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.]
A space has, in itself, no meaning. A place, however, is imbued with meanings, and this process is often personal. This transition begins when you leave your imprints, associate them with moments you relish or are dying to forget, and ascribe to them meanings of your very own, or meanings co-created with others, but meanings that are ultimately personal.
Some say Hong Kong was once a place where agarwood was harvested and handled for transport. Its fragrance was probably so pleasant that people in the trade associated the place with fond memories of the resinous scent. Thus, the place may have come to be known as Hong Kong, from Hēung Gong, or Fragrant Harbour. Given its source of fragrant timber, Hong Kong was also a port where incense was produced, and some say that Hēung Gong really means Incense Harbour.* Some modern takes on Hēung Gong are more sarcastic, associating the name with the foul smell of Victoria Harbour or the potential demise^ of Hong Kong itself. Be what it may, making a space a place is always a very personal matter.
But as the saying goes, the personal is always political. The Fragrant Harbour is becoming a battlefield of allegiance, which threatens to diminish meanings into some despotically singular doctrines. But let’s try to be a little bit optimistic about Hongkongers here. Time and again, their fear—somewhat as a survival instinct—would kick in. Hongkongers would come to the defence when things did not sound right: the democratic-reunificationists pulled that off once; the very same happened decades later during the Umbrella Revolution. These all have been good fights in themselves, though defensive battles—in the long run—are battles destined to fail.
What is to be done, then? Meanings, sentiments and—inherent in these—values Hongkongers have ascribed to the place they call home, should be laid out and discussed. Complementary to these discussions, Hongkongers should also sketch out their very own idea of Hong Kong—to each their own. While these ideas might be far from perfect, be surreal, or even absurd, it is the thought process, the conversations, and the debates sparked by these process that will make Hongkongers truly own this place. For this—as a Hongkonger—I remain hopeful.
* “Hēung” in Cantonese can mean both fragrance or incense.
^ “Hēung” in this context is used as a Cantonese slang word, which roughly corresponds to “kick the bucket”.
Vincent Cheng is a graduate of the Department of English (Class of 2013). He is a public policy aficionado (with streaks of an English major).