The weather was gorgeous. The warm sun shone on my back and face, depending on the direction for which I was heading. I walked along Tung Lo Wan Road, starting from the northeastern corner of the reputable Queen's College. It is one of the most peaceful areas in downtown Hong Kong where you can hardly hear any unwanted noise on a Sunday afternoon. It is where you can still find genuinely local, small restaurants and fruit stores that have been in business for more than 30 years - a rare specialty that is rapidly forced into extinction in Hong Kong but that helped Macau enlisted in the UNESCO hall of fame of world heritage. Of course, cosy coffee shops and small sushi bars are also beginning to have their footprints here. More importantly, it is an old residential area that rude trespassers do not usually go except on the autumn days when the Fire Dragon Dance celebrations take place. The tranquillity of this area gives me the peace of mind that I desperately need these days.
This is also why I would like to have my new home here, if possible.
Unfortunately property prices are still unreasonably high these days, despite the rhetoric that the market has been stagnant since last year. Looking at the long list of properties for sale on display at different agents' offices, how depressing it was to see that I can barely afford only one or two of the smallest apartments of 400 square feet in gross area (not usable area)! The small cubicles that cost a few million Hong Kong dollars are just as sarcastically embarrassing as proclaiming Hong Kong as Asia's world city when so many people here do not really have the much-touted international perspective.
On and on I walked along Tung Lo Wan Road and turned left at the junction of Wun Sha Street. This is my favourite corner of the area. It is very quiet with a genuine but rapidly eroding taste of Hong Kong that reminds me of my carefree childhood in Tsim Sha Tsui. Under the warm and mild sunlight of an autumn afternoon, old buildings with simple, tidy and artistic designs of only four or five storeys are sitting quietly in the small plot of land with neatly drawn chessboard alleys to the west of Wun Sha Street. Leading up the slope Wun Sha Street ends with a public playground and an old building with a stone-walled courtyard facing each other. They hide themselves behind the tall, modern buildings that are probably only half of their age, but are already considered "old" by a common standard in Hong Kong nowadays.
There were plenty of old buildings in similar styles in Tsim Sha Tsui when I was small. My first memory of my home was located in a four-storey building built well before the Second World War. My family rented and lived in a room at the back of the apartment, which was owned by a retired employee of Jardine Matheson. I was told that my parents didn't live there when I was born, but it was the first home in my memory anyway. I still remember what the decently designed and dyed marble staircase of the building looked like. I still remember how amazed I was watching the romantic ancient Chinese folklores on the black-and-white television. I still remember how I learnt my first Chinese characters by copying words I could spot on television on the walls, even before I was sent to the kindergarten. I still remember how I brought my two-year-old younger brother home from the kindergarten nearby even though I was a toddler myself. I still remember how my mother prepared suppers in the common kitchen where the landlord's servant was living, and where there was an iron staircase leading to the common backyard shared with another building facing Knutsford Terrace. Yes, it is Knutsford Terrace. It used to be a cosy and quiet residential area with a kindergarten and a private college but has now been transformed into a lousy replica of Lan Kwai Fong without any character.
Isn't it weird for a person of my age to have this irresistible nostalgia about something that is now a bygone? When I was small, I never came across anyone in their 30s who were as obsessed as I am with the past. Only people above 40 years would talk about their good old days.
Looking at my peers outside Hong Kong, be them in Mainland China, Korea, Japan or farther parts of the world, they seldom talk about their past but how they see their future. The general sentiment of my generation is forward-looking rather than the opposite.
At the end of the day, however, I enjoy being different. I have always been quite different from my peers. I am proud of myself because of nothing but I am different. I can't understand why so many people nowadays feel impelled to be recognised as the same rather than the different. I am convinced that everyone is a unique individual and should be allowed to exercise his/her freedom, as long as the freedom and dignity of the others are not compromised or jeopardised.
Having said that, I do believe that there should be something in common to bring people together, not physically but emotionally. History is the story of rise and fall of an individual, a family, a business, a community or a nation, but heritage is a common set of customs, beliefs and values that connects us with our forefathers and the future generations by inheritance. They are closely related but two very distinctive concepts. I can't tell you how sad I feel when I see the heritage of Hong Kong vanishing. I don't know what I should do but I can't help retrieving my memories from time to time to keep them afresh, before my physique no longer allows me to do so.
Perhaps this strong nostalgia is what makes me so obsessed with having my new home in Tin Hau. I believe this is one of the few locations in Hong Kong that still enables me to indulge in the pleasure of memory revival.