Hong Kong State of Mind: 37 views of a city that doesn’t blink
By Jason Y. Ng
Jason Y. Ng is a freelance writer who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in the United States and Canada, before coming back to Hong Kong. I have yet to read his other books—No City for Slow Men, which examines pressing social, cultural and existential issues Hong Kong faces, and Umbrellas in Bloom that talks about the occupy movement in 2014—but this was an interesting read, where Jason Y. Ng pens down his observations and reflections of everyday life, as a part-insider and part-outsider.
Below are some of my favourite bits from the chapter 香港情懷 (Hong Kong State of Mind), where he talks about seemingly mundane happenings—things that I have observed of my second home, but could never put it into words as succinctly as he did—but tells so much about the society.
I had one of those evenings yesterday. I began the night at the hair salon, where a young apprentice named Durex gave me a wash followed by a pampering scalp massage befitting a world-class spa. I can never quite wrap my mind around why people here give themselves such bizarre names as “Concrete,” “Jackal” and “Lazy”, even though Lazy is a perfectly hardworking young lady who takes my order at Starbucks. With names like that, how can they ever expect to be taken seriously in life?
Everyone there, regardless of gender, age and profession, glued their eyes to one of the four flat-screen televisions hung from the ceiling. A Cantonese soap opera was on, the usual plot line about feuding high-society families and conniving children caught in an inheritance battle. Television screens are a relatively recent addition to the local restaurant scene, but it has caught on like wildfire. It started two World Cups ago as a grass-roots movement by citizens who demanded access to soccer games anywhere, any time. The fixtures have remained long after the World Cup has ended. At any given restaurant in the city today, the only sounds you will hear are predictable melodrama dialogues drowned out by a sappy soundtrack. And if the televisions aren’t turned on (during dim sum hours on weekends, for instance), you will find the husband reading the newspaper and the wife talking on the cell phone, while young children exercise their opposable thumbs on the PSP and the Filipino helper finishes every dish on the table. That must be human communication in its most sublime form.
I finished my meal and cleaned my teeth with a toothpick, a habit I took up since I moved here four years ago. It is a private activity on full public display, and the trick is to do it with utter nonchalance.