Moving house from Hong Kong to another continent is a doddle. You call in one of the big international relocation firms and before you know it, a small army of packers pitch up, bearing paper and boxes. They pack your belongings at alarming speed, and if you are not careful you get bundled into a crate and loaded onto the truck too. Anything you leave out will be packed. I' ve heard of passports vanishing off mantlepieces into packing cases when people were flying that night. Someone else I knew had to race after the truck to retrieve their canary. It and its cage had been packed into a box, along with everything else and carried off.
These guys are ruthlessly efficient and your stuff usually arrives at the other end in just a few weeks. It's remarkably painless.
Moving island to island within Hong Kong is another story. On Lamma, with no roads, just narrow concrete paths, and lethal VVs - village vehicles, you have no choice but to go local. That usually means Nick the Book and his trusty helpers. Nick is famous on Lamma for his long tresses, street corner book stall and gang of dogs who loyally follow him everywhere. When Nick and his boys do your move on Lamma, it's best to go and have a long lunch and leave a capable helper directing operations.
For most people, the pain of seeing their unwrapped and unprotected antiques and beloved possessions being carried and bumped up steep paths and long flights of steps is too much. It's better not to watch. By a miracle it all usually arrives unscathed - Nick and the lDs know what they are doing, but it can be a little stressful to witness.
The Lantau experience
Over on Lantau it's a different story because there are roads for trucks. So you call up one of the several moving companies with names like Shining Path and Sun Rising.
The first time I took advice. Use Hak Jai, or Mr Wan, I was told. Did they speak Emglish? No, but there was a system, you ring their sisters and they relay the message. I wanted some furniture shifted. It was a Sunday and I expected it to happen in a few days, so I was amazed when 10 minutes later a truck pulled up outside, four guys raced into my house, grabbed the furniture, carried it aloft to the truck and sped off in less than a minute. They park illegally on the EVA (Emergency Vehicle Access), I was told, but on Sundays they usually don't get caught.
This time, I was told Sun Rising were the guys to move me from Tung Shan Terrace off Stubbs Road to Mui Wo. It could not be a Hong Kong company, they would have to get special one day permits to go on the South Lantau road. So after calling a few others who did not return calls, Sun Rising it was. I thought this would be the first time with Mr Wan, but no, Mr Wan had moved us before, but not as Sun Rising. Oh whatever, I thought, I just need it done. Mr Wan moved us last time, my helper explained. He did? My heart sank.That move from Lantau to Stubbs Road had been torture, but cost only HK$9,000. We bargained hard. It rained, the guys were old, late and slow and it did not get all done in one day. So when I sounded hesitant, Mr Wan said I had the B team last time. I sure did. That's why so cheap, and long time ago. Not that long, but never mind.
This time can have the good guys, he explained. Cost HK$23,000. That was more than double. I was shocked. Very good team this, very strong and fast, said Mr Wan. I weakly said OK. I realised that whatever Lantau moving company you used, they probably all used the same guys, so no difference Mr Wan delivered flatpacked boxes a week ahead of time and we packed ourselves. They were not doing that bit. On moving day the Phillipines typhoon was causing high winds but the A team crossed the Tsing Ma bridge successfully and arrived at 9am, wrapped blankets and furniture and pictures, dismantled IKEA beds and were loaded and gone by 11am. They arrived in Mui Wo an hour later and were unloaded - down 62 steps and then up two flights of stairs - by 5pm. IKEA beds were back in one piece.They were seriously impressive, tall strapping lads who effortlessly and deftly lifted and carried. "See" said Mr Wan triumphantly. "worth to pay more for best team."
My helper whispered "They ask for their tips ma'am." I was told to tell you remember they are six, she said. "But don't give to Big Boss, give to them." Expecting to give tips, I had the cash ready, but bad not expected them to actually ask. Oh whatever, I thought wearily, they deserve it. Humping furniture up and down steps can't be much fun.
But it sure proves the old adage: you get what you pay for.