Thursday, October 27, 2016

Together on the South China Sea

When I first went to Hong Kong two years ago, I was immensely aware of how alone I was. Of my position as a solitary walker, amid looming towers, themselves in the shadows of verdant mountains, themselves dwarfed by the swirl of the Pacific. I walked and walked, through Mong Kok, North Point, Jordan, trying to find my place in all of it.

I went back recently. But this time, I wasn't alone.

We walked all over the city, down those same streets. And while the landscape, the architecture remained the same, my narrative of those places was overwritten. A quiet street in Sheung Wan was no longer where I wandered late at night, lost, but where the two of us had sat down for coffee. Lan Kwai Fong was still pounding music and badly behaved financiers, but it was where we had drank gin and tonics and laughed and kissed. And the view across the channel to Kowloon was now filled with her eyes.

And new places were discovered, suddenly engraved with new perceptions. The little fishing village of Sai Kung, on the coastline of the New Territories, where we milled about in little consignment shops and watched the fishermen sell their catch from their boats. The elegant shopping arcades along Canton Street in Tsim Sha Tsui where we sat down for braised beef and xialongbao.

If, on my initial trip, I tried to discover a place, to figure out its inner workings, then on my second trip, I tried to imbue it with memory, my own memories, and memories with her. So if I go back alone, those same spaces will be defined by her absence. This was the hotel where we stayed, this was where we browsed in tiny shops, this was where we ate abalones. And if I go back alone, instead of filling in the details, I will see her silhouette everywhere.

Our flight left in early evening, with one last sighing view of the skyline of the city, row after row of gantry cranes, infinite shimmering lights from the ring of skyscrapers along the coast before dark peaks, before we set off.

We arrived back in the middle of a late-night monsoon rain, whiteout conditions on the expressway, to a city suddenly draped with black bunting, of missing portraits and candles burning on palace walls. I always find a certain despondency when I come back from a trip to another country, regardless of what country I'm living in at the time. So it came as no surprise to me that, when I arrived back in Bangkok, and settled into my office routine, it was like re-entering a hot, dark cave.  

And yet I still have a steady flicker of images across my head – of narrow staircases, Toyota Crown taxis, scallop shells, leather armchairs, and the face of a woman smiling in the morning sunlight, 20 stories over Hong Kong Harbor.