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You can’t go home again

July 7, 2011

I've been to some of these places...

I am one of the few people on the planet who is looking forward to Alzheimers. It will help me forget the bad stuff, you see. However, along the way to oblivion, it will also erase the other memories, not all of which are entirely unpleasant. A friend in one of the places I’ve lived, Hong Kong, sent me some memorabilia, reminding me of the good old days, when things were somewhat more charming, and decidedly less hectic in one of my favorite cities in the world (you can find everything online these days, it seems, except the photographs from my childhood, which are stuck away in boxes).

I find out every day that I wasn’t as extraordinary as I’d like to think; no, I was part of a cohort, a group of people all born at approximately the same time in human history. We were all affected, to a greater or lesser extent, by political and social events outside our control. This explains some pieces of the personal puzzle, like, why my mother insisted on the Pixie Cut when I was six, effectively chopping off all my curls and in one swipe, turning me into a boy.

However, there are things about my life that are mine, sort of. I may be part of a cohort, but when you start adding on places I’ve lived, not everyone got to live in Hong Kong. My friends there tell me it’s my home and I should come back. I nod, like the dog in the back of your car as you swerve to avoid that kid in the road on her bike, but I have no idea where ‘home’ is, and I’m pretty sure I can’t go home again. Hong Kong has changed irrevocably, post-1997 and the Chinese takeover after 99 years of leasing the islands to the British.

I nod in partial agreement as cars pass me by

The links I’ll show you are the closest thing I’m going to get to reliving my childhood, I’m afraid, since life is a river and the current keeps moving me on. In contrast to my reality, making my homelessness more noticeable, I might add, I’m staying with people in Sweden who live less than 10 kilometres from their ancestral home.

We relive their childhoods every day. They’re surrounded by lineage, the same house, photograph albums, places they’ve always gone to, memories, memories, memories.

They have always lived here, for as long as their family can remember. Every tree and house we drive by, they recognize. They can mark the changes in their own lives, and in the lives of their friends, by noticing how the town changes. The local museum pays homage to immigrants from Sweden who left for America (my family is not one of them, since I’m not Swedish and am only here for the summer). Immigrants who left for America don’t always come back. This family has one set of American relatives they have seen twice in 50 years. Perhaps those people, now living in California, remember Sweden fondly, but for them, it has become a dream of Sweden, a memory of a life never lived, a DNA cellular wisp of thought on holidays, when they break out the lutfisk and wonder why they’re supposed to like pickled herring.

Here is Hong Kong, in its past. It is the past I think about now, because thoughts of the present in Hong Kong are just not good enough. I miss the Peak Tram the way it was. I miss the difficult hike back up from downtown at 5 p.m., temperatures climbing into the 90s (40C) when I couldn’t find a taxi. I miss the ferry from Victoria Harbour across to Kowloon (although it is still in operation, but I miss it anyway). I miss the Victorian buildings the British built when they colonised the place. Most of those buildings have been torn down, replaced by huge skyscrapers. I miss ‘old’ Hong Kong. That’s why I can never go home again, since that version of Hong Kong no longer exists.

The excitement, fear, and danger of flying into Kai Tak airport. Ah, the good old days.

Downtown (Central district, Hong Kong island) 1962. This is the way HK looked when we first visited, in 1968.

Taking the tram up to the Peak.

Such a pretty city, in those days. Now, it’s a dramatic extension of the ‘new’ China. Very bold, very colorful, but I miss this older version of Hong Kong.

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