natural harbours in the world—which explains why it was seized by the British in 1841—it is not its location, landscape or natural features that makes Hong Kong special but its people. And this picture points to three abiding characteristics of the local Chinese population (always bearing in mind the caveat that there will be exceptions to any attempt to generalize).

First, most locals are not merely security conscious; fear of crime is much higher than is justified by the figures. Consequently, this gate in a fence, which is located alongside a frequently walked country path, is topped by barbed wire, when the locked gate would deter most people (and the barbed wire would not put off a determined intruder).

Second, as the sign proclaims, this is a ‘store’ (‘Lai Kee Store’), which means, in local terminology, that it’s a cafe. It relies entirely on passing trade, and as you can see it has a very limited menu: soft drinks, instant noodles, and very basic fried rice and rice noodles. It is less than a mile from the road that most people walking past will have started from, yet it is popular, which reflects the Chinese obsession with food, which put simply is a paranoia about not having any.

Given how basic the food being offered is, and the fact that it is almost certainly prepared by an amateur, it is a mystery to me why anyone would stop here when a mere mile and a half further along the track you reach our friend tom’s store, where the variety offered is much wider, and the food is prepared by a professional. And you don’t have to sit in a cage while eating!

Finally, I’ve always admired the ingenuity and inventiveness of the Chinese, which is exemplified here by the gate itself. You will observe that it is not a gate but a bed frame. Quod erat demonstrandum.


  1. Very interesting and a great photo. I really do need to get back there. this time with eyes open to the surroundings...

  2. More photos please! I love the bed frame. Ingenious.

  3. Great pictures and even more great the way you tell the story behind the picture, very interesting indeed.


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