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Summers in Hong Kong

July 31, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

I have lived in Hong Kong all my life, but up till the year I was 14 I had not spent a single summer here. I always dreaded summer, because summers were synonymous with Singapore, and being in Singapore meant being away from my grandmother, who raised me and whom I was very attached to. It was not uncommon for me to spend 1-2 months in Singapore every summer, and the first couple of days would routinely be marred with tears. I have a very distinct memory of bawling my eyes out, crying for my grandma as my dad and brother watched The Perfect Storm on TV impassively and my mother looked at me helplessly. As the years passed I matured enough to realise I was being horrible to my mom and the waterworks reduced to a single drop, then none. Eventually, I even began to enjoy the hot, sticky tropical summers there, where the air was permanently tinged with the whiff of durians. Looking back now I have a trove of glorious memories: climbing over the fence with my brother and his friends to sneak into the golf court and throw the balls in different random directions, just because it was fun to feel like rebels; sitting at the back of my mom’s bike as she cycled along East Coast Park, the orange light pouring over the sea and the fishermen counting their catch for the day; chilli crabs and all-you-can-eat steamboat buffets; doing a Sweet Valley Junior High book marathon at the Marine Parade Public Library as my brother counted the coins mom left us and tried to work out how many Starbucks and Kettle Chips they were worth; playing catch in the corridors of HDB flats with my brother’s classmates and feeling a swell of pride when I was the fastest; claiming that I thought Ultraman games on Playstation were fascinating so that I can have an excuse to spend the afternoon with my brother and our neighbour (whom my 10-year old self had a crush on), under the pretense of watching them play. A few weeks ago I flew back for just a couple of days to see my brother and mom, and I marvelled at the sight of my boy looking all grown up in his National Service uniform.

I scored my first summer in Hong Kong with a little bit of trickery. I told my mom I had to stay in Hong Kong to take a crash course piano theory course that would last 2 months, and that everyone who was serious about taking piano further was doing it and she couldn’t possibly deny me that (On a side note, in the end I never ‘got serious’ about piano; I dropped it a year after that class, when I got to Sixth grade. Years of playing nothing but Sonatinas can drive a person crazy.) Truth was, I could have easily done that course anytime during the school year; I had signed up so that I could have a reason to stay. For the first time in my life, I had a stable group of friends, and I was reluctant to miss out on all the summer fun. That summer, I took baking classes (the real work was done by the adults; all I really did was take pretty pictures and ate). I hung out with my best friend every day, watching crap local movies and stuffing ourselves with HuiLauSan mango desserts, so that we could make up for all those summers we won’t spend together once he left for the UK that coming September. I didn’t do much, but for the first time the summer was mine, and I could do whatever with it I want.

Most of my summers in Hong Kong were quiet. There was that year when I fell into a beautiful pattern of spending every day exercising, reading Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series by the pool, making Spaghetti, and watching The Good Wife. There was that year when we graduated from secondary school and in preparation for the first ever so-called fancy dinner all my girlfriends and I spent weeks hunting for a dress and figuring out what on earth it is that people do with makeup (turns out blue was not an acceptable colour for mascara). There was that year when I danced everyday for 5 hours and gave myself a permanent injury. There was that year when I did nothing but watch YouTube – Natalie Tran, KevJumba, Shane Dawson, Ryan Higa, WongFu, Ray William Johnson. There was that year when I wrote at least a thousand words on my blog every day as a writing exercise. There was that year when I spent an unhealthy amount of time on Tumblr, where I felt connected to the world for the first time. There was that summer just before uni, when I went to every orientation camp I could sign up for, thinking if I screamed loud enough during the cheers maybe I would fit in, only to meet hundreds of people I didn’t even say hi to when I bump into them around campus the next three years.

Summers in Hong Kong have a grand total of two temperaments: soaking wet and searingly hot. On any given day, venturing outdoors is likely to leave you drenched – either from the rain or from your own sweat. And then there’s also the typhoon season. But even if the heat does get unbearable at times, Hong Kong is beautiful to behold when the sky isn’t overcast. Every summer a bunch of my friends and I would head to one of the islands and rent a place to stay for a couple of days. The first year we stayed at Tong Fuk, which boasts a three-storey apartment that was only a 10-minute walk from the beach, but bears no trace of civilisation in the 5-mile radius around it, except for a run-down store that sells very expensive soft drinks and canned soup. It rained a lot, so most of the time we stayed in, playing truth or dare and giggling like the adolescents we were. We acted nonchalant, poker face perfectly mastered, while we anxiously glanced over at our crushes to see how they were reacting to the questioning and hope we weren’t being too obvious. The second year we decided that the isolation the previous year was too much and chose Cheung Chau, but because we had booked late we ended up in the area infamous for being rampant with paranormal sightings. My best friend went on incessantly about the ghost stories she knew and late at night, when I was alone in the bathroom, I wondered if there would be a different face in the mirror the next time I looked up. The third we were at Mui Wo, which housed both spacey accommodations and picturesque scenery; we’d wake up to birds singing, cicadas chirping, and dogs going for a morning swim in lakes. That same year, I had broken up with my boyfriend – the same boy I had once been stuffing mango desserts with that one summer – and our consciousness had somehow managed to wordlessly came to a strategic agreement so that as was leaving the island, I was hopping onto a boat that would take me there. None of us had the time to stay for the full leg of the trip, and turns out, he had to leave early while I had to go in late. Last year we settled on Tap Mun, and that weekend had been a wonderful piece of tranquility that offset the mundanity of working a 9-hour office job, which I only took on so that I could pay my dad back for my Macbook Air. As we gathered round the table, clumsily picking up pieces of raw beef with our chopsticks and sticking them into the hotpot broth, we tried very hard to avoid the topic of how much we changed, how different things are now, but always end up wandering back to it.

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The desolate gloominess of Tong Fuk (left) and the unabashed beauty of Tap Mun (right)

Last summer was also one of the best I’ve ever had in Hong Kong, mainly because on weekends my summer flatmate Tom, who would coax me out of my shell and go on little adventures with him; Tom was from Canada (“Back there,” he’d tell me “we have had bears intrude our house.”) and one of the most fiercely outdoor-sy person I’ve ever known. That summer was marked with many trips to the beach, hiking barefoot for hours till the stars are out, and my first-ever cliff jumping experience at Tai Long Sai Wan, Sai Kung. Other days, when the storm hits, we’d stay in to cook, play the guitar, and have Archer marathons with our other flatmate, Nicole.

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Me and my flatmate Tom, a typical day at the beach

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Tai Long Sai Wan, unedited

This summer has again been a quiet one. I’m working at a local indie music showcase and a radio, where I spent most of my days writing articles on music, being on Facebook with my boss’ blessing (I do digital marketing), and wondering what I should have for lunch. Unfamiliar faces flit in and out of the residential colleges in the summer, and the corridors feel cold and clammy, so most days I’m at my friends’ places or writing in my room. I’ve started on House of Cards and I’m in the midst of rereading all the Harry Potter books, skipping over all the tough chapters because they still make me cry. On Sundays, I head to Broadway Cinematheque and catch a morning movie by myself, and sometimes I strike up conversations with people over lunches at Kubrick Cafe; in the week when we were plagued with airline accidents all over the globe, I met a pilot who told me about going to aviation school in New Zealand. Last weekend, I finally visited PMQ’s night market after having wanted to go for months, and was disappointed at how middle-class the whole affair was, and how inauthentic it felt compared to JCCAC. The next day, I woke up at 8am to queue up to get into anime fest – Hong Kong’s own watered down version of SDCC – with a bunch of prepubescent boys, their face glistening with a mixture of oil and sweat as they clutched the magazines tightly to their chest, all of the covers sporting manga girls with abnormally large breasts. I casted grumpy glances at my friend – after all, I was only here because he dragged me. I looked over at the area where cosplay girls wet themselves with excitement when a camera flashes their away as he glanced over the crowd to find the Gunpla competition section, where his Gundam was on display. On Monday, I saw Slowdive from the front row, and they were absolutely phenomenal.

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Sunday Mornings at Kubrick

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Slowdive, front row

The end of this summer for me would also mean the beginning of a new page for me; I’d be spending the last week of August in Paris and London, then heading up to Glasgow for my exchange semester. If everything goes according to plan, next year around this time I should be cruising up somewhere in California.

Until then, Hong Kong.




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