I never thought that I’d get to a point where I’d forget the details of the places I used to know so well. When I talk to people that I’ve just met, or even those that I’m close with, they often ask me:
What’s Hong Kong like?
Hong Kong is dirty, hot, overpopulated. It’s overcast and polluted most days, but it’s sunny and bright right after the rain. It’s the most delicious dim sum I’ve ever had. It’s loads of Australians, French, and British expats. It’s hidden contemporary cafes, Michelin star restaurants, and fast-casual chains that cater to both inebriated club goers and early-rising senior citizens. It’s the corner stands that sell freshly squeezed juice for $15 HKD that you regret not buying more often.
It’s teeny tiny hole-in-the-wall laundromats that look like a tornado of dirty clothes but have been operated and owned by the same family for over 30 years. It’s where you go to collect your items that are perfectly folded and pressed neatly into a stack, and it looks as though they completely avoided wreckage behind the counter. It’s the perspiration you endure as your lug your clean clothes “home” in a backpack on the seemingly long journey back to your apartment which happens to be directly across the street.
It’s shopping in Causeway Bay and reading for hours in Eslite. It’s wandering through Central on a Friday night and overhearing girls complain about the dating scene. It’s watching guys flirting and falling further into their drunkness. It’s walking through Wanchai and feeling dirty, then turning a corner and leaving it all behind. It’s exploring the near emptiness and quiet streets of Sai Ying Pun and realizing neither will last for much longer.
It’s 4.5 hours to Tokyo, 1 hour to Taipei, 3.5 hours to Phuket, 4 hours to Bali. It’s not Mainland China. It’s beautiful beaches, summer junk excursions, binge drinking, and secret waterfalls. It’s taking taxi rides with friends who speak Cantonese fluently and know where the cab will end up, even though you don’t. It’s hiking in the mountains seeing China on the other side and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m here.”
It’s standing behind a language barrier. It’s feeling anxiety knowing that your Chinese level is that of a small infant, maybe even below that. It’s when you try to say something but end up switching to English because you’re afraid of getting laughed for even attempting the language. It’s fear and sadness and loneliness. It’s certainty and happiness and a sense of belonging.
It’s meeting the wrong friends. It’s meeting the right friends. It’s meeting yourself. “Hello, nice to meet you.”
It’s staying for a while and realizing you can’t stay forever. It’s starting to see it as your new home. It’s starting to miss your real home.
What’s Hong Kong like?
It’s every detail, every anecdote, every person I met. It’s the good and the bad and a place I miss. And it’s too much to sum up in a few sentences. I can’t give it the justice it deserves.
“It’s different,” I say.