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I thought I would share a couple of stories currently in the news in Hong Kong.

The weather

Typhoon Soudelor walloped Taiwan and headed for China yesterday. It did not hit Hong Kong but we do feel the effects of these weather events when they occur within about 800 kms of here. The temperature goes up and the air gets very hazy. The HK Observatory calls it “subsiding air”, which, the way I understand it, means the air circulation is pushed downwards so the heat and pollution can’t disperse. According to concurrent measurements, our air pollution is as bad as Beijing’s in conditions like this.

August 8 is the first day of autumn according to the Chinese solar calendar, but the temperature of 36 degrees was the hottest for that date since records began 130 years ago.

All I know is that the air feels very hot and very heavy, kind of soupy. We joined some friends for a hike yesterday and I really struggled. This is a walk I’ve done twice before with no problem but this time was awful. At first I thought it was because I am older than the last time I walked it, but I took some comfort when I saw the fatigue of the two fit teenagers in our party. It’s hard to breathe at the best of times hiking up these hills but in conditions like this, it’s quite a test.

It is not pleasant weather. But as intrepid Canadians, we don’t mind it too much and are not complaining (too much). It still beats minus-20 any day of the week.

The view today from Violet Hill at Tai Tam Country Park. You can barely see Central on the island, let alone Howloon.

The view yesterday from Violet Hill at Tai Tam Country Park. You can barely see the lower part of the island, let alone Kowloon.

The water

Over the last five weeks, several “estates” (meaning apartment complexes with numerous towers) have been found to have high lead content in their tap water. Using World Health Organization standards, the water in some estates is testing at 3 or 4 times the accepted level. At first, it seemed to be an issue at a certain public housing estate and the government was impressively quick to throw the plumbing contractor under the bus. However, the problem has now been found in lots of other estates, and not just public ones.

The government’s response has been to ship bottled water to these estates, so all residents are now having to go fetch their pail of water at temporary distribution points. The government pledged to test the water at all 170 public rental estates but has since changed its mind about that. The government has also set up three task forces: one for monitoring the quality of water supply systems on estates; one to investigate the cause and make recommendations; and one to study why drinking water in some public residential estates contained excessive lead. (I’m not kidding.) The latter will be a two-person committee, very high level and led by a judge, but it has taken until now for them to find two people with the necessary experience and availability. (I’m still not kidding.)

Of course, a broader and more strategic view would be to look at Hong Kong’s entire water management system. Apparently, the average Hong Kong person uses twice as much water daily as people in water-efficient European cities, and the whole system is now considered worse than it is in some Third World countries (read more). But taking this type of approach would require a lot of work and hard decisions, something that is difficult for any government, and I suspect it would be particularly challenging for this one given the speed and transparency with which most things move here.

Five weeks later, the beat goes on. There has to be a joke in this somewhere … how many bottles of water does it take for Hong Kong to … On second thought, maybe there isn’t one.

Don’t try this

This isn’t exactly current news, but it’s pretty hilarious. I heard about this a couple of days ago (so it’s current for me) from someone who knows the guy in this story.

Apparently this guy, a British expat in Hong Kong, took a taxi home after a night of much revelry. After the taxi dropped him off, he realized he was on the wrong road. He decided to take a staircase leading up to the next road (anyone familiar with HK will understand this; there are countless staircases connecting roads as you move up the hill on the island), but he got lost and fell down a slope and had to be rescued by helicopter – from the middle of Hong Kong Island! In the end, he was found just 200 metres from a main road.

The story can be found here in the Daily Mail and here on a Chinese-language TV news program.

It’s hard to believe that anyone could get lost in the middle of a tiny island, one of the most densely populated urban areas on the planet. But I SO get how this can happen here. Only in Hong Kong!!

I don't know how outdoor workers here manage in this kind of weather. I do think they are very practical though. I love this tented hard-hat look.

I don’t know how outdoor workers here manage in this kind of heat. I do think they are very practical though. I love this tented hard-hat look.