HK & Stanley Bay

Where does it all tend, the constant movement? Is there a pattern to this chaotic activity from which you could draw a character of the city?

Or is it better to ask how the city chooses to express itself? I don’t mean in the Symphony of Lights, the show of energy and strength, creativity and power, it might want to show the visitor, but what it can’t help but be: an impossible constellation of mundane facts that has not usefully been a universal orientation but which in as a whole may be singular.

The surprise of HK is that it works. And you can draw attention to the primitive – hand-implement, hand-basket – in the service of the postmodern – the multiplication of visual sites throughout the city, the chief example of which postmodernity would once more be the Symphony of Lights. Since consider the way the presentation presents itself. The various contributing buildings are introduced under proper nouns, like: the HQ of the People’s Liberation Army AND the American Citibank building.

Giants walk the carefully constructed vistas of the island. Acting out, maybe, but acting nonetheless. In the manifest drama each participating tower or building makes its signature gesture, as inimitable as, say, Joan Chen, stagey, yes, and also endearing.

The Bank of China Building has dancing white neon strips which form triangles and zig-zag across it. Another tower, whose name didn’t stick, comes alive in gradations of colour, waterfalls of puce, teal and jade. But in the light of day what the city cannot avoid showing is how these great players on the world stage, these brands, keep up their performance night after night, the dressers, the window-cleaners, maintenance men and women, the maintainers of the postmodern condition that there is a condition worth maintaining.

What then does the city maintain apart from its theatrical viability?

It’s not a question of upholding the cultural values inherited either from colonialism or acquired since 1997 from China. HK Chinese are at best ambivalent about the benefits that have accrued to them, Hong Kong Syy. They are even resentful of the influx of the better-subsidised and more-kindly-looked-upon because dearer-to-the-heart-of-the-revolution mainland Chinese.

If the city were a machine you might say it works beautifully but what does it serve? A cash-cow for China?

What seems to be in latency is an injured pride to the HK Syy Chinese: they got everything working, the transport systems, the trams – since 1904 – the MTR with its brilliant and intuitive ticketing machines – systems that extend throughout the territory, so-called, which work – like the crowd that can pass without collisions as if each individual element in it knows immediately where every other is – and I call it working all the more so when these systems of organisation do not set out to humiliate or otherwise belittle the people who use them. They got everything working so that it could be and would be maintained then there was the small matter of for what?

The arterial road that connects Hong Kong Island runs along the front of it, the sea-front, on stilts in the sea, an organ of communication pushed to the physical edge of the ground on which HK stands – while land is still being reclaimed, cobbles stacked ready to pave between buildings yet to be built. What other city would come to that kind of answer to the problem of where to put the road?

The Peak Tram had to reserve 2 seats of its original 30 until five minutes before departure in case the Governor should show up wanting a ride. Now, without a governor, is there a governing principle?

Today we went to Stanley Bay by bus, via Deep Water and Repulse Bays. The market famously attracts millions of leisure-shoppers. We didn’t buy in. So much of it a rip-off. But the buses kept arriving and with people from every nation, who, while they were there, might take in Tin Hau Temple, and, less likely, the Carmelite Monastery.

As usual we proceeded to lose our way, ending up on a small beach where suddenly there was nobody, some guys building a bamboo scaffold on a row of traditional beachfront houses to reconcrete the double-tiled, double-concreted HEAVY roof, and a few others in the shade of big trees, three girls in bikinis on the sawdust sand in the hot haze. But relative to the madness of the market, nobody.

Rubbish had collected at the hightide line including two puffer fish and the leg and head of a plastic Chinese superhero, red and gold. The head wore a red helmet and moustaches and a beard.

Beside the row of houses was an antique shop specialising in life-size copies of the buried army. I took a snap of one, not thinking how the head resembled the small plastic head on the beach, with its face hair. It was only later, when spotting an eagle out to sea, that it occured to me. Upon the appearance of the third head.

An old guy on the bench under the trees who’d been giving us the eye, as if wanting to make contact, or wanting not to, staring us out, to make us feel uncomfortable, annoying foreigners. On seeing our interest in the eagle he struck up a conversation. Then I made the link.

He too had moustaches and a beard. He looked like the living original of the ceramic warrior and the plastic superhero. He told us where to look for the eagle’s nest in the trees above us. Then, warming to his theme, he became the wise old HK Chinese guy. We were grasshopper.

‘All the years of my life I been coming here and every day different. Nature…’

His answer to the question of where the constant movement of this city tends was that HK ran on and for materialism. Then came his critique of religion. Every religion that does not first look to nature for its scripture was missing its ground.

‘Sad. So sad,’ he said. Man is living the wrong ‘true’ and reading the wrong ‘scrib.’ Now only in memory does food have a taste. Since genetic engineering. Now diseases from animals cause plagues among men. What’s next? Spider flu?

The eagle’s nest looked like a stork’s, and in scale was more a treehouse than a nest. A great raft of sticks had been brought together high in the tree.

We ate well with the locals at the second Stanley Restaurant, the one in the backstreets with no outlook, where our mixed-meat dumpling soup cost HK$18 and the proprietor kissed his child on both cheeks. The other Stanley Restaurant is a faux European affair charging as much for a small dish as we were charged together.

Having eaten we were satisfied twice, first by the food, second by the price.