‘Do you really need to do that?’ one of them asked.
Before I could say anything, my son who’d lived in Hong Kong for nearly half his life gave an excellent example of why I did need to make this trip.
‘I saw a TV show that had an episode in Hong Kong,’ he said.
‘What was wrong with it?’ I said. ‘Rickshaws and big lanterns? Coolies in conical hats?’
‘Nothing quite that bad, but they had people going to someone’s house – and it was huge. With wooden walls, and traditional Chinese windows. Nobody in Hong Kong lives in a house like that. I just laughed.’
He’s right, and it ruined the authenticity of the show for him. That’s why I had to make the trip the UK. I would never try to write about a place unless I’d visited it myself, and I would never write about living in a place until I’d lived there.
If you’ve never lived in Hong Kong, you wouldn’t be aware of day-to-day annoying issues like the chronic shortage of coins (yes, money coins) that generates a thriving market for elderly women to camp out on bank doorsteps. Or the fact that anything left in a public place for more than two minutes is public property and liable to be taken. Or that you never step in puddles on the pavement, because they indicate a dripping air conditioner overhead. Or that the red-topped mini busses that have ‘Daimaru’ as the destination actually stop at a nearby street because twenty years ago the stop was moved from the front of Daimaru – which hasn’t existed for ten years anyway.
I’m setting part of my next series inNorth Wales, specifically on Holy Island, part of Anglesey. I spent a great deal of time on Google Earth making virtual visits and checking the history, but when it came to the crunch and I was going to write about it, I had to go.
I learnt a great deal about the place that would have been impossible otherwise. Details like the local Chinese restaurant offering ‘rice or chips’ as an accompaniment to their chop suey. The fact that the shiny new Tesco’s a little out of town has killed the main street. The three-thousand-year-old standing stones, Penrhos Feilw, are in someone’s back yard, and the wind whistles across that field and it’s bitter.
The colours – the yellow of the heather that was everywhere on the island – the weather, which was windy and sometimes very cold, and the friendly laconic nature of the people, made it an experience that imprinted itself on me, and will make my descriptions of the island that much more accurate. A virtual visit to the Iron Age Hut Circles didn’t let me see the spectacular view or feel the biting cold wind that made my ears hurt – in late spring!
Now that I’ve made the visit, I’m completely prepared for the next volume in my series. And I need to make a trip to Japan, because I want to set something there!
Read more about Kylie’s inspirations and challenges in moving between countries and roles in yesterday’s SMH article: