Slow Hong Kong: At the Beach, You’ll See…

Hong Kong has 38 public beaches, ten of which line the south side of Hong Kong Island. The remaining 28 are shared by the New Territories and the outlying islands. Each has its own distinct personality, but there are many things you’ll see whichever one you visit.

On the beaches of Hong Kong,

You’ll see lifeguards perched in their numbered cabins, rooted in the sand by spiral staircase.

You’ll see their yellow and red swim trunks drying in the sun.

You’ll see kayaks, surfboards, paddle boats, catamarans and scooters ready to plunge into the ocean to help swimmers in need.

You’ll see the time on a giant clock, alternating with the temperature, rising as the day wears on.

You’ll see lockers and showers where people gather, chatting about the water quality or deploring the waves of rubbish that follow big rainstorms.

You’ll see sporty types swimming laps at 5:30am, swimming cap on, professional goggles affixed, and whatever their age, they don’t shy away even from winter water.

You’ll see people lounging against the buoys that mark the authorised swimming area and others who swim out to the platforms.

You’ll see people heating up.

You’ll see people running, maybe even cycling.

You’ll see people tanning themselves, skin oiled and offered to the sun.

You’ll see people hiding from the sun beneath a tree, a parasol, a tent, a hat or a hood — a “facekini” — that gives them a sinister air.

You’ll see the flame trees that blush in June.

You’ll see the mountain watching over swimmers in a most feng shui configuration..

You’ll see lovers gazing at the horizon, far from their cramped apartments.

You’ll see shades of blue, grey, green, that ask for nothing but to be photographed.

You’ll see people watching the boats: luxury yachts on which they will never sail, little fishing boats, sampans, reckless optimists, speedboats that pull in their wake all kinds of toys to entertain, Turbojets flying across the water to Macau, container ships hauling varied goods, expatriates’ lives crisscrossing the world.

You’ll see children laughing.

You’ll see children crying.

You’ll see those building sand castles.

And those who let their fathers do it for them.

You’ll see courageous, perfectly equipped mothers.

Domestic helpers watching over sunscreened blonde heads.

Inflatable objects of all kinds, the wind threatening to blow them away.

You’ll see a bus stop and a minibus stop, unless you came by taxi, boat or foot and you have fewer neighbours on the sand.

You’ll see a temple, the little one that sits next to the beach at Deep Water Bay, or the big complex of Repulse Bay, dedicated to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea, all the better to keep the gods on your side in case of rare sharks, an abundance of jellyfish, currents and sunstroke.

More pragmatically, you’ll see a lifeguard station where little booboos can be patched.

You’ll see barbecues that rest all week after too much use on the weekend.

You’ll see cats feasting on the remains left by domestic helpers and young lovers of grilled flesh.

You’ll see signs, many of them, of various kinds, interdictions that you break at the risk of being brought to order by an angry voice over a loudspeaker.

You’ll see those loudspeakers that warn and inform in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, caring little about ruining your fleeting serenity.

You’ll see women cleaning the beach, who sweep, collect and rake the sand, usually wearing a large straw hat, attacking their task like a Buddhist monk, knowing full well the endlessness of their mission.

Sometimes, helped by volunteers saddened by the influx of trash left by unscrupulous vessels at sea.

You’ll see a snack bar where fresh young coconut, in high demand on the weekend, languish during the week.

You’ll see tourists snapping photos after disembarking from their bus at Repulse Bay, returning aboard to admire their self-portraits.

You’ll, sometimes,  see a buffalo that wanders onto the sand, because you are on Landau.

You’ll see ladies who rush after you to offer parasols and deckchairs, because you are nearing the beach at Shek O.

You’ll see children who marvel in the translucence of the water, because you are at Clear Water Bay.

You’ll see surfers waiting for big swells, because you are at Big Wave Bay.

You’ll see dragon boats returning to Stanley from their intense training ahead of the Dragon Boat Festival.

You’ll see night fall over Sai Kung, tents blooming for audacious types to spend the night.

You’ll see the peaceful morning of a weekday that begins softly.

You’ll see the yearning on Sunday evening to extend the moment, to delay the return to town, even once the sun has begun to slip.

You’ll see the September joy of children and their parents watching the lights of Mid-Autumn Festival.

Like everywhere in the world, as soon as the sun pierces the clouds, you’ll see the desire to take advantage of this beach that offers itself so generously, right here and now.

Translated from the French by Christopher DeWolf.

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