Friday, July 22, 2011

Jet Lag: Strange Magic

Hong Kong
Saturday, July 23
5:48am local time

If there is a blessing to jet lag it is found in sunrise. The inability to sleep, the narcoleptic roll of the eye and the strange lights that flash behind closed lids, the twitching muscles seeking to right themselves somehow from 14 hours and 32 minutes of continuous flight through an eternal day over Arctic Canada and the sum total of the Russian and Chinese Pacific are rendered a joy at daybreak in the right place.

6:20 on Saturday morning, the hotel window at dawn
The 42nd story of a hotel with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the magic of Victoria Harbor is one such place. A unique place, laced with imagery of times distant and near. The Kowloon Mountains thrust up just past the endless verticality of man, and the long shrouded-images of the China of my childhood, forbidding and forbidden, Maoist and menacing are recalled through the mists of what was then British Hong Kong.

"They'll never get it back" I remember my Dad saying of this tiny English colony in the early 1980s, meaning what were then the Red Chinese. Yet they did get it back, in 1997, nine years after the fall of the Soviet Union, another "impenetrable" fortification of totalitarian power. I remember the images of Prince Charles at the ceremony ending British sovereignty. 

Oddly, history suggests that it was the raising of the question of sovereignty in the New Territories by the-then British Governor of Hong Kong which led to the final return of all of Hong Kong. Hong Kong itself, and the Peninsula, were, under treaty, permanently ceded to the UK. 

Ultimately, of course, that was not how it happened. Victoria Harbor, the Harbor 42 stories below me, is one of the great ports of commerce the world has ever known. Through it, through the endless shipping that courses the Harbor, a harbor of deep green water the color of which scarce seems un-colored, vast amounts of what I knew in my childhood flowed. Everything was "made in Hong Kong" and now I see where it left the land and journeyed the sea to the port and store (usually toy store) in which I found it in mid-Manhattan. 

The way we terraform land, and bend it, will never cease to amaze me. Here is the map of Hong Kong harbor in 1845. Below it, a portrait view of largely the same scene, just higher in the air, today (the joy of an iPhone at 6am...)

In this moment we are just passing through, Jason Ignacio and I, from Hong Kong to Guangzhou to teach and talk at the eight Annual Modern Dance Festival in Guangzhou, now the largest contemporary festival in China --  a very different China from the one that wanders my childhood. It is one I have been curious to know all my life, and yet for all my travels I have never been to China. Technically I still haven't. That's for tomorrow. Today is for Hong Kong.  

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