Up and over the brine today. I’ve been settled for these past few months, in the dry ochre silt. Yanjing. Rooted. Anchored, Focused. I can watch the dust settle and accumulate. And it is fine now to smell the salt. Refreshing fluidity, the unlimited possibilities of the Ocean. At first the crossing is only a metaphor. A mere river’s worth, a brackish rivulet between two different jurisdictions. The same river my friend swam to escape China in the seventies.
The passage was, wretched. We used the Huanggang crossing thinking it would perhaps be a bit quicker than Futian. Last time we used Futian and there was an unfathomably long wait on the Hong Kong side. At Huanggang you take the bus straight to Wanchai rather than the long, local MTR ride. I’ve done the ride back from Wanchai and it is certainly faster. Today I discovered that departing from Shenzhen this Huanggang bus wasn’t any faster at all. I assumed I’d buy a ticket, board a bus and face the border a bit further on, but as soon as we arrived we saw the swarming, inescapable concentration of humanity.
It’s times like the crossing at Huanggang that you remember just how dense the population of China is. Modernity and convenience allows one to bypass much of the volume. But its never far. Never hard to find. In Tokyo, which is just as dense, it only ever presses in, when something breaks down, snow suddenly stops a train for example and the system breaks down and people don’t know what to do. People are agitated and their civility evaporates. When you’ve no choice but to work through an enormous crowd in China, it reminds me of a train station in Wuhan in 1993, trying to buy a ticket. There was a scrum to reach a window that was positioned up high, so that everyone who approached it would feel insignificant. Police guided people at the perimeter with electric cattle prods. It’s one thing to watch. It’s quite another to be stuck in the middle of a crowd that has its own momentum.
We’re in Hong Kong now. My kids are trying to observe all they can about what’s different from two hours ago in “mainland” China. They’d lived here before, but it has been years now. The license plates the street signs and of course, that they drive on the wrong side of the road here. I just asked my little one, where else it was drives this way. I could think of four countries she’s been to that do. She considered, and then mentioned one, correctly that I hadn’t thought of.
It must have gotten much easier over the years, for Chinese citizens to do the walk over crossing because it never used to be this bad. It certainly is now. And there is nothing to do, once you’re committed to the cattle queue, but endure it. Standing in line. Something about the Hong Kong side of the queue in particular, is demeaning. Like they haven’t caught up with the fact that people are in fact people. Many of them, by choice, not desperation, need to make this crossing. Standing and waiting, waiting to move a little bit. People pressing. Your children leaning on you. It’s a systemic problem. Staff more people for God’s sake. Hold it up to the light. This is not only inconveniencing nice people like myself, which is immaterial, but it is making tens of thousands of Chinese people daily, hate Hong Kong. That’s a karma no-no. The 苦海茫茫
Everyone staring. Staring at you. Staring at me. We’re stuck. There is nothing better to do. We’ll be here for at least another hour. All in all I guess it took ninety minutes to enter and then exit. I think I saw one or two other foreigners. Has everyone else wisely given up on this method? I missed the memo on the newer-smarter way to cross over. I used to have a Hong Kong ID that let me cut through the fast line. But now I’m simply a “visitor.”
Cruising along now in this crowded bus, it is finally the benign familiarity of Hong Kong. You exhale a bit after the debasement of the crossing. Intentional? Traffic works a little bit better. Outside, the port.
Cantonese everywhere sounds sharp and refreshing, actionable. Traditional characters are on the walls. The signs look beautiful, and of course, are even more difficult to discern.
The big, spotty face of a not very attractive middle aged man trying to smile, off to left. The poster is fastened to the guardrail. He’s on the other side of the street too. I think to point out these election posters to my girls. “So, why don’t we ever see these in Beijing?” Being here I will need to capture my thoughts on the Hong Kong I wrote about. That was roughly eleven month’s ago. Time to revisit the section on greed, avaritia, in my manuscript. Greed’s still here. So is all the potential for disenfranchised Hong Kong to model leadership with the Beijing government in the not to distant future.
The bus on the ride in has a TV, of course, and it is broadcasting drama, the news and a propaganda video showing people how to avoid scams when they are shopping for apartments. Don’t be fooled by this. Don’t be fooled, fool. Why do I feel at peace with Hong Kong propaganda and feel that it is generally positive and appropriate and reasonable, where as CCP propaganda feels ominous, suspect, clumsy? They are both, actually, rather intrusive.
Now it’s later in the day. It’s nearly five but the sun is still up in the sky. I forgot that in a more temperate longitude, the sun sets later. Riding now on Pok Fu Lam road. It is so familiar. It feels something like the FDR Drive. So many routines and time honored ways of getting from here to there. There’s the harbor. That tall building across the way used to forever be unfinished. Now, it’s done. And Kowloon is so close now. You could throw a stone.
Sitting now on Elgin, finally. Bad food, good wine, good view. Watching. Cabs pause and drop diners off. People meet. Chinese going here. Europeans going there. Sometimes they go together. That section of HK where you can pretend that it's still a British enclave that Chinese come to occasionally.
Ears flood full with a bop mix. The Brooklyn tenor Al Cohn. I know the name but not the face, so I check. He looks like he’s Al Cohn from Brooklyn. One of the "four brothers" from Woody Herman’s “Second Herd.” “Unless Its You” This disc is from the 1981 album, “Nonpareil.” I looked on line but couldn’t find much at all as to who he really was . . . I've determined that he, like Stan Getz, but not Zoot Sims, was from Brooklyn. But where?