City

[ City ] 2017 Slow Enchantment of Central District, Hong Kong

[1] Why Hong Kong?

If I can see what my Hong Kong friends have been doing and thinking, and if I could meet their friends and visit their neighborhoods, would I then truly understand what it’s like to live in Hong Kong? I have been yearning to travel to new and exciting places, and experience life in other people’s shoes.

So I set out from Taichung, Taiwan, and two hours later I arrived in the prosperous city.

[2] Here to Suffer…?

My first stop in Hong Kong was Mongkok. I didn’t walk there by myself, but was dragged by a flood of people roaming in the same direction. Apartment buildings, commercial buildings, and hotel buildings were everywhere. The amount of people gathered in small alleyways playing Pokémon rivaled even the most popular spots in Taipei. Street stands seemed as if they were competing for airspace in the sky, making the famous Ladies’ Market too hard to walk through. In the Goldfish Market the fish tanks were stuffed to the brim with red goldfish, which could only barely, helplessly swing their fins. It seemed it was the largest space they could “enjoy” every single day. People say the colorful store signs are truly the best feature of Old Mongkok, however, it was merely a scene of chaos to me.

I started to get impatient. I asked my Hong Kong friend M: “What is wrong with this place…, I feel like a sardine!?” “The escalators force us to walk fast… have you guys ever thought about the elders?”

M: “Um, maybe we discriminate against old people…”

The next day, an ominous gray sky filled Central District. But actually it didn’t matter what color the sky was, since I couldn’t see the sky through the countless skyscrapers. When you look up there were skyscrapers in view, and when you looked into the distance, yet more skyscrapers filled your view. The skyskraper apartments were just hard, dense, and ugly, swallowing every inch of the sky. On the world-famous Street Lan Kwai Fang, the dead-drunk western man smiled evilly at me, and posters and advertisements fiercely competed for space on walls.

People told me Hong Kong is a wonderland that would dazzle me with spectacular sights and attractions; however, it seemed to me that things in Hong Kong were just fiercely competing for attention.

Dragging myself through the maze of  buildings was really disheartening. It wore me out. Just call me a countrywoman, someone who likes to stay in her comfort zone, and who judges things with a prejudiced attitude.

On that day, I decided I didn’t like Hong Kong.

However, what was going to happen next totally changed my mind.

[3] Central District’s Slow Enchantment

On the second day in the afternoon I visited a Hong Kong friend, C, who works in the Cattle Depot Artists’ Village. I complained to C that Central District is too noisy. “That’s why I would rather spend most of the time working here quietly….but Central does have some spots that are nice and quiet”, he said.

Alright, time to explore.

In the evening, I found myself in a small alley with few people. After giving the password to the door guard, we entered a secret bar hidden on the second floor. The dim light made the wall as dark as dried blood. The bartender with a sloppy hat looked strung out on drugs, and with his hollow eyes looked deep into my soul. Creepy as he was, I thought he was cool. I loved this place as soon as I stepped into it, because I knew nobody else in the world could find this place. It seemed like my gloomy thoughts, irrealist ideas, and life fantasies could find nourishment in this place, on this night.

In the bar, there was a couple of chubby bohemian-style French lovers chatting. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about, but I was sure they were flirting. Not long after, a musical band performed on the third floor of the bar, but I didn’t want to listen to it. I just wanted to keep talking all night and enjoy the magical atmosphere, so I hid myself on the third floor balcony and couldn’t stop gazing at Central. The neon sign of Lin Heung Tea House glittered with an old-school charm. It was so beautiful. At this moment, among my five sense organs, only my vision existed.

[4] Beautiful Melancholy

In the middle of the night, I met with my best friend from Taiwan at Lan Kwai Fang. She treated me as if I was her sister, and passionately introduced famous bars to me. She took me to a famous sky bar to witness the so-called luxurious mansions located at Hong-Kong’s Mid-Levels, and we had cocktail drinks with interesting colors.

I have been missing her so much. At the bar, I listened to her internal struggle of her life in Hong Kong over the last few years. During the day, she works very hard in the financial center of  Central. At night, she unwinds at beautiful bars. Sometimes she just sips a drink and gets a little tipsy, and other times she gets blind drunk. In order to advance her career, she changed jobs and tried to get along with her Hong Kong and Chinese colleagues. She also very romantically fell in love with a Hong Kong man. They travelled everywhere together in Hong Kong, and visited their rich friends’ luxurious homes in Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels. After knowing how wonderful life can be in Hong Kong, they started to dream that one day they might attain such success, even though the skyrocketing price of real estate in Hong Kong has made their dreams extraordinarily difficult to attain.

My friend and I are similar in that, while life is difficult sometimes, we still try our best to be hopeful about the future; that is why we work hard. However, she possesses 10 times more guts than I do, and has been pursuing dreams that are a hundred times more difficult to realize than the dreams I have been pursuing.

Hong Kong belongs to her. It belongs to brave dream-makers. She talks, thinks, and acts like a Hong Kong native. As if she has Hong Kong blood running through her veins.

After we finished drinking, we walked home. We took the world’s longest escalator in Central to my friend’s flat, which is beside the escalator. After climbing the stairs to the 5th floor and unlocking 2 locks, we arrived a 10 square meter space which was worth HKD 8,000. The little space had everything. Looking outside of the window, there were still countless skyscrapers under construction.

In the very beginning I could not understand why she wanted to live in Central, the busiest part of Hong Kong, and to live beside the busiest and longest escalator in Central. However, to be honest, I started to realize it is so hard not to fall in love with this place. Because it is hard not to fall in love with the sadness and depression resulting from the beautiful struggles of life, which make us feel alive.

[5] Splendid Chaos

Sunday is the only day of the week that migrant workers don’t have to work. So on Sundays all migrant workers flood out, and occupy the core part of Central. Walking through the escalator of Central to the headquarter of Hang Seng Bank, the headquarter of Standard Chartered, and then to IFC, many migrant workers juxtapose the tourists occupying the same space. Large amount of migrant workers getting together there were loud and careless. They were sitting down on the roadside, yet dressed in their best attire, holding hands, telling each other their deepest secrets, taking selfies with a winky-face, smiling radiantly, or giggling loudly with each other. Those arrogant Chinese had to give way to them. At least on Sunday, Central is ruled by the migrant workers.

Earlier in this visit to Hong Kong, maybe I would think migrant workers in Central were just obnoxious and disorderly. But I slowly embraced the chaos that makes Central so unique and beautiful. Moreover, it dawned on me that these hardworking individuals are most deserving of a day full of spendor and excitement. I truly hope that every Sunday they can dress up so magnificently that their employers cannot recognize them. And I hope  their life in a foreign land can be with no regret.

Later, I got back to Soho, Central, to explore clothing shops and restaurants. Simply standing outside of the stores could make me blush and gasp, just like falling in love. I didn’t care anymore if this was a place where you can barely see the sky. Letting the skyscrapers on both sides surround me tightly, I gave my heart to the chaos of the maze and let it take me through each street in Central.

[6] Falling in Love

At night, I passed through Lan Kwai Fang again. Smelly plumbers and fragrant westerners all got dead-drunk and passed out side by side on the roadside in Lan Kwai Fang. To be honest, the scene was truly a mess. However, since I’m already familiar with Central, I had an unbreakable reason to speak up for messy Central. The reason why Central seems like a mess is because Central is old enough and special enough. It is because Central is so eclectic; that is why everything in the world collects in Central. In Central, people compose countless songs of life. The tunes are sometimes melodic and beautiful, and at other times cacophonous and heartbreakingly sad; the lyrics are a collection of stories of existence, illness, reunion and separation.

The place, Central, is an energetic child, and an old woman who leaves her fate to God; a pure teenage girl, and a guilty criminal; a sentimental poet , and a cantankerous stray cat. Central embodies all of these seemingly conflicting personalities. Falling in love with Central is like falling in love with hundreds of lovers, all of which satisfy a different desire.

At night, I frequented the bars, one after another in quick succession, at Elgin Street. Foreigners in the bars smiled genuinely at me, and the curiosity was mutual. They saw through me as a crazy person in love.

[7] Hard to say goodbye

The day I left Hong Kong was a working day. For the last time, I took the longest escalator in the world, but this time I concentrated on the experience and the emotions it evoked more seriously. I remember passing foreigners with eye colors almost as beautiful and varied as a painter’s pallet. They passed by me quickly one after another, just like a rapid river flowing into the ocean. The rapid tempo was daunting. However, it is undeniable that Hong Kong is a land of opportunities.

Cherry Coco, the founder of Chanel once said: “Life makes you cry.” I have seen this so-called “life” on my mother’s face. Standing on the streets in Central, I could tell the pain of life was 10 times, even 100 times more intense. However, life’s pains are also beautiful. Because pain makes people more alive.

In Hong Kong, even when life is hard, people try to enjoy the small things in life like a nice glass of wine or laughs with friends. Here, you are allowed to be naive and innocent, and are allowed to be romantic and look for excitement. You can brag about how much you earn in one day and how much you spend on drinking in Lan Kwai Fang in one night. You can live a hardworking life with someone who you love and who also loves you, and can find someone who is lonely to spend a night with you. You and your lover can also be like innocent children, playing hide and seek in narrow alleys, and then kiss each other romantically.

Carrying my luggage, finally I arrived at the headquarters of Standard Chartered around IFC, ready to head back to the airport. People rushing for work were still passing by me rapidly. Only I stopped in the middle of the road to look back at Central. I was thinking: if you have dreams, if you live everyday like it is the last day, if you know life can make you cry, then you will love Hong Kong.

Even though life can make me cry, I have always been fascinated by big cities. I will visit more big cities, and live a sensory-driven and extravagant life there with people I love. And then keep walking through each street of the city without hesitation, and never look back.

I will come back again.

[ THE END ]

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[8] Afterthoughts

A few days after I came back from Hong Kong, the post-travel melancholy disappeared. My mood was lifted because, compared with Hong Kong, my living quarters in Taipei are much more spacious and comfortable. Sometimes I am worried Taipei is being gradually forgotten by the world. However, deep in my mind I am satisfied with Taipei,  a small city with few people but everything one desires.

Dedicated to those that love life and experiencing the greatest cities the world has to offer.

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Special credit goes to: Felix, Calvin, Vincent, Stella and Giovanni.

First written in Nov. 2017.

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