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Finding beauty in dilapidated HK

Getting lost in Hong Kong for DominiK/Dominique means avoiding the tourist traps to find beauty in the off-the-beaten tracks of the city/state, from the wet markets to the ‘eskinitas’ to the hole-in-the-wall eateries.

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I have been to Hong Kong more times than I care to count. One of my Daddies live there, see, so – while I still don’t consider myself a local Hong Konger – I hold the place close to my heart.

And like so many, I once saw Hong Kong’s appeal solely on its “glitter”, which may be best seen in its being a commercial center in these parts of the world. After all, this city/state has long been considered as the shopping capital of Asia. Yes, there may be some who would argue against this claim – what with Singapore offering just as many shopping opportunities; not to mention the emergence of, say, Bangkok, and even Metro Manila’s Divisoria or Baclaran (for the low end) and Greenbelt 5 (for the high end) – but with this special administrative region’s (SAR) closeness to mainland China (where everything is C-H-E-A-P) even while it offers Western conveniences (as remnants of the British rule), this place continues to be a must-check for shopping in these parts of the world. With the bling comes the glitters.

Now, commercially-inclined so many of the members of the LGBT community are, this makes this place… ideal. Think shopping, beautifying, overspending… all long associated with the pink currency. You can do that, and more, in Hong Kong.

But here’s the thing: For me, with all the glam that this place has to offer (e.g. think of the high rises like IFC, new constructions that redefine the character of the city/state’s locales like those in Lan Kwai Fong, and malls housing brands that fail in Western countries but thrive in Asia and the Pacific), I actually find more beauty in “old” Hong Kong.

I can’t, for the life of me, find “life” in everything glittering. Walking in the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, for instance, and seeing throngs of people queue (as if they’re about to watch the concert of some well-known celebrity) in front of the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Emporio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Chariol, COACH, et cetera, I felt… empty. This is blatant commercialization – not too separate from the oft-repeated critique of the West, said to often link “democracy” with the blatant presence of commercialization.

So for me, I’d rather see the “old”, the dilapidated aspects of Hong Kong, whose very characters remind me that many may have changed through the years, but the place isn’t necessarily swallowed by “normalcy” (e.g. the uniform brands, uniform buildings without characters, people in similar staid uniforms, et cetera).

There’s just too much poeticism here.

In Central, for instance, take a walk along Queen’s Road and choose to veer away from the main road. Plying their wares are enterprising locals, selling “Made in China” goods, from paper lanterns to plastic masks to dragon costumes. In Central, too, take a walk along D’aguilar Street in Lan Kwai Fong, then – instead of going uphill – deviate to the right, into one of the streets intersecting D’aguilar Street. Numerous hole-in-the-wall eateries are there, offering freshly prepared dumplings (usually HK$40ish per 10 pieces) to congees (less than HK$18) to homemade noodles (from HK$30).

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In Tsim Sha Tsui, get off Nathan Road, and find some surprises in the smaller streets intersecting it. Yes, the big brands are there; but they aren’t necessarily the focus. Also there are the custom suit makers, with their shops right beside crab sellers, or restaurants about to make soup out of that turtle on display in the container in front, right on the sidewalk.

Jordan may be known for its night market, but… that’s the beaten track. Get “lost” and discover, instead, the local wet market. There, be filled with wonder as you stare at dried, salted whole ducks; pulverized leeches; fetus-looking roots in bottles… How much more “local” can you get?

In Mong kok – as it is in Kowloon, Yau Ma Tei, et cetera – there are eskinitas (alleys/small streets) that bring to mind Blade Runner. These look… dirty, dilapidated, and like people lived on them. There’s more character there; more story to be told.

So I tell you to get lost when you find yourself here.

Avoid the tourist traps (I’m thinking of you Disneyland, Ocean Park, Giant Buddha…).

Find beauty in what may well be ugly.

Because in the future, we may just end up all wearing Prada or Chanel or Lacoste or whatever because they’re hip; but these dilapidated wonders won’t be here anymore. And when that happens, we may shed tears for losing something that’s not necessarily pretty, but connected us to a different time/world.  A world where the dilapidated can be… beautiful.

Hong Kong isn’t all glam – but for this writer, this is why there’s beauty in this place.
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