October 9, 2022
REBECCA HAD NEVER been to the refurbished textile mills in Tsuen Wan, now an art center with shops and restaurants. I promised her there would be dogs.
We couldn’t decide between sweet or savory breakfast, so we had both. Biscoff butter and bananas for me, tomatoes and olive oil for Rebecca.
Karen Cheung once accurately described Hong Kong as having no seasons, only “sweaty and less sweaty.” Rebecca splurged on a taxi from the bus terminus. The good-natured driver couldn’t find his way, and his detours resulted in extra air-conditioning time (an unexpected victory).
When we arrived at The Mills, there was only a lone medium-sized brown poodle at the entrance. “I promise, more dogs will come!” I pleaded to Rebecca. She laughed.
The exhibitions focused on how textiles can be harnessed to link together workers, friends and other communities. Seeing groups of people envision their ideal uniform or dance outfit got me thinking about how our clothes can signal who we hope to be.
We spent a couple of hours ambling around the shops and open-air market, visited an exhibition and ate lunch. Thankfully, more dogs were arriving by the minute.
While waiting for burgers, I shyly sidled up to a pair of little Shih-Tzus waiting with their owners by the lift. Compared to the pedigree breeds, these two seemed awkward and “normal-looking”, which endeared them to me. I asked the owners if I could pet them. They replied affirmatively and told me that one of them is literally named Mo Mo (to pet, in Cantonese is mo 摸). Petting Mo Mo and Friend, I felt happier than I had in weeks.
At 2 p.m. we had our tarot reading with Charlotte at Current Plans, an indie art space. I panicked when entering the peaceful Witch House Residency, a house-shaped installation by Ysabelle in the current exhibition. Despite its peaceful atmosphere (marble pumpkin, flickering candle), I realized I had been emotionally avoiding the topic of “The Future” for months, and was now in a paid setting where I could have a guided conversation about exactly that, and with an artist I admired greatly.
Without thinking too much, I asked Charlotte if I would marry one day. She drew a deep breath and ran her hands over her own custom-illustrated deck. As I picked my cards and she interpreted them for me, I felt my shoulders relax. This wasn’t her coming down from heaven with the Ten Commandments (I was raised Christian). Charlotte simply outlined some possibilities for my relationship and the legal acknowledgement of it, in a way that was both enigmatic and empathetic. I crawled out of the house, which is meant to be sat not stood in, like a relieved baby.
After our individual readings, we discussed our drawn cards while pacing around nearby with Ysabelle and her dog Marmo.
There was an hour-long wait at the dessert cafe, according to the beret-wearing gangly staff member, so we found ourselves in a jewelry shop with an upstairs exhibition space, admiring my friend Po’s risograph illustrations showing the neighborhood, Sham Shui Po, throughout the ages. When he asked me to guess how many colors he printed these technicolor images with, I guessed twenty before he finally revealed it was just four. What magic! And an expertise in opacity levels as a digital illustrator…
Sham Shui Po is described by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as a “district of simple pleasures.” Perhaps a more accurate phrasing would be a rapidly gentrifying Kowloon neighborhood which flourished in the ’50s and ’60s for its textile industry. The four of us, three humans and one dog, made our way through second-hand shops and various boutiques, each with a more absurd and charming selection of objects than the one before.
Here is something you never knew existed: an elephant-shaped incense holder. Seventies drinking glasses in mint, pale pink and fire-truck red. Rebecca picked out a round glass that felt solid in my hand from a bargain bin outside my favorite store, our final destination. The shop owner wrapped it in the entertainment gossip page of the paper, and handed it to me with quiet gusto.
On the train home, I set out a schedule for Sunday dinner with military precision. I would immediately wash the rice and load up the cooker while Rebecca could soak the pea shoots. Rebecca kindly reminded me that it was just dinner. An hour later, we were fed and sleepy. Lying on the couch, she settled back into her Alexander Chee book, and I finished Natasha Brown’s slim yet chilling debut novel, suddenly tempted to join the narrator in turning all the tables on the life I’d built so far. But such dramatic changes would have to wait for tomorrow. For now, I wanted a bite of chocolate.