I am wide awake with jetlag at 2am having just returned from London on Saturday and I was lying thinking about London and the impact it always has on me. I last lived there nearly 5 years ago and was happy to leave for something new - London is one of those cities rich with potential but also a sense, if you live there, of missed opportunities and sometimes, of life taking place elsewhere, beyond reach.
There seemed to be a real buzz there this time around - of money, of style, of creativity; so used have I become to the relative uniformity of how people dress and, crucially, the average body shape in Hong Kong (conservatively; and slim) that for the first few days I people-watched quite hungrily, feeling as though I were looking in to a cakeshop window (although I must say, without wanting to be cruel, that plenty of people in London look as though they have gone rather further than just look in the window). The temperature was warm, the sun shone, and I went to a work dinner in Exmouth Market where everyone was sitting outside with glasses of rose at 10pm, and I went to lunch at Rhodes 24 in the old Natwest Tower, with vertiginous views of the City and the Gherkin in astonishing perspective, and Stephen Fry sat chatting nearby, and everywhere I walked there seemed to be people outside bars, and vulgar light blue Lamborghinis racing down side streets, and a wildly diverse mix of people, and hair colour, and what can only be described as Widow Twankey shoes in the shops (I'll try to find an example, stand by!).
I also had a flying visit to Edinburgh for my twin nephews (AKA the Peas)' fifth birthday. I brought them Spiderman figurines and robot hands ("with ratchet sound") from Hong Kong, and arrived to surprise everyone at their birthday party at my mum's house (always a gratifyingly jaw-dropping experience when I turn up unannounced). Edinburgh was several degrees cooler and, perhaps accordingly, seemed much more staid than London where something is definitely happening.
On the plane, out of sheer boredom, I read a copy of Tatler - a ludicrous publication written, and presumably read by, people called Binky Tippington-Smythe - which a concerned reader once advised me to subscribe to since VOGUE had irked me so much. One article was complaining about how the super-rich (the Mittalsetal) had spoiled London for the upper middle class who can no longer afford to buy houses in Kensington and Chelsea. These vulgar arrivistes have apparently spoiled it all for the old Etonians who used to be the cream of the crop and can't even get in to the social milieu anymore. Welcome to the real world, where someone is always wealthier than you and the social rules are being rewritten by the obscenely rich for their own benefit (who else's?). That's the nasty side of London.
In the last two days apocalyptic weather conditions have beset Hong Kong: yesterday, at dragon boat practice at Middle Island, the dreaded red tide (algal bloom) was everywhere to be seen: sometimes frothy, sometimes thready, like egg yolks in the water, sometimes red, thick and gloopy and resisting the stroke of the paddle. The official line is that it is harmless to fish and humans, but looking across the bay at the tide of scum floating on the water, catching in the shark nets and forcing the closure of Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay beaches, it seemed as though we might be the unsuspecting future victims setting out for an innocent paddle at the beginning of a B-movie entitled "RED TIDE".
Today we were in Lamma for their first International Dragon Boat Festival. Huge amounts of effort had clearly gone in to organisation, but there were amber rain and thunderstorm warnings at 7.30 am and conditions did not improve. The setting was spectacular, if determinedly urban, with a massive power station just to the left of the beach and the races running alongside the power station sea wall. After a handful of races in pretty rocky conditions, the heavens opened, the waves thrashed the shore and the races were halted, purportedly until the lightning stopped. I spent the next few hours huddled under a carapace of umbrellas with three other members of the women's team, getting to know them a whole lot better than I'd anticipated as the rain dripped down our necks (this is when you discover the true meaning of "waterproof"). Then the whole thing was cancelled, and we trudged back to the ferry with the rain lashing us all the way.
So familiar does this scenario seem that, as we huddled together for warmth in our umbrella cocoon, and I sat with my head on my knees musing to myself about the vagaries of the weather, I had a hard time remembering that I was not, in fact, on a camping trip in the Highlands, sheltering disconsolately inside a sodden tent.
I've just arrived back from my second trip to the weird golf buggy world of Hamilton Island where the Hamilton Cup Outrigger tournament takes place. The highlight, apart from driving the golf buggy - and I can tell you I tried to position myself behind the driver's wheel whenever we had to use it: the only way to enjoy being in a golf buggy is to take over the controls - was the 16K women's open race, which involved circumnavigating the island anticlockwise and running slap in to the biggest water I have ever paddled in (2.5 metre swells, some breaking, and nowhere to go but through the middle). The boats around us were being tossed in all directions by capricious waves so the only thing to do was focus on getting the paddle in the water and trying to prevent the boat flipping over. At one point we were literally thrown onto the rocks and had to paddle backwards to get away and back in to the race.
We came 17th out of 34, which doesn't sound much but against outstanding competition (essentially, the world's best paddlers), it was a major achievement. Plus, as parochial as this seems, we beat both women's teams from our main Hong Kong rivals.
In conversation afterwards the women's crew decided that the main reason we gel so well - despite being of vastly different backgrounds, ages and personality types - is that we were all outsiders as kids. I was talking to someone about this today and she said that all expats in Hong Kong are the same: we're all driven here by our difference. It's an interesting theory, but not one I'd test in a bar in LanKwaiFong on a Saturday night.