One place after Another

“Cuz, where do Hong Kong people date?”asked my young Canadian cousin a few years back during his visit to Hong Kong. Newly in his first relationship, he squinted his eyes along a swarm of people, scouting for the impossible romantic corner among the city’s skyscraper-clusters. Earlier in the day, we have been barged out of our bench at a park by a few grannies, too excited about their long-awaited gathering. I thought long and hard at his question, with no avail. “One’s apartment maybe?” Except both of us couldn’t imagine living on our own any time soon.

We ended up on a failed mission to find an undisturbed spot for dinner. The appeal of fried beef noodles at crowd out local eateries was simply second to none. Stomach full, he was convinced that Hong Kong style dating does not require much privacy and space, to which I sadly acknowledge as a reality rather than choice.

Often enough in subsequent years, I found myself in the middle of some industrial districts late in the night — for concerts, chats, musical production, a date, or even just for a walk to clear my mind. The empty streets free your attention from the noise and the crowd, so that someone can actually have it for a moment. Along the coast, an old flour factory building stood its guard to the rare space. I thank its vigilance, because peace like this almost feels like a crime these days. Like they say, concerts in these buildings have never been legal. Street chats are for bad kids who have no esteem for the self. Not far away, the looming skyline of newly built offices encroaches, a little too quickly and a little too harsh. History is about re-placement, they say, one place after another.

[This is the last article of my weekly column on Ming Pao, a leading newspaper in Hong Kong. Starting the coming September, the column takes a new turn and tells travel stories I have experienced and encountered over the years.]

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