Sunday, July 24, 2011

I can't hear you, you can't hear me, we're in different worlds.

Today has been an extremely hot day. The weather network had said that yesterday was supposed to be the hottest day of the week, but I think yesterday was relatively cool compared to today's weather. Of course, I can only talk about this like it's a mere observation when I'm back at home and enjoying the wonders of air conditioning, whereas my mind was muddled like the air in Hong Kong when I was outside just an hour ago. I got up this morning intending to go to church, but on my way there, incidentally I stepped off of the subway on a whim and eventually ended up at a Starbucks reading Murakami Haruki's After Dark. I stayed there reading for about two hours before I decided to do some shopping and head home.

As I was heading home a few hours later in the afternoon, it occurred to me that I walk extremely fast for someone who doesn't actually have any plans for the day. I think this is a habit of mine: I get up and I pick out a nice outfit for the day despite there not being any special occasion. I then wear the pair of shoes that most matches the outfit I picked, whether it is a comfortable pair of flats or a pair of four inch heels. Then I put a book in my bag "just in case I feel like taking a break", and head out the door like I have business to attend to. I walk very straight and very fast, looking ahead and rarely at other people that I pass by. If I was someone else passing by myself, I would probably think that this fast-paced person (me) had an appointment waiting, when in reality, I might be just heading out to a cafe by myself to read a book or write a letter. Nothing that is especially pressing for time. I just enjoy this sense of "point A to point B" that I make for myself; the exact process of getting to point B is not the subject, I just need to get there and enjoy myself along the way as I walk to the allegrissimo tempo of a good song.

I guess this can apply to almost all aspects for me, that I'm more interested in showing people the result rather than the process. That is not to say that I think the process is insignificant; rather, I think that the process is so complicated and personal that I'm reluctant for other people to see how exactly I manage to get myself from one place to another, literally and figuratively speaking. I want other people to admire the result after I am done crafting it into something I'm satisfied with, but anything that has yet to reach my personal standards must not be seen by anyone else (this is also true for my writing). I prefer not to interact with anyone during this process… maybe because it's embarrassing for me to show any signs of struggle. And 'process' is basically synonymous to 'struggle'.

But I was also thinking yesterday that I should smile more at other people on the streets, give them some form of acknowledgment as co-existences on this planet. I do try to at least look a little friendly despite my feigned busyness. Especially in cities and crowded places, I find that the urban solitude is so apparent in the subway and on the streets that it's almost oppressive to the individual, like you can't be anything but busy and within your own space. It's very discouraging and unnecessary. But a smile costs nothing to give, not even time. You can pass by someone and give them a smile on your way, it doesn't interrupt anything for you or for them. So I thought to myself yesterday, well, if I can't even afford to smile at someone then I'd really be conceitedly worthless as a human being!

In any case, breaking down the invisible wall of urban solitude is going to be a hard task, but I'll make it a personal goal to do my part in taking down my own wall.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Of coming back to an exotic home.

It has been a while! Since my updates have been sparse, I had assumed that the number of visitors to my blog has also dropped significantly. But it seems there have still been quite a few poor souls who had the misfortune of coming across this mass of dark matter that I had left adrift in cyberspace. I apologize for it raining on anybody's sunny day. I intend to blog more often from here on, and hopefully on happier matters as to not upset any more innocent readers.

Just kidding, like I would do that for anyone. I really will try to blog more often though.

In any case, having officially graduated from university since June, I moved out of Montreal in May and paid a short visit back to Vancouver before leaving for where I am currently residing: Hong Kong. I suppose I've never given a proper overview of my personal history, but generally, I was born in Hong Kong but moved to Vancouver at the age of 4, having lived there ever since. I came to Hong Kong every few years for "vacation" (also known as "visiting the relatives and showing that you remember their existence as by Chinese tradition"), but I don't think I've ever stayed here for over 3 weeks at a time. I am now close to having lived here in Hong Kong for two months. It's definitely a record!

Having said that though, I also have to say that I've been terribly homesick for Canada. Hong Kong is a very vibrant and urban place to be; but of course, those are just euphemisms for "noisy", "overcrowded", "artificial". Certainly the number of shopping centers and food options is incredible, perfect for the typical, materialistic tourist looking to replenish their closet. But having lived here for more than a few weeks, I think what I've been craving for a lot lately is just open space, some fresh air, and a more natural landscape. I want a place where I don't have to push through crowds, hear bits of conversation from people I don't know, or feel like I need to pay so I can buy some time to sit at a place that's not my own home (through a cup of coffee)--and even then, they want to get you out of your spot ASAP since you're a hindrance to them profiting from more business. Of course, the heat and humidity during the ridiculously hot summer here doesn't do much to improve my mood.

The urban solitude here drives me insane. The infinite masses of people, the tall buildings, the concrete, the gray, the dullness--it's so stifling, I feel so suffocated on some days. What I would give to lie in a huge, grassy field on a refreshing day with a book in my hand.

And of course, there are cultural differences as well that make me feel incredibly out of place. I've been meeting up with friends that are visiting Hong Kong for vacation or for the summer, but to talk to someone who grew up in Hong Kong and actually lives here, it's a real challenge for me. I don't think I can have an honest conversation with them all that often on topics that I actually care about. Topics not about television shows, brand names, new shops that have opened, movies out this summer… that is not to say that those aren't fun to talk about once in a while, but conversations that consist only of this kind of superficiality really depress me. Of course, even if there are people who like to talk about music and literature, it would be in Chinese and wouldn't extend as far as English literature.

But these are cultural differences; interests vary depending on what kind of environment one grows up in or what kind of people one interacts with. I don't think I'd mind superficiality if I could actually enjoy it without feeling depressed. I think it would be kind of nice to be entertained by simple things and feed off of society like I'm supposed to. This might not entirely be an issue of experiencing culture shock even, just that all these social mechanics that I don't agree with in general manifest themselves more in Hong Kong, where I see things with more critical eyes since I'm in an unfamiliar setting yet people interact with me like I'm one of them. Again, it's that feeling where I know I'm supposed to belong since I'm from Hong Kong; I've been here many times and I speak the language, yet I'm just not quite there. Quite far, actually. That kind of awkward distance is uncomfortable.

But despite having voiced all this negativity, I think I really want to understand Hong Kong--not as a tourist but as a member of it, as temporary as that may turn out to be. There are so many people here, so dense in such a small space, that I wonder how people can actually have a desire to stay here for the rest of their lives. I'm not only talking about people who grew up here; I have seen foreigners here that have willingly decided to move and live in Hong Kong. From seeing that, I want to believe that Hong Kong is not an empty shell of concrete but that there is something profound in this kind of busy lifestyle, something behind the mechanicalness that I have yet to learn to appreciate.

I guess I am just especially bad at adapting. Change has always been one of my biggest fears, but usually my curiosity and constant restlessness overpowers my fear for change. Maybe I'm fortunate in that sense, but it creates another mass of confusion in my thoughts. I say I want to try but I complain all the while trying--I suppose that's yet another aspect that I need to improve on. But since I'm here already, I want to make experiences that will eventually turn into memories I can look back on and say, "Ah, I was so stupid but I'm glad I was given that kind of opportunity to get over myself." After all, not being able to understand and accept differences is a kind of conceit, and I seriously need to rid myself of it.

What was it that I said a few entries ago, that I wanted to truly love the world? I really do.