Friday, February 10, 2006

Alma Mater

My existence in Hong Kong is rather parochial in that I seem to be content with simply staying on the tiny island of Hong Kong--I'm even worse than some Manhattanites in that respect, considering just how small this place is. Somehow hanging out in the city's same old westernized pockets day in and day out doesn't seem to bother me. Strange, considering how much of a walking-and-exploring nut I am in New York. I guess it must stem from a sense of complacency I've developed over the years, since I assume I know this place well by virtue of the fact I supposedly grew up here. Considering how much I don't know the geography of my supposed hometown, my false sense of security is obviously a fallacy. My lack of a sense of direction doesn't help either. So I stick to what I know.

This is one of my favorite spots on HK island, the Midlevels Escalator. Although I feel rather ambivalent about the rabid gentrification of the area (the so-called Soho, SOuth of HOllywood Road), I still love this particular escalator for its associations with Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express. (I'm also a huge Faye Wong fan.)

But lately I've been seeing the city through the eyes of a local tourist, and have been doing much more walking around and marveling at the beauty of this place. Yesterday I went to my father's alma mater, the Chinese University of Hong Kong up in Shatin in the New Territories, somewhat near the border to China. The last time I was there I must've been about ten years old for an alumni reunion dinner. I didn't even know what a university was. So this trip was a little pilgrimage for me in a sense--now that I'm the age my father was when he spent his formative years there--to take a little walk around a beautiful little pocket of nature in this overly urbanized city. Going there was like a field trip for me--crossing the harbor is a big deal, I always joke.

I sat in on a class my Taiwanese professor-friend was teaching on Culture and Translation. Professor Tung Yuan-Fang took her Ph.D. from Harvard in Chinese Literature and prior to that, a Master's in Art History from the University of Oregon--so our intellectual passions are rather similar. She is the author of several books of lovely essays as well as the translator of Alan Lightman's "Einstein's Dreams." Her class talked about the influence of political ideology on certain translations, most palpable in the differences between Taiwanese versus Mainland Chinese translations of, say, George Orwell's Animal Farm. "Rebellion" was translated by the communists as 起義 (righteous uprising), whereas their cross-strait antagonists called it 叛亂 (chaotic insurrection). Ah, the choice of the translator--a more subtle wielding of the political pen than you might think.

We had lunch afterwards and she took me around the campus a little, where she showed me the spot captured on the cover of her latest book of essays, For Mutual Nostalgia 為比此的鄉愁. Hidden behind a seemingly innocuous stone path, this natural infinity-pool was absolutely magical.
The Chinese University is built on a hill that overlooks the Tolo Harbour. My father's old college, Chung Chi 崇基 was on the bottom of the hill, and Prof. Tung's own college, New Asia 新亞 was perched at the top. Chung Chi didn't have the breathtaking view over the bay, but its lotus-pond certainly had a lovely traditional charm to it.

I couldn't help thinking of what a different set of collegiate experiences my father and I have had. He tells me stories of how he would go out rowing on the bay with his buddies, or go hiking in the woods, or swim around in inlets that are now reclaimed by real estate developers...and my memories of college will be of navigating the subway system, getting lost in the Village and falling asleep to multiple firetruck sirens. I agree that everyone should have that rural-bubble educational experience, hence I wouldn't trade my time at St. Paul's in New Hampshire for anything (much as I deprecate its provincialism, I do think it's one of the most beautiful corners of the earth. Truly.). But something about living in the big city tugged at me and I knew I had to go someplace big and anonymous for college. I'm happy at Columbia, but I know that some things about the collegiate atmosphere in a natural setting will never be part of my experience. Not without a tinge of regret, but...

The rambling nature of this blog post is pretty atypical for me. I usually like to keep things short and sweet. But tonight I've been in a kind of contemplative mood, especially since I'm gearing up to go to Europe for six months. It's making me really evaluate what kind of a college experience I've had so far and how my time in Germany will enhance it or even change the course of my life. Am I placing too much expectation on this? We shall see.

Now playing: Joseph Arthur--Echo Park


Post a Comment

<< Home