A lot of people I am close to surprisingly seem to be under the impression that I “didn’t like” Hong Kong when I first moved here. I find this kind of stunning. Apparently, because I pined for Bombay, which was more pining for friends, familiarity and a certain warmth combined with verve that is characteristic of the place, I gave off the impression that I didn’t like Hong Kong.
For the love of all that’s holy, people, it need not be one or the other. It can be both. Or one can be, as I was, torn. Anyway, maybe I didn’t reiterate that I loved Hong Kong enough while bemoaning what I missed about Bombay, because I kind of thought it was obvious that I loved Hong Kong. Apparently not.
Anyway, six years down the line, I am very much over Bombay and India in general. As a place to live, I mean. I think it’s still awesome to visit. Like a typical NRI, I have realised that good infrastructure, safety, and all the gateways that living in a developed part of the world bring trump character. At a microcosmic level, this is also indicated by where I now live in Hong Kong, which has more convenience than character. At the level of a city, though, Hong Kong has both convenience and character which is what makes it awesome.
If I had to date the year I grew out of India, it was probably around 2009. Before then, I still considered my parent’s home home. But around that time, I switched allegiances to my own apartment in Hong Kong. My parents home stopped being the place I felt most comfortable and secure and I felt a pang of relief when I came “home” to Hong Kong. I finally stopped saying “going home” when I visited India. And fittingly/tellingly, soon after that I got pregnant.
I was having this conversation with Curly, who was tripping on her latest trip to New York, and I mentioned how I used to think Hong Kong and Bombay were on par as cities and now I realised, they are not. Hong Kong is in a different league. And she was like: “Er, yes. Obviously.”
And the leagues are not defined by infrastructure alone or the presence of firangs – I keep being told how there are so many firangs in Bombay now – though those do add to it. It’s about that verve I mentioned. Bombay has it, but Hong Kong has it at a whole different level. Hong Kong is often described by its own people as a cultural desert but the fact is that it is miles ahead of Bombay in this regard. India in general has a rich culture and history but Hong Kong, and most great cities, have both culture and comtemporaneity. And that’s where the difference lies – at the cutting edge.
That brings me to New York, which is the mother of them all as cities go. I first visited New York after visiting Hong Kong. And I shocked my cousin and a friend by declaring that I preferred Hong Kong. At the time, I really did. Maybe because I found Hong Kong more accessible; it’s easier to be an insider to some extent in Hong Kong than it is in New York.
But now I feel I have outgrown Hong Kong too. I realise that Hong Kong is New York on a small scale; it’s internationalised in pockets but New York is like a microcosm of the world. Hong Kong is still very Chinese and in some ways, conservative. A few years ago, a friend I was close to moved from Hong Kong to New York and her exact words were “Hong Kong is great but I think I’ve outgrown it.” Now, I feel the same.