Pride of Place: John Wakefield

Pride of Place: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a place in Hong Kong. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Pet Sounds” series.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]

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Dark green waters brushed with tinges of orange from the setting sun.

Damp air carrying hints of salt and fish.

An early evening breeze, cooled and scented by the ocean, comforts my arms and face.

It’s a Sunday in Hong Kong, where most places are crowded, dusty, and pierced with the sounds of human activity, of cars’ horns and lorries’ brakes.

But I sit here…

……….. alone except for the occasional passer-by who utters a friendly 你好, 食飯未呀?

It is a restricted area and I am one of only a few Hongkongers with the right of entry.

A place of near solitude. A place of rest. Of contemplation.

I accept it selfishly and without reservation.

I rest on a bench where I have read many times, both for pleasure and for work.

Taking in the promenade that surrounds me and pondering my experiences here, I envision the ghosts of my past.

The most striking among them are the three-day-and-two-night funerals with singing and dancing monks, who guided us, myself included, in numerous group rituals. Group bowings in all directions, offerings of joss sticks, and walking repeatedly in a circle to place money in a basket—one or two coins at a time—money that had earlier been mixed in with rice and given to us at the gravesite. We all had on beige sheets cut into dress-like vests worn over our clothes and tied at the waist, and, as one of the men, I also wore a hat that looked like a small pillowcase cut in half.

This bench and the promenade it rests on offer me peace and calm. But at the same time, their location and my history in this place, symbolise my status of being as inside as an outsider can get—no more, no less. The images of my personal history nudge me—against my will—to contemplate who I am, who I’ve become.

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john wakefieldJohn Wakefield is Assistant Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by John.]

 

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