Sunday’s Rest

Its Sunday here in Hong Kong and with no agenda in front of me I decided to take my novel and seek some suitable places to read it and finish it. So I set off, a little aimlessly, and make for the MTR. Decided to go across to Hong Kong Island and alighted at Central. Took a random exit and meadered along some sidewalks and then some walkways. I was reminded of what dominates Sunday in Central with masses of filapinos crowded together in any space they can find simply to sit, to talk, to eat and to relax. This is their day and the only time they get freedom from their roles as domestic helpers or nannies and they rush in their thousands down to Central to renew friendships and family relations. They are well adapted to their situation. On the walkways they sit on matting brought for the occasion and construct cardboard barriers around themselves to keep any wind at bay. They always seem to have loads of food and their chatter and lack of awareness of passing traffic, tourists and locals alike shows a great capacity simply to be in their own space. I eventually decide to descend from the walkways and seek refuge in Starbucks. To the right of the picture below but out of shot!!).

Starbucks is to the right off picture!!

There, renewed by a caffe latte I begin to renew my acquaintance with Helen Dunmore’s ‘The Betrayal’ one of the long listed Man Booker books which I am working my way through. I had read half of this book on my flight over but the past three weeks have flown by and I have not managed to pick it up since. So I spend a good hour getting back into the novel and getting to grips with the realities of 1950s Russia under Stalin.

I am well into it now but am plagued by that peculiar english sensibility to sitting in a public eating area and not eating or drinking. Resisting the temptation to eat, which would be expensive and unnecessary I decide to delay the gratification of reading the novel until later. I continue my journey.

I meander though more areas of Filipino habitation before moving briefly into a most expensive shopping mall, IFC. This delivers another culture shock and the sheer numbers of clearly wealthy and want-to-be wealthy wander through the shops in hopes of a bargain which would probably cost more than the weekly wage of the average Filipino domestic helper. Definitely not my favorite place though a mecca for good toilets which I make use of. I realise this may be too much information but i need good toilets and note them down whenever I travel for fear of finding myself without recourse to one!!

Star Ferry

I descend to the Star Ferry and take a lovely little journey across to Tsim Sha Tsui and back to the apartment. I decide against going into the flat, it is a lovely evening and i settle in the courtyard at the cafe (closed and quiet) and begin reading again. I am engrossed.

The writing is good and conveys well the sense of nervous waiting everyone feels as the constant need to look over your shoulder and not be caught doing so as you fear neighbour, friend and foe alike. It is hard to understand how a society can function in this way so devoid of simple humanity though that shines through in the characters of the novel, Anne and Andrei, who attempt to lead a normal life. I was struck by the bureaucratic manageralism of life so redolent of Blair’s Britain as the early passages of the novel set the scene. Endless meaningless targets to meet and a focus on those rather than on the objects of the care, be they children or patients.

 All this to be shattered because a powerful figure, Volkov, finds his son ill with cancer and the leading character, Andrei, a jobbing doctor, gets embroiled in the young son Gorya’s treatment. Though there is a predictability to the plot, it still hits you suddenly just when things seem to have been dealt with and then the true horrors of a Stalinist world is brought down upon Andrei. People have to believe absurd notions to carry on the fiction that there are enemies within Russia bringing it down as not to do so puts you in the frame for denunciation. It is done well by Dunmore and you get a real feel of the cruelty and absurdity of this world.

I am gripped now by the story and find nearly three hours have passed by, the sun has come down, my hunger is strong but the novel is finished. A stong novel and always a marker for me I want to read more Dunmore novels as a consequence.

So a fulfilling day and a truly relaxing one. I am now back in the apartment, cooking rice and vegetables and looking forward to the week ahead.

6 thoughts on “Sunday’s Rest

  1. Hi Paul – thanks for the email and link to your blog. Very interesting reading as your new situation provides opportunities for reflection and changes to adapt to.

    I agree with you re the Helen Dunmore – Gill and I thought it was very well written and gripping; not an easy thing to achieve when so many great novels have been written by writers who actually lived in Stalin’s time; the only bit of writing that jarred I thought was the the rather ‘Blairite’ jargon associated with the child care centre – it sounded a bit too modern for Stalinist Russia.

    After our great night at your place and listening to Jane, Rob and you make comparisons with the 2009 Booker, I thought I would have a go at some of them. I read the Coetzee ‘Summertime’ to see if Dalgut’s writing had some resonances – I think there were but I did not enjoy the book particularly; I thought the structure and much of the content was rather self indulgent and archly knowing. I then went onto ‘The Glass Room’ which I thought was a terrific novel – an interesting narrative, strong characters and the ‘presence’ of the room pervading the book; the developing threat of Hitler and the rise of fascism was also very well handled – a really enjoyable read. I have now just finished ‘Wolf Hall’ – I enjoyed that a great deal also as I did a history and politics degree and had studied the period a number of times. It was a harder read than the Glass Room becuase it demanded greater concentration but I thought it was a fantastic bit of historical imagining and took on a real challenge to make Cromwell a sympathetic character. I can see why it was chosen as the Booker Winner.

    Hope all continues to go well for you. I can remember the MRT to the Centre and the Star Ferry – your pictures took me back a little!


  2. The Glass Room was my favorite by some distance last year though I admired Wolf Hall and glad I read it – its density made it a bit of a tour de force to complete. First Coetzee I had read and like you I felt it was dissappointing. Be interested if you rate any of the others. Many were over long I recall particularly the Byatt.


  3. What a good idea to do this Paul. It is good to hear what you are getting up to and to see the photos. I am really missing Hong Kong and am looking forward to visiting again in the New Year – no dates dedided yet though. Keep on posting the blog.
    Take care


  4. This always amazes me too. I don’t know where they al appear from. They sit there gossiping, doing each other’s nails / hair / makeup and generally passing the time in each other’s company. It’s sad that they have nowhere else to go. This is their family day I suippose and they need that contact and cameraderie.


  5. What struck me was the self-contained way in which they conduct their interactions. No real sense of where they were or maybe the slight incongruence of this to an outsider’s view. In fact my brief visits to the Phillipines suggests that this feature of making do and just getting on with their lives in whatever situation they find themselves in is what I observed in some of the poorer parts of the places I visited. They often label themseleves as ‘simple’ people and I misunderstood that phrase when I first heard it. Now I think I am getting to understand it more as it really refers to a belief that no matter what life throws at you we just get on with it, without fuss, without pretension and try and have a good time. The happiness I saw last Sunday and indeed saw in the Phillipines belies their obvious social and financial poverty.


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