The Batpo takes a ride on 'The Ferry Without Mercy'

It's been said by someone in the long-gone past that travel broadens the mind. They obviously have never attempted to travel by public transport in Hong Kong. A simple one-hour journey with possibly one change of mode of transport can transform any sane person into a raving loon. Forget about those outward bound courses to rediscover yourself; travelling in HK is a true test of self and self-control. Now public transport schedules in HK are rather good compared with other European countries -- frequency of buses/trains/boats cut out a lot of stress. No, the main problem is the sheer volume of people deciding en masse to travel at the same time and quite often to the same places as yourself.

Let's take a recent example when yours truly decided to go to Lamma Island. We had fantastic weather this Mid-Autumn Festival so the obvious thing would be to avoid going to a beach of any kind. I reckon one of the reasons we have Mad Cow disease is the festering insanity that comes from being herded around like, well, cattle. The ferry companies have a spanking new pier and have made the process of buying tickets etc. much easier. The installation of the hi-tech Octopus card reader have made us the envy of the ticket-buying world. One beep and you're into the first cattle pen. This is a testament to metal grates and concrete. A sort of twilight zone to enjoy the noxious diesel fumes and smell of the harbour. You stand there until the first sign of a boat approaching the pier. The standard procedure is then to crowd around the gate even though it takes up to 10- 15 minutes for the passengers to disembark. This allows you to get up close and personal with a total stranger who more often than not is wearing polyester and eats a lot of garlic. Woe betide anyone standing in front of a granny type figure holding a walking stick, numerous plastic bags and possibly a live chicken or two. This is where age and experience comes to the fore. A sharp dig in the back of your ribs and a curious writhing manoeuvre can propel the aged one to the front of any crowd. The crowd is now in a positive frenzy about boarding the big boat and this is gauged by the decibel level which rises almost to sonic levels. Am I exaggerating? Impossible to hear yourself think? Try standing between two teenagers listening to Walkmans or even worse between two housewives. You'd think they were talking to friends across the Harbour.

So you surge onto the boat like a plague of demented souls looking for the ultimate place to sit. This is the one with the best view, coolest air-con, no natural breezes, away from the toilets, out of the sun's glare and least-rocky part of the boat. I was surrounded by an extended family of 15 who took up three rows and too much of my patience. As soon as the wife sat down -- she was expressing concern over the huge swells visible in the Harbour and that the boat was rocking too much. So the packet of dried sour plums were taken out and consumed, medicinal oil was rubbed on the forehead and every member of the family asked her how she was feeling. All this, before the boat had actually left the dock. Her husband decide the boat was too stuffy and so using his Hello Kitty fan proceeded to fan her with such vigour I am sure it cut 5 minutes off our travel time. Did I mention that he was wearing polyester and quite possibly had eaten a lot of garlic? The 35 minute journey was then spent discussing how to avoid seasickness, what seafood they were going to eat and how often they were ill when travelling by boat, plane and car. Fascinating!

By the time we reached Lamma, I was feeling rather nauseous and quite ready to boot their children into the sea. And to think, I had to make the same journey back to HK later that day!