Hot and Kold, Hong Kong

Oh, Hong Kong! How the currents of history and culture have conspired to make you the entoxicating urban assemblage that you are. Poised at the foot of Victoria Peak and gracing both shores of a similarly-named harbor, Hong Kong has lost none of her shine after having changed hands from the British colonial power that created her to the Chinese superpower that is her cultural foundation. Expats from all over the English-speaking world keep the financial sector abuzz, hold-up in luxury skybox apartments and tooling around packed and narrow streets in Maybachs and Bentleys (only the service people—accountants, attorneys and such—whip around in Beemers and S-Classes). The masses, and I do mean masses, aspire to these trappings, though, for the time being, whisking around the city in speedy, efficient public tranport doesn’t make being part of the proletariat seem so bad. Hong Kong is a city of conspicuous consumption and unbridled capitalism, upward mobility writ large. But unlike, say, Dubai or Las Vegas, she’s been handling her business for centuries.

And that’s what makes her somewhat imposing. Arriving by ferry into Victoria Harbour, guarded on both sides by walls of skyscrapers, themselves backed-up by mountain peaks, I felt as if I’d just entered a fortified medieval city with high walls and turrets full of sentries. Once inside, the cluttered and exhilirating commercial alleys of Kowloon City or Sheung Wan contrasted with the sleek and chic straightaways of TST and Causeway Bay, and regardless of the cost of rent, a pair of shoes, or a bowl of soup in any given area, the place was crowded, teeming, jammed, packed, populated. Literally, erybody and they mama lives in Hong Kong.

Despite a population density of 15 thousand people per square mile, I didn’t find HKers to be particularly outgoing. Unlike other places I’d been, in spite of looking conspicuously foreign, I barely got a second glance from anyone. This in itself didn’t bother me. I was annoyed, however, by the few blacks I did come across, and I mean few and far between, who actually looked away as we approached one another on the street. I was aghast; never in my travels had I not crossed paths with a fellow black Westerner (usually distinguishable from black Africans by carriage, demeanor, and hairstyle) and not shared the bruh-man headnod of solidarity and kinship in a foreign land. Well, it was straight “incognegro” in Hong Kong*. Maybe the brothers and sisters thought I was Indian, as there were many in HK, but it was the whites who I was continually greeted by at intersections and on the street. I was hurt to my heart. I was angry.

Fortunately, I had been blessed with a few soulmates in the city who could feel my pain: the lovely and talented Nikita the Traveller kept me company when not parsing French grammar for the kiddies at school; and Victor, novice diplomat and expert translator (homeboy be tawkin’ dat Chinese!) who graciously provided a roof, vittles, and wireless Internet for a week in Wan Chai, as well as a crew of fellow FSOs who knew where to go in Hong Kong for the hot beats and hot grits (yes, grits). We were of split opinion regarding the eye-avoidance issue: Victor saying folk greeted him all the time (I say that’s because of his dreads), while Nikita parked in my lot, highlighting numerous instances of shade. That aside, Victor and his friends provided me with much insight into life as a diplomat (though, to be fair, HK ain’t exactly Kabul or Ciudad Juarez, so I think they might be just a tad biased, understandably), and almost sold me on the idea, until we compared the three-month annual vacation time afforded teachers versus the fourteen days they get in the Foreign Service. You do the math.

When I wasn’t hanging with the homies, I hoofed it around the city, wiping the sweat off my brow while snapping photos of open-air meat and flea markets in Wan Chai, wading through the throngs in Times Square, expanding my mind at the Hong Kong Museum of History, politely declining an offer of tailor-made suits by Pakistani salesmen on Nathan Road, flying over to the Big Buddha on the longest cable-car ride in life, zooming up to breathtaking Victoria Peak on the near-vertical tram, coursing back and forth across the harbor on the Star Ferry, uncovering the lone capoeira class in town, and scouting out the nearest Burger King to ease a craving I’d had for the last month.

Hong Kong is hot. I just wonder why the people are so cold.

*Side note: Subsequently, in both Macau and Seoul, brothers greeted me appropriately; one was from Mozambique and the other Canadian. This vindicates Asia as a whole and isolates HK as a mecca for coloreds with no damn home trainin’.

Then ride with me to the roof of Hong Kong in the glass elevator of the Hopewell Centre:

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7 thoughts on “Hot and Kold, Hong Kong

  1. Interesting. One theory for this avoidance could be that they want to seem cosmopolitan, urban and non-clannish/non-stereotypical in that they don't get over-excited on seeing one of their own. Several Indians do the same avoidance of eye contact to seem cooler than other "cruder, uncool" Indians who bond over their Indianness. Knowing this does not make it any more bearable – bloody annoying, I think!

  2. a lot of the children of southern african kleptocrats [not only mugabe's daughter, but several other lesser kleptrocrats too] go to school/live in hong kong. they often take their security details with them. it's more than likely that you saw some of them on their day[s] off; they're not really allowed to socialise. and the kids don't want the chance to be recognised, so… incognegro is the intent.that said, i've been in places where i've totally been in an "i am not feeling the solidarity today" mood. it was one of the reasons why i left birmingham [the original one] — when you're the only black person in your office building who isn't cleaning it, you get a bit … cranky after a while. you could have caught everyone on a bad day — or just seen obiang's nephew, biya's grandson, or bongo's cousin and not even known who they were. [the glass is half full. always. really.]

  3. (this sounds really cliché, but most anglophone upper class africans i've grown up with are either more english than the queen or more valley than an 80s sitcom; occasionally there is a happy medium, but they are really rare. sadly, i'm speaking from personal experience, having dated a few members of this group in high school, and to be honest, such folks are to this day a major contingent of my friends and important acquaintances. the angolans, in particular, make you want to just stop and stare. "i've never lived in/been to england or america," you will hear them say. but yet, their accent will totally say bethesda-chevy chase high school. the angolan teevee presenters on south african satellite television just have you thinking that daddy bought them a television show. to get them a job.)

  4. I haven't been here in a while! Good to see you're still blogging. I'm moving to China in Jan! I see you're off to Brazil.Niiice.

  5. Sherene: Oh, how thoroughly we have been colonized. It is very bloody annoying.Kwere: I hear you bruh, but unless the universe conspired to have me encounter all of the sons and daughters of African notables at the exact moment that they were going sans security detail and all having bad days, I doubt seriously the validity of that particular excuse *cough* reason. Don't forget my four years as the only non-broom-pushing negro at my jobs in Colombia, preceeded by lonesome stints on Capitol Hill (the Senate side, playboy). I was the exact opposite: a random and unexpected nod of solidarity would actually lighten the weary load for me. And I wish you would walk past me and not speak in a hallway, fool. You would have gotten a loud and embarrassing, "WUSSUP, BRUH!" and then had to deal with unending internal regret…"Damn, I shoulda spoke." But see, that's what happens when folk ain't got no home trainin'. I'm telling you, it's the downfall of society.I agree with you about the whole glass thing. Doesn't mean we still can't call out misbehavior, bro-ham.Harvey: Thanks for stopping back by, dude. Where in China you headed?

  6. Hey, I love your blog. Now, I am in the process of planning a trip to China later on this year. Can you offer ant suggestion and/or tips on how to find affordable airfare when traveling abroad?

  7. Went to HK back in 2004, loved it! Lot of diversity there and beautiful brown blends of pretty HK ladies (I was sold the day I touched down). You mentioned greeting, or lack thereof, other black people when abroad. I always make it a point to acknowledge my people when I see them. I usually get one of two responses; either they just kinda look at me weird like “who is this negro and why is he acting like he know me?” or I get a very appreciative smile and a warm, albeit brief, reply. I think some black people feel like they shouldn’t have to speak to every black person they see, however, I feel its a small gesture of respect and when I honor them, in a way I’m honoring myself. Considering the dysfunction and even self-destructive relationships that characterized my particular community growing-up, I think this simple gesture of greeting other black people has much larger implication.

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