Many drops to spare

As a result of chronic drought in Australia, we’ve been living under Stage 3 water restrictions for years. At times it seemed kind of tedious but now that we’ve left the country, it’s interesting how ingrained the restrictions had become. We all had three-minute showers under our water-saving showerheads. We weren’t allowed to wash our cars (ever) or water our gardens (except for two-hour pre-dawn periods a couple of days a week). Joel had rigged up a plumbing system to take the shower and washing machine water out to the garden, and this was common among most people I knew. You had to or your garden would be a brown dustbowl. If you had a half-finished glass of water you’d had enough of, there’d be no time for philosophical ponderings about ful- or emptiness; it’d be straight to the nearest plant to give it a much-needed drink. You would never consider leaving a tap running or tipping water down the sink, never! The smallest quantity of water was worth saving. The water you used to wash fruit with: jug it out of the sink and keep it for later. The water you boiled to sterilise your kids’ bottles: wait till it cooled, and drink it. We got used to driving dusty cars and hopping painfully across crinkly razor-blade “grass”. School ovals turned to flat brown paddocks; it was prohibited to fill domestic swimming pools; Rufus didn’t even know what a hose was until last year! Recently we saw a sprinkler on the soccer field here and he was like “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!!!!” (more or less) and could not be persuaded to run through it. That was a bit sad. But all these little daily efforts to preserve the elixir of life did become routine and automatic.

Imagine our shock to move here and see people washing their cars every day. EVERY DAY! Was it ever like this in Australia? Of course I remember playing under sprinklers and chasing my siblings around with a hose as a child, but I can’t picture mum and dad hosing down the poo-brown Ford XE too often. The Hong Kong humidity is killer so we have a dehumidifier (most people have five or six; we’ve only just started our collection.) This is a magical device that prevents the kids from slipping over on the tiled floors, and allows the washing to get kind of dry. Every hour or so, it beeps: it’s full. You open a door at the back and THERE’S TWO LITRES OF WATER JUST SITTING THERE! And you can just tip it down the sink! If only we didn’t have such dry heat in Australia, these things would have the catchment dams filled up in no time. A massive MaxHumidifier parked at Yan Yean and another at Silvan and we’d all be hosing down our concrete driveways with impunity by next summer. It actually makes me feel a bit sick to throw so much water away every day. I don’t know if it’s clean enough to drink or anything. It’s certainly not needed for the garden because it rains like a mofo here.

And even that is amazing. The sort of rain I haven’t seen in Australia for years, if ever – huge, drenching rain – nearly every day. It pours down for hours and hours. I stand on our bedroom balcony and just marvel at it.

There’s a “black rain warning” that, when enforced, prohibits everyone from going to work. Hurrah! I’m pretty sure we had that today, but it was Sunday and I’m not clear if they bother to hoist the alert on weekends. Most of the information on the Hong Kong Observatory seems like it requires far too much patience meteorological training to decode, but it did have this sweet map for the rainfall we had over two hours this afternoon:

We live in Sai Kung, the centre of the really pink bit. I might be a shit meteorologist but I can tell you it’s the rainiest bit, even without the HKO’s help, because here is a video we took of the piddling creek that usually dribbles past our village breaking its banks. It rose higher than the bridge so we were effectively rained in. What a concept! You know things are bad when even the frankly apathetic locals venture outside to have a look. Kong Pau Pau next door hobbled to her doorway and clucked at me in Cantonese and I responded with some incisive “Very bad!”s and a couple of “Aiyaaah!”s as tree branches smashed up against the bridge and the drain burst into a huge geyser as it overflowed.

I went and stood in it without an umbrella to appreciate it a bit for you all, but I scurried whimpering inside after 15 seconds, hands raised impotently to protect my hair. I’ve lost my conditioning.


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