Lamma Island is a beautiful island off the coast of Hong Kong. Explore it with a G-02 but leave all other technology behind…
It is early February 2020 and Hong Kong is a very different city to the one we have experienced during many previous visits. There is still the same neon splashed Blade Runner look and feel to the streets, but they are noticeably quiet. To anyone who knows this city, half empty streets must be hard to imagine as each turn in the road normally greets you with a sea of humanity. However, a combination of the recent pro-democracy protests, and now the threat of coronavirus, has left the city’s population subdued. Whether you are commuting to HSBC HQ in a £1000 Hugo Boss suit or jeans and a t-shirt as a tourist, surgical face masks are the norm.
Let me be clear, walking around Hong Kong city is nothing like the post-apocalyptic scenes we have witnessed in the Wuhan Province of China, but the relative quiet gives this normally vibrant city an eerie quality. A good analogy would be that every day feels like Sunday morning in the city. The measures put in place by the Hong Kong authorities are stringent but thankfully have left little impact on daily life, save for the lack of tourists which has hit the economy hard.
To date (12th Feb) only one person has died from the virus in HK which is quite an achievement when you consider the population is 7.4 million. Most borders to China are closed and public places such as museums and schools have shut their doors till mid-March at present. The great irony, which is not lost on the HK population, is that face masks were banned in public during the pro-democracy protests, and now everyone is being encouraged to wear one.
Conversely the green and lush Lamma Island where our family lives, a mere 20-minute ferry ride from the city centre, is a haven of tranquillity and an escape from the city we have grown to love. A simpler beautiful way of life which stopped evolving in the 1970s it still feels like a surf/hippy enclave where no one is wearing masks. There is no medical reason why the virus will not come over to Lamma so I can only surmise that the 7000 strong population feel they are genetically different from those in the city and that the stretch of water between Hong Kong and Lamma acts like an enchanted barrier which somehow filters out the germs before one disembarks. An evening in one of the many expat restaurants or bars on Lamma sees a happy multi-cultural population unconcerned with the health issues in China. Once again faced with adversity Hong Kongers show what a wonderfully resilient breed they are.
Unlike the city it is always peaceful on Lamma. Primarily as no motor vehicles are permitted. Bicycles are prolific as are scooters and the occasional (and rather impressive) powered unicycle or skateboard. The only engine noises come from boats visiting the harbour and the indigenous commercial vehicles unique to Lamma – the VVs. VVs (so called as all their number plates are prefixed VV) are pseudo-home-made single seat utility vehicles more akin to Mad Max than modern Hong Kong. Each model is built on a similar chassis with a different load area which serves a specific function and the drivers make their living trundling around Lamma on various errands to keep the island towns of Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan alive.
There are dumper truck models, flat bed transport, gas transport, handyman repair vehicles and even a VV uniquely kitted out to transport liquid cement. The VVs are the life blood of the island and drive at breakneck speed through the narrow Lamma alleys forcing locals and tourists alike to dart to the side in self-preservation. I am not sure who makes the VVs, they certainly look like they are put together from scavenged spare parts, but the badges proudly adorning the front of the vehicles imply that BMW, Mercedes and Ferrari (to name but a few) make these odd little machines alongside their normal portfolio.
The drivers are what could best be described as “focused” which is a polite way of saying grumpy. There are no roads on Lamma, just communal walkways and the drivers give pedestrians no lee way and expect none from their fellow drivers. Yet they never hit anyone, there are never accidents, so there is clearly a highway code between the inhabitants to which mere visitors are not privy.
The VVs are the only machines which disturb the peace of Lamma but many years ago it was war which brought noise and confusion to the island. Late in WW2, after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, the waters around the island were feared by allied ships. Lethal Kamikaze speedboats were concealed in caves on the coast of Lamma waiting to charge at high speed towards unsuspecting warships. There are very few accounts of battles involving these vessels, whereas there are numerous written records of the British soldiers who defended and lost the bloody battle for the city.
The suicide boats were known as Shinyo (Sea Quake) and over 11,000 were made between 1944 and 1945. With a top speed of 30 knots and a bow packed with over 300kg of high explosive these tiny boats with their one divine occupant would launch from Lamma or similar hiding places to badly damage or sink large American ships such as the USS War Hawk, USS USS Hutchins and USS Carina. Both the British warships HMS Venerable and HMS Indomitable record firing at incoming “explosive boats” in 1945. Thankfully those days are long gone but the two Kamikaze caves in a cove on Lamma serve as a monument to the men who fought on both sides.
In the interest of completeness of information there are two other vehicles on Lamma. A fire engine and an ambulance which are both no bigger than a VV. The crews and vehicles are much respected on the island and do a fine job keeping us all safe, but the ambulance poses problems if you have to lie down and are over 6ft tall as the back doors may not close.
Police are seldom seen on the island as there is really no crime. Occasionally armed green clad Jungle Police Officers on mountain bikes are seen weaving through the streets having been called to an incident – most likely some foolish tourist lighting a BBQ in the tinder dry hills which poke above the jungle canopy. Huge bush fires are common and recently we were sent video from our daughter in law of helicopters skimming their roof top en route to deposit flame retardant material over an alarmingly close forest fire.
As with all my travels to far flung places I have come well equipped with a Swiss Army Knife, an Ian Fleming book and a suitable Geckota model for important overseas testing. During this odyssey I have been furnished with an orange G-02 Diver which was loaned on a variety of straps. Due to the ever-present humidity in HK I confess it is spending little time on the metal and leather options as they prove to be uncomfortable and is living mostly on a matching tan and orange Marine Nationale Zulu Diver Military Nylon.
This is a fine strap and will serve well for the 10 days in the tropics. Of greater interest to me is that this is the first Geckota I have test driven with the new PT5000 automatic movement which will be a feature in many models in 2020. Through the glass case back of the watch the movement looks like its clone ETA 2824 and it is always reassuring to see the balance wheel pulsing away. It offers a super smooth sweep to the second hand and it has been accurate to GMT +8 hours with a +7 second gain over 5 days. The watch has proven very easy to read and the lume is blue and functions well at night.
The bezel is a striking and unusual construction. Incorporating a sunken sunburst dial plate as the base Geckota have inserted fine printing and a Super-LumiNova dot before coating the bezel in a fully transparent epoxy resin. It is then polished flat, leaving a rotating dial which is both functional and unique.
My only issue is that the alternate numbers on specifically the orange bezel are quite hard to read therefore if I wanted to use the bezel in any serious manner I would probably purchase the black or green variant where you gain the same sunburst detail but the numbers are much easier to read. Don’t get me wrong, the orange is beautiful, and I would proudly own it, but it is more a style statement than the other two options.
The case shows unmistakable Geckota DNA with prominent angles on the left side which mirror the crown protection shoulders. Art-deco style hands give the watch a sophisticated look and the sub-divided minute indices on the dial round off an accurate and confident appearance. The G-02 is in every way an excellent diver or explorer sports watch but aims at a different market from the S-01 and strikes a well-placed balance between functional and dress in a way that the S-01 cannot. In short, great performance from a unique and versatile watch.
In a previous Hong Kong feature, I highlighted the joys of pre-owned high-end watch shopping in the city. There is still a plethora of shops with Ken Watches still being the best by far. IWC seemed to be Ken’s flavour of the day when I visited his Central store along with a huge selection of Rolex and Omega from the 1950s to 2020. I was specifically looking for a titanium Omega Speedmaster X-33 Gen 1 or 2, but much to the relief of Mrs Brown Ken was unable to help me… on this trip.
It is now early evening. We have returned to Lamma and I find myself sitting on the balcony of our back-packer style hotel finishing this short feature. The sun is setting, and the streets are very quiet as we wait for the evening ferries to deposit HK employed workers who choose to escape from the city at the end of a hard day and live a different lifestyle on this island. Our family has worked in HK for seven years and for some of that time lived in the city.
The novelty of it quickly wore off and they soon sought an altogether more balanced home life in this tropical jungle retreat. I can hear the ever-present lilt of chatter in Cantonese, the local wildlife in the rubber trees and the rush of the lapping water in the curved bay. The jetty is out of sight but only a hundred meters away so I become aware of the distant rumble of a 1950s British made diesel engine which will herald the arrival of the ferry from Aberdeen bringing our son home from the metropolis.
We always ask every year how long our family plan to stay on Lamma. Primarily as we would miss coming to this island that time forgot. Of course, we want our family to have a wonderful career and go wherever they want, but if the job keeps them on Lamma for another few years we will not complain. Such is the popularity of the island that a t-shirt and “Surf” gear label called Lamma Brand has appear and now these words can be seen on visitors and locals alike on flip flops, hoodies and skateboard bases. Whilst I applaud the ability and creative power of locals to sell the brand of their little slice of paradise, and I proudly own a t-shirt, I hope that this very special community does not grow too big and Lamma loses its charm.
A final glance at the pure white hands of my G-02 in the glow of the evening tells me it is 1800 hrs and that it is that essential time for all expats – the first gin and tonic of the evening. With that, I wish you “Gon Bui” and best wishes from Lamma Island.