To be honest, Hong Kong was never really on my list of places to visit before I die, but when a good friend offered me the opportunity to travel here, I was in the mood to become an anonymous face in a crowd in a place I’d never been to before. I wanted to walk around and get lost in a metropolis where I had no obligations and no one knew me. Vietnam and Cambodia were out of the question, mainly because, for all of their virtues, they didn’t have the hustle and bustle of a true megapolis that I was craving. I wanted the strange (in)security of not knowing anything or anyone, the danger and yet the safety it offered.
So Hong Kong it was.
I have to admit, when I first came here, I wasn’t expecting to like Hong Kong as much as I do now. The only image I had of Hong Kong was one of a homogenized culture sacrificing heritage on the twin altars of commercialism and progress, all shiny and chrome-y and neon lights. But what I learned, after almost a week here, is that life thrives in the spaces between.
I did a lot of walking in Hong Kong, and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. Three days of almost non-stop walking for eight to ten hours in running shoes that haven’t quite been broken in have left me with aching hamstrings and sore feet, but it was the price to pay to get some insight into this enigmatic city. Walking is always the best way to make a city your own, and discover the pockets of beauty in the heaving, humid mass of humanity determined to carry you along in its wake. There are always those moments, if you’re patient enough to look for them.
The other night, around midnight, while I was walking on the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, I came across a long haired, lanky young man in typical rocker’s garb – black leather jacket, jeans, and boots – practicing his skills on an unplugged electric guitar. He was completely lost to the world, a bizarre sight on a boardwalk filled with joggers in tiny pastel and neon outfits puffing along, defying the near freezing wind blowing in from the harbor, even at that late hour. I discretely took photos of him and sat shivering on a nearby bench, listening to him strum away, his metronome inexorably counting the beat, watching the lights of Hong Kong Island in front of us while a red half-moon floated overhead.
I eventually learned that his name is Bob, and that he came to Hong Kong for his Master’s degree, and that he was in IT. He goes to the harbor to practice his guitar almost every day, he said, because it was too noisy in the dorms and he couldn’t hear the music. I wondered aloud how he was able to play in the cold, but he said he’d gotten used to it.
We chatted a little longer until we hit the language barrier, and I went off and left him to play in peace, and a lovely Hong Kong moment was added to my box of travel memories.
Hong Kong marked quite a few firsts for me, which I may or may not write about in future posts. As you may have gathered, this will be the first of several blog posts about Hong Kong, written in no particular order and following no particular date. To paraphrase a pithy quote often attributed to Mark Twain, never let chronology get in the way of a good story.