Never far from the madding crowd

Just as people who have not seen each other for a long time are able to detect physical changes of each other at the moment of reunion, when I came back to Hong Kong after being away for a year, I was able to make observations about the people that I had taken for granted my whole life.

What struck me most was Hong Kong people is that there are such a lot of them. This may sound like truism, but coming back from Prince Edward Island, the population density of which is only about 1/250 of Hong Kong (and the island is already Canada’s most densely populated province!), I couldn’t help notice that I was always among a crowd of people.

Having so many people around is likely to make one feel they are too close for comfort. This may be the case even in the countryside where one is supposed to be able to get away from it all. In two or three hikes I did during the trip, I had to adjust my pace because there had been other hikers close by walking in the same pace as me and the hiking partner(s) I was talking to. I just didn’t like sharing our conversations with strangers or disturbing others with our speech. 

With so many people around, one cannot be bothered with etiquette. In a sparsely populated country like Canada, people do not cross path frequently. And when they do, they are quick to give way or apologise if they do get in the way of each other. Not in Hong Kong. The large number of commuters, most of whom are in a hurry, always strive to get a step ahead of others. It always happens that one commuter cuts across another, just six inches in front, and neither has an issue with it. Just don’t bump into each other or step on each others’ toes.

Not only are most people in a hurry but also they look cheerless or wear a long face. Knowing this birthplace of mine well, I am guessing that for some it may be a sense of self-importance while for others it may be the burden of life or whatever business they have to handle shortly. It is obvious from these people’s faces that this is a city which, for all its affluence, does not have much capacity for happiness. This observation is in line with the findings of the latest Smiling Report released by Better Business World Wide. Based on the investigation of Mystery Shopping Providers in 69 countries, Hong Kong is fifth from the bottom in terms of smiles offered by service providers in different industries.

They say that money cannot buy you happiness. Hong Kong is a case in point.


How long to stay, and what to do

“One month is good. Two weeks are too short.”

This was the comment of the Korean driver who took us to the airport, upon learning that we were going home for a visit.

“After three weeks, you begin to think that you’ve had enough and it is about time to go,” he added.

It remains to be seen whether we will feel that way, but he has lived in Canada for fifteen years and returned to Korea a few times so he definitely knew what he was talking about.

*     *     *     *

“People, food, sauna.” The Korean driver named these as the three things he looks for when visiting his home country.

Hong Kong is, of course, not a place known for sauna. But I share his other reasons for going home. I miss the people I left behind.

I miss the different cuisines I was able to enjoy in Hong Kong, especially dim sum. In fact, my calendar has been filled with lunch and dinner appointments with friends and relatives, which naturally is my quest for having the two purposes fulfilled.

If I were to give a third reason for going back, it would be ‘activities’. Three weeks is not a long time, but I do hope to be able to do some hiking, play a game or two of tennis, or maybe go hiking with friends.

And nostalgia would be yet another reason. I certainly would like to revoke memories of this land which is my birthplace, which I left and which is likely to change beyond my recognition in the years to come.


Grand opening

A couple who are our friends will open a snack shop this Wednesday. To congratulate them, we will give them a pot of orchids. The pot plant provided inspiration for the design of a card to go with it.

As it turns out, I am fairly satisfied with the result.


Creativity kills the kid

The illustration on this page of a children’s book called “The Everything Seed”, which is a white dot on a completely black background, always reminds me of how my creativity, or my attempt at it, was dealt a blow in an art lesson in my primary school years. 

The learning objective of that lesson was etching. What we were told to do was to first use coloured pencils to fill the sheet of paper with rainbow colours, then use a crayon to smother the rainbow colours with a layer of black, and finally use a sharp bamboo stick to etch a picture on the black, the lines of which would reveal the rainbow colours underneath. I wanted to do something different from what my classmates were doing, which was to draw beautiful pictures of people or country scenes, so I just etched a single tiny dot.

The teacher walked around and commented on the students’ work. When he reached my desk, I was ready to explain my design concepts to him. But I was never given the chance. Concluding that I was fooling around, the furious teacher sharply scolded me before the whole class and ordered me to do what my classmates did.

So, ironically, it was in an art lesson that I learnt very early on that there are settings in life where creativity does not have a place.


Goo go!

A friend gave me a pumpkin a few weeks ago. I made a spooky face with paper and put the pumpkin out for decoration. Alas, the face was quickly deformed by rain.

Undeterred, I carved a jack-o-lantern and congratulated myself on the weatherproof masterpiece. Hardly did I expect that it would soon become a playground for small flies. Worse still, within a week, the thing turned mouldy and then just rotted. It looked so gross that it was perfect for Halloween, but there was no way the goo could hold out until the festival, which was still weeks away!


Sentimental moments

“There’ll be sentimental moments that will come without a trace: a place you’ve been to with Piper, a piece of clothing he wears, a special date that means something… and many little thoughts and connections.”

 This is the reminder by a friend who knows what it is like for me to lose Piper, her dear dad having passed away two years ago.

 There are so many sentimental moments. Piper, or the memory of him, is everywhere in the house, which now seems incredibly empty. The emptiness in every corner of the house where I expect to see Piper in serene repose brings an aching lump in my heart. Piper, who had no vision to depend on, always resorted to his sharp hearing. As soon as he heard the creaking of the rocking chair, he would know that someone was there, approach in his prancing gait, wait at the feet of whoever was sitting there and expect to be picked up to the lap.

All that is left now is the hollow and harrowing creaking.


Rainbow Bridge

The condolences offered by two friends on Piper's death were about Rainbow Bridge.

One said: "He will be happy to go to Rainbow Bridge, meeting new friends."

The other gave me a printout of the Rainbow Bridge poem:

"Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

"When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

"All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

"They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

"You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

"Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together...."

The sentence "and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart" just brought tears to my eyes. Piper, born blind, had no eyes, but all those years when we were together, I never failed to notice how Piper was able to see, not with his eyes but with his heart. How I yearn to look into those trusting "eyes" of his.