Thursday, January 25, 2007

Able was I, ere I saw Hong Kong

Picture from Divetrip.

On a trip to Palau in 2004, I went snorkeling for the first ever time, in the most amazing clear blue waters, in idyllic conditions, in the sunshine, and with a group of really lovely paddlers who were competing in the Micronesia Cup outrigger competition.

Palau is where one of the Survivor series was filmed and is reputedly the only place where they didn’t have to clean the beaches to make the islands look deserted. I’ve seen the detritus first hand elsewhere – empty water bottles, plastic cartons and, for some reason, flipflops by the thousand, cast aboard from dirty, careless international industrial ships - floating heedless in the sea until it arrives somewhere, anywhere, to lie on previously unsullied sand everywhere there’s a tide.

Palau’s not really made for tourists, being too remote (fly to the Philippines from Hong Kong and turn left … then keep going), and thronging with Taiwanese sightseers who snorkel in lifejackets because they can’t swim. It was all we could do to buy suntan lotion at the local store. But the sea is sparkling blue and the fish are abundant, and I couldn’t have had a better place to learn to breathe underwater.

The Napoleon wrasse is a big, ugly, unhappy-looking fish, so named presumably because of its enormous proboscis-like snout and its weak chin. I met one in the water and couldn’t help being drawn to its huge despondent presence - a justified despondence, because it’s on the verge of extinction – Hong Kong imports 60% of world supplies and it’s just been listed by the World Conservation Union as being endangered.

Poor old Napoleon wrasse – not an especially tasty fish (and I confess, I’ve eaten some, in a Japanese restaurant in Palau, before I realised how endangered it is), in fact, downright bland; but victim to the Hong Kong consumer’s insatiable, irrational, self-perpetuating appetite for anything rare, for which read expensive, for which read sought-after, for which read rare…

(A palindrome based on Napoleon's supposed last words: Able was I, ere I saw Elba.)

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