Over on The Martini of Destiny Pinterest Board, there’s this photo (outlined here in red):
A street more clogged with little red top van-taxi-things than New York City is with yellow cabs.
Bright signs that I can’t read, hanging between buildings.
A sense of much going on in a very compact space.
It’s a street scene from Hong Kong, a city I visited only briefly, but that has a hold on me still.
It’s an image I like a lot. During 2003, on the way to India, I had a brief stopover in Hong Kong. A 12-hour glorified layover, really. Just time enough to get lost in the city for a while. I wandered those packed streets. I watched people walk through a park in the middle of a neighborhood whose buildings could’ve been cut out of London. I took the ferry across the harbor. I got a haircut (with free head massage!). I went down the alleys between the massive buildings, and wandered the temples and vendor stalls.
I got lost, and felt lucky to make my train back to the airport in time to catch my flight to New Delhi.
That small taste of Hong Kong has stuck with me for over 10 years now. I want to go back, wander those streets with my family. I want to see where the suit-and-tie businesspeople are going for lunch, and follow them inside another small streetside little eatery, where the noodles are fresh and the air gleams with the scents of chicken and pork. (Sadly, we wouldn’t be able to see the trippy, otherworldly Aw Boon Haw Gardens—they were torn down in the 90s for apartments.)
Hong Kong is a major city—but its vibrancy is beyond many other major cities. The world passes through here. And one time, long ago, I did too.
When I started working on The Martini of Destiny, it doesn’t surprise me at all that it had to be set in Hong Kong. It also doesn’t surprise me that, in my wee fantasy world, Hong Kong is a bit different from what we know today. For starters, in the Rucksack Universe, Hong Kong is an independent country.
The Martini of Destiny needed to be set somewhere not American or European, not Western—but with a touch of the West to it. Hong Kong is that. Chinese, British, Asian, American, European—and ever and always, itself. Which never stops changing.
This photo is just a small reminder of a place I’ve only gotten the tiniest taste of.
For now, that will do. But even if it’s just in another story, Hong Kong, I’ll be back for more.