By Jan Lumley
Buzz is really the one word that sums up how I feel about Hong Kong. The crowds, the frenetic pace, the relentless jackhammers, the 12 lane highway (probably the most polluted place in Hong Kong -- the entrance to the Cross Harbor Tunnel at TST East) that I crossed every morning to get to work.
I miss the surge of exhilaration I felt every time I looked-when visible through the fog and smog-across the harbor to the mountains of Hong Kong Island or when emerging (lurching usually) in a cross-harbor bus under the sea and up into daylight to catch blue flashes of sea at Causeway Bay, past the Noonday Gun and the junks in the typhoon shelter.
I always felt the same immediate reaction of "Yes, I live here!" I'd tell people I felt like this and they'd think I was weird. I never did lose that honeymoon phase with a new place, which you get before normality and a kind of dullness sets in.
I miss the thrill I got from living life in an airline magazine. The smell of Ginger Lily wafting out of Shanghai Tang in Pedder Street or nicking off from work to the Island Shangrila for Devonshire tea in the lobby or to the China Tea Room to do my paperwork.
I miss talking travel with people who were constantly moving in and out of Hong Kong, of hearing about fantastic little beaches or restaurants in Laos or India or Cambodia, just an hour's flight away, of going to Bangkok for the weekend on a trip with the girls from work - why not? I know the five-star hotel life with lots of money and endless opportunities to spend is shallow and ultimately unsatisfying, but it was fun and I knew it wouldn't last.
I really liked that sense of not being like everyone from home. Whenever I got off the plane I always thought that something dreadful had happened because there were no people anywhere and then I felt a sense of jubilation and relief when I boarded the plane to go back to my home in Hong Kong. People at home never seemed to be doing anything different, whereas I, walking up the ramp to the train station each morning, would pass a Buddhist priest with his begging bowl and tinkling bell. I never knew what surprising thing might come into view.
Like the typhoons when all work stopped and people rushed back home to bring in the pot plants on the balconies and set up the Mahjong tables. The surprisingly eerie silence when we were in the eye of the storm of a Signal 8 typhoon. High-rise buildings actually moving in the wind and satellite dishes flying through the sky.
I welcomed the challenge of living in a perplexingly different culture-although with an outwardly familiar British facade of orderly roads named Chatham and Nathan and red post boxes (which transformed overnight in 1997 to green and purple).
Okay, the pollution was horrific and I did feel an uneasy sense that my kids were not really breathing as they should and perhaps they should have an Australian childhood of wide open horizons and room to kick the footy. But we did have the most spectacular view from our living room balcony high up one mountainside and over the Shatin Valley to the mountains opposite and looking down to a Legoland of trains, buses, cars and a hundred or so miniscule 40 story buildings, which at night shone thousands of lights. And the kids learned to play rugby before Aussie rules and spoke like proper little Poms with a touch of Vancouver from their Chinese mates whose families had returned post 1997. I miss the fact that my kids ate chicken feet and seaweed for lunch at school without batting an eyelid. Unfortunately now they look with horror at such delicacies.
And of course I miss the sheer relief of having a maid (sorry, "domestic helper") who enabled me to have it all without tears. I could go off to work just like a man without a domestic care in the world and know that I could return at night to a tidy home to sit down and eat with the kids (and with my G&T or two or three) and just... relax. Those days are gone.
So I still miss it five years on and I look with envy on my friends still out there. But having said all this, I wouldn't want to return to Hong Kong because that was my history and it's past.
The author is from Britain and worked in Hong Kong before and post 1997, later settling in Australia.
(Beijing Review June 20, 2007)