I never intended on coming to Hong Kong at all; it was just a freak circumstance that i ended up here... namely a typhoon. In one of those wierd ways people cross paths all over tha goddamn place, i ended up staying in a small town in southern china with someone i met in khartoum. She talked nonstop about an area called fujian province, which is famous for its tea among other things, but say no more -- tea is a passion much like nicotene and odd writing materials. So i set off for fujian on the east coast thinking i could renew my tourist visa there... in the comfort of an old colonial mansion on one of the islands near xiamen. It was a beautiful place full of winding lanes up the hillsides and old british and japanese architecture from the turn of the century... old consulates and villas, seaside sculpture parks, etc. I won't go into all the beauties of the place, but i will say it was an absolutely ideal place to spend a few days while waiting for the authorities to grant me another month on my visa. A scene straight from the Glory Days... tea with sailors on a boat, berries and fruits with coffee in the dining room of a mansion, and manners everywhich way you turn. Midway through the visa process though, we found out that a typhoon was headed straight for the province. Ferry services were cut and anyone who chose to stay on the island (uh, me) was stranded and had to ride out whatever came. Needless to say, the govt offices closed and i ran out of time on the visa. The day after the storm i boarded a bus for hong kong, the only place aside from macau where i'm technically in china and technically not. It's a hazy situation, and it's usually the hazy situations that save my ass... if for no other reason, it's because of this that hong kong rocks. And rocks hard.
It was like arriving in new york for the first time... all those towering buildings lit up at night, the view of the harbor, the throngs of people in the streets from every corner of the world. I felt like i finally Arrived Somewhere, and i still feel that way even as i prepare to leave for china again. For me, there are two Hong Kongs: the hong kong of everyone's imagination with the skyline, the international businessmen in fine suits, Sir Donald Tsang in his trademark bowtie, the hong kong from all those jackie chan movies... and then across the harbor is the Kowloon area which is the reality of hong kong. Rows of tenements -- some being torn down for flashy condo towers and shopping malls -- full of unemployed africans, indians selling fake watches by day and hashish by night, noodle and kebab stands, shops full of fake or pirated goods... in short it's a big 3rd world dumphouse of brown skins and saris and turbans and robes blowing around their bodies in the wind. People waiting to make it big across the harbor, and what a view across that harbor! It's like watching the bustle of manhattan from your shitty new jersey shoebox, but whatever... to be honest i prefer the down-and-out madness of kowloon over the glam of hong kong central.
I've been renting a room in one of the kowloon tenement buildings... it's a tiny place even for one person, but right next door is a family of nigerians (4 of them) cramped into a room barely big enough for two beds. It's my first look into the lives of real immigrants... i say real because i move around a lot, but i never settle down. I'm not an immigrant. I'm not an expat. I'm a bum. These people have all their hopes pinned on hong kong, and with no cash to fly back home should something go wrong, it's all or nothing. They're doing ok... there's enough food at least and they can pay their rent, but they've been here for a year and a half and it's not getting any easier. They came chasing what people see across the harbor -- famous images of hong kong -- and found that a kowloon slum is the best they'll get. It's a crushing place.
Sometimes i go down to the pier to take a look at the skyline across the water, which at night glows in blues and pinks and greens and yellows from all the neon over there. The black of the water takes on the colors of the buildings, and it's like all that hong kong light is bleeding into its harbor. Surreal, man. I sit there and think about everything in front of me, the grandness of it all, and then what lies behind me in the tenement and the grandness of it as well. Of the romance of both sides, the allure of both sides and how what lies in between is black water with bloody colors in the crests of its waves. I've never seen any place spell itself out so starkly before. Staring across i also think of china to my back and its promises and realities, its romance and allure... and then the entire harbor becomes this one big CircumStance a la trashcan china, and there i am in the middle of it protecting what i can.
I snagged a teaching gig near shanghai and i'm headed up there this coming thursday. It better not suck.
I wish i had time to tell all the stories (the CircumStances) that have happened over the past few weeks... i guess they'll have to remain on paper for now. Anyway, tally ho it's time for tea before tea.