The first time I visited Hong Kong; I was probably around the ripe old age of ten. We were there for a competition that my sister and brother were taking part in.
There are only two memories that I can recollect from that trip:
One – I vividly remember the hotel room that we stayed in. There were two double mattresses, less than one metre apart from each other, cramped into a tiny room that had a TV in the middle with a brown desk below it and not much else. My mum had handmade a fabric keyboard that was perfectly accurate in size and dimension so that if they wanted to, my brother and sister could have some form of practice.
If the makeshift keyboard wasn’t rolled up and stuffed in a suitcase, it was draped over the desk, where their fingers would dance over the material, whilst (talented that they were, are) their minds would buzz away, conjuring up the accompanying melody.
Two – I had dozed off on the bed whilst my brother was getting a piano lesson from his teacher and had awoken to find no one in the room. My mum had taken my brother and sister to the pizza place right below our hotel for food without waking me up. Her excuse was she wanted me to rest. I started crying because I had missed out on eating pizza.
Neither of these memories involve the city of Hong Kong or any adventures beyond that overpriced two-by-four hotel room; so when I received the email from ANU confirming that I’d be spending the next six weeks in Hong Kong for a winter program, I didn’t have exceedingly high expectations.
Suffice it to say that this time, listing of memories is no longer an option for me. My time there, like the city itself, transcends a single description.
At its very core, Hong Kong is dichotic in its existence. British yet Chinese; cosmopolitan yet traditional; autonomous yet controlled; a concrete jungle which, in its cracks sprawls geo-parks, national reserves and natural beauty; an economic power house, hub to financial conglomerates that is simultaneously battling a housing crisis with no clear solution in sight.
Step off at any of the metro stations and the difference in pace, lifestyle and history is palpable.
From the gentrified suburbs surrounding Central where overpriced cafés, craft beer stores and fine dining restaurants line the main streets and alleyways to the hustle and bustle of Mongkok’s Ladies Market; the city is one that waits to metamorphose into whatever you want it to be.
Herein (clearly someone had been writing too many essays) lies the beauty of Hong Kong. In order to even begin to make your way through the labyrinth and appreciate the city’s machinations requires the luxury of time. Adding screen over screen, each one bringing you closer to a holistic frame yet simultaneously reminding you of the fuzzy quality of your perception that, at first instance, you thought was pretty accurate. Fittingly, it’s a process akin to getting to know a person. I say fittingly because it’s the perfect segue into my next train of thought…
Beyond the city itself, my memories of Hong Kong are equally marked by those who I had the absolute privilege of meeting – sharing real connections and gallivanting aimlessly around with. Morning swims at six a.m. with the cows, gallery hopping in the torrential rain, dim-sum feasting, hour long conversations on the grass patch outside of an EDM rave (because that’s normal right?), being directed to the best Thai green curry I’ve ever had by a stranger on the side of the road, finally making it up Dragon’s Back after the third try, obsessions over ShareTea and days planned solely around food along with the myriad of other moments filled with laughter and joy are memories that, although already relics of the past, will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Hong Kong, you exceeded all my expectations.
Karen Chow went to Hong Kong with ANU Global Programs’ PRIMO first-year learning abroad program in 2017.