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.]
Nathan Road: Where Flânerie Begins
To me, flânerie is neither a class-conscious nor an idling activity. Everyone has the right to be a flâneur, to occupy space, to pursue beauty and essence in life. After reading Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage, I am intrigued by the idea. I am walking more often, finding myself at the park of my housing estate, in a café or along a promenade. Spontaneity adds an extraordinary dimension to flânerie, the impromptu moments transcending the banality of everyday life. Here I was, strolling along one of the busiest streets in Hong Kong—Nathan Road (the Tsim Sha Tsui section). Tonight, the street belongs to me who walked, with no Google Maps, and no fixed destination in mind.
It was an ordinary night after my internship. Moonlight beamed on the rain-sprinkled street. How refreshing, how calm the air was—like the lapping of waves. Bright confident shops, happy restaurants moved slowly by as I walked along. I remember meeting a man in flip-flops who waltzed up the street like jelly—every move he made was slap, slap, slap. Hush, I wondered if the tapping of my heels was louder than his. I continued walking, revelling in the sounds: “The Blue Danube” from Mobile Softee, the continuous beeping of pedestrian lights, the tapping of my heels…
“The Blue Danube” was gradually fading. I blinked my eyes to see if the black velvet tray of diamonds were blinking their eyes at me. The golden necklaces, the crimson red scarf and the violet bottle of perfume were vying for the attention of pedestrians. But what attracted me were the neon and LED lights: bright, illuminated and futuristic. We Hongkongers have always been proud of this visual culture, which inspired Japanese anime and Hollywood films like Blade Runner. As I strolled along the street, I felt like I was going through the stargate in 2001: A Space Odyssey (the colours and flight and wishes and rainbows and dreams). Where would the end of the road lead me to?
The multitude of lightbulbs on the signs share so much resemblance with the little chips on a motherboard. The cyberspace cracks open a boundless space for flânerie. People can stroll (perhaps scroll) through the net to see the world. Screens, however, do not impart the same kind of genuine experience. Some say flânerie is enabled by technology when people go onto a street to search for something to post on Facebook. I do not doubt this intention. Yet I believe in the element of surprise, and the perfection of the imperfect.
The bus’s horn broke through the beams of light. I got on the bus and looked out the window. The street was still glistening, yellow, red, orange… Nathan Road immerses me in a journey of urban sensations. While the fleet of suitcases and heavy foot traffic put some off, they will not drive me away from exploring all it has to offer. The moments of transcendence, solitude, privacy, curiosity and ambivalence drive me to understand life through active searching.
Yannie Lee is a student at the Department of English and Department of Education (Class of 2020). [Read all entries by Yannie.]