Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hong Kong Memories

The name "Hong Kong," translated from the Cantonese, Heung Gong, means "fragrant harbor." We expatriates who lived there found that to be a bit amusing. There were definitely many aromas, especially in Kowloon City where I lived, but that combination of automobile exhaust, yesterday's garbage, restaurant cooking, and open markets was not what we typically referred to as "fragrant." I am assuming that in the old days before it was so populated, local vegetation along with natural beauty gave rise to the name.

Hong Kong was indeed a fascinating and diverse place to live. It had a long history of taking in refugees. Many had flooded in from mainland China in the wake of political turmoil. In the 1980s, there was a large refugee camp in Kowloon for Vietnamese refugees awaiting resettlement in various countries. In addition to the majority Cantonese (southern China) population, there were also other Chinese groups such as Hakka, Swatow, and Szechuan as well as a large community of "boat people" whose homes were in boats on the harbor, and whose families had traditionally earned a living by fishing. 

At the time I was there, Hong Kong was still a British Crown Colony, so there were many British expatriates there as well as other European business people. Being such a vital place for business, there were also Japanese, Koreans, Indonesians, people from India as well as Americans there involved in various business ventures. There were also significant Filipino and Southeast Asian populations living there. I saw an amazing hodge podge of old tradition and new industry; Asian culture with European and American influences.

Before I left Hong Kong, I wrote a poem for one of my Chinese friends who was a school teacher. She herself was about to embark upon a journey to England for further study. In the poem, I tried to express my sentiments about the place I was leaving behind.

Fragrant Harbor

A fragrance to heaven goes up each day
            as incense burns in temples.
A fragrance to world endures in time
with the gathering of spirited and lively people.
A fragrance to business and trade is sure,
            and it disperses throughout the land.
A fragrance to the East,
A fragrance to the West;
A fragrance to all who have come.

How many have sensed the sweetness of this place,
For whatever reason they journey –
To escape, to be caught;
To be lost, to be found.
The motives are many, the result is one.

I number among those
Who have caught the scent
Of this busy, crowded, unique place.
And something in me shall hope to smell again
The fragrance of these shores.

Charles Kinnaird                               6/83         



  1. I especially like the last five lines. Have you been back? Do you know some Cantonese?


  2. Sadly, I have not been back yet. I do have a recurring dream in which I hop on a bus, go across town, over a hill and across a bridge and arrive in Hong Kong. It is always a good dream!

    I was never fluent in Cantonese, by any means. I studied the spoken language (i.e. no written characters) throughout the two years I was there. I could manage asking a few things at the market, and could pick up on some phrases, but that was about it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...