Hong Kong: Enrique And Coca-Cola in Kowloon
By Denise Reich
Everything in Hong Kong sparkles in one way or another. Every shop here, no matter how tiny, has a gargantuan sign perched out over the avenue. Red flashing lights compete with glittering white ones. The chemist’s green cross presides over a massive tableau of yellow swirls. Even the 7-11 is represented, but its flimsy plastic plaque seems insignificant next to all that gleaming fluorescence. My skin glows under the neon assault.
The metro is shiny, sleek and quiet—all the things the dingy subway back home is not. On the glassed-in platform I am slightly claustrophobic; in the packed train car, even more so. I clutch the spring handle fixed to the ceiling and try not to topple my neighbor as the train hurtles through the tunnels.
There are people everywhere in Hong Kong and they shimmer too, with their opulent business suits and Louis Vuitton bags. Every square inch holds a person, I am almost certain of this. When I ride the train through the terraced hills on the outskirts of the city, I see countless shrines to ancestors.
Even the dead have company in Hong Kong.
By now, I am at peace in the crowds. The throng that pushes me across the street is a wave steering me to the shore. I ride the pulse gratefully. The only way to avoid drowning in Kowloon is to follow the tide.
I am anonymous. Nobody tries to sell me trinkets on the sidewalk. There is no one hounding me for sweets or tour guide services. Nobody cares who I am in here, and it’s glorious. My face is only one of a million on the Star Ferry, no more, no less. If my Cantonese is broken and halting, the shopkeepers shrug and listen more carefully.
I pass most of the evening in the Night Market. It’s an oasis of white tents illuminated against the darkening twilight; tents filled with silk jackets and delicate loops of jade and incense and carvings of Buddha and Kwan Yin and cell phone covers and compact discs.
A green dragon pendant on a silk string catches my eye, and I drift over to it. The vendor puts on a performance of sorts for me, holding the jade to a flame, trying to cut it with a knife, raising it to the light so I can see how beautifully translucent it is. The dragon winks through its trials, gleaming absinthe-green in the fire, and I know at once it has to be mine. I won’t even let the man pack my dragon away in one of his red silk jewelry pouches. Instead, I tie it securely about my neck.
At the back of the market, in a half-shadowed corner, I find a booth selling CDs. Perusing the stacks of plastic cases piled high on the table, I spy a familiar name among the Jet Lis and the Fei Xiangs. Enrique. Enrique Inglesias.
I haven’t heard Enrique in months, not since I went to a dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen. Was that another lifetime, when I lived in the West? I suck in a deep breath and suddenly realize I don’t really remember what New York air smells like. I can no longer describe the vinyl seats at the back of the bar or how they feel beneath my fingers. How the bartender speaks. It has all dissolved into the Hong Kong skyline.
I need Enrique. I need equilibrium.
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