Rumors are, there is always something present in the air of Hong Kong. Dust, mist, anxiety, pollution, hope, oxygen, airplanes, thunder, kites, hawks, drones, laser beams are drilling through the clouds and leave almost no room for clarity, horizon and breath. I once asked a smiling middle-aged man who happened to be standing next to me with a drone control in his hands, what made him so happy. “Air. I have just learnt how to fly”, he responded looking upwards with his faintly tearing brown eyes.
The air of Hong Kong is cut with glass and bricks, floors and levels, lines and circles, ovals and bamboo scaffolding. This air is encapsulated and reflected, mirrored, shadowed, conditioned, highlighted and turned upside down. It is observed by an enormous eye with million pupils through a giant pentaprism that makes it look even foggier and gloomier, if not opaque.
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
[Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland]
Even if [you think] you know where you are going, you never know what or whom you are coming across. Things, events and people flow by unseen, untouched, imperceptible. Millions of unique worlds coexist in their encapsulated cells, looking all the same and still all so different. I see a man with a camera, perhaps my double, shooting through the busy traffic of Connaught Road. I look the same way and see nothing but polluted highway and dull white building wall on the other bank. Unnoticed, I look at the back screen of his camera and see a close profile of a woman in a cab smiling to her own thoughts. He saw her, I didn’t. She saw neither of us.
The air of Hong Kong is thick and viscous. Sometimes I feel that I can touch it, nip off a piece of it and put that piece into my pocket. This air is not spacious, it keeps you locked inside your matchbox, and even mammoth buildings are glued into the landscape and framed graciously. You think you know where you are going but what is happening is that you are only jumping from one cell into another, as if a semiconductor hole trapped in a microscopic layer of silicon.
Black-white, ivory-ebony, hot-cold, ugly-charming, love-hate, purple-pink, double-triple, all-none, think-believe. Make your step forward, turn left, step back, move right, come back to your home cell and look forward to another loop. You hear your own voice saying: “Can’t wait to make another move!” Your cells are polished and nicely stored together within some bigger cells that can’t be seen. Sometimes you feel yourself a pawn on an infinite multi-dimensional checkerboard.
To be honest, I like this game of capsules and imprisoned thrones. I feel amused and delightful while breathing the thick honeyed air of Hong Kong. It does give me the oxygen I need but secretly it also fills my lungs with passion.