He’s been waiting to be plucked from this veritable hell hole for some time now. What once used to torture him has now diminished to a humming nuisance. The stink, the heaviness, and of course the Heat. It smothers his body in its fervent vapors, incinerating his lashes and drying up the last trace of moisture in his throat.
He doesn’t know what the afterworld will look like but he knows he’s headed there soon. Their faces play in reverse chronological order in his mind, occasionally shuffling backwards and forwards as he searches his memory. Long gone friends, distant uncles, lovers, people he hurt, the ones who he left. He’s forgotten some of their names. Most of them disappeared before he could say his apologies.
He straightens the brim of his cap, his grey hairs matted down to his forehead in sweat. This must be a good time to make his peace with God, if it was ever going to happen. He can’t think of what to say or how to put it. His regret may count for something.
He waits with an uncertain expectation, not knowing exactly how it’ll happen. He looks up to the cloudless sky, the heat waves melding the colors of late summer. He’s up next.
Sundays are the only day off for domestic workers in Hong Kong, the majority of whom are women from the Philippines and Indonesia. The streets around Central district in particular are bustling with the influx of women who use this day to do their shopping and take care of all their personal needs. The few parks and public spaces sporadically dispersed throughout the city are filled with these women who relax and profit from their day of freedom. They come decked out in their Sunday best and socialize in small groups, huddled on blankets on the ground while doing each other’s hair, applying manicures, and chatting.
The top three photos above were taken on the bridge between Central station and Hong Kong station. A long row of women on either side of the bridge lounge around in makeshift cardboard shelters while napping or watching movies on their phones.
I couldn’t help but to feel a current of guilt as I walked through this bridge, camera in hand as I documented the scene. I knew that these women were very much here by choice and that their work was honest. But in the stark physical separation of the space allotted to them, dividing them from the rest of the population, the disparity in class was highlighted to an almost shameful degree. Shameful for whom, I can’t quite say.
“Malgré la vue de toutes nos misères qui nous touchent, qui nous tiennent à la gorge, nous avons un instinct que nous ne pouvons réprimer qui nous élève.” -Pascal, Pensées
Despite the sight of all our miseries which press upon us and hold us by the throat, we have an irrepressible instinct which bears us up.
This is Jason. I met him as I was walking along Transcentral Highway on my way back to town from Top’s Lookout in Cebu. At 2500 feet above sea level in the mountains, there’s not much along this isolated route other than vegetation and the occasional rest stop. Through a cluster of dense trees I noticed a bright blue house of sheet metal and wooden boards, set atop a steep hill with stilts. I waved to my partner to come over and have a look, and out popped Jason’s head from between the trees. He called out to me, startling the both of us, and enthusiastically gestured for us to come over. I made my way around the bushes to the narrow path leading to his house where he beckoned to me to come in.
His house was a single room, dark, with a shelf full of ladies shoes and clothes, a crockpot, and a couple religious figurines scattered about. The walls were covered in gauzy fabric, and the floor was made of narrow wooden planks through which I could see a couple pigs rolling around below in the soil. The only source of light in the room was the TV from which the intro screen of a Karaoke DVD was displayed. A rusty mike dangled from a nearby shelf. He offered me an herbal cigarette and a glass of beer.
I asked him his name in my shoddy Spanish, assuming he’d understand as it’s not too far from Tagalog. From what I gathered by his response, he spoke something other than Tagalog which was specific to this region in the Philippines. We struggled through our exchange- he in his dialect and I in Spanish, gleaning what we could from the words we understood. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing here. He explained that he worked in construction, and that it was tiring work. I understood that he lived with 2 or 3 other people in this house, one of whom was hiding out back as he was too shy to come in. A few puppies scampered in the doorway, their loud barking mingling with the grunting of the enormous pigs below us. Jason waved frantically as he spoke, and he seemed happy to have some interaction with such strange foreigners. He said that he had the day off and that he was taking it easy. He liked drinking and doing karaoke in his time off.
On my way out, he offered me the rest of his forty ouncer of beer and another cigarette. I waved goodbye to him, turning around a couple times to take a last look at this kind person who I’d never see again.
The Chungking Mansions are the capital of all things sketch in Hong Kong, at least electronically. It’s a huge warehouse located in the Tsim Sha Tsui district (lovingly dubbed as dark side by expats) packed with every type of counterfeit gadget hawked by booth after booth of mostly Indian vendors. There are also a few independent business run by local Hong Kongers, the nature of which I couldn’t determine through the dingy glass walls obstructed by piles of paper and cardboard boxes. You’ll also find a few Indian restaurants and even a barber shop frequented strictly by the local Indian population. Theres a sense of secrecy and insularity in this dodgy labyrinth and I got more than a few dirty looks after having taken these photos. Looking at the scenery surrounding me, I hardly believed that I was in Asia. This is the genre of overwhelming strangeness which renders Hong Kong as such a fascinating and surreal place for me.
“Tu es une maîtresse de ta propre vie.”
Swept in a torrent of all the things that do not matter. These trifles are not your own. The despair consumes you in waves, at once poignant and crushing. How it mashes up your insides. Your own being slipped out from under you before you noticed its absence.
The unreality that once jarred your senses has long melded into your daily existence, surely and regrettably. There is no undoing the intricate coil of missteps and miscalculations that have lead you here. The last of your energy is exhausted in upholding this worn charade for an indiscriminating audience.
You asked for intervention with a guttural cry of survival to God himself and none came. You’ve resigned yourself to the resounding silence and you’ve long since ceased to ask.
There is no moral to this story and there are no justifications. You’re on your own now.