Hong Kong Flashback
This is just a thought that was running through my mind. It is a glimpse of what was and what became “My Hong Kong.”
I remember all too well when Hong Kong was still an exotic neon blur to me. It was years ago when I first step foot in Hong Kong, and I was visiting my boyfriend of the time. I had just come from Korea, and was headed back to Turkiye. He had spent may months pitching Hong Kong as an incredible paradise, absent of all problems, where wealth was abundant and came easily, and one lives the high life. In his case, as was for other elite Chinese and those in the finance sector working in central, this was reality. Everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives, and miraculously no one ever seemed to have to do begrudging work—well that is except for the domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines that kept this reality viable. At first glance, Hong Kong seemed to turn like clockwork, from the transportation to the service. Nothing was ever still, and everything was efficient.
My home was a gated community in Kowloon Tong, one of the oldest ones in Hong Kong. Festival Walk mall was my wardrobe and my kitchen, and I had dim sum every morning. Money seemed meaningless, as I never reached into my pocket, and we never skimped on dessert. Designer goods became standard, and wearing Gucci, Chanel, Lacoste, and a variety of European brands became my norm.
I remember the days when “TST” was just an acronym to me, and “Mongkok” sounded like an amusing word. The Peak, Landmark, and IFC were my usual places, and “Chung King Mansion,” “Wanchai,” and “LKF” were places that may have well not existed, because I was forbidden to go. Soho felt like an undistinguishable haze for me, blending together with Central and Admiralty, connected by the seemingly endless causeway. In those days I believed the New Territories were something of a third world country, completely uninhabitable, and without electricity and running water. I was told these were the slums of Hong Kong, nothing more. I had little idea about the presence of culture in the New Territories; I had no idea that villages existed, or that they could have such charm.
When I moved to Hong Kong for work, I moved “for me,” and everything changed. Though I had spent time in Hong Kong before, and I knew the MTR and how to generally get around, I felt lost. My Hong Kong, the one I had previously lived in, was completely shattered. The elite life I had once lived, the only one in Hong Kong I had ever been shown, was no longer in reach. While I played an active role in this choosing this fate, I had never expected for my luxury “taitai” lifestyle to vanish so rapidly. I was suddenly on my own.
Though I had been “trained” how to live in Hong Kong, I had to relearn everything once more within my own budget constraints. This time I didn’t have endless pockets, and I experienced the flip side of Hong Kong–one that is cold, stressful, expensive, and self-focused. To my surprise, I found myself living and working in New Territories, and actually it wasn’t that bad. I could see the ocean from outside my office, and I lived in a shiny new building above the Metro City Plaza in Po Lam. Everything was green, and traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in Central or Kowloon. I soon discovered the joy of hiking and just how much nature Hong Kong had to offer in New Territories.
I similarly learned that Hong Kong was not necessarily a place of happiness, where everyone was wealthy and enjoyed themselves. From rent to the basics, the city was not cheap; it seemed easier to spend money than make it sometimes. Most people worked long hours, and the “lucky bastards” who worked for investment banks appeared to not sleep between their long hours spent at work, and the remaining hours they spent drinking in Central and Wanchai. I met “normal people,” who had to live the same “normal” and real life that I was living. Just about everyone, rich or not, was always busy and under pressure. Indeed, my own schedule barely felt like my own. My work, obligatory events, and my social life all seemed to be more in control of my calendar than I was. Thank god for google calendar and GPS. With always somewhere to go, and someone constantly calling or messaging me, I felt like a slave to my smartphone.
It’s funny how much things had changed between the days of my visit and my move. My former boyfriend had not allowed me to go to Chung King Mansion, explaining that it was a seedy place of crime, completely unsafe and dangerous. Actually, I am not sure if such a place can exist in the confines of Hong Kong. While Chung King mansion has its share of illegal immigrants, just like Wanchai has its prostitutes, and Mongkok has some triads, everything is orderly and fairly safe. Even the darkest sides of Hong Kong seem relatively sunny compared to certain things I have seen in Cairo and Hanoi, or even in the states. I found Chung King Mansion delightful, and a fantastic change. I loved the cultural flavor and identity; I felt right at home, frequenting the Punjabi restaurant on the first floors. I quickly became a regular to the mansion, coming so often that even the guys in the front who promote for the Indian restaurants ceased to bother me.
My best friend had a rooftop terrace in Soho, which quickly became my second home, just as she and her boyfriend became like family. We would frequent the bars in Wanchai, sitting with the prostitutes, sipping our drink having lengthy conversations about the politics, economics, and the world. Occasionally strange older men would try to talk to us. They never got far, and always moved on to talking to the prostitutes fairly quickly after they saw we weren’t interested in having a “sugar daddy.” Time went on, and my social life lived and breathed in Soho and LKF, and I began to grow sick of the New Territories. I moved to a small old flat, nestled in Soho, and was utterly content. Soho had become mine, and I was truly a Hong Kong expat. I couldn’t walk through Elgin street without the Egyptian guys at the shisha bar trying to get me to share a drink with them. Chateaux 68 quickly became “my spot,” and my friends and I would regularly transform it into our own private Middle Eastern dance club at odd hours of the night under my influence. I became friends with the kindhearted and gracious Nepali bartenders in Chateuax 68. I knew all the posh places in Soho, and how to get home, even if I was completely intoxicated.
Eventually I grew tired of LKF and stayed in Soho, sitting for hours in cafes, reading economic articles and writing, just like I am now. I enjoyed those days very much, just like I treasure the various conversations I had with my dear friends in Hong Kong. Now, thinking back to my year and Hong Kong, compared with the Hong Kong I once knew, I can’t help but laugh. It’s hard to believe I used to get lost between LKF, Soho, and the IFC mall. Though my memories of Hong Kong are still very vivid, it’s become increasingly more difficult to believe that I once lived in a place so efficient after having lived almost 3 months in Cairo. I definitely appreciate the ambiance of Zamalek, Heliopolis, and Corba, as I am sure with time I will create many memories there in the time I spend in Cairo that will come.