Episode 16

Los Angeles is best experienced with your back to it and waving from your open top rental crawling along route 405 towards the Pacific Coast Highway Route 1. Nothing would take me back except perhaps a film role! The Pacific Coast is quite a spectacle. The ocean is a moving majesty. The rolling breakers curl into glistening foam as they find their temporary home on the shore. The route weaves in and out around the coves and finds occasion to be interrupted by settlements. Morro Bay is a pretty place which has a claim to fame, that being, it has an extinct volcano in the centre of the bay itself. It stands proud and as you stare at the fallen moulted rock down its side from the store-littered board walk, the chorus of elephant seals provides a constant fanfare.

Further along the coast, one is tempted to turn right and visit America’s castle. High on the ridge towering over all below, stands Hearst Castle. The unfinished dream of media giant William Randolph Hearst can be seen from PCH 1. It’s majesty, designed by Julia Morgan, and conceived by Hearst on his travels to European castles, matches the ocean over which it looks, in San Simeon. A trip there would take too much time out of our day. Suffice to say a glimpse in awe paid due respect to one man’s dream.

The coast road is so inspiring that stopping and starting can be an issue in achieving travel progress. Our GOal (I use two capitols by choice – no typo) for the day was downtown San Francisco but the beauty and spectacle revealed at each bend in the road had us leaping out to embrace such perfect little moments, all to often. It was decided to be more selective, erring on perhaps, perfect bigger moments, affording the time to make the required progress and enjoying the perfect littler moments from the vehicle.

One of those bigger moments was discovered soon after San Simeon. Thousands, yes thousands, of elephant seals formed an up-turned carpet of shiny blubber. The sight was amazing, shocking, surprising, spectacular. Most of all it was Nature, close to. The seals, huge, by the way, basked belly-up in the Californian sunshine. This was their territory. This is where they played, chased, rested and it was obvious some were breeding too. The noises were that, that you might hear, if you collected thousands of grandads, swung them in hammocks, to sleep, side by side in a row, about half a mile long, having first given them all a couple of pints of Guinness. It was actually a comforting sound. A carefree sound. A most natural and wonderful experience. Moving….which is what we had to do. This stop represented a perfect HUGE moment and as such we had invested more time than perhaps we should. But what an investment!

We arrived at Big Sur, in the characteristic mist, only to discover the road north was closed due to several land slides and heavy rain. It would not open until next year. Next year, my inner voice screamed! Having filled the tank and bought the obligatory “sticker” for Jo’s marvellous scrap book, we were informed the only way to reach our intended destination, at a sensible hour, was to travel back, south, for an hour, east for an hour, and north to San Francisco for a further four hours. How many perfect little or larger moments might we need to ignore to keep to the schedule?

Driving was easy, is easy, is enjoyable.

We reached San Francisco during, in-aptly named “rush hour”! Twelve lanes of motorcars dawdling in both directions is a stark reminder of how we, as humans, are living. What are we doing? What a total and utter waste! Something has to give. I reflected on the carefree lives of elephant seals. A horn blasted. Am I in the right lane? Good question.

San Francisco, much like its counterpart, from whence we came, was full. Filled with people, cars, skyscrapers, noise, smoke, steam, heat, commercialism and the race to survive. We did it in a day basically. Enough is enough. Cities and me are not friendly bed pals. Open spaces allow you to breathe, reflect and invest time in thought. The boat trip on the bay allowed some well needed respite. The sun, the sea, the spray, the easy movement through the waves. We motored under the Golden Gate, around Alcatraz and back to more elephant seals honking at the dock. A rather splendid hour, followed by a rather splendid meal at the Hard Rock, before bed and an early start back the LAX for the flight to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong gone.

Well what a place! The high-rise capital of the world, I would suggest. The city of over 7.5 million people, all of whom seem to be on the streets or on the MTR (underground) and so probably the most densely populated city on the planet. It is literally a 24 hours a day rush hour. Add to that the relentless heat and humidity, the curious absence of green spaces, the curious absence of space even, and one could be left with the distinct feeling of “Help! Get me out of here!”

The towering blocks of boxed apartments appear to compete for the ever diminishing ground space and so reach for the sky. Acres of the highly priced real estate are crammed with ever increasing multiple digits of domesticity that gasp for air with very new level of rented accommodation. Look anywhere, turn in any direction and you will see row upon row, block upon block of bland concrete monoliths each celebrating symmetrical , and yet untidy and busy patterns, of windows with clothes randomly hanging out to dry. This never ending sight was bewildering. I became transfixed with the vision of “so many”. So many. So obviously, many.

This “so many” transferred its presence to the Mass Transit Rail; their rather splendid and highly efficient underground system. It is probably the best way to travel around the entire area, Hong Kong, Kowloon and all stations north south east and west. It is quick, clean and and comfortable. No food or drink is allowed on the MTR. At first thought, my feelings greeted this law. Upon reflection, I wondered about it’s significance in the wider spectrum of the society. The stations are long, very long, multi-levelled, eminently signed, colourful, architecturally interesting and always busy with “so many”. The “so many” find their way around with great ease. They seem to navigate the escalators, platforms, twists and turns of passageways and stairs using a onboard navigation system as, just about all of them, have their heads down with faces glued to a small screen and thumbs twitching rapidly connecting with another world. Everyone travelled at the same speed. No one rushed. The multi headed monster manoeuvred reassuringly to its multi various destinations. Calling it a rush hour, which I did earlier, was a little in appropriate, that was by virtue of numbers, not the haste, hustle and bustle associated with the rush hours of London, Paris or New York. This was more an enlightened hour, or dare I say, a conditioned hour? The total reliability and efficiency of the system is expected. The service is expected to work. There is no need to rush. If you rushed it might appear that you are bucking the trend, you are not grateful for the service and the people who run it. The stations and platforms are littered with uniformed staff, gesturing with open palms and hand held signs, the direction to follow, ensuring your pleasant and safe, unencumbered journey.

An enlightened way to travel, perhaps.

Big Buddha sits 34 metres high. Made from bronze, the most impressive sculpture guards its people by looking north over China, high in the mountains on Lantau island. Situated at the Po Lin monastery, the dignified manner of the Buddha, whose hand is raised in peace to all, is perhaps a reminder that all will be OK. Peace. Have Faith in your God.

Our travels continue as the UK enters a scary time in it’s history. The country is home to a divided nation. The wrong result today will cause further division, anguish, dissatisfaction and deep social unrest. Should anyone be reading this, be reminded of Big Buddha’s right hand of peace to all.


One thought on “Episode 16

  1. So eloquent as ever, Richard! I love the mental visual image of the Hong Kong rush hour. You are indeed right…yet scarier times at home and abroad ahead.xxxc


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