One rainy morning, in the common room of the 8th floor of Hall G, a girl I shared the washroom with asked me if she could join me at the table for tea. She said her name was N., that she was from Pakistan, that she was also in her first year of MPhil studies, researching on the social psychology of driving behaviors. This, I have long noted, is de rigueur for introductions by research postgraduate students: Name, Research Topic, Institution, maybe Country of Origin, though some tend to state their research topics first. Finally she asked, How have you been adjusting to life in Hong Kong? I said, Just fine, and you? And she talked about being culture-shocked: the weather, the language, the food, the customs, the people are alien to her. Isn’t it so for you?
Cantonese is an incomprehensible tongue, but signage is written in English too. While I do not eat pork, so common in Chinese cuisines, dimsum and noodles are familiar to me. Like Hong Kongers, I bathe and wash my hair at least once a day and do not throw tissue paper into the toilet. Hot, humid weather and strong typhoons are part of our lifeworld in my country that’s one of the most vulnerable to climate change. I’d already made a few local friends before coming to live here, since I studied for a short while at this university before. What I am not quite adjusting to, but simply accepting: the searing heat, the briskness and efficiency and orderliness of Hong Kong people, their careful attention to and observance of rules that actually make sense (there’s effective governmentality for you). In Hong Kong, I wouldn’t think of jaywalking, or eating in the bus or the train. I celebrate the convenience afforded by the Octopus card, though I rue the difficulty of finding scented rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl, with tea tree extract and moisturizer), sweet crunchy peanut butter, a French press.
My parents decided to fly with me to HK and stay here for a few days. They wanted to see my university, do some sightseeing around Central, a little shopping in Mong Kok. We spent a day in Tuen Mun, an evening in Tsim Sha Tsui, an afternoon in Ocean Park. I wanted to take them to Victoria Peak, but then Typhoon Hato struck. We spent more time watching TV and ordering room service in the hotel than going around. And that was fine, they said, because what they wanted more than to go around was to spend time with me. As they left, my father handed me a couple of hundred-dollar bills. Make sure you go home in December, he said. He knows too well my penchant for leaving, for being away. But as I grow older, I wonder if I weren’t catching a quaint yearning for home—not just a headquarters, or a base camp, but a fixed, certain state or place, a compass of meaning, a stable point of return—to a house perhaps, or to a person or persons. I am getting older, my parents are aging too fast, I will likely die alone.
Don’t think of moving to Hong Kong as departure, a friend said to me. Think of it as transferring to another city, like Makati, from QC. After all, Hong Kong is just a little over two hours away from Manila. Baguio is even farther in terms of travel time.
But I like to think of it as departure, actually, to have a greater sense of narrative leap, of plot or character development, between departure and return. I have been getting so very bored.
What I watched, stuck in a room during the height of Hato, when T10 was hoisted in Hong Kong for the first time since 2012: Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000). They’re the kind of films that are so well-composed and visually stunning (cinematography by Christopher Doyle), I wanted to screenshot every frame. I didn’t manage that, but here are a few stills:
I’d write a meditation on love, betrayal, missed chances, and time, but I’ve been avoiding thinking about such poignant fancies (as I am, as you know, wont to do). Maybe the briskness of this place is ideal for me; even when watching In the Mood for Love, I do not feel like indulging in melancholy.