I Heart HK
I love Hong Kong. Out of all the places we’ve been together, the twenty-something countries we’ve visited so far, this is the first one where I feel like I could really fit in - like maybe I could live here. Peter doesn’t feel the same way, to put it nicely, and he let me know it. But big cities have never resonated with him in the way they always have with me. He cites the bright lights, dirty streets, and it didn’t help that somebody tried to sell him a suit on the street about every two seconds. I think the same things that bothered him about the city endeared me to it, though. The hustle and bustle, loud noises, brusque people. Shirtless guys, packed four wide in the cab of a snub-nosed truck, shirts wrapped around their heads and cigarettes hanging from their mouths. Honking and yelling and spitting out the window. Little old ladies on the sidewalk pushing carts of fruits and fish, that would run you over without a second thought if you didn’t get out of their way, and fast. Neon greens, reds, and blues, from street signs glowing in Chinese, flickering and reflecting outside our bedroom window at night. I can see how it could get old after a while, but I can also see how you’d get used to it quickly, and how it could add life and character to a city.
It was nice to feel anonymous again, too. We were used to the very homogenous populations of Japan and South Korea, where we stuck out like sore thumbs amidst the crowds. But in Hong Kong, there were all sorts of ethnicities, skin colors, types of dress, rushing in the streets alongside each other. So many different languages, rapidly spoken between vendors in the alleyways or yelled across marketplaces. There was a diversity there I didn’t know I was missing, and didn’t realize how much I valued.
We met up with an “uncle” of mine in Hong Kong, Otto. He’s not an actual blood-relation, but an old friend of my late grandfather, the term uncle is a term of respect in Chinese. We wanted to make a good first impression, so we went into town in search of some ginseng root as a gift, and even managed to haggle for it despite the fact we know zero Chinese. We met up with Uncle Otto in the Hong Kong Jockey Club, I’d never met him before, I had no idea what he looked like, but we were greeted by a balding man waving a cane and yelling enthusiastically. Otto’s in his eighties, but seemed, in the truest sense of the words, young at heart. I’m sure we looked quite the sight in the fancy, white-tableclothed Cantonese restaurant he took us to - an older Chinese man in his Sunday best, sitting across from two twenty-something Americans, all three of them laughing and drinking Tsingtaos. Otto has been living in Hong Kong almost his entire life, but was born in Shanghai and spent some time in New York in his twenties, which is where he met my grandparents. He told us stories about his “good old days”, like the time he won a thousand dollar abalone from a game of ping-pong, or the time he snuck across the border from Sweden into Norway. He told me about my grandmother from years ago, from summers in Cape Cod, how she was a beautiful, amazing cook, that my grandfather was very protective of her. He told us how he’d play ping-pong with my grandfather, but when I asked him who’d win, he wouldn’t tell me - “that’s no good either way”, he said.
We spent our days walking, in-between skyscrapers and alleyways, working our way around the islands block by block - the city was never short of things to look at. On our very last night, we went up the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that brought us to the summit of Victoria Peak. It was beautiful, humbling really, to see the city from above and look out over the place that stole such a big piece of my heart over the past week.