My first exhibit at the RHS Botanical Art show in London, and thrilled to be awarded a Silver Gilt medal! Rewarded for all those many hours painting, missing the wonderful spring sunshine. I had two 2m panels and set up the six paintings on Wednesday 9 April – what a way to spend a birthday! – then the preview Thursday evening and open to the public Friday and Saturday. We found out the results of the judging on Friday morning when we had a critique from the judges which was very helpful, although I’d pretty much figured out the weak areas of my work so no surprises there.

RHS April 2014 CFK Panel 1 RHS April 2014 CFK Panel 2

Amazingly, I sold three of the paintings.

RHS Silver Gilt sm1

Silver Gilt at RHS Botanical Art Show April 2014

The weekend wasn’t without its drama – after having had a lingering dinner on Saturday, I was so exhausted I left my portfolio in the back of a London cab! That sense of utter desolation and bewilderment as midnight approached and all that work was gone. It was surreal. And the sense of elation when the cabbie found the business card I’d put inside and phoned me – I think I declared undying love! An hour later, reunited, we caught the last-but-one train home and collapsed into bed around 2am.

I had an amazing time and made many friends – just got to figure out what I’m going to do for 2015…

When the weather bites like this, I wonder why I always feel that my home is in England.

The hunger to travel is growing stronger in me again, yet I must stay here for a while.

Tiny white snow flakes drifted sporadically across the kitchen window this morning. Not my kitchen window – I’m house-sitting for friends who have escaped this chill for a jaunt abroad. But a kitchen window that looks out over a small garden and the resident chickens. Over the wall the land drops down into an old quarry, now with mature beech trees, which has become a wildlife haven.

At least for blackbirds, that are up well before dawn and making sure that I am too.

I’ve always been interested in foraging, so today I dropped down into the valley and gathered handful after handful of wild garlic leaves – ramsons – from the woodland just 10 minutes walk from my friends’ house. I washed the leaves in cold water and used a blender to mix them with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and a good organic olive oil. I now have jars full of fresh wild garlic pesto in the fridge, and small 2-portion tubs in the freezer to be used later in the year. Or, most likely, given away to friends!

I’ve wanted to make this for a while, but just never got round to it. So glad I have. It was just a couple of hours work and a small investment in good ingredients. But what a result! Tiny portions of the taste of Spring.

A small gift to my friends, in return for their chickens’ wonderful fresh eggs.

And here it is, flowering just a few hundred miles away in the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens! They’ve waited some 30 years to see it; I travelled some 6,000 miles to find it.

And if you want to know more about that, you’ll have to go all the way back to the beginning of this Blog!

I’m talking of course about Emmenopterys henryi, a tree native to China which is now rare in the wild. Although in arboretums and collections across the world, back in 2009 it had only been recorded as flowering outside China less than a dozen times, and only a couple of times in England. How things have changed this year!

After one of the wettest summers on record in England, there are no fewer than four recorded flowerings of E henryi – the one at Cambridge, two in Sussex at Borde Hill  Garden (amazingly for the second year running) and one on the Isle of Wight at Ventnor Botanic Garden.

Little is know about what prompts this tree to flower, but after such a spectacularly “successful” year there’s no doubt that scientists will be looking into it.

As soon as I hear it’s in flower I book some cheap overnight accommodation through “airbnb” (a brilliant site for alternative home-stays) and shoot straight up to Cambridge. I’m greeted by the Director and led straight away to see this spectacle.

The Chinese tree in Flower

It’s a well-formed, very healthy tree, some 30ft high with dark green glossy leaves. The sprays of flowers start at the top, spreading diagonally downwards and stop about a third of the way from the lower branches. Extending from each spray of flowers is a similarly coloured “leaf” on a long stalk which flutters with the slightest breeze.

Flowers with bracts

Flowers with bracts

I certainly can’t reach them and am wondering just how close I can get when they happily climb a ladder, ask me which bit I want, cut off a sizeable chunk of flowering material and hand it to me.

Reaching some of the lower flowers

Reaching some of the lower flowers

I’m astounded – I seriously had visions of sitting on a camping stool underneath the tree trying to do field studies in the wind and rain, with fingerless gloves and a thermos by my side!

Now, holding these small star-shaped flowers in my hand for the first time seeing how fragile they are, breathing in their Gardenia scent, I know this is an extraordinary moment.  And I let it linger.

Things get even better when they offer me a room in their offices at The Lodge in which to paint.

Then things take an unexpected turn – all my amateur enthusiasm comes crashing down into a crisis of confidence as I’m introduced to the professional Botanical Illustrator ensconced at The Lodge. No prizes for guessing what she’s painting.

She’s charming and helpful and has 17 years’ professional experience painting for Kew. And she’s half-way through an exquisite drawing of E henryi for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine – the quarterly publication of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

I find it hard to even sharpen my pencil after that, but concentrate on doing some studies so that when the flowers have died I’ll still be able to understand their form from different angles. I realise it also has a very complex branching structure and a specific pattern as to where the wonderful elongated bracts occur. There’s a lot of rubbing out.

I manage some colour referencing, then, as my departure time approaches, panic really sets in. But I’ve brought a nice big plastic box “just in case” and wrap each cut stem with wet kitchen paper and cling film to keep it fresh – and place them all gently into the box, which fits perfectly into my backpack.

The material’s lasted well in my fridge for several weeks. I raised the temperature as I feared the flowers would go brown and had to throw away milk on several occasions – oh, the hazards of being an artist!

They put an article in the local paper – don’t know how long this link will work, but if you catch it quick, you might just be able to see it:

http://www.thisisbath.co.uk/Painter-finds-subject-closer-home/story-17110735-detail/story.html

If you want to see what Cambridge or Borde Hill Gardens have to say about the tree, check out:

Cambridge University Botanic Gardens: http://www.botanic.cam.ac.uk/Botanic/TrailPlace.aspx?p=27&ix=423&pid=0&prcid=0&ppid=0

Dr Upson preparing a herbarium specimen

Borde Hill Garden: http://www.bordehill.co.uk/press-emmenopterys

I find it so hard to believe that the last time I posted anything here was shortly after I returned from China – almost a year ago!

It would be facile of me to surmise that I’ve been “living” more, and have had less time to reflect or put my thoughts and experiences into words. There have been written words, but they haven’t been here. There has been a lot of “living” but a great deal of this I have chosen to keep more closely to myself.

And now, coming back to my blog, I realise that I have really missed sharing those experience that have meant so much to me, with others. So I will try to be more conscientious about my postings.

I’ve already updated my Illustrations page, so you’ll see more of my Chinese botanical illustrations there. And I’m planning on a whole new website where my artworks can be better displayed – but please be patient as that’ll take a few months.

In the meantime, I’m exhibiting five paintings with the Bath Society of Botanical Artists’ “Plants in the Park” Exhibition at BRLSI in Bath from 10 June – 4 Aug, which commemorates 125 years of the Bath Botanical Gardens. Just as soon as I have scans back of the paintings I’ll be submitting, I’ll post them here. But do check out the BSBA link: http://www.bsba.co.uk/exhib.htm

How did I forget to mention that four of my larger floral botanical paintings are currently in an exhibition in Central, Hong Kong? Sadly I couldn’t make the preview – bit of a long way to go for an evening’s schmoozing…

But they sent me a photo, so this’ll give you an idea of the kind of work I was developing with them.

Hong Kong Exhibition paintings Spring 2012

They are floated over glorious gold reflective backgrounds, with tight, white frames – very difficult to photograph…

I also recently had a large graphite drawing installed in a prestigious hotel in Guangzhou, China – here’s how it displayed in the room:

Artwork in Hotel in Guangzhou

My next major venture is an exhibition of my Chinese botanical illustrations in Bath in 2013. Lots of work there then…

 

 

 

 

Of course no entry would be complete without the requisite image of a plant or two and, in catching up with my botanical art group, I’m spurred to visit the Botanical Gardens.

We’re doing a project to record some of the highlights of the gardens for an exhibition which will celebrate their 125th anniversary in 2012.

So plenty of material to get stuck into.

.

And sadly, a lost fairy crown…

I also get a chance to visit Lacock where a falconry display is taking place, but there’s a bit of a hiatus when one gets bored with all this demonstration stuff and takes off.

Right then, better go and get him

Now you see me

Now you don't

Gotcha

There are some very large birds. And I mean large.

Who's a pretty boy then...

In one of the rooms in Lacock Abbey there’s wallpaper from the 1700s which has been inspired by Oriental birds and flowers– no doubt brought back by some of those intrepid Plant Hunters. Funny old world.

I’m also keen to catch up on what’s been happening with BOG – Bath Organic Group – since we successfully got Lottery funding for a whole heap of improvements last year including better disabled access paths, a teaching tent, bigger and better ponds for bigger and better wildlife and an earth oven for lovely home-made pizzas and things after a long day digging.

The friendly way to make daub

and plaster it on the oven

A big new pond needs a big new platform...

It’s great to see the results of all their hard work during the last year – while I was so far away and safely off the ‘volunteer rota’.

I fly into Heathrow along with the dawn that has grown beautifully bold outside my window, slow hour after hour, as we course our way over the top of the world.

It is not a comfortable flight. I had made the mistake of selecting a window seat – great during the day when you can gaze out over extraordinary vistas, but a bad choice at night. The window is a freezing bed-pillow, and I can’t get out to pee. Easily. Without waking other people. Which isn’t what I want to do.

So, as I said. A bad choice.

We land early, just after 6am, and already it’s full-on day. China already feels a million miles away. And then the absolute wonder of driving through the fresh green English countryside where the Ox-eye daisies along the motorway verges, like a froth of Victorian relatives waving their white handkerchiefs to speed you on your way, is a home-coming like nothing else.

I stay on the outskirts of London and see family and friends I have missed for a year.

But there's still a sunset in England

As with any adventure – for coming back home can be just as much a voyage of discovery as going away – there are moments which are “captured” emotionally, as much as they might have been by a camera: holding my great-nephew just two days after his birth; hearing a cuckoo; glimpsing the very last of the early bluebells. Or the night the fox got the chickens…

And the excitement of small boys as they unwrap their presents and find blow-pipes inside! Of course we play with them in the garden and, as far as I know, no-one has lost an eye yet…

All too soon, it seems, it’s time move on. To pick up the pieces of a family that the last year has ridden roughshod over, and to figure out where we all go from here.

I hit Bath at the beginning of the Music Festival, Fringe Festival, and various other cultural events which make me realise that my cultural experience in China is one of how people live their lives, rather than what they do – a more anthropological view than academic. And I feel like I’m jonesing! I pore over the programmes, soaking up the delight in going to live music events that I can better relate to, art shows, street theatre and just hanging out in my old pub haunts catching up a year’s worth of gossip and several pints of real ale.

I hadn’t realised, until I left China, that just being there was such hard work. But having said that, I am aware that there are many more opportunities there for someone with initiative, than there are in England. The middle class is growing exponentially: they are conspicuous in their consumption and they are investing heavily in art.

My arrival “back home” is made all the easier by an invitation to stay with friends, as I’d given up my rented country cottage and put everything in storage when I first went to China in 2009. However, their wholesome farm-house cooking is forcing me to consider gym membership. And none of this is helped by my discovery that if you leave your clothes in storage for a year, the waists shrink.

But that hasty visit to the lock-up supplies me with the necessary “winter” clothing now that I’ve missed the scorcher of spring. The brolly is coming in handy almost daily, but I haven’t needed the wellies yet. But then, I’m not planning on going to Glasto this year. Rock on!

Where did those three weeks go? Here I am again at the airport, waiting to fly back to Kota Kinabalu, then Hong Kong, and finally England – nearly a year after leaving.

The fabric of the last 10 months in China is fading in the stronger light of Borneo – but maybe I’ve woven a different cloth: the one made of tourism that I have avoided up until now.

Initially there is an urgent thirst to head off into the National Parks and jungle to paint exotic plants. But as I read more about the land I realise that there is more here that could nourish me than this one drive.

It takes several days – and Becky’s gentle persuasion – before I relax enough to enjoy this new approach. And the camera is always at hand. Although a bit of a purist only wanting to draw from nature, I do realise that it’s quite possible to use photographs as a source…

First we did a day trip to Manukan island, a short boat ride from KK. After having been “land locked” in China for so long, I was desperate for some sea…

The far end of Manukan Island

Not much to do...

Except reflect...

Wonder at the strange fruits...

And have a drink with Becky back at KK

But the real adventure starts at Samporna with the 18th Annual Lepa Boat Festival and snorkelling in some of the world’s finest coral reefs.

We stay at Dragon Inn, right on the water, and watched the flotilla from the cafe. The traditional boats are festooned with flags and all lit up at night. It’s a big event with many local dignitaries attending the judging – particularly of the beauty contest.

Dragon Inn by day

And night

Watching the boats pass by

Getting up close

Awaiting judgement

The score is all hand-written

All lit up

A bevy of beauties

Now that's a unique hand-basin!

Meanwhile, behind the scenes...

The next day we head off for the tiny reef island of Sibuan which lies about 30-minutes north of Samporna and is habited by Filipino sea-gypsies: a straggle of around 20 coconut-palm huts with a swarm of nut-brown children.

No health-care, no education. The boat pulls right up to the sandy beach and a small child makes a very half-hearted attempt to sell us a shell.

The outpost

As we walk around this little spit of land, we are startled to find a small military outpost with a bored soldier nursing a rather large gun. This island, along with all the others in this cluster, has a police and army presence (3-weeks on, 3-weeks off) following the hostage-taking of 20 people, including a number of foreign tourists, by Filipino gunmen on Sipadan island back in 2000.

In-between dips

We spit in our masks, pull on our flippers and within a few short strokes are above the coral and oh! What a sight.

In a state of stunned astonishment, we glide in the slow, warm current, seemingly just feet above this wonder-land along the edge of the island reef. There are pink-tipped coral, blue-tipped coral, crinkly green coral and huge brown brain-coral; blue “bean-bag” starfish and pink fat star-fish with black spots; clown fish, parrot fish, exquisite angle fish with yellow strips and thin, pointy noses, a puffer fish, box fish and a small fast-moving stingray – and a myriad others whose names I will never know. Oh, and an exciting glimpse of a turtle drifting away into the darker, deeper water. And a thick black, yellow and white striped sea-snake which we keep well away from. There’s also a scattering of small jellyfish with four green spots (resident algae I assume), most of which I manage to evade. The stings smart a bit but don’t last long.

Despite having severely burned the back of my legs (1 out of 2: remembered sun cream on the shoulders…) the next day I’m out again to Mabul island, some 45-minutes away. The burning sun has gone and it’s cooler with heavy rain. It’s also much deeper out here, the reef-fish larger and the current stronger – a wholly different experience.

Approaching the island

The island is much larger with a Scuba Junkie (!) resort. Apparently an English guy started up the operation quite some years ago and it’s grown and grown, providing PADI courses in all shapes and sizes, and covering all tourism bases with a bar, restaurant and budget accommodation – which is less than ‘budget’ on the island…

Looking out to the pier

The local island village

Tourist chalets...

The boat takes us to three different snorkelling locations around the island, and we’re accompanied by divers – we skirt the reef and they plunge down into seeming darkness, their location marked by streams of silver bubbles wobbling rapidly up towards the surface. As soon as I’m in the water I see another turtle and this one hangs around for a while longer before gliding out of sight.

One of the best locations is, surprisingly, the artificial reef abutting the stilt-chalets and wooden pier: shoals of silver large-eyed jack fish; a shimmer of “glass-fish” that confuse and distort until I pick out the individual, thin blue slivers, that move as one – I’m reminded somewhat of the watery features in James Cameron’s ‘Abyss’. Scorpion, or lion fish float surprisingly close and I back away from their fragile feathery fins wondering if they are indeed as poisonous as they look. (Later – apparently they are!)

Then floating mesmerised above some coral, listening to the Parrot fish scrape away at the surface with their sharp beak-like teeth.

Sadly I have no under-water photographs – I could have rented a camera for £20 but first it didn’t occur to me, and second I think it would have diminished the experience.

Back on terra firm we head off to the Sepilok Jungle Lodge for the night – where I’m finally able to photograph familiar territory!

Next morning we visit the Orang-utan centre, a vital rehabilitation project where orphans are trained to fend for themselves – which can take anywhere from five to 10 years.

Just hanging around...

Once competent to cope alone (they are mostly solitary creatures) these wonderful, semi-wild primates have the security of knowing they can return to the feeding station at the centre if forest fruits are scarce. Some return regularly, some never return. And there’s no guarantee that on any given day, any will turn up. Although it’s pretty much guaranteed that the aggressive Macaques will.

Adults at the feeding station

Mum and young 'un

Sepilok Orang-utan Centre

Becky heads back to KK (she’s already spent two weeks doing a whole host of jungle-trips) and I pick up a river-cruise to see Proboscis monkeys, Macaques and Silver-leaf monkeys in the wild, and a whole array of birds including Kingfishers and various Hornbills – the symbol of Borneo Malaysia – a wild cat (well, the eyes of one shining in the dark), a snake, various small brown frogs and more kinds of insects than I care to mention, or name. There are some flowers too…

Osmoxylum lineare

The canopy walkway and bird tower

The evening walk around the Tropical Gardens takes me up onto the canopy walkway, where we wait until dusk – and are rewarded with large red flying squirrels gliding silently across from one tall tree to another – and a torch-lit one much closer, munching away on some leaves. We also see a Slow loris but it’s too far away to take a photo.

Flying squirrel - torchlit

On another, rather less-successful, night walk in mud and rain – and leeches – I see sleeping birds roosting on thin branches. In retrospect, would rather have settled down with a beer, but didn’t want to miss anything…

The boat to our chalet

Chalet accommodation

The chalets were fine, but there was a power cut, so no air con. And no fan either! It was hot and humid and pitch, pitch black with lots of strange jungle noises during the night…

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Macaque monkey

Proboscis monkeys

Returning to chalet

Um - frog...

Then back to KK and the noise and thrust of the city – and Labour Day weekend. After having “missed” various European Bank Holidays in China, it is a shock to realise that Malaysia actually celebrates these. The place is teeming with local tourists and most of the accommodation full.

I had plans to walk trails in Kinabalu National Park to see Pitcher plants and the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower but with all the beds taken, I’m rather stuck with nothing to do.

Frustrated, I go on line and book the next flight out to Kuching, in the southern “state” of Sarawak.

Oh and what a difference! A park-filled city stretching languidly along the wide riverside: a casual city with an unhurried tourist pace. High rise hotels – The Pullman, Riverside Majestic, Harbour View – stretching along the water-front with walkways, small stalls selling local foods and an active bazaar street chock full of tacky tourist stuff and some rather nice finds.

The Sunday Market

Edible flowers from the forest

Wide - rather wet - shopping street

The old...

...the new

Boats on the river

Then there are avenues of Frangipani with their heady scent; colonial museums with Victorian display cases of stuffed birds and mammals preserved as exhibits themselves – “the last example of traditional Natural History displays in East Asia”.

Night time reflections

And a sunset - I kid you not!

And so many other sights I have no time to explore…

Another Orang-utan sanctuary –

– where we witness a fascinating activity unfold, as a large male casually bends to sniff a female and gently, but firmly, pulls her down towards him.

whatever comes naturally

His slow thrusting brings giggles from the watching crowd which grow in volume and amusement as he moves her around the feeding deck into various other positions. And all the while they both nonchalantly munch on bananas and other fruits plucked from the decking.

Eventually the Ranger admonished the crowd: ”Why are you laughing? This is a most natural event…” Shamefaced, they shuffle off, and a few of us continue to watch in wonder and silence. Eventually he asks us all to leave – if these semi-wild Orang-utans can procreate successfully, they have a better chance to survive.

Their native habitat in this part of Sabah is now seriously depleted into a squeezed strip along the riverside – giving one a dubiously “better” chance of seeing them in the wild simply because they have no-where else to go.

The squeeze is due to palm-oil plantations which, seen from the air, spread like a sterile ‘lawn’ across vast swathes of land. On the 9-hour bus ride to Samporna (not to be repeated: back-of-the-bus, next to the toilet, whipping around mountain bends in stifling heat…) I was shocked to watch hour after hour pass through this unchanging scene. Apparently the land was bought up by Chinese entrepreneurs who promptly cleared it of all native vegetation and set up this most profitable business.

Palm oil plantations from a moving vehicle...

How long ago this was, and whether the government was aware of their intentions is not clear to me, as I later learned from a taxi-driver that in Sarawak even second-generation Chinese cannot buy farming land. They can only lease it for a 7-year period, when it returns to the owner. I had wondered why the Chinese, who make up around 30% of the population in Borneo Malaysia, are all clustered around cities.

And then the Rafflesia, a parasitic plant which produces flower-buds with a 9-month gestation period, and a 5 to 7-day blooming. The plants are dioecious, being either male or female, and it needs some training to tell the flowers apart. According to the local guide at the Guning Gading National Park the buds have a very high failure rate, with only around 18% reaching maturity. Whether these large flowers then set seed – or spore? – is unclear, and it seems a great deal more research is needed to understand them fully.

Not the greatest beauty...

The one I saw, Rafflesia tuan-mudae, is on its fifth day of flowering and has had quite a battering. Over 170 people visited it on the Bank Holiday Monday and, positioned between two large rocks, it is vulnerable to damage. To view it more clearly, one had to clamber past it into a small chasm where it hangs 4-feet above the ground. How it lost one of its large petals is not clear. It’s a serious offence to damage or take any of the plant material – but the missing piece cannot be fond on the ground… The buds are (or possibly were?) used in traditional medicine so it’s possible this petal has some value other than trophy-hunting.

Even past its best, and less than intact, it is wonderful to see. Although there are around 50 plants in the park, and they flower year-round, the Rangers never really know when or where they will bloom. Catching one on spec, with just a few days’ holiday, is a very hit-and-miss affair.

Bako National Park, pitcher plants and more Proboscis monkeys.

The journey to the Park involves a bus to a ferry landing on an estuary further up the coast, than a boat trip around the headland.

Fish traps along the coast

Around the headland

Disembark on the beach

Erosion

The rocks on the beach contain iron and form some amazing shapes and patterns:

I had been planning on over-nighting at the park but fatigue – and stories of a dismal dorm and bad food – draws me back to my familiar bed in the Singgahsana hostel.

And resting on the beach...

In retrospect I wish I had caught the 7am bus to the park instead of an hour later: by the time I get there large groups of, er, large Europeans are crashing through the jungle paths scattering everything in sight.

Waiting them out down a quite side-path, I hear foliage dropping around me and look up.

Proboscis monkey feeding

 

There, right above me, is a large, very male Proboscis monkey casually plucking leaves from the tree – and keeping a watchful eye on me.

Apparently its the dominant males that have the big noses, and other things prominently on display…

Great folds of flesh

Then I head up through the rocky chasms, bridges and:

the tangle of roots

wooden steps

deep dark trails

ant highways

and mushrooms

to the…

limestone? plateau

where I’ve heard there are quite a number of pitcher plants – I’m not disappointed.

Resting

 

 

There are tiny green ones creeping across the ground, and large red and green blotched ones with flanges, full of last night’s rainwater, resting heavily at the base of trees.

 

There are vines tangle down in a great mass from the trees, the dried vessels rattling together in the slight breeze.

 

 

 

 

Suspended

Entwined

 

Clustered together

I snap away, trying to shade the bright light with my umbrella, and quietly wish that I had time – and the resources – to paint them.

There’s other spectacular plants and wildlife around, such as the Silver leaf monkey, with their conspicuous offspring.

Blends in with autumn leaves?

But the boat is waiting to take me back around the headland to the Park entrance and bus station, and then on back to Kuching to drop in my camera for repair. How the small hair got into the body of the camera I have no idea, but there it is, marring my photos: it’s not noticeable on busy jungle shots, but is a distinct annoyance others.

The Village House

The Singgahsana Lodge guest house in Kuching has another place about half-an-hour away which is advertised as “A Total Escape Destination”. Not cheap, but I feel the need for a bit of pampering on my last day in Borneo. It is worth it. A 14m swimming pool with cascading sides, hammocks, comfy loungers, elegant outdoor dining area, art-works strategically placed and wonderful linen sheets and crisp white towels; exquisite food, ice-cold beer and an extensive library. And I’m the only one there. Bliss.

One night is definitely not long enough. Me-thinks I might return…

The flight takes just over three hours – my first Air Asia experience, and a bit like the old Freddie Laker flights, if anyone can remember that far back: mine, in 1980, when I flew to Los Angeles to attend UCLA’s film school… Since then EasyJet and Ryan Air are the European equivalents. But at least I’m not charged an arm and a leg just to book the flight or use the loo.

No taxi from the hostel to meet me at the airport, but hey, most people speak English. What a relief from the trials of travelling in China!

The dorm room has 10 bunk beds, and the lights are out by the time I get there. I manage to find a bottom bunk – climbing up and down during the night isn’t my strong point….

And am I glad that I’ve booked a room with AC. It is hot and humid, day and night. But the noise can’t come close to drowning out the persistent and sometimes violet noise of motorbikes, trucks without silencers, clapped out cars and the screech of tyres of warriors and other survivors of the road that roar past the thin concrete fabric of the building.

I’m used to hearing loud Chinese voices early in the morning before going off to the fields, or arguing late at night – not traffic. It’s a disturbing exchange which violates. I don’t want to be here, in a city like this.

In the bed next to me is Becky from Wantage. We go out for the day and, watching the sun set over the harbour, we hatch a plan to escape.

Interesting, inedible fruit...

Durian - truck loads of 'em

Harbour side

just hanging out

Fish market

Looking out to sea

Reflections

Hot and humid…

The lights from Helen’s apartment seem suspended between the hills – a fairy land of high-rise.

Fo Tan at night

This time, I’m spending most of my time on a graphite drawing of Bauhinia for a potential project, so am seeing little of Hong Kong itself. The flowers are coming to the end of their seasons – and the trees are rather tall – but I’m able to grab a few shots.

Bauhinia blakeana

Bauhinia blakeana is a cross between B variagata and B purpurea and is infertile, which means it doesn’t produce the long bean pods of the other two. It is the national flower of Hong Kong.

Bauhinia variagata

Now I’ve packed up all my stuff – leaving some of it at the studio until I return – and am off to Borneo for a few weeks.

Where it’ll be “hot and humid”. With mosquitoes and leeches in the jungle. Yum!

Feeling a bit graphite oppressed, I take a bus east to the seafood capital of Hong Kong, Sai Kung. It grows darker and darker as we approach the bay – streetlights come on, then headlights. As I get off the bus by the pier there is a torrential rainstorm, with thunder and lightning.

I shelter on the pier where fisher-folk sell an amazing array of seafood to the waiting throng.

Not the idyllic seaside trip I’d expected, but a very interesting light.