Connection-Hong Kong


photo (1)John Le Carre in The Honourable Schoolboy writes “When you leave Hong Kong,” …”it ceases to exist.” To me Hong Kong never ceases to exist, it remains an inspirational enigma even after five years of stay. We, my husband and me, came to Hong Kong in 2008, initially for a year, but the year rolled into two, three and beyond and we would find ourselves queuing at the Immigration office to get our extensions stamped. There is no single reason for taking root in this neatly packaged Island city boasting of a multi- dimensional scintillating façade of concrete and lush greenery.

I came to Hong Kong with expectations of finding my shoe size. School Geography lessons taught us that Chinese women were synonymous with ‘lotus feet’ and I am size 4. First revelation was that there are no ‘tiny feet’ sizes in Hong Kong markets, except for kids, and the custom of foot binding was long extinct. Second surprise was that Chinese cuisine was more than Manchurian Chicken, Chow Mien and Hot & Sour soup. I followed the distinctive Hong Kong smell, ‘perfumed fishy’ as a friend put it, through alleys, neighboring islands and restaurants discovering finger-licking Fish balls dipped in sauce, the hang-man bloated ducks, fried chicken claws, succulent dim sums and slurpy soup noodles. The list now scrolls down to Bok Choy, Choy Sum, Chao Daub Fu or smelly Tofu, crab cakes, moon cakes, Dragon fruit, Persimmons, Mangosteen and the nose-scrunching Durian.

Not everything is perfect: the unblinking faces in lift lobbies, the pushy crowds of the MTR, the often silent walk to JUSCO, WELLCOME, PARK & SHOP (stores)and back without uttering a syllable, the guttural rudeness of fruit sellers at wet market stalls, the pestering sales peddlers of ‘genuine fake’ watches and purses, too many people waiting for taxis around midnight on Nathan Road, the ‘No cheap’ snide comments of shop assistants of brand showrooms because you happen to be from the Sub-continent, the ‘I-stay-in-a-beachside villa’ snooty comment of expat permanent residents.

The list expands and subtracts as I move around Kowloon, Hong Kong, the neighboring islands, New Territories’ villages for shopping, hiking, literary and cultural activities; watching seniors twirl to ‘Sugar Sugar Honey Honey’ in neighborhood parks or visiting Temples-splendid in serenity; while watching fireworks illuminate the night sky on Chinese New Year or swaying to pulsating drum beats during Dragon Boat races; during mute shopping spree in Wet markets as I get coins plucked from my hand and a bag looped on my fingers; riding the tram, ‘the slow motion mechanical rickshaw ’ to the British relic ‘Western Market,’ a red beacon in the traditional ambiance of Sheung Wan.

In five plus years Hong Kong unfolds into quirky quilt, patch-worked with frisky ferry rides across the fast reducing water way, kaleidoscopic shopping malls and multiplying vertical constructions in ‘who is tallest’ mode and responsible for vertigo, streamlined air-conditioned walkways and numerous eating places metamorphosing with drop of chopstick, the ‘couldn’t care less attitude’ of locals and jostling Mainlanders, the land grabbing helpers sprawled in open spaces and parks, the tenacious seventy year old, bent back, pushing a cart stacked with cardboard boxes through crowded pavements, seniors swimming in the cold waters of Hung Hom Bay, the willowy model selling whitening cream on posters pasted all over the city, the high-decibel bus passengers in conversation or argument, the poky umbrellas rain or sunshine, the flora and fauna and the hikes.

“Hong Kong is a female in labor, writhing and beautiful” and I suppose it is this anticipation of something new or surreal that makes expats, from different corners of the globe, stay on. The British set foot in Hong Kong in 1841 and enamored by the commercial and natural assets of ‘The Fragrant Harbor’ lingered on till they had to return the land to China in 1997. “Fragrant Harbor,” is a sobriquet derived from the scents of trees and flowers that once adorned the hills and shores of the Island. The flowers and trees are still there, but out-numbered and out- swamped by buildings, traffic fumes, odorous flavors and cigarette smoke.
When someone asks me ‘Don’t you miss your country’ my answer is that I would rather “find yourself in an Asian noodle house at 4 am. That you make your offering at the temple of existence. That you dine atop of a one hundred story building. That you ride a ferry to some small island. That you learn to play Mahjong. That you sing Madonna at seedy Karaoke bar. Most importantly, that you shed your illusions. Of yourself. And of what you assume otherness to be”.*
*from a blog on Hong Kong

About the Author:Indra Chopra is a freelance writer and Blogger.

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