Filling in time before filling time as we say ‘Hello Hong Kong’

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My Interim Discovery Bay North Plaza Bureau might offer one of the prettiest sights of all the temporary work stations I have set up over the past 21 years.

I’m filling in time before, er, filling time, i.e. a vist to my local dentist here in this picturesque part of Lantau island offering beautiful views all the way across to Kowloon. Can there be any more delightfully situated dentistry in the world than Bayside Dental? All the more reason to stay outside rather than venture inside where the less than rhapsodic symphony of the dentist’s drill awaits.

Brought up as I was in 1960s New Zealand where ‘school dentists’ used equipment roughly on par with a jackhammer but with less subtlety, I have retained an acute fear – let’s call it deep-rooted in honour of the subject – of the profession my whole life.

Watching John Schlesinger’s 1976 thriller Marathon Man didn’t help. The movie’s most famous scene involved a wholly innocent chap called Babe (Dustin Hoffman), a graduate student caught unawares of his brother’s murky world of espionage. And caught in the dentist’s chair. With a not so kindly dentist named Dr. Szell, played with exquisite menace by the late great Sir Laurence Olivier.

After not being to get the answers he requires, Dr. Szell (whose qualifications to practice dentistry include being a Nazi war criminal) is unconvinced of Babe being wholly innocent of any involvement in his brother’s affairs. So he decides to drill deeper. Literally in this case. All the time repeating the immortal line, “Is it safe?”

Well, no, it bloody well isn’t safe as Babe discovers during a ten-minute scene by the end of which he is now holely innocent, Dr. Szell is none the wiser and I am hiding under my cinema seat.

Quite why I am reminding myself of all this, while gazing out at the sun rippling off the beautiful waters of the South China Sea, I don’t know. After all, I am not visiting Dr. Szell but the kindly and efficient Dr. Gohil and the brilliantly sympathetic hygienist Cherry Fung. Yet still the fear persists. What if in a casual enquiry about the neighbourhood I live in, they ask “Is it safe?”


There that didn’t hurt a bit, did it? My Austrian (or so he said) dentist in the 1960s, a Dr. Landsberg, used to say that after drilling through my young teeth and practically straight through to the other side of the earth (from Christchurch, New Zealand, that would be Lugo in Galicia, Northwest Spain, which might explain my later predilection for Ribeiro wines). But, actually, whisper it gently, on this occasion it didn’t hurt.

My childhood dentist’s favoured root, sorry route, canal; Source:

With a healthy pair of gnashers, I can now get my teeth into what is shaping as a hectic period of travel in coming weeks and months. After nearly three years of what felt like incarceration in Hong Kong, I and all local residents can now travel easily, including to Mainland China, Macau and Taiwan. Freedom feels even better if it’s been taken away.

With the borders open and the Year of the Rabbit upon us why not hop over and join me in Hong Kong?

‘All travel curbs at border to be lifted on Monday’ screamed the headline in today’s South China Morning Post. And while the story warned that the long-awaited end to restrictions will not amount to a “silver bullet” in terms of the city’s economic revival, let’s just say it’s a pretty handy Indium-coated cartridge.

On Thursday the Hong Kong government unveiled a HK$2 billion (US$255 million) ‘Hello Hong Kong’ campaign designed to boost tourism, that includes giving away 500,000 free air tickets. Chief Executive John Lee, who has brought not so much a breath of fresh air as a hurricane-force wind full of it since taking office last July, described the campaign as “the world’s biggest welcome ever.”

That’s a nice sentiment. So come and say Hello Hong Kong. The place has been missing you. Travel retailers such as DFS (below) are all dressed up in their Chinese New Year glory. In the Year of the Rabbit hop on over to Hong Kong. It may for now be a little quieter than before but I assure you it has lost none of its magic. And is it safe? You bet Babe.