28th November 2008 As Christmas approaches teachers and students scramble to take advantage of the mild weather and assault the country parks in great wave of school picnics. These annual excursions are for many Hong Kong students a unique chance to spend time in the outdoors and visit a new place within the territory. For me last year's picnic was a spectacular nautical adventure amongst the remote islands of the north-east. This year the class of Form Five students I accompanied where given responsibility for organising the day themselves; the students did a great job and managed to take advantage of free ferry tickets. Before you could say "Lamma island, never been there" we piled on to a First Ferry and were off to Yung Shue Wan. Despite not being able to swim the students had a fantastic time and enjoyed the chance to escape the confines of the classroom.
For many the highlight of the day was a local style barbecue. Everyone in the world seems to love a good barbie and all seem to have their own unique way of going about it. For Hong Kongers the first step is to get a brave volunteer to spend ages fanning charcoal in a brick pit to get a fire going. The next stage involves everyone reaching into bags of shop-marinated meat and defrosted fishballs to grab a tasty treat that is then speared on the end of a long wire fork. The meat is cooked in a similar way to Australians cook marshmallows on a camp fire; everyone crowds around, trying to position their delicacy over the coals. The final step may seem strange, but involves smothering the almost cooked meat in honey to give it a sweet, caramelised finish. To many cooking a barbecue in this way may seem like a crazy waste of time and energy, yet for people who very rarely cook it is a chance to get down and dirty and prepare their own meal. While I do find the environmental impacts of the layers of protective plastic gloves, disposable table clothes and bales of tissues a bit hard to deal with, a Hong Kong style barbecue is real, honest fun.