Tag Archives: HongKong

Hong Kong: Home Coming to a Harbour

It was a beautiful, sunny, and oh not so humid morning of March 2007 when a bright streak of light woke the boy from Babhnan with a start. He looked out of the window and it felt like the plane was about to land on water! He looked around, a little startled, saw everyone composed and so did he. A red eye flight, his first international one, he had taken 7 hours ago from Delhi had brought him to Hong Kong, the city he would soon call home. 

Camping near the Tung Lung Chau Fort at the island by the same name.
Camping near the Tung Lung Chau Fort at the island by the same name.

Hong Kong. That was a full 6,000 years after humans first set foot in the territory. 2200 years after it became part of the Chinese Empire for the first time. 500 after the first European came here, Portugese Jorge Álvares. 

Hong Kong: a jungle of concrete and grass. Where the East meets West. The financial capital of the world. And the Disneyland and the Ocean Park.

Local tip: If you must, go to the Ocean Park, it is so much better than the Disney.

This is an aerial view of the Ocean Park, the best theme park in Hong Kong.
An Aerial view of the Ocean Park.

 

The village boy was a little nervous, but he was armed with his most trusted weapon:  a well rehearsed abandon bordering on disdain. Whole buildings of glass, so what? It is just the glitter. The Khadi kurta, rugged jeans and Hawai Chappal- the JNU uniform that got him many stares- from immigration to immigration was part of that abandon, a carefully rehearsed one, though.

He followed the crowd running to the immigration, pretending he was not, as if he had been clearing immigration since he was an infant. A faint smile ran through his cheeks. The memories of entering glass buildings when he had first come to Delhi were back. That careful look- on people behaving ‘normal’ and imitating them. 

That was the only nervousness the boy would ever have with this city. 

Hong Kong was nothing that those cinematic ‘establishing shots’ made it to be. Yeah, Victoria Harbour is beautiful, but it was only as much the city as is India Gate Delhi. The Peak too, only as much Hong Kong as Gateway of India was Mumbai. 

Victoria Harbour during the symphony of light: the mandatory 'establishing shot' for HKSAR.
Victoria Harbour during the symphony of light: the mandatory ‘establishing shot’ for HKSAR.

Yeah, the ‘heart’ of Hong Kong is all glass and concrete. Provided you could call that place, always in flux with people moving in and out as they would from any financial hub Hong Kong in the first place. No one calls Dubai airport’s transit area Dubai, right? That glass and concrete part is only that much Hong Kong. People come here, mostly on short time assignments and go. Without even knowing the city.

Iconic Star Ferry Pier from the Hong Kong Island Side
Iconic Star Ferry Pier from the Hong Kong Island Side

Beyond that exist well-knit communities in villages 300 to 400 years old still farming. Many of them are still walled in a throwback to the times gone by. 

The village boy immediately belonged here, settled in the first he took as home with windows looking at sprawling bonsai mandarin plantations on one hand and a lush green hill behind. It was not love at first sight, but a lifelong romance had begun. 

The BOnsai Mandarin plantation right out of the window of my bedroom

A romance that would take him to the Tai Mo Shan- a hike traversing over 5 waterfalls, largest over a 100 meters in a row, in a single hike! Startled? The boy too was- only till he took a nice long swim in the natural pool in the third one. Or to the Tung Lung Fort built in 1722 to guard against the pirates. Or the Bride’s Pool- another waterfall combined with a beautiful valley praying for the wife who lost her life while crossing the waterways, after whom the waterfall took its name.

Bride's Pool Waterfall
Bride’s Pool Waterfall

Or the stilted villages like Tai O with their unfolding bridges taking you straight to further south east- Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Bride's Pool
Bride’s Pool

And the villages with their centuries-old traditions living on for centuries- the dragon dances, the bun festivals in which a very rustic looking person sees you and you being the only non-Chinese there starts explaining the history and the ritual. And then that he is Vice President or this and that in HSBC or again, this or that! 

Preparation for the Dragon Dance in Pok Fu Lam village
Preparation for the Dragon Dance in Pok Fu Lam village

And yeah, the small bunkers, now shrines, dug by the Hong Kongers who resisted the Japanese during World War II with all their might, often making the biggest of the sacrifices. And the sprawling parks in the middle of the city with retired elderlies playing Mahjong all day, often also babysitting their grandchildren as both the parents would have gone to work. 

The Bun Festival in Cheung Chau
The Bun Festival in Cheung Chau

Hong Kong is now home. Yeah, I often feel sad seeing a few of the fields in front of my house disappearing every year, yet, happy that forests make for them. Yeah, forests cover over 26,400 hectares of the total area of Hong Kong, about 23.8%- much more than during the World Wars. 

Come, visit my home. But please please please, not on those 2 nights 3 days packages. I can share with you some best-kept secrets for a longer and better rendezvous with this harbor I now call home. 

Babhnan Boy: Milestone Zero

Aboard a ro-ro ferry on the mighty Mekong river, the young man thought of Manvar, a small rivulet 4,800 kms away, seeing a small boy swimming in it decades ago. Stupid, no? 

Circa 2010: The small boy from Babhnan aboard a ro-ro ferry in Phnom Penh

No. Be they in Bombay or Beijing, small town kids never go anywhere alone. Wherever they go, they go with their homes lost behind in their villages, Kasbahs or small towns. You can see that in their eyes- that sudden wetness that gives them away with all their longings and belongings. They might be proud of their journeys or disappointed with themselves, they would suddenly look away, seeking refuge in the same lost villages they grew up in. No matter what exiled them- be it hunger, war or career, their lost homes are the cross they carry alone. 

Be it distress migration for the poor ones or chasing dreams for the more fortunate, the small town kids are destined for exile. Just like that young man aboard that Ro Ro Ferry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

The school in Babhnan in which I studied till 8th grade now

They know that despite all the speeches by the great leaders promising them the moon, they don’t get even proper roads that can connect Delhi with their villages. They know that they are the past of the country, running behind the metros by decades. They know that bridges don’t connect the past with the future, they only make fortunes for those promising these bridges! 

They know that they would have to go, leaving all the memories behind and chase their dreams in places that could be anything, but would never become home. 

The small boy from Babhnan knew this. He knew that every passing year is another year close to exile, that began at 12, just 12 when he was sent to a boarding school in nearby Gorakhpur. Home was no longer home, it was just a holiday. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Summer Vacations. His own agricultural fields were no longer his playfields where he would steal tractor rides. The “Middle School” Cricket ground in Babhnan that seemed like the biggest possible in the world had suddenly changed to a joke, a tiny joke on that, on the name of a cricket ground. 

Another school nearby last year

Slowly, the small town kids’ school bags would start getting heavier and their ‘holiday visits’ fewer. Gorakhpur for secondaries would change to Allahabad for grads, Allahabad to JNU for Research, Delhi to Hong Kong for work. With every dislocation changing friends, acquaintances, neighbors, everything. 

Ironically, exile was never the saddest part of the story. It was the small boy from Babhnan not knowing that this a one way road- a point of no real returns. That those who fail and return would looked upon for their lives. That those who ‘succeed’ would have hardly any time for returning- for taking that stroll on the railway station that once defined their lives: that set them on the path of chasing their dreams as far as those trains could go. The same one from which this small boy from Babhnan started dreaming of traveling the world and telling the tales.

His friends listened to him with rapt attention about the places they had never travelled to. The places this small boy hadn’t either, the places whose details he pieced together with the: names of the trains and where they go with information he got from his parents, their colleagues, newspapers, name it.

So success or failure, these kids would be sort of jinxed, of not returning. Mahesh would better become Mat and work as a cyber collie, Lalita as Linda, is she was fortunate enough in a patriarchal society to be allowed to chase her dreams, they would dread to return.

And when they would for the occasional visits- nothing would be the same. The most promising kid in their class would have become a grocer they would have nothing much to talk about. The best batsman in their team would be selling medicines. And they both would be uncomfortable with the small boy from Babhnan’s success, the small boy with loss. Of the home. Forever. 

Only mercy? He would be taking Babhnan to places, making that nondescript mofussil town, a mere blur on the map of the country known around, even if in his own smaller circles.

At the Babhnan Railway Station, this January

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