Looking out from where I am sitting at my desk, I count 46 other windows, a lone yellowing tree surrounded by dumpsters and an 11-sided slice of sky framed by sandstone walls and the occasional line of roosting pigeons on a slate roof.
Clouds move quickly here. The weather is almost unbearably volatile. On a piece of paper blue-tacked to our fridge door, my flatmate’s quote reads: ‘If Edinburgh is a woman, you should not date her.’ More than once I have woken up to a clear periwinkle sky, only to walk home after class completely drenched, before cooking dinner in a kitchen filled with late afternoon light. The streets here are strewn with more cigarette butts than I am used to, the buses do not have display boards announcing each station, and the city itself is guilty of housing one of the ugliest parliament buildings I have ever laid eyes on. (Google it, I dare you.)
Yet over time I have grown to love the sound of car tires rolling over cobbled streets. The way that the sound of a trolley pushed down the street might be mistaken for the sound of rain or the clatter of a typewriter. On the streets or in shops I open my ears to the familiarity of the Scottish lilt, the strangeness of the trill of ‘r’s. There are dogs everywhere. Dogs hiking up Arthur’s Seat, dogs crossing the street, dogs tied outside supermarkets with the expressions of worried mothers, anxious sons. For the first few weeks, I familiarise myself with the vocabulary of someone else’s life. RBS, Costa, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Blackwell. Gentle’s Entry, Bakehouse Close, Old Tollbooth Wynd. I internally half-roll my eyes at tourists with cameras, knowing full well that I have not called this place home very long myself. I have Sunday lunches at the local pub. I do not carry umbrellas when it rains. I stock my cupboard with different blends of tea. I discover that I adapt too quickly, too eagerly, to what is considered local and therefore, by default, non-HongKongese. I ask myself, why is that?
Edinburgh is a historical city of culture that is currently undergoing changes.
On my weekly runs to town for groceries, I see signs for roadworks, traffic cones and bulldozers everywhere. Even on campus there are cranes and makeshift fences walling off the centre of Bristo Square. One afternoon while looking at the tableaux vivant passage in The House of Mirth, two men in white hard hats walked by on the scaffolding right outside our classroom window – their heavy boots stomping over our words. Old buildings are roped off, while new ones pop up where there had only been level ground before. The old façades of buildings are being restored, the coal smoke siphoned off to reveal the true colours of the sandstone underneath. Buildings are being upgraded with glass and steel panels, with energy-efficient lighting installed. The old and the new. I see myself going through the same transformations in the coming year.
Speaking Cantonese is a rare treat. About once or twice a week, I exchange precious snippets of it with Hong Kongese and Malay friends at church. Back home in my flat, I punctuate my English with sentence-final particles, codemixing Cantonese into English, into Mandarin. I miss char siu more than I think I would.
It is October — the leaves are changing colour.
I read and I write and I listen and see. And then I read and write some more.
Grace Wong Hiu Yan is a graduate student in literature at the Department of English (Class of 2016). She loves the smell of old books and has unconventional ideas for bookmarks. She is one of the founding co-editors of EDGE. [Read all entries by Grace.]