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/
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.
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.
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.
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.