Posted by: Janice | September 26, 2007

First week

For the first couple of days, there was the feeling of floating in mid-air, of being neither here nor there. Though I was eating, sleeping, drinking, meeting friends, riding on the subway, talking on the phone, and otherwise living, it did not feel real. I was home. And yet. Talking to people before I left Philadelphia, I told them “I’m going home to Hong Kong”. I knew what I was saying, but the sentiment, I’m discovering, has become more of a construct than reality. After all these years in the states, I’ve become an outsider. Everything I do – the way I dress, talk, carry myself – sets me apart. No matter that I in fact speak perfect Chinese. Bank tellers in HSBC, Chinese bank tellers, address me in English before discovering that I speak Cantonese. Same thing with a lady waiting in line at the bathroom. Family friends remark on how pretty I’ve become, how big my eyes are, how my nose has grown taller, how much I now look like an ABC (American-born Chinese). They also comment on my shape, about how I’ve gained weight, and how I should watch what I eat so that I don’t get even bigger. Chinese people – so devastatingly honest when it comes to such subjects. Three days, and I’ve started to feel self-conscious about my body again. The paradox of this is that at the same time, I’m being dragged around continuously to eat really rich, good food in all manner of family dinners and friends’ gatherings. Hong Kong people + eating = a life pursuit.

I miss the swathes of blue skies, the wide open spaces, the crisp breezes on autumn mornings. I miss being on the road in a car, going somewhere. I miss getting an everything bagel, toasted, with cream cheese. I miss huddling around in a kitchen/on a porch/in a bedroom, drinking wine and just hanging. These are things I don’t find here. Good friends, I have, but we huddle in restaurants, in coffeehouses, on buses, in stores, at the corners of busy streets, catching moments. They work from 9 in the morning to 9 at night, and then we run headlong to catch buses, minibuses, taxis, trams, mtr trains. Space and tranquility? A luxury. I grew up in this concrete jungle. While I constantly feel ambivalent, to a certain degree I do romanticize it. Theres something about watching blank faces in a rush hour crowd or lighted windows in a 40-floor apartment building that fires the imagination. Riding on the top level of a double decker at night, I watch the city go by. There is comfort in the solitude of walking anonymous in a crowd, zig-zagging amongst the crush of bodies, plugged into an ipod with neon signs flashing overhead.

I play the part of a traveler in this teeming urbanity.

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