No one could complain that this sabbatical lacks variety. The Hong Kong visit is over, and I am home again.
But I am so glad I went. It was touch and go for a while, but in the end ‘go’ prevailed. The visit was hugely enriching in its own right. I was going to write a blog exclusively about the fun bits, but things have moved on. If pressed, though, I would mention the meals – delightful and memorable lunches with new friends in some of the zillion restaurants that are integral to the buzz of the place. Three times I went to ‘clubs’ – places where the post-colonial feel was at its strongest. And it was there that I discovered the most thirst quenching drink in the world – a ‘gunner’.
Memories of two clergy homes stay in my mind. One a bungalow looking over the sea on the south side of the island. It was like the jungle there – with talk of scary wildlife in the garden. There was even a recently shed snakeskin on the verandah where we were eating. And then a truly wonderful 11th floor flat overlooking HK harbour from Kowloon side, where I ate a very tasty meal in a room with a stupendous view and in great company on my last evening.
One day someone from home ‘Facebooked’ me to say that I should try to see the HK Philharmonic Orchestra. As it happened there was a concert that very evening at the Cultural Centre – which must be the only building in HK without acres of windows. In fact it doesn’t have one. It was a great concert and the orchestra really is wonderful, but the soloist stole the show – as I suspect she does wherever she goes. Do try to see violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja if you can. She was recently named instrumentalist of the year by the Royal Philharmonic Society. It will be an uphill struggle for phonetic reasons, but I think she could become a household name.
In order to honour the diversity of my recent travels I was going to write a blog comparing and contrasting Shetland and Hong Kong. This is a task that would have been a lot easier in the early C19 when both were homes for not much more than small traditional fishing communities. How things have changed!
Mind you, both still have beautiful hills and their remote places. Chris Patten in his book ‘East and West’ mentions the quality of hillwalking available in Hong Kong – something which isn’t implied in the biggest HK cliche – ‘most vertical city in the world’. And Shetland isn’t with out its connections to globalised late modernity. The huge, if well hidden, oil terminal with it’s own airport is evidence enough of that.
And both have very, very low levels of unemployment.
And house prices are bounding ahead of inflation both places too.
And the two have identity issues which stem from both the power-plays of history and the accidents of geography. (Who knows how things will work out for either place over the coming decades?)
Oh, and there are Anglicans in both places as well, using much the same liturgy and music. It’s just that there are probably as many anglican clergy in Hong Kong as there are laity in Shetland.
The differences are a bit more obvious: ambient temperature, humidity, level of pollution and population density being the most striking contrasts.
With such stimulating contrasting travel in the recent past I am now reduced to contrasting activities at home. There are subtle issues to deal with regarding both the posts I am leaving and the post to which I am moving, and finding headspace and calm for both isn’t entirely straightforward.
Why? Well partly because on return from HK the pressing task was to get to grips with deciding which of our belongings we would retain through the forthcoming move. The subtlety here being that we will move from a very big house to a very small house, with the prospect of moving to an even smaller one in a year’s time. Three van loads of stuff have already gone to good homes – one load being returned to its benevolent owner who had kindly lent us a variety of beds, chests of drawers and standard lamps for the duration of our time in our current super-sized home.
One happy knock-on effect of the first clear-out is that a bedroom has been completely emptied. So I have set it up as a writing room. Table, chair, laptop and books – NOTHING ELSE. In this bleak cell I will try to get the first draft of my next book written by the middle of August. (Hollow laughter echoes around the blogosphere.)
So, as I said to someone in an email this week – this last week it’s been a mix of moving furniture about and moving ideas about.
Anything else? Oh yes, preached at a new priest’s first celebration of the eucharist in Yorkshire and am now preparing a sermon for my son and his fiancée’s wedding next weekend.
Ahead of that, the sabbatical has temporarily morphed into holiday and ‘family time’ in a thoroughly and happily extended sense, and I am really looking forward to the next few days. After that I return to that bleak and empty writing room about which there should be very little to blog. But you never know.