I find myself hopelessly illiterate when I put pencil to paper. Listening to Bourdain wax poetic about food and its ties to its culture, or watching a recent Woody Allen film, however, stirs within me a profound desire to eloquently communicate my thoughts. Perhaps words are the best way for me to express my inner self. Perhaps not.
When I see pictures of Hong Kong, of its food, landscapes, people, or buildings, or if I hear nothing more than just a sentence of Cantonese (a full paragraph or more is much more devastating), I am stricken with a sense of nostalgia. I vividly remember the sounds, the smells, the feelings I had when I was there. I can still feel the heaviness of the moisture-laden air on my skin and in my lungs. The smog choking out any hope of long-distance visibility. The inescapable odor of stinky tofu from that one vendor on that one corner of a T-intersection in Mong Kok, such a small vendor creating such a large presence. The piercing aroma of a cut durian wafting out of a supermarket, reminding passers-by that durian is delicious and that they should buy a few. The swarms of people in some areas, the vacuum in others. Coming upon Lan Kwai Fong and suddenly wondering if I was in Hong Kong or Europe. Starting down a long, deserted street and witnessing the birth of a night market, the stalls emerging from the buildings, transforming the street completely by the time I finished walking it. The chatter of the crowd. The roar of the highway from my dorm window. The scream of cicadas. The harsh cacophony of construction. All of these memories crash into me, leaving me with an empty feeling deriving from my desire to be there, not here. I can only describe it as a nostalgia. It pains me in such an untouchable way. The time I spent in Hong Kong was such a monumental part of my life, and I look back at it with such favor.
The interesting part about that, though, is that I was quite alone. Rarely did I hang out with anybody (only on a few occasions). I had no intimate contact with anybody. I was a hermit living in a crowded city, a hermit who spent more time exploring that city than in his room, my thoughts and feelings never creating vibrations in the city air. My mind reaching out to someone, finding no one, collapsing in on itself. Yet I didn’t suffer adverse side effects of being a recluse. I wasn’t unhappy, but I don’t think it was necessarily a healthy lifestyle.
Despite that isolation, the nostalgia is overwhelming. It conquers these memories of solitude and isolation. After almost a year and a half since my anti-climactic return to the U.S., I’m still unable to understand why I have these feelings. What was so great about the place? I may never know. Perhaps it was the freedom of mobility. Public transportation was copacetic, neighborhoods were safe, my legs were healthy and willing; Perhaps it was the availability of food, food that was, well…understanding of me. As an aside, I won’t say the cuisine is perfect, though, because no matter how sublime daily-made fresh soymilk is, it never satisfied my desire for a tall glass of cold milk…milk is misunderstood. Be that as it may, to put it simply, the food is truly good, beyond good, a good that is so consistent and pervasive; Perhaps it was the weather. The winter was more of a cheerful, sunny auntie whom you’d like to spend all your time with, rather than a frosty step-parent who fills you with a sense of overcast, hopeless oppression. Even the spring, which was like a hot-headed sibling prone to occasional crying fits, was mild and pleasant.
Hong Kong. Perhaps the pain comes from my subconscious knowing that it is my one true home, a home that I’ll never spend more than a jet-lagged week in. Perhaps it comes from the time spent there, all the while developing a love for it, then having it taken away before I had time to grow weary of it. Perhaps the pain comes from the guilt of choosing to study Mandarin rather than Cantonese. My nostalgia for Hong Kong is unlike any feeling I’ve ever had. (That’s not to say that I can’t function in my day-to-day life, or that I’m constantly daydreaming about my glorious return there. These waves of nostalgia are elicited by pictures or hearing Cantonese, neither of which I come across often.)
I don’t believe in reincarnation. But maybe in my previous life I lived in Hong Kong.
This has been a draft for quite some time now. The more I read it, the less I like it. The sentiment remains, but the style remains juvenile at best. I guess this is as good as it gets.