a super-thoughtful letter about leaving Hong Kong, which was once also my home… by the lovely Kristi Johnson
I remember when I first arrived here in 2003, 2 months before my 23rd birthday, with my hippy rags and nose piercing. I thought I needed nothing more than adventure and my university sweetheart who sat beside me in the fifty square foot space that was our accommodation. It was only a few hours into the journey when I found myself sitting up at 3 am in the morning, jet-lagged and staring out the window of the 17th floor of Chung King Mansions, questioning why I had chosen this place to live, a place I knew nothing about. Nathan road was bustling, neon signs were flashing, and it didn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. It was a far cry from where I had come from, New Zealand, a place famous for sprawling green pastures and dinky little towns. But I had chosen this, I had been desperate to experience something new, something unfamiliar.
As time moved on I became a victim of sensory overload, dragged around by my eyes, ears and nose. I observed the escalators as they transported the population of 7 million or so in a rapid and chaotically organized flow. The trains amazed me, bursting at the seams with humans from all walks of life; local, expat and everyone else in between. Without a seconds notice I was shoved and squeezed into those trains, bringing a new meaning to the understanding of personal space, and as the doors of the train closed I had no choice but to move with the tide, as the sea of people spilled in one after the other. My nostrils worked over-time as various smells swelled around my head making me slightly nauseous. Oily hair, the smell of garlic on someone’s breath, women drenched in cheap perfume. I would hold my breath until the next stop where I was launched from the train like a cork from a bottle of well shaken bubbly.
I remember walking through the supermarkets, a true struggle where my devout vegetarianism was concerned in those days. Both the supermarkets and the wet markets alike hung carcasses, tongues, bladders, hooves and hearts from cows and pigs. Fish flapped around in Styrofoam boxes, waiting to be clubbed across the head, and frogs, turtles and other ‘exotic’ creatures jiggled around in small, netted sacks. The stench was amazing. I mustered everything I could not to vomit. Even the sound of the cleaver cutting through the bone sent me flying into the cosmetics aisle.
Outside local restaurants fish and other sea life were crammed into tanks, facing the similar fate of becoming someone’s hot pot.
Something that always amused me was sitting in the bus beside old ladies or domestic helpers laden with shopping bags full of fresh goodies from the market. There was always one bag that managed to make a getaway, flipping and flapping down the isle in a desperate last effort at freedom.
I remember living on Lamma Island. I remember the summer rain. I remember rolling my pants up to my thighs and bravely wading through the flooded paths for the seventh morning in a row. My umbrella saturated to the core, so much so that the raindrops trickled through it onto my head and shoulders. Men in suits rolled up their trouser legs and sported rubber flip-flops that splashed soiled water up the back of their freshly ironed shirts. Once on the ferry, people dressed and undressed, in an openness and familiarity that could only be found on Lamma.
I remember one day peering out the window of the ferry to watch the brown shade that tipped the breaking waves. Plastic, paper and wood rode the tide and swarmed around the extremely brave swimmers stretching off from the ferry pier. The local elderly seemed to be enjoying their morning ritual, the crown of their heads iced with rubber caps bobbed around in the surging grey/brown water. Two Gweillo (foreign/white men) were wading through the floating bric-a-brac on this one particular day, struggling for breath as they were pulled down by filth and uncontrollable laughter. They threw a plastic bottle to the side, removed plastic bags from their swimmers and hoisted a torn red flag into the air.
One street is selling Gucci, the next one along is scattered with fruit, beggars and the odd cockroach or rat. A true reflection of how diverse one’s life is from another here, how diverse one day is from the next.
I find it so strange how I was once so entertained and inspired by all the rarities and idiosyncrasies in Hong Kong, but the last year or two has been more of a struggle to tell you the truth.
There are moments though, like walking up the windy concreted path to the Peak of Hong Kong, dodging elderly Chinese people involved in their crazy morning rituals of clapping loudly and screaming at one another in an attempt to have a conversation over a blaring transistor radio, where I just stop and feel for a moment, bringing total awareness to the real beauty that surrounds me. In those moments the clapping begins to disintegrate, the hum of the jackhammers fade into the distance and the sweet oriental sound of a Chinese flute squeezes through the bamboo from the small valley down below, growing louder and clearer as everything else begins to fall away. The sound of cicadas chirp in, even the sound of my own breath and the silence of my own mind brings calm to the environment, and as I trudge on, sweat dripping off my chin, I find my rhythm again all the way up to the top.
I lean on the iron fencing and enjoy the breeze for a moment as it drapes itself around me. On a good day, big fluffy white clouds burst out above the magnificent panoramic view of the city and as my eyes search for Kowloon side towards a huge flashing neon sign, I find myself mesmerized. Not only by the shapes and colours of the characters jiggling too and fro on the sign, but also by the city itself. The density, the intensity of the skyscrapers, the small islands scattered around, the large expansive ocean that surrounds it all.
The soft but gnawing hum of all the sounds begin to merge into one deep clarifying rhythm, and I pause for a moment finding gratitude for all that Hong Kong has offered me and what it continues to bring into my life.
I feel truly blessed for all that I have met, experienced and received, but my longing for nature, for a more simple lifestyle, has transpired into an ever increasing need to follow my heart.
So, in June, with Michele and my big bag of tricks and treasures, I will travel across waters again, this time to Europe exactly 9 years after I arrived in this concrete jungle, to bury my roots into an earth so rich that I have no choice but to grow bigger and brighter than I ever.
With love and inspiration,
hi guys! i just wanted to share the above, written by my friend & fellow yogi Kristi…because it is such a beautiful piece of writing that i can totally relate to about my time in hong kong. thank you Kristi! you can reach her fb here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586255806
Your Kristi sounds like she is one inspired woman. She wrote such an evocative piece. I think you must be one proud gal to be able to call her your friend. It is nice reading this refreshing piece. How is she these days? Hope things are going great for her.
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