Post COVID-19 World: 5 Things Companies Need to Be Crisis Ready

A close look at the last two decades of the 21st century reveals regular economic shocks either due to human error, natural calamity or a pandemic.
Those who are now in senior management roles and were beginners back then when the world discovered SARS in 2003. Good thing was the world governments came together and before the outbreak could morph into a pandemic it was contained. But the scare was real. Another nine years went by and the MERS outbreak again threatened to disrupt global supply chains in 2012. Mercifully it was controlled but the floods in December of 2012 in Bangkok dealt a blow to the automobile and hard-disk manufacturers globally. If these were initial trailers preparing us for the D-Day, it finally arrived in the form of COIVD-19. Humanity ultimately ran out of luck.
All the experts, military strategists and environmentalists are now on the same page that outbreaks like these can be expected regularly during our lifetime. A pandemic every five to eight years is now an accepted reality. So how can every company be ready to face reoccurring crisis? There is a five pronged strategy to dealing with a threat that lurks in not so a distant future.
Contingency Plan: It’s a no-brainer. Every company should have a contingency plan and many do have it. However, COVID-19 has brought our attention to another important distinction, it needs to be in battle ready condition. Every company should earmark two weeks every six months or a year to do a dry run of the contingency plan so that everyone is on board and each component of the workforce know exactly what to do in the time of crisis. This will help the company to smoothly transit into the emergency mode the moment they come face to face with the crisis.
Clear Communication: Working under crisis situation from different locations can lead to a lot of communication static. There should be a proper communication protocol in place that’s build on a two-way process – Senior managers in contact with staff and the staff in contact with the senior managers. Similarly, inter department communications should be smooth with least number of blockages and access rules, at least during the time of the crisis. The company can revert to need-to-know basis later but in crisis situation it would lead to unnecessary loss of time, duplication and heartburn.
Context Setting: Every employee during the work form home situation or remote working or working without the physical presence of the supervisor may loose sight of the big picture and harbour grudge that she is being forced to work while the others are having fun. If a company is asking only 30 percent of the staff to work from the office premise the other 70 percent may feel left out of the action and feel underutilized. In such a situation its very important to make them understand the larger picture. This will increase the sense of commitment, belonging and self worth.
Leadership Matter: Company leaders need to lead form the front in helping every worker during context setting. They also need to work over time to boost the morale of the work force. As the Chinese Sage-General, Sun Tzu, said 2500 years ago, a general is the trigger of the martial spirit of his people, modern leader leading during crisis needs to be in constant touch with every employee if possible. Regular check-ins and motivational interventions will be critical in keeping the workforce upbeat.
HR, the Pillar of Strength: Even after all this there will be times when workers will be overwhelmed by the situation outside or within their family or within their own mind. They need to device a clear-cut policy of working hours, time outs and off days. They should also be ready to play the agony aunt and counselor when nerves of the workforce start fraying.

(Keshav Chaturvedi uses communication as a tool to help companies prepare and keep their contingency plans battle ready)

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Life After COVID19: A Chance for Personal Course Correction

During the weekend I was reading Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian Adjust your clock: Lockdown is bending time completely out of shape. It was a fascinating read talking about how at one level time, it feels, has come to a stand still and at others it seems zipping past in a flash. In these times of lockdowns we all are in this space at one time or the other. News reports are suggesting people getting edgy living a confined life.

But this is also a time of reflection, which we may not get again in our lives. Moments of great anxiety and stress are also the moments of great opportunity. A time when cities are deserted and services are suspended — eating out, pub hopping, mall ratting, going on a long drives, walking in the park and going to the gym are all a strict no-no and when living inside the house you are bored to death looking at screens whether, its your laptop, TV or mobile phone then its time to pause and reflect.

Test Your Assumptions:

All those who thought that they would die of boredom if they didn’t have so many activities to fill up their days are now realizing it’s not the case. They have survived for a month and can survive one more. It goes on to show you have far more resilience than you credited yourself for. Remember that, once the lockdown is lifted. You did go through withdrawal symptoms for sure – you were irritated, you lost your cool, you got depressed for some time. But you managed. This should give you strength and confidence that you will sail through any crisis. You can survive against all odds on very little at your disposal. 

By now you must be eating far healthier food than you must have eaten in a long time. Home cooked food isn’t bad or lowbrow. Actually it’s the best thing you can get for all the hard work you do through the day in your office. This is the food, which is meant for your gut, liver and other organs of your body. The chips, pizzas, aerated drinks, burgers, packed snacks, munchies, noodles, cookies, chocolates, canned food are all geared to cater to your taste buds and that’s it. The rest of the body takes a huge beating while your tongue swims in your own saliva of stupidity. Remember that, too!

Household Chores Are Not Easy:

All those who thought our mothers, wives (a little rare now) or maids were having it easy, parking their asses at home while you were working them off in the office now know that’s hardly true. Mopping the floor, washing utensils and cooking food, washing clothes, dusting, adjusting furniture and bed-sheets, buying grocery and haggling with the local vegetable vendor are full time occupation that requires as much negotiating and managerial skills, not to mention actual talent of cooking, and aesthetics to keep the house clean and presentable. To top it all if you have kids, the degree of difficulty is multiplied by a factor of 10 straight. So once the lockdown is lifted and you go back to your office feeling mighty important remember these days and have some respect for your mother, the other half or the maid.

You Mother Was Right All the WAY:

The digital children who turned into digital professionals, digital nomads and digital citizens thought that their parents especially their mothers who were rooted to reality didn’t get it. They were some cat’s whiskers and now they have to suffer their mother’s constant lament who doesn’t know anything about digital payment and digital delivery and living-in-the-moment bohemian life. But she was right all along when she insisted to have enough cash in your savings account so that if you have to swipe your bloody card it needs to have some hard cash in the bank account somewhere. You need to have some cash in your hands too as your vegetable vendor is not too inclined to take digital money if you are not living in Mumbai or Delhi. Have fixed deposits no matter what the slick banker says. Even when the returns are getting less and if you have to pay taxes do that. Principal hard earned money is safe. Only invest that portion of your earning in equity that you can forget. She gave you the right advice when she said don’t create a string of real estate property beyond a point as it won’t be a crown over your head but will turn into a millstone around your neck. You need to have real estate, liquidity, fixed deposits, term insurance, health insurance, systematic investment plans and equity portfolio. This is what she was trying to tell you in her own language when she would say, “One or two or a maximum of three properties are more than enough if one of it is commercial. You won’t eat a house when you are hungry and won’t pay your house if someone is in the hospital at 12 pm and all the banks are closed on the weekend”, and you know Mr or Ms Dickheads, she was damn right.

Don’t be greedy, as you don’t know a shit about how the share market works – Talk about a balanced portfolio.

Clean and Quiet:

The neighbourhood where you live seems so quiet and clean these days. Now you know when you used to ask in exasperation, “why our cities are so dirty?” who was the culprit? You! Of course. Honking away to glory, revving up the engine, throwing your garbage and wrappers at the corner of the road putting a lunatic to shame, blaring music in your car, house and at the terrace party like maniac. All that made your city dirty, choked and noisy. Remember it’s you who will keep it clean and quiet. The government agency will help in cleaning once a day. Maintaining it throughout the day when no one is watching you is you job. You are a grown up person and not some five year old whose diapers need to be changed every hour and he or she has the liberty to urinate and defecate anywhere they want to. Just remember to grow up and remain that way. It’s actually a good thing. People don’t like their children, neighbours and spouses to be enfant terrible. Also if you behave only when there is a threat of legal action against you and not out of your own moral values than you are a bloody psycho. Get that straight in your head you psycho.

Slow Down and Go Local:

When you slow down you achieve more. Remember these times when you were forced to cut the fluff out of your life for sometime and discovered it was a liberating experience though slightly painful in the beginning. You were managing both the household chores, your me-time and office work and had your boss not been the prick he or she was things would have been much better. You were doing fine. Another thing you may have realised that almost everything from getting a hair cut to visiting a doctor at the slightest pretext is just an escape mechanism to kill time. There is no inherent value in it. All these things can be done at leisure and can wait. If you can delay things many of the cravings and needs will seem needless.

An advice to those journalists hyperventilating on TV screens or busybees in the corporate office floors zipping past from one meeting or the other or those who are still busy making their and others’ life miserable during work from home by pinging their colleagues and juniors at unearthly hours. You are not the centre of the world. Accept that fact and take it easy. The world doesn’t even know you exist. The universe doesn’t know if the Earth exists and if it does then where on earth it’s located in the whole wide cosmos. So chill.

Finally as the global travel will be curtailed for at east an year it’s time to explore your own country and hidden gems close by. Take your children to places close to your home and acquaint them to the grandeur and beauty of your own country. I assure you it’s not half as bad at a price that is a fraction of what you spend on foreign jaunts.

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Life after COVID19: Remote Working

A couple of days ago a friend of mine sent me a message saying, “I’ll call you once I am free from WFH”, I kept wondering WT*#@ is WFH? But I held my horses and when she called I inquired what the new abbreviation means? She replied, “work from home”. I was enlightened.
In the times of global lockdowns work from home or WFH has become the buzzword with an overwhelming number of professionals trapped inside their pigeon holes (homes) fixing their gaze on a variety of screens and tapping their fingers on various keyboards.
Actually these are the two organs in the body that are in overuse these days. Experts are becoming hysterical about the new global trend and how it will define the new age working in the post-COVID19 era. Some say this is the way society will work from now on and the others say the trend will fizzle out once the offices open and we gain some kind of herd immunity against this contagion.
These enthusiastic but extreme positions notwithstanding let’s further explore the unfolding future in some details:-
Remote torture
A whole lot of people are finding work from home an unmitigated disaster, a veritable torture chamber with no respite. Like Salman Khan, the super star from Mumbai film Industry, said, “staying home is like being in a Big Boss Home with no one being ejected out (sic).”
Many professionals say they are working more than they used to in the office. Most of the bosses and especially the immediate line managers are breathing down their neck and don’t let them ease through the day. Mailing at odd hours and messaging and calling late till night under the pretext, “you are at home, why can’t you work?” quip. They forget the worker is also a family person. She needs to spend some time with her family, cook, clean utensils, broom and swipe the floors and wash clothes. Even when she gets some help from family members its still a time consuming task.
There was a primary school teacher in a reputed school who told me that she was asked to make videos for kindergarten students. For this all the teachers were asked to conduct a day review meeting at 10 pm every night regardless of Sundays or Saturdays. When she said the kids won’t watch the videos unless the parents sit through the entire session with them, she was overruled. When the first class began the parents opened the laptop or connected their smart TVs and put their children in front of the screen and left to do their own office work and lo and behold the children just got up and left. When their wards were asked to sit through the entire class they resented it and protested. This was an additional duty along with their pile of work that they had to do from home.
Then there was a class teacher from a senior class who marked students absent as they failed to login at the appointed time.
This behavior of senior class teacher, kindergarten principle and line managers in corporate shows a deep-rooted problem of persistent lack of managerial skills and difficulty to accept change.
In the time of lockdown and global pandemic most of the managers and senior functionaries in every sector especially in the education and services sector have exposed their complete incompetence and a total lack of emotional intelligence compounding an already precarious situation.
Listening to these stories makes you feel that most of these senior managers almost feel resentful that people are not in office. And if they are at home they must be having fun, so now it’s their divine right to make their life miserable.
But people are not staying at home out of choice, its government order. And it’s no fun and game. Everyday is a struggle as their support staff — the maid, the home delivery of grocery and cooked food, and many other services are shut. Also the home doesn’t have the kind of technically updated facilities as are available in the office and the net speeds have suffered notoriously during these times. These are not normal times and you just can’t pile up work with scorn that, “but you are at home na…so what’s the big deal”. Hell it’s big deal and get that straight in your head you pig-head.
It fails to make any sense why kindergarten teachers should work for eight hours everyday and have a meeting at 10 in the night. Why should people in other sectors who are working from home need to slave for 12 to 14 hours. The worst threat is, “if you don’t want to work there are many who are ready to work for 24 hours a day at half the price so FO.”
This stressful and humiliating experience for many will make them shudder to return to WFH.
HRM should stop HRM
Human Resources Managers (HRM) everywhere now need to step in urgently to stop this human repression and madness (HRM). A clear policy guideline should be made and strictly enforced in every sector of the economy. The government should also make changes in labour laws to safeguard the sanity, long term productivity and dignity of the worker or employee.
To begin with they should take a leaf out of the French law that forbids employers to call their employees after office hours. Office hours need to be defined strictly. If it’s an eight hour or ten hour shift then some one who starts at 8 am will leave the terminal at home at 4 pm or 6 pm. The office can only call the person if the heavens are falling and the employee alone can save it. Otherwise please wait till the next day.
Keeping a moment to moment tab can’t work. The person should be given a task that’s doable in a day and a report be taken at the end of the day that’s it. Don’t behave life a stereotype mom-in-law or an atrocious landlord of yore. Even while giving a task the IBM’s “minimum expectation rule” should be followed. When the company was an “800 pound gorilla”, as Tim Ferris says, during their heydays, they gave their sales forces a minimum target to achieve because they never wanted the salesman to be so stressed by the target that they won’t pick up the phone. So when the sales force knew about their low targets everyone approached their work without stress and achieved it. A large majority almost invariably exceeded the targets in excess, beating the competition hollow.
Third thing that the HR manager should ensure is the middle managers or the line managers should have a life. Even if they are tight assed SOBs they should be encouraged to have one and if they still persist with their cussed ways they should be told in no uncertain terms not to mess with others’ quality time.
If these three things can be ensured then the future of WFH looks bright.
Pregnant with Potential
Looking beyond the apparent incompetence of managers and employers the mass scale of work from home has opened up a world of great opportunities. People with a decent technological backup of high speed internet, camera, sound studio and laptop or desktop and one or two phone connections can now work from anywhere and everywhere. This crisis has helped in breaking the initial mental barriers that arose due to legacy issues. For example, the need for people to be present physically for an interview can and should give way now that a large chunk of workforce has learned the art of talking on video conferencing and other online video chat platforms. The need for physical presence for meeting can also be reduced to a minimum.
Another bold new vistas opening up is of remote working. People from remote areas and small towns with requisite qualifications can work for companies from the comforts of their own homes and their own towns without ever setting a foot in the big cities. They may still be called for a physical appearance one or twice a year but not more.
But care needs to be taken to compensate them adequately. You can’t hire a top class human resource and pay them pittance just because the person is working from Dumka and not Delhi. Yes you may rationalise the pay by 10 to 15 percent but not more than that. Competence, consistency, integrity and sustained quality of work should decide the pay of the person not her location and the cost of living.
Apart from this many people working in the office can also seek a permanent WFH to move to cooler climes, quieter places or may travel to remote locations and still be engaged for a certain time throughout the week. They should be given weekly tasks that they need to complete. If they can finish it early they get to enjoy an extended weekend and do whatever they want to. This way companies will not only be able to retain a lot of their good resources but also engage new ones too.
It will open up a new pool of talent from diverse locations, with diverse cultures and diverse perspectives making the workforce and workplace a true melting pot of cultures and capabilities. This would be a new face of globalisation that’s based on earthly local flavours.

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COVID19: Improved Environment Nudges for a New Beginning

Ever since the lockdown that started from March 24 in India in response to global pandemic, people are witnessing a curios phenomenon. Mother Nature is reclaiming her space gently, silently and effortlessly. News items from world over in general and India in particular are replete with stories of people witnessing peacocks on their terraces or deer herd strolling on the streets or dolphins seen around the harbours that were so polluted just few weeks ago that they couldn’t support marine life.
Residents of the city of Jalandhar in Punjab got up to a startling morning view of Dhauladhar Ranges in Himalayas a total of 213 kilometres away from the town.
Older residents told people that the last they saw snow capped mountains was almost a generation ago. Pollution from industrial units in the city and hectic agricultural activities in the nearby fields almost erased the memories of the hill-view that was always available but got obscured by the pollution.
Stories like these can be heard from all the towns where many children below the age of 15 are listening to the chirping of birds for the first time in their life.
The question that begs an answer is will we be able to retain this pleasant interlude in our otherwise heavily polluted existence once the lockdown is lifted? The short answer alas is a big and resounding no.
But a more qualified answer would be, if we continue with business as usual then the mountains will again retreat behind a pall of smoke and the birds will be replaced by honking cars. But if we learn our lessons well and look for alternative ways of doing business and employ emerging new green technologies that are presented by the 17 sustainable development goals we can retain both the environmental integrity and a comfortable life for ourselves.
Initially it will take time to shift from our old polluting ways but a determined and time-bound effort will do the trick.
If the industries shift from polluting fuel to cleaner fuels like CNG or PNG and renewable energy like biomass and solar it will bring down the carbon emission by a huge margin. Coupled with this effort if the city completely overhauls its usage of electricity bulbs and shifts en mass to LED, both inside the houses as well as in the street light, and the waste management is done at the individual residential level then what reaches to the landfill will come down to almost zero. A lot of garbage will end up as manure and raw material that can be recycled in specific industrial like iron and steel, plastic, glass, paper and others. It will save the environment from methane and particulate emission to a great degree.
Outside the cities, agricultural field would have to adopt zero waste farming techniques and move away from over dependence on wheat and rice. It’s not that rice and wheat would be done away with, but their acreage can be increased on decreased depending upon the buffer stock available with the government. This kind of dynamic crop rotation will help in soil regeneration and restoration. Availability of technologies like mobile and internet can help government create a nimble system of early warning to help farmers make right choices of crops and also the time of sowing it.
This will help mitigate, to a large extent, burning of crop stubble. Use of water resistant crops for a couple of years will also help in restoring the water table and the general moisture in the fields. This too will go a long way in reducing dry spells and the amount of dust thrown up into the atmosphere.
Promoting greenery within the city and protecting biodiversity around it will create a natural pollutant soaking lungs that will keep the air clean.
Most importantly we will have to figure out a way to address our mobility to commute within the city. Cars arrived on the scene just a hundred years ago and as the city traffic stands today it seems they have run their course. Persisting with them is understandable in cases where old and infirm are involved, otherwise we need to step away from the gas pedal and pedal the bicycles and use the public transport. Try walking and don’t complain about heat or cold, our grand parents were walking just half a century ago and they didn’t die. Actually they were far fitter than any of us without paying heavy gym fees.
By employing these and many more small adjustments we humans will be able to maintain our comfortable lifestyles while also giving enough reprieve to environment to recoup itself.
As the present lockdown has shown you don’t need to do anything. Nature restores itself most of the time. All it needs is the human to take himself out of the equation for some time.
Lockdown has given us a glimpse of what a beautiful life we can live in harmony with nature. All we need to do is to soak in the experience and build upon it to make a conscious beginning where our children can have best of the both the worlds – material comfort in the lap of magnificent nature.

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COVID19: Few Endanger Many

Ever since the “Janata curfew”, was announced by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on March 22, 2020 and then a 21-day lockdown from March 24, a peculiar phenomenon is visible across the country. Despite assurances by the authorities and the administration, access to local stores and affluence among many to buy stuff, a section of the middle class is behaving worse than the genuinely deprived and underprivileged souls.
I witnessed a rush to buy things that weren’t needed on the night of March 21, then on March 23 and then a day before the hotspots were sealed for three to four days.
On the first occasion I saw an interesting phenomenon that the so-called well educated crowding the grocery stores and jostling to out smart the other to pretty much buy whatever they could lay their hands on. Surprisingly, the grocery store owner had to put his foot down by asking everyone out make a line that adhered to social distancing, wear a mask and made a rule that no more than 4 people will enter the store at a time. But then those who entered first started piling up and wasting time and had to be told to hurry up so that the others could buy things too.
The purchase pattern also showed up some interesting facts. Basics such as rice, pulses, atta, oil and ghee were lying on the shelf, what had flown off it were junk items like maggi, other noodles, biscuits, bhujias, chips, cookies, cakes.
This pattern was repeated again within 48 hours when the 21-day lockdown was announced. This time people stuffed their bags with the basics. The grocery store owner kept telling the people he would remain open through the lockdown period, there was no need to panic, but no one listened and soon a large majority had to return empty handed.
Within two days of the lockdown every system was in place to provide for every daily needs. It included milkman coming to your society gate. A vegetable vendor started parking himself with fresh vegetables for five to eight hours daily. Grocery stores were functional and were sufficiently well stocked. They were lying empty for most of the time till the state government announced a list of areas that would be sealed for four days. Again there was pandemonium that wasn’t induced by a pandemic but unexplained panic.
It seemed like the end of the world scene, people clamouring for whatever they could lay their hands on. They disregarded the social distancing norms, most of them didn’t wear any mask and crowded the stores, vegetable vendor and some even brought their children with them.
It was thought that seventeen days into the lockdown would have drilled some sense into the people that they are one of the most fortunate ones who have so much around them to comfortably park themselves in their homes. But no! Disregarding their good fortune or taking it for granted they kept pushing their luck while jeopardising the others.
Thrice in a space of 17 days people indulged in panic buying despite proven availability of goods around them. For the first time it was the seller who was discouraging them not to buy or crowd him.
Panic buying was accompanied by insolent demands, “do you have pizza toppings? My child can’t have the normal lunch you know,” “Do you have Dunhill cigarettes?” “But you used to keep it, why can’t you bring it for me. I’ll pay.” “Do you have cup cakes?” then there was a person who was whispering conspiratorially with the chemist. Later the chemist told me in a sheepish tone that our man was insisting that he get a very specific brand of condom, others won’t do.
This sense of entitlement and complete disregard for your own and others’ safety makes you feel how hollow is the standard blabbering of the economists, policymakers and the chatterati circuit in general that says, “literacy and economic empowerment will bring in a kind of improved human resource and better citizens.”
If this is the way the well off, well placed and well cared for are behaving then we can’t grudge those who are really suffering in these times of crisis.
The mindless crowding thrice during the last 21 days not only in a particular well-off sector in NOIDA but in every part of the country is what will play out in the coming days in the form of COVID19 spread.
One can say people will pay for their avarice. But the sad part is many will pay for the avarice of the few. That’s unfair.
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Climate Change: Time to Catch Them Young

The newly-elected Delhi State Government of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) retained Manish Sisodia as the education minister for the next five years. In his earlier stint, Mr Sisodia has done some remarkable experiments with education by allotting close to 26 percent of the state GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for it.
This time around he has announced a Desh Bhakti (patriotism) course that would be introduced in the state education’s curriculum. It’s a good start to teach the importance of nationhood to students at an early and impressionable age.
However, now that the new government is in the saddle for the next five years it’s time to look at the larger and long term picture.
Climate change is a threat that’s creeping at a very fast pace. Extreme weather events are increasing, summers are getting hotter and winters more severe. Rains are now erratic and though the average rainfall remains more or less the same, the distribution and the number of rainfall days have become less.
Residents of Delhi may say why should they worry about climate change? At least they are not directly suffering its ill effects as people in remote farmlands or hills or sea coasts are. But that’s a false sense of security. Rising temperatures and increased summer spells will increase the electricity load and the use of water in Delhi. While the state government can buy more electricity, it would be hard-pressed to provide water for the thirsty millions. Similarly, extended summers will also increase the incidence of water and vector-borne diseases increasing the disease burden of not only the state but individual families too.
In such a scenario, it would be a great idea to teach the young about the imminent threat of climate change and what personal habits they should cultivate to become responsible citizens and consumers.
Keeping this threat in view the Delhi Government should along with Desh Bhakti introduce a course in climate change awareness for the students, right from the kindergarten to primary schools and up till class 10th.
AS these students will be introduced to the concepts of climate change and sustainable development, they would grow up to be an aware citizen who is equipped to make informed choices. This way the school will prepare the climate aware citizens for whom a sustainable lifestyle will not be a fad but a way of life. The choices made by these future residents would automatically align them and thus the entire society with the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

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The Hong Kong I saw 15 years ago

I had specially taken the window seat on Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong in late January 2005. All through the turbulent flight I was excited about the landing in Hong Kong’s iconic Kai Tak airport that was situated bang in the middle of the Kowloon Bay area. I had seen a 1990s video commercial of Cathay Pacific where the airplane negotiates skyscrapers almost kissing them before landing on the world’s most dangerous commercial airport of that time.
But to my utter dismay our flight landed on an airstrip in pitch darkness. I kept thinking there was some mistake but the flight had landed and the commander’s voice on public address system declared in no uncertain terms we were at Hong Kong International Airport at Lantau, the largest island in Hong Kong. I kept wondering where were those high rises? Did they vanish? Or was there a blackout in the glowing island?
I was part of a group of journalists who were invited by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). It was 10 pm when we came out and as our cab moved away from the airport complex it passed through a pitch-dark area. This was not the image I had in my mind. My guide told me, that the Kai Tak airport of my dream was shut down seven years ago in 1998. I was crestfallen. My wish to experience such a hair-raising landing would forever remain just a wish.
However, after half an hour of driving in the dark, our cab entered the port area. Passing through the sea of light, lighting up the world’s busiest container port (at that time), I was dazzled by the scale and number of ships docked in the yard. From then on the fabled Hong Kong City started unfolding one frame at a time.
The city is located at the end of a hilly peninsula that merges with sea. As such it offers Hong Kong hills, rivulets, small patch of flat lands, islands and of course, sea.
The image of Hong Kong that appears in the mind of people anywhere in the world is primarily the handiwork of lifestyle, as it unfolds, in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon district opposite to it. Over the years as the population grew Hong Kong spread across the Kowloon peninsula in what is now called the new territory and adjoining Lantau Island.
As we arrived at a time which was very close to the Chinese New Year, the local shops, markets and temples were decked up in red and gold coloured Chinese lanterns. Our guide, an officer with the HKTB, designed our tour in a way where we could experience the life of an ordinary Hong Konger. For the next three days we would crisscross between the Hong Kong, Kowloon and Lantau depending on how much time we took at one site.
We began our tour, the next day, from Man Mo and Fung Yin Seen temples. Inside Hong Kong’s oldest temple, Man Mo, I could sea a Buddha statue and rectangular concrete tub filled with sand where people would put their incense stick. I had never seen such huge incense sticks in my life. They were about a foot long with red coloured incense material wrapped around them. The smoke emanating from them didn’t have the kind of strong fragrance that we Indians are used to.
Actually I didn’t feel any fragrance at all yet the guide insisted it had fragrance. My personal favourite was Fung Yin Seen temple with its bright red-orange coloured gates and beautiful paintings.
After the temple circuit we headed straight to Victoria Peak or The Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong for a breathtaking view of the city spread below. Looking down on a cluster of skyscrapers, packed like sardines, from the commanding heights is an experience you will cherish for the rest of your life. No other city in the world can match Hong Kong’s skyscraper density, not even Manhattan, New York. There is a legendary red coloured tram and enthusiasts who have time can explore its rich history.
From the heights of Victoria Peak we dived straight into the skyscraper District of Hong Kong Island for a tet-e-tet with a Feng Shui expert. She explained Hong Kong’s perfect location as per Feng Shui principles where it had hills to offer backrest and vast sea to spread its interest far and wide. She told us it was Feng Shui that resulted in city’s phenomenal growth.
The rest of the day was spent on walking around International Commerce Centre (the tallest building in Hong Kong), Two International Finance Centres, Central Plaza, Bank of China Towers and HSBC Tower. Strolling around Hong Kong’s financial power centres was an experience in itself. The visible wealth, high levels of energy, cutting edge technology and latest infrastructure made me feel as if the place was Manhattan on steroids.
By evening our guide had brought us at Victoria Harbour to witness one of the most spectacular evening events called symphony of lights. As the night falls all the high rises in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon act as screen where a dazzling light and sound show is performed. We were told that on the Chinese New Year Day there is a special pyrotechnic show for which the Chinese are known worldwide.
With our first day spent well, we were ready for more. The next day when our guide arrived he asked me to accompany him to a restaurant close to our hotel. It was an unassuming little place where he ordered tea and bread toast for me. When the tea arrived I was pleasantly surprised that it was the same milk and sugar tea we have in India. The guide smiled at me and said, “Yesterday while you bravely had our Chinese tea, I could sense you were missing your own concoction. So I thought let me spare you the torture at least in the morning.” I couldn’t have asked for more. I was dying for a good cup of desi tea. The first sip and I was in for another surprise. I had never had such perfect milk and sugar tea ever. For the next three days this became my favourite morning jaunt.
After breakfast we left for Lantau Island via ferry. Lantau Island is relatively laidback as compared to Hong Kong and Kowloon and the New Territory but has a lot to offer including dolphin watching and excursions in the wild. The place is known for giant Buddha Statue, Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping Piazza and Tai O fishing village. Among all the three I was most fascinated by the Tai O fishing village. It’s one of the last reminders of Hong Kong’s signature water villages, during most parts of the 20th century, built on stilts and made famous by James Clavell’s novel The Noble House. They have steadily declined in the face of advancing modernity.
On our way back, the guide took us back to the Victoria Peak for a view of the city skyline in the evening. It was equally beautiful if not more than what we saw in the morning the previous day.
From Victoria peak we descended to SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong two of the most important nightlife hot spots on the Hong Kong side. Lined with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, they were buzzing with life sans hooligans.
While evenings as a rule should be reserved for merry making there was another aspect of Hong Kong that we needed to discover. It was a market that comes up after the regular market shops close down. Temple Street Market is one such “fly-by-night’ market. I saw pleasantly surprised to see people haggling, shopkeepers talking to each other, laughing and realized most of the people in most of the places are almost the same.
Our third morning started with a Tai Chi class at the Tsim Sha Sui Promenade, an important landmark on the harbour that offers a vast open space and many museums close-by.
Tai Chi lessons were followed by a visit to Hong Kong’s Disney Land and Ocean Park. For those Asians who can’t visit the US, Hong Kong Disney Land offers a chance to experience the original one. Among all the attractions the rollercoaster built on the edge of a cliff actually offers a cliff hanging experience. That’s something even the original Disney doesn’t offer.
While on our return our guide took us to Stanley Market in Hong Kong Island. This part of the city resembles like a complete English corner. From here we were taken to Repulse Bay, one of the most upmarket residential areas in Hong Kong and finally we ended up at Knutsford Terrace, the nightlife hub in Kowloon. Three days passed by in a jiffy. I realized though Hong Kong may have been a British outpost once but when I visited it looked like a global city with distinct Chinese imprint of gold, jade green and red. People spoke English with equal ease as they spoke Cantonese (A variation of Mandarin). They were cosmopolitan yet retained fierce pride in their Chinese roots.
As I headed back to the airport, I knew I couldn’t do, visit and experience many things that Hong Kong offers. I missed scaling many buildings that offered panoramic view of the city for free. I couldn’t visit the Hong Kong Derby, museums and many other temples. I missed tasting cuisines prepared in fine restaurants but drew solace that there is always a next time.
But that proverbial next time has eluded me for the last fifteen years. As unsettling news from Hong Kong pour in I am reminded of the bespectacled and passionate Feng Shui expert who told me that the principles of the ancient system have ensured Hong Kong will grow and prosper till eternity. My skeptical mind wanted to tell her, nothing in human life and their creation lasts till eternity but didn’t have the heart to puncture her child like enthusiasm. Even today I sincerely hope her belief trumps my realism.

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