Here are some mini-stories. Just some little observations (and musings) on life in Hong Kong.
My Beautiful Star
I recently moved to a new apartment. The first night I was there, when I turned off the lights before going to bed, I noticed a star shining brightly in the window. “So pretty,” I thought. “This flat faces north by northeast, so is it the North Star?”
I stood there admiring it for several seconds, and then I realized it wasn’t a star at all. It was simply the reflection in the window of a tiny light on the air-conditioner high on the wall on the opposite side of the room.
Nevertheless, whenever I enter my darkened room at night and whenever I turn off the lights, I am momentarily delighted to see my lovely North Star shining in the window. “Oh, a star! So bright!” Every night, I forget what I had learned and mistake the reflection of the light on the air conditioner for a star.
How skillful I am at forgetting!
How skillful I am at self-deception!
Yet, every night, I can still have that brief moment of delight, that brief moment when I see my beautiful star.
A beautiful lie.
True Love in Mongkok
I was glancing (not staring!) at her, when I noticed her expression light up suddenly. She had obviously just spotted the person she had been waiting for. She had already been waiting for about fifteen minutes, but didn’t look annoyed or impatient at all; her expression was one of pure joy.
Being a ‘ba-gwa’ guy, I was curious about what kind of man had so completely captured her heart and could bring her so much happiness. That must be true love, I thought. I followed her gaze, searching for the target of her affection.
Oh…it wasn’t a guy at all. It was a middle-aged woman carrying a big plastic bag. The woman reminded me of the music teacher at the school where I work—well, the worn-out-and-frazzled-at-the-end-of-a-school-year version of that teacher.
Ah, was it the young woman’s mother? “Isn’t is great that she loves her mother so much and isn’t afraid to show her affection?” I thought.
I scolded myself for having been so narrow-minded before. True love isn’t necessarily romantic, right? What can be greater than the love between a mother and daughter?
When the two women met, however, barely a word was exchanged. I wondered why they didn’t greet each other more warmly.
The woman-who-looked-like-a-frazzled-music-teacher placed her plastic bag on the station floor, reached into it and took out a cardboard box, which she then passed to the young woman, who had been hovering next to her. The box was a shoe box. The black lettering on the side: Reebok Classic. Inside the bag were two other identical shoe boxes.
The young woman could barely contain her excitement as she took the shoe box with both hands and slowly opened it. Her eyes lit up and she flashed a broad smile as she gazed lovingly at the new white sneakers in the box.
A look of true love.
She closed the box gently, cradled it tenderly in her arms, nodded at the shoe-delivery-woman-who-looked-like-a-music-teacher and walked away smiling happily, the extra bounce in her step sending her blonde ponytail swinging to and fro.
I left school early in the afternoon and went to my bus stop. However, the weather felt ‘ínteresting’ and I felt restless, so I decided to walk home instead (Kwai Hing to Kwai Fong to Lai King to Mei Foo to Cheung Sha Wan to Tai Wai to Shatin to Ma On Shan). I think I am the only one who knows this special route (it is a five-hour walk).
A lot of images remain in my mind—walking through the strange but tranquil (寧靜) Buddhist temple grounds on a forested hillside overlooking the bustling streets of Cheung Sha Wan. Then there were the monkeys scattered alongside the roads and in the trees near Monkey Mountain. Sadly one monkey lay dead in the middle of Tai Po road, its blood smearing the pavement, and further on down the road, another one–a baby monkey–lay dead on the sidewalk neatly wrapped up in cloth as if someone had just tucked him into bed. Down the road, there was a huge dying tree, silhouetted against an orange sunset sky (映襯), its leafless, lifeless branches full of singing birds.
After passing Tai Wai, I admired the many gorgeous white herons (蒼鷺) resting and fishing in the river at dusk. Further on down the river, on the other side, a woman was singing through a PA system with the Shatin-outdoor-karaoke-and-dancing group (they are in the same place nearly every day). The song was vaguely familiar. A Cantopop song from the early nineties. Was it one of Leslie’s? And finally there was the lovely view of the river opening up into Tolo harbour, with the lights of Chinese University on the opposite side, and straight ahead, the harbour merging into the sea and disappearing into the black night. I was reminded of how beautiful and horrible the world is. And of how little I understand it.
Where are you from?
Someone just asked me where I am from. I always have to think about that before answering. Is it Canada, where I was born? Is it Hong Kong, where I have lived for the past 24 years? Do my European ancestors count? So where am I from? I guess I am a . . . Northern Hemispherian
J: (initiating the conversation): Teachers are so freakin’ annoying. They all think they can change the world.
Me (a teacher): O_O
Me: O_O (still thinking how to respond)
J: And they only love those students who work hard.
Me: Hard-working students are good students. There’s nothing wrong with working hard.
J: Those hard-working students are all fake. I hate all of them.
Me: Maybe they love learning. You know, humans naturally love to learn. Every baby and little kid loves to learn. It’s what makes us human beings.
J: But we aren’t little kids any more.
Me: Well, school can sometimes kill someone’s love for learning. But maybe some people still love to learn.
J: No, they are all fake. You just can’t see it. I hate them all.
Careless Idiot, Kind People
I’ve been sick these days but still going to work (It’s not so good to take days off right after a long holiday, right?).
The last two days, on my way home after work, I was exhausted, simply stumbling around in a heavy and suffocating daze.
On each day I lost my wallet. On Monday, I left it at the cash register of a store and walked off. Today, I dropped it getting on the bus.
The wallet had the usual ID, ATM card and stuff like that. I’d just been travelling, so I had more money then usual–around $3,000–in there.
Each time, a man (not the same man, of course!) ran after me to return my wallet (and everything inside) before I even noticed it was gone.
People can be so considerate and kind!
Thoughts on 4 June
I remember receiving a letter from a friend in Hong Kong (I was still in Canada at the time). Normally, this friend didn’t express many thoughts about politics, but in this letter she wrote excitedly about the peaceful and far-reaching changes that were taking place in China—about how optimistic everyone in Hong Kong was. A new era was about to dawn—one of political reform and accountablity on the part of the government and of political maturity and participation on the part of the citizens. Whereas once Hong Kong citizens feared the handover, they now began to look forward to being a part of this new China.
This change was part of a seemingly world-wide trend toward freedom and democracy. Mikhail Gorbachev had recently introduced measures of politcal reform, government transparency and ultimately democracy in the Soviet Union; and in this new era of openness, similar reforms began to spring up in communist-bloc Eastern European countries such as Poland, East Germany and Hungary. Just a few years earlier the Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos had been deposed in the largely peaceful People Power Revolution. Surely it was now China’s turn to embrace change.
The letter was filled with happiness and hope.
I received it on 6 June 1989.
It had been sent a week earlier.
A lot can happen in a week.
Conversation in an Elevator
Coming home, I got into the elevator along with a young boy and a woman who seemed to be a domestic helper.
The boy looked up at me and, breaking the second rule of elevator riding (the first being to face the front) and spoke.
Boy: Are you Daddy?
Me: I am A daddy, but I’m not YOUR daddy.
Boy: My daddy isn’t at home. He went away with another mommy.
Woman: SHHHHHH! You can’t say that.
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