I was brought up, the daughter of a banker, in British run Hong Kong. In 2014, aged 52, a feminist socialist, I went back to recover memories and to make peace. This is a diary of that trip.
The morning before leaving, I look out from the 17th floor of our hotel. Below is a roof garden on a nearby aging block of flats. It’s a concrete tiled square framed with potted plants. A grey metal door stands open and a slim Chinese woman is hanging up a single sheet on the clothes line. In the cool silence of my hotel room I watch it flap in the strong wind. I’m intrigued because she has the sheet pegged up but she keeps moving and re-pegging it, grasping it in the high wind. Then I see the metal door slam and finally the woman leaves her sheet pegging. The door won’t open. She returns to the sheet, shifts a peg. She then repeats this door pulling/sheet pegging routine several times. Finally she bangs her fists on the door. I assume she’s shouting. Nobody comes. I can do nothing but watch through the glass.
Chris, my friend and fellow traveller, calls me and we leave.
We travel up the Peak with the bemused taxi driver (see post “Going Home”) and get dropped off half way up by the park I used to play in. It’s still there. And the old bus stop where I used to catch the No 15 to primary school on The Peak.
As we walk along a residential road, on our right thick jungle foliage falls away steeply into mist. The cicadas crackle. Through fog and rain we pass the ghost of my 8 year old self lagging behind her mother and cowardly corgi, Jemima , her attention caught by an amah squatting across some drains to relieve herself. Today a Chinese man is walking 2 enormous Alsatian guard dogs. One calmly places his jaw around Chris’s leg until his owner intones a command and they leave. She only has a bruise but it feels shocking and anti-climactic.
We approach one of my childhood homes. The loop of the drive is warmly familiar but the house has been replaced by 3 flats and a guard house. This guard is friendly.
The previous one was not. Our taxi had parked by the huge metal gates and he appeared instantly, insisting we leave.
19 Middle Gap Road. I look over his shoulder to the grand exterior. That house had 5 bedrooms, an attic playroom and a raised garden with swimming pool. We never had a guard.
Which made it easy, 40 years ago when I was 15 years old, for a gang of Chinese men to burgle our house in the early hours of the morning. My father, my teenage self and my 9 year old brother were asleep. They drugged the dogs, tied us up and walked away with cash and easy valuables.
We never talked about it. I got blind drunk, my brother got mumps and my father had a solid grey metal door built half way up the stairs.
This morning I watched, soundless, behind glass as that Chinese lady banged on her grey metal door. This afternoon as I look over the guard’s shoulder, I wonder if that door is still half way up the stairs. The memories slip out. I watch them, soundless behind time’s glass.
We walk back and catch the no 15 bus.