In an attempt to escape the dreary spell over humid Singapore, my friend and I escaped for a week-long vacation to Hong Kong. Contrary to many naysayers, Hong Kong is nothing like Singapore despite their appearances and similarities, and was a great place to take a break from the world despite the sprawling urban landscape. To the ignorant eye, Hong Kong may seem to be merely home to impossible structures, impressive buildings and tightly packed homes. Yet beyond the huge skyscrapers, what was hidden in the shadows were gems to be discovered and trails to be followed.
Beneath the grime and dirt of life in a metropolis lies the vibrancy and life of this bustling city. Hong Kong, like its people, has character; it paves its own roads and lets life take it wherever it chooses to go. The city attacks your senses, from the chaos of voices underlined by trams speeding by to the fusion of scents from one food haven to the next. Your eyes will be taken aback by the riot of lights, shining from neon signboards to towering beacons that shoots fireworks into the rosy night. Hong Kong’s streets stretches wide, as graffiti traces its walls uninterrupted. The pavements are uneven, as they seek to conquer the hilly island with each slab of concrete upon the ground. The sheer size of Hong Kong, which stretches across three main islands, renders its management haphazard and decentralised. Yet it is amid this entanglement across bridges that allows its character to build. Hong Kong’s streets and plazas may never be sanitised and shaped to perfection by the authorities above, but her people can fill the gaps and mould it in their own image. City planning always has its limits, especially when theories and hypotheses are put to the test by mankind. And as buildings are built and roads are laid, crowds swamp every inch of land found and make it their home. They shape this environment with their volition, maximise what limited space they have not only to survive but to thrive. As its people and the landscape collide, Hong Kong is born. This is not a city for the weak-hearted and folly-minded. Only the brave and daring can make it in this city.
The people of Hong Kong may seem to be brash and rude to some, but underneath that assumption lies battle-hardened vigour and a lengthy history. From its long-lasting entrepôt status since the glorious days of Imperial China, to the years of being pushed back and forth between major powers, and finally political tensions with China upon reunification, Hong Kong has been shaped by these powerful experiences and has grown to become a tough-talking territory that pushes against the odds to get what it wants. Decades of political engagement across the globe, and cultural exchanges as a key point between the West and Asia gave her character and spirit, and these traits are essential ingredients for surviving in a globalised world today. Hong Kong never wanted to be just a mere pawn in the great power theatre and sought to shape her own destiny by paving her own path as guided by experience. Her people are straightforward and frank, like a sharp arrow piercing through the fog of deception. They never stop moving, never stop working, and perpetually seem to be on hyperdrive mode, humming and buzzing through the metropolis. Nevertheless, underneath this tough exterior lies a warm heart that is ready to welcome visitors and the world. While we may speak different languages, the kind gestures and hospitality offered transcend these verbal boundaries. Although Hong Kong citizens, from store cashiers to aunties at eateries, may appear to have sharp tongues, they are always ready to offer a warm smile. While there will always be tension between historical preservation and economic advancement (as clearly displayed in Hong Kong), Hong Kongers always bear testament to the culmination of experience over time.
I realise that after some time, memories become foggy and imagination begins to fill in the gaps between these experiences. What I write may be a product of sheer romanticisation and nostalgia, but somehow I feel like these are familiar images that graced my mind and defined Hong Kong for what she is to me. Hong Kong is not just a touristy spot for me; it is a concrete jungle shaped by towering skyscrapers as traced by labyrinths of walkways, connected by a perfect transportation system, with her people breathing life into her soul as they buzz the city alive in fast-forward mode. Through all its sheer importance in history as narrated in many modules and lectures in NUS, nothing that I studied can prepare me for the grandeur and life of this city. And this is where I feel so alive.