Day 276: Hong Kong is…

A longtime dream come true. My college best friend Keane (who I wrote about previously here) encouraged me to go for years, but the stars never aligned until now. While I’m here for a wedding, I also have a bit of time to myself to explore this amazing portal into the South China Sea.

What is Hong Kong to me?

… a point of origin for my family…

Most of my family left Vietnam and found sanctuary in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. Some of my relatives learned Cantonese while they lived there, and at least one of my cousins was actually born in Hong Kong (does that technically make her a British citizen?)

I don’t ask my family much about what life was like in the Hong Kong camps, and they don’t volunteer that information. I’ve learned through secondhand accounts that, compared to other camps in the U.S., Philippines, Malaysia, and elsewhere, Hong Kong was a particularly challenging one, with harsh treatment coming from both the refugees and the government.

I don’t know if I’ll go to the sites where my family struggled alongside thousands of refugees. I don’t even know if these sites exist today. All I know is that there’s a strange pain I feel as I walk the streets of Hong Kong, as if it’s part of my own existence yet I’d prefer to distance myself.

…a cinematic wonderland…

Hong Kong cinema has long been a fixation of mine. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, John Woo, Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Andy Lau — these dudes defined the “strong Asian male” type that was otherwise lacking in the American cultural zeitgeist.

Naturally, one can’t get into Hong Kong cinema without becoming a Wong Kar-wai fan. His films have come to define much of how I feel about the world. I audited a class at Portland State University that focused entirely on his films. Three big takeaways:

  • Wong Kar-wai constantly deploys asymptotic relationships, ones that get oh-so-close but are never requited. The intensity created in these relationships is both romantic and heartbreaking at the same time. Days of Being Wild (perhaps my favorite film) and In the Mood for Love (his greatest technical achievement) are my favorite examples.
  • Manuel Puig was a huge influence. Heartbreak Tango is a particularly strong one in Days of Being Wild, both featuring a lead character with serious commitment issues. Puig was also Argentinian, which could explain the randomness of Buenos Aires as the setting for Happy Together.
  • The spirit of Hong Kong is pervasive in Wong Kar-wai’s films. Wong presents a city full of melancholy and nostalgia, with the Handover of 1997 in the backdrop. His trademark frame-rate reduction technique reflects the perceived ephemeral statelessness of a city originally designed for the quintessentially transient. Films such as Chungking Express and 2046 capture these anxieties well.

… an academic curiosity…

I’ve perhaps written four or five class papers about Hong Kong, back when I even organized a debate in high school in 1997. (Nobody else prepared for the debate — such is life in the suburbs.) There are three topics that still fascinate me today (and you should be too):

The state of Hong Kong democracy after 1997. 20 years into the 50-year Special Administrative Region (SAR) agreement with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), protests have been on the rise out of fear that the status quo will be encroached long before 2047. This will most certainly have an impact on…

Hong Kong’s economic prowess. As one of the post-Japan “Four Tigers” (South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore make up the rest of the group), I’m fascinated by how this port city became such a global financial powerhouse. Moreover, how did it maintain that status, with so much competition near and far? I’m certainly no expert in international finance … thus I’m curious.

Space, anomie, and ennui. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and I can see that it’s also one of the most well-wired. Yet all of the media and common knowledge I consume suggests that socialization, intimacy, and human connection are more elusive than they should be. I’d love to inquire while I’m here about this phenomenon.

… a possible home?

This is a bold suggestion, but the short version is that I don’t know where I belong. I’ve probably said Portland is likely where I’ll end up, but there’s just so much to see and do, and I’m finally at the point where I’m liberating myself to do it. Hong Kong … intrigues me.

Certainly worth a thought exercise.

— Lee

Write with intention. Think with compassion.