It was the first New Years Eve I spent at home in three years. I was making my way home from the other side of the city—it was about late afternoon. I decided to take the ferry– one of the few stable details in this shape-shifting city. During the ride, the sunset was saluted by a cacophony of fake shutter sounds as people raised their phones in cult-like unison.
Getting off the ferry, I was injected into a flow of humanity. It was as if some underground civilisation suddenly decided to join us at the surface. As it turns out, everyone had the bright idea of arriving a few hours earlier to get good spots for the fireworks display; the operative word there being everyone, meaning that they’d have gotten the same spot if everyone decided to come later. As it were, these people would have to spend the next five hours just… standing. At least it wasn’t summer.
One would be hard pressed to find a more fitting metaphor for Hong Kong. Everyone, everywhere (or at least, the parents of everyone) is possessed by a Nietzchean urge towards raising the next ubermenschen. In other words, everyone is finding ways of getting ahead since the natal care unit. One stellar example is a tongue operation some parents are putting their kids through so they will have a better accent in English. By removing a tendon connecting the tongue to the base of the jaw, said tongue would be ‘free’ to fulfil its full phonetic potential, resulting in a more convincing ‘th’ sound in English. I wonder if they’ve th-ought th-ings th-rough th-oroughly.
Tutorial classes, piano/violin lessons that shorten the lifespans of all involved, cram schools (which are different from the first item) etc. In the heat of the race we forget that the world is relative, and more often than not find ourselves lost in one throbbing mass of humanity, pushing forwards in search of a raison d’etre.
I gave up on land transport, and decided to walk home. On Nathan Road (one of the main roads in Hong Kong– most of the older and more important roads have names reminiscent of pomp, governors and Ceylon tea. Much like the self-styled elite in many former colonies.) On the way, I walked past a rabble of people surrounding a stage, on which teenagers (about my age) were doing half-hearted dance steps in time to an equally half-hearted chant of ‘yuud! yi! saam! sei!’ They were obviously rehearsing for tonight’s show. Unfortunately, Hong Kong doesn’t allow the luxury of preparation, and their performance was subjected to the harsh limelight of the world like a pre-mature birth. A fellow performer tried to salvage some dignity by beat-boxing, but his efforts died against the jagged edge of a dispersing crowd.
Walking along, one is reminded of the earlier protests that took place on these very streets. Faded posters with sketches of umbrellas and slogans– arresting details in a dream you can’t quite remember– were now plastered over with posters of concerts and ‘massage parlours’ (wink wink). Momentarily, it seemed that the schisms of a few weeks ago were plastered over. Such were the healing powers of a festival.
Then again, maybe not. In an act of unintentional symbolism, an old man in a wheelchair stood up and pissed on a wall plastered with protest posters. In the adjacent street, a group of yellow-clad protestor were amassing, which prompted a similar congregation of policemen. The standoff formed two islands, which people flowed through like water. What the two groups didn’t realise was that the real division lay between those who cared, and those who did not. In that sense, they were on the same side.
But there is hope. I was supposed to meet my friends later that night, but was running late. By the time I got onto the metro, it seemed likely that I’d enter 2015 in a dark underground tunnel. Everyone in the carriage was checking their phone, and there was a collective sigh when 23:59 ticked by and we were still in a tunnel under the harbour.
But then someone said. ‘Oh fuck it, next year then!’ and started a countdown. People joined in, smiling and murmuring, united in this unlikely collection as we hurtled into the receding darkness.