Postcard to my grandmother

Hi, Gran —

It’s National Day – the 58th anniversary of the day Mao Zedong proclaimed from the dais in front of the Forbidden City that the Chinese people had stood up – and I’m writing this on the midnight ferry between Hong Kong and Macau.

Both cities are bizarre hybrids, in China but not really of it — though legally it’s the other way around, which comes in handy when visa time rolls around. Macau is particularly weird: a Portuguese hillside town full of arcades and gallerias and shrines to figures not traditionally venerated as deities, like Monkey from Journey to the West, populated by Cantonese and the occasional post-colonial Portuguese. Both groups use languages that I can read but not speak; Mandarin and English will get you a ways in Macau, but not nearly as far as they will in Hong Kong, where English is absolutely everywhere — the city’s own post-colonial legacy. Beijing and Shanghai, of course, are anglicizing furiously, but you still can’t find an English-language bookstore worth a damn there. You have to go to Hong Kong for that.

So this evening Li and I went across to Hong Kong and loaded up on English books in the bookstores near the ferry terminal in Tsimshatsui, then got a nice expensive dinner at a Vietnamese fusion restaurant nearby. As we were finishing, a waitress told us (in Cantonese that Li deciphered only a couple of minutes afterwards) that a fireworks show was beginning, and so we stepped out onto the restaurant’s patio and watched the beginning of the National Day fireworks as they exploded over Victoria Harbor, the wind scattering the bursts so that they seemed to drift out to sea instead of just blooming in place the way proper fireworks ought.

We walked around for a while before going back to the terminal and getting on the ferry. Through the tinted windows the skyline twinkled in blocks and spires that shifted and parallaxed behind us as the boat pulled away, drifting lazily off like the fireworks, glimmering and glinting and finally fading until we could only infer the city behind us.

— B