As soon as I step outside of the Hong Kong airport, I was engulfed by the aroma of Hong Kong. Hong Kong; literally translates to Fragrant Harbor, has a scent that beckons even the most introverted soul. The metropolitan madness of Central emits intoxicating fumes of diesel, cigarette smoke, cologne and the ocean. As disgusting as it may sound, it's actually not. The combination of these smells manifests itself into a strong presence of possibilities. Endless dreams of making big bucks, or of owning an apartment overlooking Tsim Sha Tsui lingers in the smells of freshly pressed suits of the office workers, the second hand smoke of over stressed hedge fund managers, the cologne of foreign CEO's. The smell of salt is carried by a breeze like a promise of properity as infinite as the ocean. Standing amidst these people made me wonder: "Is this anything like the Hong Kong Dad arrived to some 25 years ago?" Standing on the central pier, I conjured up an image of a time, way back when my dad was walking among these urban creatures with a cigarette in hand, all decked out in custom suits made from the finest Italian wool. I wondered if he too was enticed by the scents of big dreams and possibilities.
The air in residential areas however, is drastically different. Colonies of densely populated buildings almost always contain traces of incense, Cantonese stir fry and laundry. In other words, it smells like mama's cooking, laundry hanging on the balcony to dry and puzzling traces of incense smoke. There is a kinship derived from the combination of these scents. It's the scent of families, neighbors, communities. Mrs. Chen asks her neighbor Mrs. Lam for the recipe of her famous chicken soup. Miss Cheung catches the eye of Mr. Kong while hanging up the laundry and smiles shyly in greeting. The Choi family is burning incense for an anniversary of an ancestor's passing. The aroma of thousands of residents within the community conjures up a rather festive ambiance each and every evening. To many Hong Kong natives, this is what home smells like. These aromas are like an anti anxiety fix to the working men and women coming home at the end of the day, and it is a daily reminder of the importance of kinship and traditional values for the children.
My latest trip to Hong Kong however, proved to be a disappointing one. I don't know if it's China's changing policy on Hong Kong or the explosion of Chinese tourists treating Hong Kong like a wholesale market by showing up with huge empty suit cases and raiding all the malls and luxury brand stores, or maybe it's both that just completely altered the atmosphere. The nostalgia I had hoped to catch glimpses of has nearly disappeared. I desperately searched for glimpses of the Hong Kong of my childhood and hoped to capture any remaining traces of this city's colonial heritage.
|View from Victoria Peak|
|Law Uk Folk Museum|
|HK Science Museum|
|Tsim Sha Tsui Pier|
|Ferry docking on Tsim Sha Tsui Pier|
|View from Central Pier|
|Taken on the Ferry towards Central Pier|
|Electric Tram in Sheung Wan|
|Fire boat on Quarry Bay|