While the impression one gets of Hong Kong as expressed through the landscape images of its skyline is one of hyper-modernity, there is an ordinary side of the city which is not frame-able in dialectal understandings of pre-modern and modern, nor is it reducible to the visual cleanliness and cool sterility that the global city image tries to convey. Indeed the production of the Global City image in its attempt to produce spectacle, erases the everyday and the people involved in producing that everyday. In doing so that which makes the city magnificent is also erased.
Through its street spaces, Hong Kong communicates haptically to those willing to engage and the result is an experience that affects one in ways that are visceral. This is particularly true in spaces occupied by street markets and hawkers. The sensation of heat on skin from intense sunlight combines with the mingling smell of sweaty flesh, the sweet fragrance of lychee and tomato, the stinky feet aroma of Durian, the earthy pungency of fresh meat, and the tang of salty fish. This sensual mixture is overlaid by the constant murmur of language melodies as shoppers talk to each other and to market traders; these sounds in turn punctuated by trafic noise, and underlaid by the constant hum of air conditioning units, and the subtle plop of dripping water from the condensation that such units produce.
These spaces are produced not by global financial capital, but through the day-on-day activities of market traders who rise before dawn to go select foods from the wholesale markets. The army of ancient vans, burping out caustic air as they traverse the city in order to meet with those who deliver by hand to market stalls. Humans pushing hand carts piled high with boxes and baskets of produce down busy streets, which make you fear for the safety of your ankles. The elderly who collect the boxes in order to eat. The hawkers who set up temporary stands out of tables and bits of leftover packaging that they can quickly deconstruct if the hawker patrols come around. Overhead, laundry is hung out of windows; sheets and shirts that become bleached by the sun just as they are yellowed by the acidic and dusty air. While mappable spaces, to some extent, they are also fleeting and ephemeral spaces that produce a particular form of public engagement that is not governed in a national sense.
As such, one does not merely visit such spaces in order to tick them off a tourist list as that type of encounter will only disappoint. To get the most out of the city you must take it into you and become attuned to it and by it. Hong Kong is best experienced and understood though fleeting and embodied encounters, which are moments of dwelling and making oneself open to the possibility of more-than-visual and more-than-rational engagement. It isn’t so much as what you see in the city, but what you experience in those fleeting moments of becoming part of the city.
This post is part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is Fleeting. You can find the challenge here.