New philosophies
25 November 2021 | 4:00 pm

In the fall of twenty twenty one I at last address the challenges of two years of pandemic, and begin to grow. People, I have written, do not change. When they do, if they do, we ought to accept those changes, sudden and surprising though they may seem. We can not try to change people. But we can be aware, and be supportive, when they chose to.

Change comes from many directions. Mostly, in my life, it comes from an accumulation of days spent thinking. In the fall of twenty twenty one, having quit my job, I start walking home from the office, roughly an hour and forty minutes away. To compensate for the commute length, or for my own readiness to leave, I start at four pm. The walk is beautiful, along the harbor of one of the world’s most recognizable cities, and one of its most expensive. It is a walk couched in privilege, in the fortune of the past twenty years. Hong Kong, despite the battles, is a beauty, especially as the mercury drops below 25 C for the first time in 7 months. On these walks, as with every moment in this dense metropolis, I am not alone.

Long walks surrounded by humans give rise to change, I’ve found. They’re part of the reason I love living in cities, especially ones safe enough to walk in a straight line from origin to destination without considering the makeup of the neighborhood. To my American readers, I promise, these places do exist. On walks like these I think of the comments of a French person, hearing that Americans think Hong Kong’s pedestrian infrastructure to be the world’s best. The harbor isn’t very walkable,” they say. And the sidewalks are narrow.” How poor a place do we come from, Americans, that we are astonished by what is a step down for Europeans? No wonder that we love to vacation there, and to dream of something that seems impossible to build in our homeland.

Walking long distances clears the mind not through the exertion, but through the time. Eventually we have exhausted the current trains of thought. Eventually we must stop at new stations. So, at last, on these weeks of wandering post-decision and pre-result, I come to consider what I am truly up against, here in Hong Kong on year two of the pandemic. So, at last, do I come to consider what I believe, and how it has changed.

I am no longer making five year plans. As prudent savers whose jobs revolve around planning and our task-oriented natures, we do not YOLO. In some way we cannot. Yet we are changing. We are making fewer long term plans. Having spent much of the first forty years of my life in pursuit of qualifications, of experience, of visas, of access, I appreciate the luxury of peace, of an inability to schedule flights for ultimate tournaments in foreign countries, or to purchase tickets to concerts I’ll need work to fly me across the Pacific to see.

The past two years, and whatever is to come, have killed my desire to plan our future, to map our lives. I have often been focused on the five year view, on the medium term. The medium term, I see now, is dead, buried by governments, by fear, and by the virus. Instead I have today, which I spent in the park, on the water front, and talking to neighbors. Instead we have our lifetimes, which we will try hard to spend without fear.

We will try to make choices based on what is good, on what is best, without concern for the five year plan or the final destination. We will go when we can go, stay when we want to stay, and learn what we can in every situation. We will try hard to be the people we want to be, not eventually, but now. It is indeed a change.

These thoughts coalesce from long walks, and are built on the decisions that presaged them. These are the outcomes of two years of thinking, working, watching, and talking. I’m lucky to have a partner who is ready, neither impatient nor hopeful, but able to see and happy to move with the pace of my mind. It’s a thing formed step after step for decades now, and only finally ready to let go.


Something to share
29 October 2021 | 4:00 pm

She walks through Central station on the phone. Her pace is not hurried, this is a casual walk through the stretch of station between the Tung Chung line and the Island line. She, like myself, has probably walked this corridor a thousand times. We are both carrying burdens, heading home. Unlike myself, she is on the phone. Her arm is held out, video on. She’s FaceTiming a friend, whose expression, when I glimpse it at the end of the moving walkway, suggests this is not a rare conversation. They are chatting, but the view on the other end must be uneven, as the woman ahead of me makes no effort to keep the camera still. She is not sharing a view, or making a call. She is sharing her life, walking home with a friend. She is walking home with a friend’s company, live from a different country.

I make this walk like I often do, eyes on the crowd, watching the people I am lucky to share this city with. I watch for teen fashion, for adult fashion, for advertising tendencies and to gauge the city’s mood. Big train stations have a feel, a sense of motion regarding the current day. On Sundays this station is filled with the chatter of families, the joy of those out for an excursion. It’s a pleasant feel, more spandex, more beach gear. Hong Kong is a city of people who like to do, to exercise, to go out, and the station is filled with their energy. Last night, walking into Central on the way home after work, the station was filled with those in costume headed out for the evening, to LKF or other gatherings. Their joy, the energy spent on each outfit, was palpable in a busy station, far more people arriving than normal at 8 pm on a Friday.

I think of my own friends, old ones. Like the woman walking ahead of me on video, my friends too are in another country. They are, for the most part, asleep. Time zones are impartial masters, caring not for our desires. And yet when they are awake I rarely walk them to work on video, I rarely live stream my life simply for the joy of sharing space. It’s been months since I spoke on the phone to anyone other than family. I video call for work, from offices, far more than I do from my own phone in my own house, let alone from the beach.

Some of this is a matter of time zones. I’d share Lower Chung Sha with more folk if I could, but the five pm hour that’s most beautiful, as the water merges with the sky, doesn’t cross time zones well.

More though it’s a matter of life, of the way we share. I doubt the early developers of Skype or other video solutions imagined this casual walk or the hundreds of women on video with their families from the park in Hong Kong on Sundays. They sit on the ground eating foods from home and chatting, singing, relaxing. So often they are not alone, at least not wholly. The video bobs and weaves, and quality is intermittent, but on the other end of the screen is someone else’s life, opened to them for the afternoon. Briefly, despite distance, they inhabit the same space, a blend of Indonesia and Hong Kong, of park and house, and a family is whole again.

I’m so grateful that this technology is everywhere. I’m glad for the casual sharing and for getting to watch, even over shoulders, how great a distance we can now cross.


Typhoon days
12 October 2021 | 4:00 pm

Finally it rains. Our view, normally of buildings and trees, becomes a blur of gray until it becomes a wall of water. Curtains of rain slap against the building, blown by winds strong enough to pull scaffolding from buildings and signs from trees. The street out front will be covered in dirt washed down from the hill for days. We linger inside, happy for the reprieve from all the things we’d agreed to do. For two days we don’t count steps, or worry about social commitments. We rest and read and watch the world. After a sweltering summer, lying in bed with the ACs off listening to the rain is pleasure beyond reckoning.

On the second night we venture out, wandering the neighborhood between storm bands. By the time we decide to visit a friend it is pouring again. We hide once more indoors, catching up on life’s adventures. It’s a wonderful weekend, the first truly relaxing one in a long time. Perhaps, I think, we are over-committed.

On Monday the air is clear, and with two days until the next typhoon we celebrate. From a friend’s company’s boat the ocean is very green. The water itself, once we’ve leapt off the side, is perfect, neither warm nor cold. The air likewise is fresh, no longer the 34 C of mid-summer but 30, perfect for a swim and some time on the top deck with a novel. We linger late into the afternoon, glad to have the bay mostly to ourselves on a Monday in October. The ride back to the city is beautiful. The sun sets in front of us with few clouds, and we realize how lucky this moment is, between storms and without work. Flexibility can, sometimes, make up for the travel restrictions, make up for the lack of larger adventures. When I am underwater in the ocean the exact location matters less.

And then we are back to the storms, office windows battered by rain as people scamper towards the subways, leaving early in the face of the gale. I linger, unconcerned. In a country with infrastructure like this, with elevated covered walkways and trains and frequent overhangs, there is little need for fear of weather. I do not need to drive anywhere, nor walk more than a few moments exposed to the elements between office and house.

I remember my first typhoon. Standing on the elevated platform in Saitama, soaked as the rain came in from the side, I resolved to buy rain gear, even if only for the moments spent waiting for the Saikyo line. Twenty years later, again wrapped in a storm brewed near the Philippines, I think of how lucky it is, to be dry in the face of such weather. And how pleasurable indeed to be wet clean through within sight of home.



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