It feels like a lifetime ago when I first went to Hong Kong. It was my first, real, honest introduction to Asia and I was twenty one. I distinctly remember standing in front of Sogo Department Store in Causeway Bay. I was waiting for the crossing to turn green, and it was the kind of crossing that was reminiscent of Shibuya in Tokyo. (I have actually been to the Shibuya crossing since, and it is nothing like it, but at the time I felt like it was!)
I remember feeling so small underneath the arching skyscrapers, so completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, and I remember thinking that ‘this is youth’. Youth for me being: a busy crossing in the middle of a foreign city, completely alone, completely overwhelmed by the sights and the smells, but also completely, and utterly, in love with it.
Travel has always been ‘in’ me, I think. But it came into clearer focus when I was standing at that crossing in Hong Kong. I was completely fearless and completely determined to live my life to the fullest whilst I was young and still had the chance.
I’ve been back since, of course, but that initial trip to Hong Kong is really what sparked my creativity for my manuscript. It was walking through Central district at midday and marvelling at the glass skyscrapers, and allowing ‘I’m going to live here’ to slip easily off my tongue.
And although when I did go back it was to experience the real, hard, stressful life of an EFL teacher, and as much as I wanted to leave countless times because of it, I still felt awed by the city. (Actually though, it was that initial stress surrounding my new job that sparked the whole concept around my manuscript, so I guess it had a silver lining after all!)
But it was also the bright, assaulting colours, the foods, the neon signs, and the steam emitting from inside small restaurants and out onto the packed, narrow pavements that fuelled my desire to write sci-fi and steampunk.
And if at any time the city became too much, too hectic, then I could take a trip to one of the islands (Cheung Chau being my favourite) or across to Lantau to visit the Big Buddah.
That dichotomy, between the city and the sea, is what really makes Hong Kong special. And even now, after visiting it countless times since, and after thirteen years since I first stood at that crossing in front of Sogo as a bright, young twenty-one year old, Hong Kong still holds magic in my heart.
I still go back to visit, and perhaps, who knows, one day I could return to live there. But until then, I had to encapsulate the city in my writing. Because the magic has never faded, as the smell of the ocean mixed with car exhaust fumes and roasted duck, still transports me back to my youth. I think that is why Hong Kong is special to me, and that is why I wanted to turn my manuscript into a love letter of sorts to it. Because it took me in when I was young and directionless, and it gave me something that I will never be able to return: which is a life, I guess.
홍콩 사랑해. ❤