This is the view from my window. It will actually be completely obscured by next year; the construction is just out of the frame. The buildings in the foreground are older, which is why they are also shorter. Fun fact: my neighborhood held the record for the densest neighborhood in the world in the 1980’s until it was beat out by another Hong Kong neighborhood, Mong Kok.
TUNG’S TRAVEL JOURNAL: I’m starved for a moment alone in one of the most crowded places on Earth
I’ve got to admit that what I’m about to tell you is going to make me sound neurotic. Every single time I get in the elevator at my Hong Kong apartment alone, I sing.
Whether it’s Adele or John Legend or Macklemore, it really doesn’t matter, because I’ll belt it out, half screaming, half singing.
You’re probably about to call the psychiatric ward right about now, so I should explain myself.
Junior Manson Tung will be teaching at Hong Kong Summerbridge from June 21-August 15. He will be writing periodic blogs about his experience living, working, and traveling around Asia.
It is absolutely impossible to get a minute alone here besides maybe the occasional solo elevator ride. Directly above me is another family. Ditto below. And currently three different apartments surround mine on all but one side. Blessedly open to the hills of Hong Kong, my own building is about to be obscured by a new apartment tower going up beside mine.
So within two months, I’ll be surrounded on all four sides. I can already look out the open side and see what the family across the street is having for dinner.
Since no one uses private vehicles, public transportation (usually the MTR) is the choice for getting around. Besides the sounds of the train or bus starting or stopping, Hong Kong’s public transportation is eerily quiet. But you can hear everyone’s Samsungs and iPhones dinging and ringing to the sound of Wexin (WeChat), WhatsApp and Candy Crush.
When I get to work, I’m immediately surrounded by other teachers or students. Even if I am in a room alone, people are almost always around.
For a boy born and raised in a single-family home and always in a private car, this has been a strange time.
I’m so used to being able to get some alone time that I’m finally starting to understand why certain people can’t stand the city.
I always found it strange when people in New York or San Francisco wanted to get out in the country. I even remember that in fifth grade I got in trouble for suggesting that San Francisco was being held back by its desire to create so much parkland so close to the city.
“Marin Headlands is nice, Mrs. Levy. But do you know what would be even better than this hiking trail on Hawk Hill? A 50-story apartment tower with views of the city.”
Turns out that 10-year-old boys on five-day nature retreats shouldn’t say that. Not when the notion of them having fun roasting marshmallows and enjoying a simpler more rustic way of life is accepted without question. (For the record, I didn’t enjoy that first jaunt into nature. Subsequently, though, I was able to put down the cellphone and pick up the s’more.)
But being constantly surrounded by people has more drawbacks than I could have ever imagined. I feel like I’m on permanent display to the whole world. And I’m not making millions off of overexposure like the Kardashians.
I once watched an episode of a show called “Taboo” on National Geographic. In that episode, tech millionaires went to a fight club to beat the crap out of each other for no good reason other than they were tired of always being surrounded by people. I remember thinking that they were absolutely crazy. The guy who broke his face later in the episode after being pounded into the concrete floor by his “friend” of several years only served to reaffirm my original feeling.
But now I feel like I should have withheld my original judgment. Honestly, I feel like punching something too.
While Sacramento is a city, we have our places to get away from it all. A trip to the levee or even an afternoon in my backyard is usually all I need to center my thoughts. But the parks here (both Hong Kong Park and Victoria Park) are constantly filled with people.
I’m even thinking of doing something that must sound absolutely out of character to anyone who knows me and my cosmopolitan tendencies back home. It’s, dare I say, revolutionary even in contemplation.
I’m thinking of renting a tent and a kayak, taking a boat out to Lamma Island, and going camping and kayaking for a few days—sans cell phone and WiFi.
Jason, Mrs. Levy, Ms. Song, Bolman, Ms. Burns (hell, any of the teachers who chaperoned me on those outdoorsy field trips and were dismayed by my lack of appreciation of anything remotely nature-based), eat your hearts out.