Borrowed Time

August 12, 2010 — It is a rainy afternoon in Sha Tin as I count the minutes before I have to leave for the airport. I am in Tricia’s flat in the university staff quarters trying to finish packing my bags. Tricia left for Germany this morning so I am here alone. As the afternoon has passed, I have often stopped to stare out at the view of the Sha Tin Valley with its high-rise towers and the green Sai Kung mountain ridge behind them. This view took my breath away the first day I moved into my flat and I have never ceased to be awestruck by it, even after seeing it hundreds of times. To set one’s eyes upon something of real beauty is an experience that can never be diminished. Whether it is a person, a work of art, a city skyline or a landscape, one can see it a thousand times and each instance is like viewing it for the first time. This is what Hong Kong has been to me.

I have spent my final days in Hong Kong saying goodbye to my new friends; a bittersweet process that I have experienced many times before (India, London, Kenya) but which seems to become more difficult as I get older. I wish I could say that I am ready to go back to the US and to my old life and that I can conclude my time in Hong Kong with a real sense of closure, but this is simply not true. I have been very happy here and would like to have stayed longer. There is so much I have not yet seen (and so much that I have and still do not understand). Every day has been an adventure and even when things didn’t go according to plan, at least they were interesting. It is impossible to be bored here and so much of this city remains a mystery to me. I still don’t understand what makes it work and why it has such power to attract. Nobody I have met has been able to explain to me the secret of Hong Kong’s success. Maybe that is why the British took such a hands-off approach to it and why China has done the same.

The clock is ticking and soon it will be time for me to go. I will most likely post this entry once I am back in the States. My flight leaves at midnight, so as soon as I am done packing I plan to ride the MTR down to Tsim Sha Tsui and take the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor one last time. This will be my final chance, for now at least, to take in the view of this magnificent city while I am still a resident. I expect that I will be back again soon, but it won’t be the same as living here. During this past year I very quickly came to feel at home and settled in, though I knew even before I arrived that it was not permanent. Just another gweilo who came, stayed a short while, and then left. That has been an integral element of the Hong Kong story from the very beginning: the transient foreigner.

Yet if my time has been ticking down since the moment I arrived, this is no different than the past and present of Hong Kong itself. This place is no stranger to the concept of borrowed time. The anxious, uncertain and prolonged wait for 1997 is over, but the Joint Declaration that has secured Hong Kong’s autonomy and special status after colonial rule will last only until 2047. After that, who knows? Right now, for me at least, the borrowed time is up. I will never forget my year here and I will keep my memory and longing affection for Hong Kong with me forever.

Joi Gin Hong Kong.
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