A change of scenery

After a week in the hills of Sarraméa and Farino, I felt like going to the seaside. So I packed my bags and drove northward along the west coast of Grande Terre. I am at Poé plage now, which belongs to the little town of Bourail. It is still part of the Southern Province of New Caledonia.

Can you spot my tent in the photo? It would be a bit more difficult now to see me, because in the meantime a number of other campers have arrived and put up their tents.

The most important thing in this picture, however, (and about this place in general) is the sea anyway!

So I am spending the weekend at “Le rêve de Némo” (Nemo’s dream), the meaning of which somehow escapes me. It is a nice place in a nice location, but perhaps not in a super-duper breathtaking way. Relaxed, yes, which is good, but maybe not something you’d travel around the world for. And I want super-duper, I demand nothing short of perfection!

So I guess I’ll move on today and drive across Grande Terre over to the northeastern side. I’ve been recommended the little town of Hienghène and its surroundings, so that is where I’ll go today.

By the way, I not only took photos with my phone here (such as the ones in this post), but also with a decent camera. I’m hoping to share them later today or maybe tomorrow.

And then I also want to relate the most incredible event I attended in Bourail yesterday. But let’s keep that a secret just a little longer, shall we…?


It was a privilege and an honour to get to know Ariane over the past few days. And now, equally, it is my pleasure to introduce her to you, my global audience.

But who is she?

Well, Ariane works at Refuge de Farino, where I spent the last five days, and this is how we met. She is the “femme de ménage”, which is without doubt the most important job on the compound. She has been doing this work for sixteen years now.

Every time we met, we would smile at each other (it’s hard not to smile back at such a face, I tell you) and exchange a few words in French. Because my knowledge of this beautiful language is rather limited, so were our conversations. But nonetheless, it was always a pleasure to talk to her.

Today, on the day of my departure from Farino, I took all my courage and asked if I might take some photos of her and ask her a few questions. Needless to say, she said yes without hesitation.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous, but that went away very quickly. I think she was a bit surprised but also a little bit flattered that I wanted to write an article about her. I know she is going to read it, because I gave her the URL of this blog.

(Salut, Ariane! Ça va?)

Ariane told me that she was born in nearby La Foa and has lived in this region ever since. She now lives with the Kanak tribe (tribu) of Grand Couli. They are one of three tribes in the village of Sarraméa, the other two being Petit Couli and the Sarraméa tribe. When I asked whether she could ever imagine to live elsewhere, perhaps in a city, the reply was a very clear NO. At home she speaks the local Melanesian language, but she has also always known French as a second language. It can be very practical to know both languages – sometimes maybe you don’t want to be understood, so you just switch from French to your mother tongue…

You may have heard about the discussion in this country (sometimes an open conflict even) about a possible complete separation from France, and about Nouvelle-Calédonie becoming the independent state of Kanaky as a result. Ariane said she was in favour of such an independence, but that such a new state should be a home for all kinds of people, regardless of their ethnicity, origin or skin colour. She also made it clear (that was actually after the end of our little interview) that there is everyday racism in New Caledonia. She mentioned several cases in which people of colour were discriminated against because of their ‘race’, for instance on the labour market. When I asked if things were improving in this regard, she said she didn’t think so. It may not be as bad as in Australia with the marginalisation of the Aboriginal people, but that is rather cold comfort and not much solace.

Here she is, mother of four children, three of whom are already in their late twenties, plus one latecomer who is ten years old (le petit) and goes to primary school in La Foa.

When we parted, we both agreed that we have to meet again one day. In the meantime, I wish her and her family all the best. Merci pour l’entretien. Ta-ta!

PS: I have added a new category to this blog, “meet the locals”. There are two entries in it so far, “Alice” and now “Ariane”. To be continued!

Do you want to see all the articles on New Caledonia? Then please click here.

Pleased to meet you, SCO

You will now learn how I spent the first 48 hours on Grande Terre, New Caledonia’s main island.

At La Tontouta airport I tried in vain to buy a SIM card. It was a few minutes past 5 pm on a Friday – week-end! Almost everything was closed, even the restrooms. Fortunately not the car rental office, though, where a friendly young lady with pink finger nails handed me the keys to my car (you’ve seen it already here, no need to show it again). What next?

I was a man with a plan. I would not drive south towards Nouméa, the main city of New Caledonia, but instead in the opposite direction. Because I had an appointment the next day! And here’s what I really want to tell you about: the great time I had with the Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO) right after my arrival on NC.

I had contacted the SCO some time before my departure from Germany in order to enquire whether they had any interesting activities I might take part in. By the way, they have an informative website as well as a Facebook page with tons of great photos of New Caledonian birds. In reply to my enquiry, David, the president of the SCO, had told me that at present they do not have any larger projects I could join. However, there would be a week-end activity on November 23 and 24. Volunteers would meet, camp together, and then very early on Sunday morning they would organise an „écoute matinale“ of New Caledonia’s emblematic bird, the mysterious Kagou. All this would take place in and around the village of Sarraméa.

Funnily, this was the area I wanted to start with anyway! From my first visit five years ago I remembered very well the magnificent Parc des Grandes Fougères (more about that in another post) as well as the nice Refuge de Farino nearby with its bungalows and attached little campsite. So I headed north for Sarraméa.

The first night was uneventful. I simply put up my tent in a suitable place (the market place, as it later turned out). I was treated to an amazing star-filled sky at night – without the orange light of the street lamp this picture would look even better, trust me.

The next day was sunny and warm, so I went birdwatching. This beauty here is a white-breasted woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus).

Then came the afternoon and the meeting with the SCO people. First impression: very friendly! David gave a short introduction on what we would do the next morning. We were enough people to form twelve teams of two people each. Every team would spend two hours at a specific spot and listen out for calling Kagous. The problem with this bird is: it may not be able to fly, but it is quite mobile and hides well in the forests of this rather hilly part of Grande Terre. Very little is known about its present population and distribution, so the SCO has a scheme for researching and monitoring this very rare bird species.

Liliane is the good soul of the SCO. And a keen photographer. And a great cook (see below).
The litte purple thing is my tent. Don’t laugh, it’s really huge on the inside.

In the afternoon we visited one of the spots which would be occupied the next morning. The landscape there is just beautiful!

The kids got only in there for the photo, while the car was standing!

Then came the evening with a little barbecue and great food (merci, Liliane!), and people were handed their equipment for the „écoute matinale“. Very matinale indeed: We would have to get up at 3.30 am in order to be at the designated spot in time for the session to begin at 4.00 am, exactly one hour before sunrise…

David and I formed a team, for which I was really grateful. And what a fantastic morning it was! Really a breathtaking experience. And that is despite the fact that we did not get to hear any Kagous. But I wouldn’t want to miss a single second of this unforgettable morning, complete with starry sky fading away in the beginning of the day, a large flying-fox gliding past, and an amazing dawn chorus of what seemed like hundreds of birds singing to their (and my) heart’s content.

Back at the base camp in Sarraméa, people gathered, cold, tired and hungry. But satisfied! All in all, five out of twelve teams had heard Kagou calling. Quite a success.

Then some of us went for a little post-event excursion to a botanical sensation: Amborella trichopoda, the world’s oldest flowering plant species. Interesting? Yes. Fascinating? Errrm, maybe. Attractive? Definitely not. I will never become a botanist, that’s for sure…

All in all, a perfect start to my stay here in New Caledonia. And I am sure I will meet some of the SCO people again when I’m in Nouméa, and perhaps we will go on another excursion together. I’m open to anything and look forward to it already!

This isn’t about uniforms!

A have a confession to make. But please promise not to tell anyone. It is something I experienced in Sydney, and I have to say, I really miss it already over here in New Caledonia.

You all remember Village People, the band, right? I guess everyone can sing or hum along to ‘YMCA’, even if they don’t know the lyrics or don’t catch their deeper meanings. Believe it or not, but their 1977 debut album was the first record that I owned! (yes, that’s right, it was a vinyl LP). I was five at the time and did not fully grasp what was meant by the phrase ‘you can hang out with other boys’. My ignorance didn’t matter then, and neither does it now.

You are wondering where the hell this is going, don’t you? Well, just wait.

I could look at that record sleeve for hours on end, and I really admired all those handsome guys in their costumes (did I ever think they were real?). My favourite personas were the cowboy and the ‘red indian’. And I thought the police motorcycle was really cool. I barely noticed the construction guy on his caterpillar, though.

And now this:

I have to confess that I have a major crush on all those road construction workers and traffic controllers in Sydney. They are SO COOL! And I don’t give a flying flamingo whether they are male or female or diverse or what not. With their hard hats and their reflective vests and those huge safety boots – they are just so much pleasure to look at! (But not too close and obvious, though, because I must say I am also rather intimidated by them.)

And let me make one thing absolutely clear: this is not about me being attracted by uniforms. Firstly, because I’m not, and secondly, because I don’t see their work clothes as uniforms.

See what I mean?!?

There was one particular incident which tells you everything. It was evening and already dark on my first day in Sydney when I walked back from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (where I took pictures of the Usual Suspects) to my hostel near Central. There were lots of road works going on and traffic had to be controlled. There was this huge road junction that I needed to get across. The traffic lights had been switched off, and there were these four young women, one in each corner of the crossing. I had to wait really long, because cars always go first in Sydney. I was standing behind her. And whenever she made a sign that another line of cars could drive past now, I made the tiniest of movements because I had hoped it would be my turn at last. And she would gnarl, without even looking at me: ‘Not you!’

Wow! Needless to say, I did not dare to ask if I could take a proper picture of her…

This whole thing is something that struck me as odd. In Germany, you hardly ever see women around construction sites or road works. Everything seems to be carried out by men. In Sydney, however, you see both women and men. Maybe the men are doing most of the actual construction work while the women mainly control the traffic, I don’t know.

Whatever the explanation might be, these folks are definitely a sight worth seeing! (And you don’t get them in New Caledonia, sniff…)

And boy, do they fly!

Taking a picture of a sitting cockatoo is one thing. Not difficult – sitting duck, so to speak. Especially if they are so kind to approach you, well, almost too near!

A different thing, however, is taking an ‚action shot‘ of these magnificent birds in flight. Photographing flying birds is probably the Champions League of wildlife photography – which is precisely why I won’t even try 😉

Oops, broke my own rule here… And you see exactly what happened.

That said, when I went to Sydney’s Bicentennial Park (or, Olympic Park) the other day, I did have a certain idea for a photo series in mind. And it would involve flying birds. However, not in the classic style, but more, ummm, ‚creative‘ (and easier to achieve, hopefully!).

Finding the cockatoos wasn’t difficult, as I already explained. The are loud, bold, and constantly on the move, be it on foot or on wing.

Furthermore, they are kind enough to be largely white, which makes it easier to spot them and to follow them around, when they fly. The autofocus in the camera is also rather grateful.

The rest just happens automatically, really: the light fades as dusk approaches, you cannot possibly push the ISO settings any further, the shutter speed gets slower and slower…

Sharpness of images is a thing of the past now. But hey, who cares?

The bird ghosts of Centennial Park – it was a pleasure to spend some time amongst them.

Parrots galore

WARNING: The following post is not quite up to date, as it contains material that I have gathered last week in Sydney, i.e. not New Caledonia. Furthermore, it should only be viewed by people who are not bored to death after five wildlife-related pictures. So don’t complain afterwards, do you hear me? You have been warned!

One of the things I had been really looking forward to in Sydney was to observe the parrots in the city parks – and hopefully to capture them with my camera. I was not disappointed! However, even though they are generally widespread and also quite conspicuous (loud!), I didn’t find it that easy to actually find and photograph them.

As far as I know, there are basically three common species of parrots to be found in Sydney. One of them is the sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita), which is really massive and very loud, and not shy at all!

Wikipedia will tell you the following: ‘A highly intelligent bird, they are well known in aviculture, although they can be demanding pets.’ Now that’s one thing I can believe. They definitely look like trouble!

But aren’t they also really cute? I never saw them alone, always in company.

Another parrot species is the little corella (Cacatua sanguinea), a lot smaller than the first cockatoo, and also with a generally more modest appearance, if you know what I mean.

The third one, and in fact the only true parrot of these, is the rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus). I find it incredibly beautiful!

Unfortunately, I saw them mostly flying overhead at high speed, and only on two occasions actually sitting in a tree not too high above the ground.

Can you understand why I am so fond of these creatures?

Okay, but why New Caledonia?

Why on earth then did you travel to the other side of the planet, of all places? I hear you ask.

Well, I’m glad you asked that question. I admit that it is not entirely without justification, and I have had some time to prepare my answer.

Just a random set of trees at Parc des Grandes Fougères

Let me start off by telling you that this is already my second visit to New Caledonia, or Kanaky, as the local Melanesians prefer to call it. Five and a half years ago, in June 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a training course in Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia. The course aimed at youth workers and other people working in the field of youth exchanges and international co-operation. I remember to this day certain shortcomings of the programme itself, but the event as a whole was just wonderful. I met some great people, from the archipelago as well as from other European countries, I got an insight into the cultural diversity of NC (including a day and a half with a Kanak tribe at Port-Boquet), I had a great extra five days exploring Grande Terre (the main island) and its wildlife after the course. And all this made me want to come back one day!

And I did come back!

The official language of Nouvelle-Calédonie is French. Apart from that, a great variety of other languages is used as well, e.g. various forms of Kanak, but also languages which different immigrants from other parts of the world brought with them in the course of the past 150 years. No English is spoken in public, though, and that is another great plus from my point of view. I have been struggling for years now to reach a decent level with my knowledge of French, and I am much hoping that this trip will do the job!

Saturday evening: field excursion near Sarraméa with the Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO) (more about them later)

As I am writing this, I am sitting in shorts and t-shirt on a small campground (Refuge de Farino) beside a little river. The sun is just coming up over the exotic trees around me (sunset was already at 5 am, now it’s three hours later), and there is birdsong everywhere. And not much else. So yes, okay, I admit it: this is also about me simply having a great time. It’s about not having a particular schedule for the day, about bird watching, photography, meeting interesting people, making new friends, taking photos (there’s quite a few of them on my laptop already), you name it!

This is only my fourth day here, and I have already had so many interesting impressions and encounters. It’s hard to imagine what it will feel like after five and a half weeks on Grande Terre and the other islands! My advice to you: stay tuned if you want to find out.

Bonjour, Nouvelle-Calédonie!

No, don’t worry, I will not continue writing in French… I don’t have much to write yet anyway, having arrived less than 24 hours ago at Tontouta airport.

All I can say is that things have been going smoothly so far. And I am looking forward to a first rendezvous this afternoon: the local ornithologists of the Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO) are organising a field trip in search of a very special bird. In order to keep you interested, I won’t spill the beans just yet… 😉

On the above picture, by the way, you can see a typical New Caledonian scene: sun, beautiful trees, a well-maintained picnic area, a rental car (white, fairly new, despite its appearance no 4WD), and a friendly dog with funny ears. Not bad for starters, I’d say.

However, I’m hoping to see even more exciting things over the next five and a half weeks here in this wonderful archipelago! Be assured that I’ll keep you posted, quite literally.

Hong Kong at dusk, part II

It feels weird (and probably is) to write about the beauty of Hong Kong, while the present of that wonderful city is overshadowed by violent conflicts, and its future not looking very bright either… But not to praise its attractions and to refrain from sharing with you the wonderful experiences I had during the short time of my visit, would that be any better? I really don’t think it would. So let’s continue the praise!

As you already know, I met with my friend Alice on Saturday (as it turned out, the only quiet day of that week). We walked around Victoria Harbour and along the promenade on the northern side (Kowloon), and took the lovely old Star Ferry to cross from one side to the other. I felt very happy and privileged to be there! The scenery was fantastic and the views of the cityscape absolutely breathtaking. And the timing was perfect, too!

What I have written earlier about the particular light conditions before and especially after sunset also applied here. I was there to see (and capture) the beautiful sunset over Hong Kong Island, and then to witness how evening fell over the fantastic skylines on both sides of the water.

It would have been even better, though, had I taken my tripod with me. For some absurd reason I had decided that day to leave it in the hostel… Well, luckily there were solid walls and fences almost everywhere along the promenades, so I was able to lay down my camera there for the long exposures.

This was all on Saturday evening. My original plan after this first visit was to come back one more time on Sunday, my very last day. This time I would have brought my tripod, of course. But then, already during the early afternoon, I read the news on various websites about violent clashes between protesters and the police on and around the Polytechnic University campus, which lay directly between me (and the airport) and Victoria Harbour… I decided not to take any risks. But I am much hoping to be back some day, if only to have that stupid tripod with me!

Hong Kong at dusk, part I

Every photographer will tell you that one of the best times of the day for taking pictures is the hour before and especially after sunset. From my own experience I can totally confirm this basic rule and I try to make use of these favourable light conditions whenever I can.

Normally I am somewhere outdoors when I take photos. As most of you know, I live in the Black Forest in Germany which is blessed with beautiful landscapes and great photo locations, sometimes quite far from ‘civilization’. So usually, when I think about dusk, I think of fading light, sunsets, open skies, perhaps seasoned with a few dramatic clouds and all that, dark silhouettes of hills and trees.

Not in Hong Kong!

Already on the day that I arrived and walked from Sham Shui Po MTR station to my hostel in Mei Ho House, I was very impressed by the atmosphere and especially the light that I saw. I immediately liked this residential neighbourhood with its many shops. And I made sure to be back around a similar time of day, this time without all my luggage but with my camera at the ready. And I managed to do that twice.

So what is remarkable about this atmosphere? Well, even at dusk there is plenty of light around, from all kinds of lamps in houses, shops, cars etc. And the streets through which I roamed were always still full of people, making the atmosphere both lively and homely at the same time. I tried to capture all of this with my camera.

I am not sure if this already qualifies as ‘street photography’. And to be honest, I don’t care if it does or not. All I can say is that it was a great pleasure to be there and to somehow be part of it. And even though I am not one to easily talk to people and take pictures of them, I did my best to capture not just the light (and the shadows) but also the people within that scene.

To conclude, I want to mention the fact that I always felt remarkably safe in that neighbourhood. I did not really blend in the crowd, if you know what I mean. My sheer size, my appearance, my camera etc. I was pretty conspicuous, I believe. But nobody seemed to take notice, let alone care about me being there and taking photos. I really felt at home there, for which am very grateful.

Display man

Although I am pretty much a rookie in the world of blogging (with one week‘s experience, to be exact), I think one basic rule is obvious: Never post the same picture twice!

But rules are there to be broken.

You remember how last Sunday evening the lovely receptionist at Mei Ho House ordered that taxi for me to take me to the airport, right? I showed you the above (bad) photo then but didn’t comment on the driver and his vehicle.

The ride was smooth, the car modern, the driver very polite, all very well. There was one thing, however, that struck me as very odd, and I just cannot stop thinking about it: The guy in his cockpit was surrounded by no fewer than eight digital displays. It was dark outside already, but they shone brighter than the sun. Two of them were split screens, by the way. Can you see them on that pathetic photo of mine?

Now I don’t know about the rules and recommendations in your country. But in my neck of the woods, all you’re allowed to have is a NavSat screen, plus of course the usual displays (not necessarily digital) right in front of you for speed, distance etc. But eight of them, all of which looked like mobile phones or tablets to me? No, Sir! Unfortunately I am unable to tell you what he was using them for. Navigation, certainly. Communication with his head quarter, for sure. But all the rest? Dealing in stocks? Chatting simultaneously with his wife and his four girlfriends? I couldn’t possibly tell you, it was all Chinese to me!

What mattered to me most, however, was the fact that he seemed to have everything under control. Which is why I am now sitting in Sydney, telling you this little story.

Sydney, the usual suspects

I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Period. But okay, let’s assume for a minute that you didn’t believe me that I am really in Australia right now. The snapshot I posted from the airport a couple of hours ago could have been just a boring, meaningless pic downloaded from the internet.

Now let’s assume further that I (for whatever strange reason) felt the necessity to convince you that I REALLY, REALLY am down under. Another photo could have proven my point, such as this one:

Also downloaded from the internet, I hear you mumble. Alright, alright, you asked for it!

So let me tell you how I spent my first afternoon and evening in Sydney. Then it will be up to you to believe me or not.

I left my hostel (YHA Hostel Sydney Central) at around five o’clock PM and walked towards the Royal Botanic Gardens. This is a wonderful place that I remember well from my first and extremely brief visit in 2014. Lovely birds there (the feathered kind), and breathtaking views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. I grabbed most of my photo equipment plus my sturdy tripod in order to be prepared for every photo opportunity that might occur unexpectedly… 😉 Well, to be honest, of course I knew exactly what I was doing. I had checked my TPE app beforehand (= The Photographer’s Ephemeris) for the exact time of the sunset and for the best angles and perspectives. Although strictly speaking I do not keep a ‘bucket list’ of places that I want to photograph (I’m way too old and old-fashioned for that kind of thing), taking pictures of the opera, the bridge and of downtown Sydney was high on my agenda for my stay here.

At first I was a bit disappointed by the somewhat murky light and by the sky which lacked totally in clouds or any other kind of structure. Boring, I thought, but decided to take some pictures nonetheless.

I have to admit, they come out better than expected. (With a little help from Adobe Lightroom)

The longer I stood there between the Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, the better the conditions became. Only two things were annoying: firstly, the strong wind (wich later died away, fortunately), and secondly, all those boats and ships which kept spoiling my view. Not because they were ugly (okay, one of them was, a revolting black vessel, probably a party boat for the rich and beautiful), but because they were moving slowly but steadily in all kinds of directions. This looks utter crap on a long exposure shot!

And I wanted long exposure, the real McCoy! Why? To make the water surface look calmer, thus improving the visibility of lights and colours reflected on the bay.

The following two pictures were taken right underneath Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

A foreground, a foreground, yay!

The light kept fading away, and more and more other photographers (I was not alone there in the beginning!) packed their gear and went off. But I wanted to stay as long as possible, hoping that the scenery would become more and more beautiful. Which it did!

We’re in the heart of a major city, and there is tons of artificial light around. This can also look really nice in photos (as long you’re not into astro photography…)

So there you are. Believe it or not!


(Yes, I can resist the temptation to add the subtitle: ‘Sebastian in Wonderland’. Definitely too silly a pun…)

Weimar, Germany, August 2004. First day of the ‘Weimar Summer Courses’, my first major task as newly employed project assistant at the Bauhaus University within the EU funded project HERMES. It’s a huge event with more than 50 participants from all over the world. Directly after the welcome ceremony in the Europäische Jugendbildungs- und -begegnungsstätte Weimar (EJBW) I get to talk to the participant who has travelled the longest distance from home to the venue: Alice from Hong Kong. Click!

I remember the two weeks of my first Weimar Summer Course as a very strenuous time – so many duties, so many tasks to take care of, so much translating to be done, so little experience with events of that kind… In the end I was glad it was over, and I still alive. On the positive side, however, so many wonderful and inspiring people! Never would I want to miss the time we all spent together, and the fact that we got to know each other and became friends. This is what really matters. And Alice was a special person indeed. It always felt like a kind of remedy to have her company, to talk to her, and there was a whole bunch of reasons why she could have this important role for me. The missing language barrier, the similar age, our common sense of humour. Yes, we were definitely on the same wavelength right from the start.

15 years have passed since then (in words: fifteen). We never met again afterwards, but always remained in touch. (Yes, I hate to say it, but that is really a thing for which I am grateful to Facebook.) And I was ALWAYS optimistic that one day we would meet again. You are already guessing where this is going, right?

And what a wonderful afternoon we spent together yesterday around Victoria Harbour! Two and a half hours may not seem a lot, especially if it’s the first get-together after such a long time. But somehow it didn’t feel that way. Not only did I immensely enjoy seeing Alice again, but meeting her was also of huge importance to me. Whenever I travel to a new place, I feel very privileged if I can talk to someone whose home this is, who is part of that place, who will give me a personal insight into the culture, the way of thinking and living, everyday life in general. It adds a totally new dimension to any trip and enriches the experience. You can imagine that I had about 1,000 questions for her, but I hardly had to ask a single one of them, because she would tell me everything spontaneously – and very efficiently, with an extremely high ratio of information per time unit. Some things never change 😉 (And they shouldn’t!)

So thanks to her I now know more about the present, ongoing conflict in Hong Kong, the divisions among its citizens, the democratic movement, the protests, the hopes and fears, who is for and against what. And we did some great stuff, too – had a coffee (and hot chocolate, respectively), took the Star Ferry, walked along the promenade on the Kowloon side of the harbour. I have to admit, without her I wouldn’t have gone there, as I would have felt unprotected and alone.

DANKE, Alice! Und lass uns nicht fünfzehn Jahre bis zu unserem nächsten Wiedersehen vergehen!

PS: Ania D., Ania W., Dóri, Fotini, Levente, Burkhardt… We thought of you and talked about you, and we send you our warmest regards!

What on earth does ‘ho-ho-ho-ho’ mean in Cantonese…?

Or: my dramatic departure.

Picture the following scene: I am standing at the reception in Mei Ho House hostel in Hong Kong, having just checked out of my room and returned the key card. The wonderful young receptionist has urged me to leave early for the airport. Not because she wants to get rid of me, I hope, but in order for me to be on the safe side. You never know these days… Then she kindly agrees to call me a taxi to the airport.

First she dials the number of the company, then waiting, silence. Hm. What if all the telephone lines are busy? What if there is major disruption of public transport again, so that taxis are in extreme demand? What if…

But then she starts to talk in that low voice of hers, in Cantonese, of course. I am relaxing again, still curious though as to what she will find out and tell me. She talks and talks, why so long? And then, all of a sudden, there is this peculiar sound that she makes. ˋHo-ho-ho´. A short pause. Then again: ˋHo-ho-ho´. And then: ˋHo-ho-ho-ho´. What? Four times even? As if three times wasn’t bad enough already? Please, not four times! On the outside, I am the cool German dude, of course. But deep down inside of me, I am beginning to panic.

Because, you see, she didn’t quite sound like Father Christmas (or that American guy who works for Coca-Cola). It was more – to my Indo-European ears at least – an expression of surprise and wonder, amazement, disbelief, empathy, pity. Yes, exactly, pity – for ME! Because I wouldn’t get to the airport within the next five hours and subsequently miss my plane! Aaaargh!

But just as I am beginning to, well, you know, sh.. my pants, she hangs up and looks at me. WHAT? WHAT? PLEASE TELL ME THE TRUTH! She says nothing, smiles softly, looks down at her desk, writes something down, looks up again, still smiling, hands me a note:

Phew! Lost in interpretation…