Stormy travels into July: the “disappearing” city that needs a rainbow

July is almost upon us: ’tis the season for strawberries, summer operas, fashion shows, and  Wimbledon is back after last year’s unprecedented hiatus.  But in Hong Kong, the weather is stormy, the mood is grey, the summer local fruit is more lychee than strawberry (and yes some lychees are grown locally … you may even find jars of lychee honey at local supermarkets), and the season seems to have too much history, complications, and melancholic “what ifs”.

Yes another very significant political anniversary is coming up, this time the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on the 1st July.  (We waxed lyrical about another important 100th anniversary in 2019).

There’s the positive aspect that is very much celebration-worthy: China the “homeland” has developed so much in the last decades and certainly looking from a 100-year horizon.

But Hong Kong the city has just seen the boss of one of its more popular and successful media companies arrested and its treasured annual 4th June Victoria Park virgil cancelled.

The protests of the “yellow umbrellas” have resulted in the imposition of a National Security Law (its 1st anniversary falls also on the same date, 1st July).  We are a little reminded of some recent literary and cultural happenings that perhaps presage this: Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City is a novel by the local author Kai-Cheung Dung about a city that no longer physically exists, where mass disappearance happens without cause, where people are treated by the gaze of humanities as a specimen of curiosity.  What happens to Hong Kong as it becomes a city that “disappears”?

This sense of being “lost” – and perhaps even a need to forget – is wondrously captured in a cyber-novel that has become an urban legend: “Lost on a Red minibus from Mongkok to Tai Po” is its title and February 2012 was when it was first released on the city’s most-popular online hangout, Golden Forum, and “Mr Pizza” is its author: seventeen persons aboard a red minibus became lost in a parallel world where the surroundings remain the same, yet all humans have disappeared.  While passing through a tunnel, they sense something is amiss, and sure enough, when they emerge on the other sides, the roads are empty and their destination has become a ghost town.  By July, the online version had been edited into a book and it became one of the three bestsellers at that year’s Hong Kong Book Fair.  It was later made into a film “The Midnight After” that was presented at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival and is now considered part of the “Cyberpunk” local culture.

An author who considers himself a Hong Konger and is now living in Beijing has written a recent novel filled with similar surrealism and possibly trying to find some possible redemption to this sense of exile and feeling lost, of “not being listened to” and of history being forgotten: entitled Zero Point Beijing, it has a storyline about a 14-year-old boy who died young and his post-death relationship with his brother, but paints a world where energies from the “upperworld” and especially that of memory interact with that of those in the underworld.

To lift one’s spirits, perhaps we will mention how there is a suburb in Hong Kong called “Rainbow” – truly! – with its Cantonese name “Choi Hung” (meaning “rainbow”) and the public housing estate with different sections painted the 7 colours of the rainbow and its 11 buildings named after colours.  It was actually the public housing estate, completed in 1962, that was named after the rainbow first, because it was built on what used to be a flat farmland facing Kai Tak and where a rainbow would appear after rain, and when MTR built a station close by in 1979, it named the station Choi Hung.  There’s truly a lot of colourful history surrounding various MTR stations (we wrote a round-up of the 9 newest MTR stations here – and it just happens that two new MTR stations – close to Choi Hung and the old airport Kai Tak – have opened this week)!  We trust that the density, the convenience, and the resourcefulness of Hong Kongers won’t disappear too soon!