Friday, November 18, 2005

Wooden Ships
``Junk?'' asked C over the phone from Shenzhen. ``That's the word for garbage or British rubbish, right? You were riding on garbage?''
I don't know why Westerners call the traditional Chinese sailing ship a junk so I couldn't explain that part but I'd called to tell her I was back from a day of sailing on one of Hong Kong's last junks with a group of mentally and physically handicapped school kids who'd been paired with normal kids from another school.
It'd been a refreshing break from sitting in the office and phoning sources whose secretaries either didn't speak clear English or insisted on re-routing me to The Department of Something Not Remotely Connected To What You Are Writing About.
Just me, the sea, a motor powered teak junk and about 30 teenagers of varying abilities plus assorted wheel chairs, teachers and a sturdy, tanned and sinewy crew of four.
Earlier I'd been paranoid of getting lost on my way to the Kowloon City Pier and had arrived early, but as the time neared I began to wonder if I'd hit the right spot. So far I'd only seen:
1. One unconscious young woman on a stretcher being taken from a ferry to an ambulance. She wasn't wet so I guessed it wasn't one of Hong Kong's daily, multiple suicide attempts, plus they usually jump from buildings.
2. An elderly apparently homeless couple doing tai chi between rooting through trash cans.
3. A sikh reading a Chinese language newspaper.
Finally a long yellow bus with a wheel chair lift and large black letters reading ``HONG KONG SPASTICS ASSOCIATION'' pulled up.
My powers of deductive reasoning slowly kicked in and I ventured that I had indeed arrived at the correct destination.
The kids weren't spastics, or at least most of them, a teacher explained later. Apparently it was sort of an umbrella phrase to cover myriad disabilities. The normal students from another school with a name about eight words long, but not as catchy as Spastics Association, arrived shortly thereafter and the two groups merged quickly and naturally, each fully abled kid seeking the buddy he or she had been paired with at a getting to know you meeting last week.
On board it was mostly orderly and always enthusiastic. The whole schtick would be familiar to anyone remotely informed about or connected with special ed in the US -- everyone has different abilities, is a winner, blahblah, but it was truly touching to see how enthusiastic the students were with each other.
Amid the hub-bub about two hours into the voyage, I sat back against a lower cabin window and just zoned out for a moment. The captain was shouting good naturedly at some children who were shouting back. Teachers were sheparding others to the ship's head. I could hear the engine chugging and then I looked to my right.
Two girls were sitting together, gently holding hands and singing softly in perfect harmony. Due to a spinal deformity, the disabled child was bent lower and looking up while her normal buddy was tenderly returning her new friend's slightly cross-eyed gaze as they sang.
Pure and innocent. Easy, you know the way it's supposed to be. And for a moment I felt released.
Over at wikipedia they say the word "junk" came from the Malay word "jong".
Glad you had a moment to zone out completely. Most of us consider those moments precious.
Did have George Dubya in country affect anything in your area? Or were you aware of him?
That's awesome. I wonder if the junk you're referring to is the orange bat-wing sailed Duk-Ling boat. I took a nice cruise on it in April. It's a nice ride.
All too aware of Dubya and Ahnahld's recent visits. The horror, the horror...
so, there are a lot of suicides in the big HK?
Yup. Probably 2-5 a day, probably more during school exam times.
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