Hong Kong: A Merchant’s Descendent

by Keiko Shibata, Contributing Editor

My ancestors are from different parts of East Asia.

Memories fade, accounts vary, interpretations are not translations, old photos do not match old thoughts, tradition can be illusive for I live and love on its outskirts, and insight may lead to revising what I see. Am I so different? So, this is Hong Kong to me where I live part-time between two large cities, the other being Tokyo. And the Chinese Junk is a thread in my family’s history.

They were merchants and tethered to the sea. The traditions that were passed down implied they didn’t properly fit into any military or government classification. There’s a sense that they weren’t tied down to the ordinary at least within. The warrior spirit was not in their hearts. They were literate and cherished self-discipline.

My father and his father didn’t serve their country. They didn’t like flags. Indifferent to symbols and patriotism. Thoughts were thoughts only and kept quiet and not to interfere with business. My father and mother honored their ancestors at a local Shinto shrine every week, in reverence, not worship. They were undesignated and ill-fitted whatever their surroundings. They did what they had to – to live and feel joy. My mother used to talk about her visits to Hong Kong where her mother was born.

Hong Kong, technically, is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Technically and bureaucratically the administration is suspect as are so many political creations. Hong Kong is not a technicality. The “uniforms” that instill uncertainty also fill the nose like the universal proverb, the smell of fish that seeps into a nearby flower shop distorting the breath of the flower.

Yet I feel comfortable in Hong Kong for it never seemed to me to belong to any country whether Great Britain or China. I feel discomfort with the idea of belonging in a place with forced patriotism. Otherwise leave well enough alone and tend to your life for each individual is a business unit that knows cooperation is essential to living together in harmony.

Life’s pleasures can be like a new suit of clothes that is reasonable in price but it’s wise not to overwear any article of cloth.

From a cultural psychological view, I suspect Hong Kong never will belong to another, no matter who says they are the rulers, owners, administrators, and masters. It was and is not to be possessed as if a member of a harem. It’s a commercial republic unto itself and like other international cities it has its scoundrels, corruption and what western culture identifies as “true believers”. There is a difference between need and needy. Humanity’s heart is like a mosaic rendering.

In the shadows of Hong Kong, please leave me alone is uttered mostly in silence.

The city is an allegory that speaks to human fortune, lust, with a bittersweet smile through tears of a mysterious kismet. It’s Asian and Oceanic, spiced with cultures across the Pacific, along the routes of the Silk Road and almost every country in the world. It’s an economic cup that spills over with the grimace of poverty and the guile of excessive wealth – densely populated striving to take a breath and savor the perception of what is real and what is an illusion. The eyes must be careful with similarity.

My mother spoke of it as a merchant’s poetic dream – enigmatic, noisy, vibrant, pungent, exotic, erotic, bustling, laughing at itself with tears of heartache and joy while served with cuisines that are both savory and stomach turning. I don’t like the taste of insects or meat birthed from four-legged land animals. The landscape is overcrowded, where sea and earth overlap.

The sea is hungry and rising. The men and women who fish, are aware of fate’s lessons.

The place for me is both an ancient goddess and a modern prostitute, a smiling astrologer, and a chin scratching philosopher and there’s always someone to read your palm and count the money from investments and debt. It’s volatile and inspires meditation and the rituals of cooperation.

The city revises itself in different colors, designs, and technologies – where the unnatural is perceived to be natural. What is natural in a metallic world?

Just leave me be, to live as best I know. Conflict is not my objective. 

We won’t bother you but if you wish to buy something we will be happy to oblige and not look over your shoulder as you try on Hong Kong to see how it fits.

Familiar thoughts are expressed about humanity at my home in Tokyo. I am drawn to diverse cities of ancestral beginnings with identifiable fragrances, odors, tastes, and the chromatic faces of humanity.