Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Strange North Point Musician - A Hong Kong Story

If you are in Hong Kong and live in North Point, chances are you have seen that guy. Middle-aged, tall, scrawny, he has a long, wrinkly face, a long nose, blue eyes. Once he shook hands with me, and I felt the power of his sinewy arms.

He is from the United Kingdom and, as far as I know, he has been living in Hong Kong for a few years. You might have seen him because every day he stands at the corner of a sidewalk - usually near North Point MTR Station - and he plays guitar. That is how he earns a living. If you ever heard him play, you know he plays badly, and his singing talents are even worse than his music. And yet he manages to support himself. At least he earns enough to stay at a serviced apartment in Fortress Hill. At night, after "getting off work", he goes to McDonald's next to North Point Station and drinks there a coffee, which he regularly pays using a bunch of the coins passers-by gave him. While he counts each coin, he talks to the staff who, embarrassed, seldom reply.  

One day he talked to me. At first he seemed nice. But I soon changed my mind. He tried to convince me that the sovereignty over Australia, Canada and other former dominions belongs to the UK. I told him my opinion, but he kept interrupting me, and it seemed he would never ever stop talking. He became aggressive, did not give me a chance to say anything, and in the end he behaved like a master who is scolding his disciple - a role I do not like to play. "I'm going to have lunch now", I said politely and left. Since that morning, whenever we bump into each other I pretend not to see him.

Yet the sovereignty issue over Britain's former dominions is not his main topic of conversation. Usually, he talks about something else: his faith. For he purports to be a Christian, a man who once had a revelation and now has a special mission. He tries to convince people to accept his particular version of the Christian faith. 

Once I saw him with a guy. The room was full. He got up and said that he could not talk about his story in public, that what he wanted to discuss was a very important matter, and he urged his companion to go to a quiet cafe, where he probably held another of his never-ending monologues.

Tonight he gave another brilliant performance. A Hong Kong girl was sitting next to me. She wore a jeans mini-skirt and a black leather jacket. She was good-looking. The man walked in and looked around. I pretended not to notice him. All of a sudden, he walked over to the girl and chatted her up. He talked about his faith, his job as a musician, his life. Every now and then he told the girl how pretty she was. She seemed diffident, but she talked. Perhaps she did feel lonely, since she was alone in the middle of the night. Or maybe she only wanted to be polite. 



His mouth was full of honey: "It is a pleasure to chat with a pretty girl like you, even if just for five minutes", he said, "What's a pretty girl like you doing all alone so late?".  After a while, he cautiously broached the subject of faith. "In your heart you need something more", he said, "If I get to know you, I will stop you drinking and smoking", "We can become friends, and then I'll help you if I can". 

As he spoke, the girl became increasingly distressed and impatient. Not knowing, perhaps, if he was hitting on her, or if he had something else in mind. "Whenever you see me", he said, " you can come and talk to me, and I can help you. I will buy you a coffee, and you can talk to me". 

As soon as he uttered these words, the girl got up, bowed to him and, after saying a polite "thank you", hastily threw her paper coffee cup into the trash can and left. "Goodbye", she said somewhat coldly, "Nice to meet you". "Goodbye, darling", he replied, and blew her a kiss.    

He was now alone. He got up and went to sit at another table. But he was still full of energy and determination. He talked to a guy who sitting in front of him. The conversation soon turned into yet another monologue, a monologue of the man who wants to save people's souls, but who does not know how to listen to them, how to forget himself, but constantly seeks to impose on others his faith and beliefs, longing for their submission. He apparently tries it with anyone. The feeble-minded, those without self-confidence, might in the end be dragged into his world. Who knows what is the fate of those he has enlightened?



Friday, 11 March 2016

Hot Sale in Hong Kong - A Lucky Charm That Promises Wealth





This little figurine of a smiling man holding a gold ingot is a hot sale in Hong Kong at the moment. And judging by the number of luxury cars on the city's street, it is not that surprising. Perhaps it really works, so I am thinking about buying one. Getting wealthy for just 30 dollars (around 3 euros) is a pretty good deal. 

The name of the figurine is 元寶財神公仔 (pinyin: Yuánbǎo cáishén gōngzǐ), which literally means: Doll of the Gold Ingot God of Wealth. 

Shoe-shaped silver or gold ingots (元寶) were used as money in ancient China and they have thus become traditional symbols of wealth in Chinese culture. According to Vivien Sung, the yuanbao first appeared in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). In the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) they became an actual standard currency. Because the Chinese dumplings resemble the shape of gold ingots, they are also associated with wealth and are an auspicious dish to eat on New Year's Eve in various part of China (see Vivien Sung: Five-Fold Happiness: Chinese Concepts of Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness, and Wealth, 2002, pp. 232-233). 

Some people believe that China has become "materialistic" after Deng Xiaoping's opening up in the 1970s. But I think this is far from the truth. The Chinese-speaking world is full of traditional symbols of wealth that show exactly how much people have always cared about money in China.

Traditional symbols of prosperity include the deer, the peony, the monkey, the rooster, the crab, the sticky rice cake, tangerine, the lettuce and the beckoning cat, the number 8, and dozens of others. 

One of the most popular symbols is the goldfish (金魚), because the pronunciation of these two characters sounds like 金餘, which means "abundance of gold". That's why the image of a child holding a large fish and a lotus flower can often be seen on Chinese New Year. The fish stands for wealth, while the lotus flower stands for harmony. Another popular image is a fish wrapped in a lotus leaf. If you send a postcard with this image to a friend before New Year, it means you are wishing him or her "abundance of money in their wallet" (ibid., p. 244).

If you go to a Daoist or Buddhist temple, you may also see the famous "money frog", a three-legged frog sitting on a pile of Chinese money and often depicted with a coin in its mouth. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

An Evening Walk in Hong Kong - From Sheung Wan to Fortress Hill

Hong Kong is a quintessentially futuristic city. For people like me, who love modern metropolises, simply strolling around among shiny skyscrapers, neon lights and billboards is an amazing experience. 

Yesterday I had dinner at a vegetarian cafe' called Ovo Cafe'. It is located in the business district of Sheung Wan. I ordered an all-day breakfast set and a mango smoothie, very tasty (although quite expensive). 



After my meeting, which ended at around 10 p.m., I decided to walk back to Fortress Hill. As you can see from the map below, this is a 5 km walk, lasting around 1 hour and 15 minutes.

While I was walking I took a lot of pictures, and I want to share them now with all the people who are interested in Hong Kong.