Letter from Hong Kong

“We all have our time machines, don’t we. Those that take us back are memories…and those that carry us forward, are dreams.” ― H.G. Wells

Memories are not records of facts, quite the opposite actually. I think I tend to conceive of memories as collections of impressions, feelings, emotional snapshots of erstwhile moments. The phenomenon of Endless Memory notwithstanding, I think of my own memories as being tantamount to the blurred dreaminess of a Van Gogh landscape rather than the granular precision of a Chuck Close portrait. That being said, memories truly are our only real access to the past. A photograph, a song, a memento of some other from can surely evoke a memory, but such a thing in a vacuum has neither historical nor emotional properties. Those reside in the mind alone.

What follows are mostly unredacted words and photographs excerpted from emails I sent to friends during the month I spent living in Hong Kong in 2013.

The world is a strange and cavernous place, filled with calamities and grandiosities in untold quantities; this much I can assure you for I have seen them…

We arrived in hong kong just two days ago. It is a city of sheer verticality, density, and decay. The buildings shoot up toward the heavens exponentially while crumbling to the sewer simultaneously; an unfortunate upshot of the sheer volume of precipitation brought about by the typhoon season, which includes–importantly–a good amount of acid rain. Indeed we are in the throes of typhoon season as I write this to you. Just the other night I awoke to the din of rain at a decibel I had never before experienced. As I looked down from fourteen stories up, a city that should have been drowning in its own runoff was thriving, little women huddled in groups beneath a throng of umbrellas and surveyed the landscape or smoked indifferently. As I lay there on my too-small double bed, the gift of sleep eluding my jet-lagged brain, the sun crept ever upwards, slowly overtaking the misty mountain peaks in the distance. As exotic birds began to sing, calling to one another in a sweet tongue I could not parse, I thought to myself this must be some kind of paradise.

Our first evening here we ate wonton mein and roamed the street markets in our neighborhood, Mong Kok, until a persistent drizzle sent us indoors. The markets here are something of another world. Vendors set up in labyrinthine succession down streets and alleyways until all of the visible periphery is occupied by the selling of some sort of non-essential good. Bins upon bins of Hello Kitty usb drives, knock-off handbags, cell phone cases, clothing, headphones, digital cameras, trinkets, toys, ad infinitum. A vertiginous landscape of vague familiarity and sphinxlike merchants.