“As an adult traveling alone in a remote and cut off places, I learned a great deal about the world and myself: the strangeness, the joy, the liberation and truth of travel…..”.
My journey was not exactly illuminati of an occluded place but a ‘Jack in the Tin Box’ bus journey through the streets of Kowloon, Hong Kong. It was a spur of the moment decision, a touristy moment, to hop on to the first bus trundling out of Hung Hom Ferry bus terminal and it happened to be bus no 269 B, a circular bus service between Hung Hom and Tin Shui Wai, New Territories. The civilized adventure in the backyard was the camel eye view of a city within a city splurging on back streets, concrete walls blowing kisses to each other, the chintzy exteriors of clubs, salons, eateries and street food stalls as we made our way to an unknown destination and for me a new name on the Hong Kong map.
The ‘mechanical Hongkonger’, bus No. 269 B, was no match to daily dentured pavement walks as it whittled through the surging vehicular traffic and pedestrian overflow of West Kowloon Corridor, Mong Kok, Jordan, the Jade Market, Sham Shi Po, through crowded areas and markets I had never seen in 5 years time.
The cityscape took on a new avatar, businesslike, with sunlight slithering through concrete gaps on faceless people on their daily chores, the aged intent on their movement oblivious to surroundings, the cell-strapped youngsters, the intrepid trolley pushers, the pampered pet dogs and the bane of sidewalks the poky umbrellas.
The sun was extra generous on the iconic scenery of bobbing boats, cargo vessels, steamers and the propped up green mountains as we moved down the Kowloon corridor towards the stretched out blankness of the missing horizon and the silver strands of Tsing Yi Bridge spanning the shimmering waters between the islands. We have travelled down this road several times but always with a purpose, arriving or leaving the country with no time to look around fast forwarding our entry into different homes. This was different, a relaxed anticipation of an unknown local extension with place names Olympian city, Kwai Chung, Shi Tseng, Lam tin, Yuen Long, Pat Jeung, till recently blips on commute horizon, connecting dots of the journey. We were in the front seats soaking in the afternoon sun and oblivious to embarking and disembarking passengers and at red lights moseying up to the vehicle right in front.
The scenery opened up to farms and housing blocks till the high-rise silhouettes revealed Tin Shui Wai the ‘Town of sky and water’and entry point to Hong Kong Wetland Park. Pockets of residential blocks interspersed with educational institutions, commercial blocks, parks and offices giving a spaced out vacant ambience and from upper deck a feeling of deja vu. On ground level a carryover of Shenzhen or Guangzhou, spiritless and dead pan.
We walked around the Kingswood Ginza Shopping Center, opposite the Ginza Light Rail Station and few minutes away from the Wetland Park, packed with brand showrooms with Sunday shoppers and sightseers making the most of festive season sales. The Hong Kong zing is missing…maybe it is the environment or proximity to the marshlands (north of Ping Shan in Yuen Long District) or distance from the main commercial centers of Hong Kong and Kowloon that gives it a reclusive visage. Tin Shui Wai was an aquaculture destination with resident fisher folk converting the marshlands into ‘gei wai’ fish ponds and rice paddies.
Decline in aquaculture led to reclaiming of the abandoned pools and in 1987 a new township sprouted up. It was a case of plans going awry as there were few takers for the apartments due to unemployment and lack of communication when industries moved on to nearby industrial cities Shenzhen, Dongguan and Foshan in Guangdong province. Loneliness and insignificance worsened and Tin Shui Wai was referred to as ‘city of sadness’* for its high rate of unemployment, suicides, marital and child abuse.
A sandwich and coffee at La Kaffa and without any attempt to walk to the Wetland Park we boarded 269 B for the two-hour return trip to Hung Hum ferry terminal. The setting sun casting its shadow on the passing scenery added the dash of optimism as we made our way through the evening glow of Nathan road, a delectable goulash of people, vehicles, noises, odors and hassles.
*Tin Shui Wai: City of Sadness by Derrick Chang 2007. (Asia Sentinel – Tin Shui Wai: City of Sadness