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Weeks 18,19+20 - Fourth Wave

Weeks 18-20 of my year in HK. Discovery Bay, 19th Birthday and the end of my first term.

sunny 23 °C

Posted on 13th December 2020

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Last time I wrote (three weeks ago), school had just been closed for Year 1-4 pupils because of rising cases. In that entry, I said 'I hope the situation doesn't escalate into a full fourth wave'. Well, the situation has escalated into a full fourth wave; restrictions have gradually increased in severity over the course of the last few weeks. Thought the easiest way to show how the situation has worsened was through a timeline:

HK's Covid-19 Fourth Wave

22nd Nov: 68 cases. Last entry, and the week that school closed for Year 1-4 pupils.

23rd Nov: 73 cases, 50 of which are linked to a dance cluster across 14 nightclubs (people contracted the virus at one before going to another).

26th Nov: 80 cases. Closure of bars, pubs and nightclubs to try and reduce the spread at gatherings.

27th Nov: 92 cases, highest since August 6th during third wave.

29th Nov: 115 cases, highest number of daily cases recorded throughout the whole fourth wave.

30th Nov: 76 cases. Restaurants can now only seat 2 per table and close at 10pm. Closure of swimming pools and theme parks; unfortunately had to cancel birthday plans of going to Ocean Park.

2nd Dec: 103 cases. Closure of schools for all pupils, just over a week before the start of the Christmas holidays, though boarders are allowed to remain in school. Suspension of sport fixtures.

7th Dec: 78 cases. Officials say that fourth wave will most likely continue into the new year.

8th Dec: 100 cases. Closure of gyms, and restaurants to close at 6pm (though takeaway service can remain open).

9th Dec: 104 cases. Government orders mandatory testing of residents at a housing block, with an outbreak spreading from a single floor to residents on four others. The block houses 3,100 people.

10th Dec: 112 cases, with the number of untraceable infections rising by 77% over the past week. Government announces new testing threshold: if four or more residents in a building get infected and don't know each other, everybody in that building must get tested.

11th Dec: 86 cases. Start of Christmas holidays.

The situation here in HK has deteriorated massively over the past three weeks, and with restaurants and pubs still not having fully recovered from the third wave, the new restrictions are really causing them to suffer. The thing is, the peak of the fourth wave was only 115 cases out of a population of 7.5 million. When compared to the UK's numbers, HK's fourth wave really doesn't seem that severe, and the truth is it's not. But the government here are so quick to react to any slight change in the Covid climate that the number of cases never balloons drastically. Rather, it tends to curb off after 3 or 4 weeks before beginning to settle again. They're quick and efficient with testing suspected infections, and even more so with contact tracing. The fact they take small rises in daily cases so seriously allows them to make slight tweaks to restrictions (shortened hours, fewer people allowed in gatherings) that have an impact on reducing the number of cases without the need to fully close businesses like restaurants.

I think they handle it much better here than in the UK, which seems to be either extreme in terms of restrictions: it's either 'everybody go out and eat, drink and mingle as much as you like' or 'everything is shut'. The UK government is very laissez-faire until the situation is at a breaking point, and then intervenes with the most severe restrictions, and there's no in-between. At least in HK, even though their hours are shortened, restaurants are allowed to remain somewhat open, nowhere near as harmful as completely closure. More prompt reaction also means the 'waves' peak earlier and settle down sooner, allowing businesses that are closed to reopen sooner than were the situation to escalate into a full-blown fourth wave.

The opening of schools at the start of this academic year was delayed by four and a half weeks (from 24th August to 23rd September). And with school shutting one and a half weeks early, it means pupils have been off for six of the fifteen weeks, or 40% of the autumn term. Whilst lessons are still being delivered via Zoom, the pupils are going to suffer in terms of educational quality; there's only so much you can learn at home, surrounded by distractions and not being supervised by a teacher. Really feel for them.

Strange decision by the government to close schools but keep boarding open. Apparently it's because there are so few boarding schools in HK - we are one of two/three - that the government doesn't understand what it is. Therefore, they view us as a bubble, similar to a family, as the pupils eat and sleep with the same people. As long as our pupils don't mingle with the outside world, we should be safe from contracting and spreading Covid. Restrictions ordered the 'suspension of face-to-face lessons', meaning that the remaining boarders had to go to their teacher's classroom but access lessons via Zoom. Number of pupils physically in each classroom ranged from 0 to 4 during the last week and a half - majority of students are day pupils - and they'd literally be sat in the same room as their teacher but have to ask questions and interact on their laptops.

Still managed to do a fair bit over the last three weeks despite the new restrictions. Had my 19th birthday at the end of the second week, and there was a feeling of celebration last Friday when term ended and we began our four-week Christmas holiday (and I thought we had it good at KES in terms of holidays...).

Week 18 - Discovery Bay

On the Friday (27th Nov) we hosted a sleepover for the Year 5s in house; at this point only Year 1-4s were off school, and the announcement of total school closure wouldn't be made till the Sunday. Quite fun as the objective was to sell boarding to them (boarding starts from Year 6 onwards). Organised a big game of dodgeball, food was incredible and beat all of them at Fifa. Only downside was being made to work an extra day (Friday afternoon till Saturday morning) without a choice or extra pay.

After the kids left on the Saturday I visited Discovery Bay, an upmarket resort town on Lantau Island. Whilst many of my posts have been about visiting Chinese cultural monuments, DB is probably the most Western place in HK; the people, food and buildings are what you'd expect to find in any Spanish/Portuguese holiday resort. Many teachers say that whilst stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring traditional Chinese heritage sites is an amazing experience, sometimes you just need a relaxing escape from it. The place is beautiful: modern and clean, the buildings are typical of a Spanish beach resort, whilst pretty ornaments such as waterfalls and tropical trees are dotted around the town. Its beach is more or less the opposite of the one I camped on over half-term: well-kept, surrounded by houses and packed with people playing volleyball or sunbathing. Walked past Discovery Bay International School and saw its arched glass roof, similar in shape to that of Wembley. Quite cool. Whole place just has a comfortable and sleek feel to it.
Discovery Bay, HK. Beach, plaza and DB International School on the left below the Sun

One unique feature about DB is that cars aren't allowed. Vans are allowed to transport goods, whilst there's also a running bus service. However, for whatever reason, cars are banned. Instead, they're replaced with golf carts. Genuinely. Residents of the town commute by golf cart, and it's normal to see them drive past. Apparently they cost more than luxury cars. In front of residential blocks are rows of golf carts parked in their bays, and there's even signs displaying their permitted parking hours. Didn't know places like this were real; I've seen them in films and video games, but DB is like one huge bubble where everybody is trouble-free and they just chill out on the beach or in their golf cart. Every pavement is spotless, every building is modern and there is no traffic or pollution, only beaches, plazas and golf carts. Feels like a holiday resort - like one you'd find at a caravan park - except these people live here permanently; whole place is just an escape from reality.
Golf cart is the standard mode of transportation in DB

Week 19 - Birthday

Had my first birthday away from home on the Friday of this week (4th Dec). Decided that I actually wanted to remember this one, so opted for a meal over drinks. Went out for peking duck and pancakes which, whilst delicious, was extortionately over-priced (around £30pp). But that's Hong Kong for you.

This was also the week I picked up dog-walking duty for a member of staff. Very active dog called Josie who looks like a smaller version of a German Shepherd, and I now take her for a run once a week. She's extremely energetic and loves to play-fight with you; she'll play-bite you and clamp your arm in her teeth whilst jumping around. I run with her on the MacLehose trail, and I thought I'd lost her when she suddenly sprinted up a waterfall. Turns out she was just going for a quick drink.

On Saturday I spent the day in Central. Went on the world's longest outdoor escalator, the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator, over 800m long and 135m in elevaton. Feels very Hogwartsy as it goes through steep cobblestone streets that have bars and restaurants on either side. The escalator took us up to Mid-Levels, and from there I'd hike up to the Peak (not the most creative names to give two mountainside residential areas, yet they're so cool). Mid-Levels to the Peak is about a two hour hike, which also gives you picturesque views of Central on the way. Along the hike, that begins on the Morning Trail and ends on a main road, are well-kept gardens and flashy mansions.
Mid-Levels-Central Escalator, the longest outdoor escalator in the world

The Peak is the most expensive address in the world. Houses regularly sell for over £100 million, and last year a mansion sold for $450 million (around £340 million). Central is the business hub of HK; the global headquarters of companies like HSBC, Standard Chartered and I.T (owner of A Bathing Ape and French Connection) are located there. The Peak is literally on top of a mountain in Central, and is accessed by a very steep road. The hike took us along this road, and every house along it would have been worth at least £20 million; the cars parked out front included Lamborghinis, Ferraris and a vintage Jaguar that is apparently worth over £1 million. The founder of AliBaba (Chinese equivalent of eBay) has a mansion there, and it's known as a billionaire neighbourhood. The houses aren't even that big, but it's the fact that they're built on a secluded mountainside overlooking the most expensive city in the world that warrants their price tag. They pretty much all have pools and balconies, and just look expensive in general. Much like Discovery Bay, walking through The Peak feels surreal and like something you'd expect to see out of a Hollywood film. For those who have played GTA, it's like a more flashy version of Vinewood Hills.
The Peak, the most expensive address in the world (look past the tree to see the houses) and the view from it

Took in the view at the top of the Peak before getting dinner at a restaurant called Little Bao. If I could recommend one restaurant to visit while in HK, this would be it. 'Bao' means steamed bun (dumpling), and this restaurant puts its own unique twist on it and uses dumpling dough as its burger buns. It's soft and light, and the burger filling is traditional Cantonese food. I opted for the BBQ pork belly bao, which was gorgeous, before getting an ice-cream bao for dessert, consisting of caramel ice-cream sandwiched between two deep-fried bao buns. The two birthday meals I had were amongst the best I've had since being here.
Unique burgers in Little Bao, using dumpling dough as the bun

Week 20 - Christmas Hols

Last week of term. Christmas decorations in the house common room and plenty of chocolate and cake. I was knackered on the Friday we broke up so didn't do anything. Saturday was the last physio appointment for my ankle injury I sustained in January. He put me through loads of tests - strength, stability, balance, explosive power, flexibility - and said that my ankle was as good as new, probably even better than my other one. Went to a restaurant called Pizza Project afterwards, before heading back to school and getting through some Christmas present wine whilst watching the Villa game that Mike Dean certainly seemed to enjoy.

Plans for Christmas

When applying for this job, my original plan was to visit Thailand and Bali over the Christmas break; flights are much cheaper than from the UK due to HK's close proximity (e.g.) ticket to Thailand over Christmas costs £1000 from the UK, but only £30 from HK. However, with everything going on and travel restrictions still in place, this isn't going to be possible. Instead, I've got lots of small trips planned: camping, hikes, hotel stays on some of HK's islands, Christmas shopping and lots of food. Whilst a little disappointing, I'm definitely not going to complain about not being able to travel to Thailand given how severely lots of people are suffering from the pandemic. Looking forward to four weeks of relaxation and further exploration of HK.

See you next time, and merry Christmas.

Posted by David Zhao 12:24 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged covid fourthwave ffs

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