Day 3: 10 January, HK

Today I go to the congee shop on Kings Rd for mandarin and red bean soup for breakfast and plan my day. I intend to take in some alternative culture and head for the Cattle Depot Artist Village in Ma Tau Kok near Hong Hom on Kowloon. I get there by ferry from North Point. The terminal lined with golf with stalls full of tanks of freshly caught sea creatures and fish. The sun is shining, I almost wish I had my sun glasses. I take a wrong turn and end up on a foot bridge on which a homeless woman has hung her clothes to dry. Beneath the bridge is a cluster of religious icons: bud has, virgins etc. I walk alongside the roaring East Kowloon Corridor which cuts like a canyon through the forest of high rise and disappears into a lengthy tunnel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle_Depot_Artist_Village

The Artist Village is a turn of the century listed ex-abbatoir, complete with concrete troughs and hitching rings. I’m looking for the base of Videotage but they are closed up. There are various artist’s workshops housed in the peripheral buildings. A sculptor surrounded by old domestic appliances, plastic and metal junk welding a new masterpiece. I look at an a couple of exhibitions: one tacking community and living space, the other the fruit of a series of workshops with teenagers.  I watch a documentary filmed in Shau Kei Wan market. I’m disappointed at how little I find and how uninspiring it is. It’s time to walk. The side streets are high and narrow and are populated by car workshops, and lines of washing hung out of faceless windows. Around one corner is a demolition site, the face of a lowly 2-storey house is all that remains of what once was there.

I follow To Kwa Wan Rd a little way, many of the buildings are peeling and date from the 1960s. This is not space age shiny new Hong Kong. There is a workshop in which Lambourghinis and Ferraris are being fixed. Along a less busy road I come across a throng queuing to get into a restaurant, politely being pestered by both pro and anti-Falun Gong.

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I’m searching for a place to eat. The one I’m hunting for is closed and I head further west and into the district of Hok Yuen, a strange mist-mash of shiny new malls, low-rise scruffy streets full of recycling depots, where men are sorting metals, crushing and bailing them, then loading trucks. One small street is lined with fancy elaborately decorated vast restaurants. The street is festooned with red lanterns and christmas stars. At mid afternoon, the street is empty, the restaurants empty. I am intercepted by a woman from the office that manages this private street, and have to account for what I’m photographing. “Not people, not you…really…just the nice decorations…” haha. I eat something unmemorable in a little vegetarian eatery. There is a boy, a college student I guess, who I find quite fascinating.

I end up accidentally walking to the Whampoa. This seems to be a huge luxury private residential development. At its entrance stands the incongruous weirdness of a shopping centre in the shape and form of a ship. Once around Whampoa I am at the harbourside at a steel and glass Harbour Grand Kowloon. Smart bellboys and doormen attending to visitors drawing up in scruffy red HK taxis. I decide to walk in, fully expecting to be stopped, but the doors are open for me. The warmth of the sun over the water fills the lobby through its glass walls. I loiter, linger, look at the cakes in the cafe-bar and watch guests, certainly not moneyed business people, arriving. There is some kind of group thing going on. I catch the ferry from Hung Him back to North Point. It might have been that evening that I went to the buffet restaurant. I can’t remember now.

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Day 2: 9 January, HK

This is really the first day of the trip, and it’s one where I’m very much guided by my instinct and on-line maps, and reading stuff on the internet. rather than KK. It’s quite a solitary time here, in which each day I struggle to get up and out, having no awareness of the outside from my cell. It’s not until I get out descend in the lift and exit the lobby that I know what the temperature and weather are like, and if there is anything going on on the streets. Today I am concentrating on the local. My goal, or perhaps my meaning whilst I am here, is to work with photography and soundscape. I have set myself the task of using a fast portrait lens to explore the layers of colour, shape, information, movement and behaviours that are stacked up in the canyon-like streets of HK. The technical aspect of this are a challenge. Working with these parameters  and shallow focus, the margins for error are very small, and as the lens refocusses as I look through the layers of crowds, with people criss-crossing in the foreground, to an interesting face. It means I am not as reactionary and more a sniper than a gun-slinger. Sure I miss decisive moments, and probably I will things to happen in front of me. Perhaps the faces I photograph, to some extent, are ones that already know they are being watched and have been tracked in my sights. I look back at these photos and wonder if it is me that is on their minds, and if so what their feelings are to me. Sound is something I havent worked with before and my handheld recorder could do with a wind guard. I find myself lingering on the fringes of conversations and product demonstrations  on street corners, in a language I dont understand. It is the music and texture of the voices, and later the machinery (trams, subways, lifts), that attracts me. If only there was a way to record the smells of a place, as I feel these are often so distinctive and evokative: in this case, the heady herbs and spices of the Chinese medicine shops and steaming buns.

I feel a bit like a spy and there is a sense of loneliness and isolation in my existence here. I go and get a glass of soya milk from a congee shop. I use my drilled rehearsed Cantonese to ingratiate myself “Mm goi; yi go ne go”. This is interesting: I get what I want but I have no idea whether the sounds I produce are perceived as Cantonese, Gweilo grunts in some unfamiliar language or just unintelligible noise. I wonder does it even matter that I try to produce sounds. We find when we travel and have low local linguistic ability that we use basic stock phrases where probably you would achieve the same results just by pointing and persisting. Sometimes I don’t bother, sometimes I make the effort. Another area of marginalisation. It’s the same when I consider my subject matter. We will never have a conversation about how they feel and who they are. These narratives are the narratives which I project onto these people and attempt to draw out when others look at my pictures. I am very uninformed. I miss many details. I’m not sure what it is that draws me to my subject: it certainly isn’t an understanding of them. Perhaps it is the impenetrability I experience in looking. Imagination and fancy play a big part.

Today is spent in Northpoint: the Kiu Fai Mansion under the State Theatre; I peer through the doors of elderly homes like the one in “A Simple Life” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2008006/

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the mirrored lobby of Sunbeam Theatre on KIng’s Road; the market around North Point Rd; a crowd of housewives watching a guy demonstrating some magnetic window cleaning device, some face-mask clad women stacking the bamboo poles used in scaffolding buildings here, supervised by a scrawny bare chested tattooed leader; the covered multi-storey market on Java Rd; the rows of jewellers with windows full of gold ornamentation.

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I spend time watching construction and road diggers around Wharf Rd and Tong Shui Pier rd. I spend time on Tong Shui Rd pier, beneath the sweeping flyover of the East Island Corridor. There are sparrows, an old guy comes to feed them. Other retirees with nothing to do pass time on the benches. Another performs stretching exercises. Ferries, fishing boats, freighters and container ships share the channel in front of me. Dusk falls, and the sun glows feebly as it sets.

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I had lunched in 3 Virtues on Kings Rd, a spacious dim sum place above a small mall. Round tables, white table cloths, mandatory pots of tea, and groups of elderly set for the afternoon to nibble, gossip and sip. The waitress is gracious and attentive, not pushy and advises me on which noodles to order. This is quntessentially HK. This is the kind of place KK doesn’t like.

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I think I had dinner at Ahimsa Buffet behind King St. A place I frequented before and usually quite late in the evening. It seems popular with 20-something educated types. There is a good choice of food, but having got there late I have to rush before the hot buffet is cleared away. I ask for a discount because of this, and the young guy who holds court with his friends, performing tea rituals, happily obliges me. Somehow he reminds me of Erique.

My evening continues as I go back to my room and begin to process, sort, edit and delete photos. This is a ritual that becomes a time-consuming and obsessive habit each evening.