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When a picture paints a thousand memories...

Sometimes we need to be reminded about what Hong Kong once was to see the journey this barren rock has taken to become one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the world- where it is today and what it could be tomorrow.

The photograph below of the city by the great Francis Scavullo for Harper’s Bazaar taken in 1960 brings back a flood of memories.

These days, memories are in short supply. Minds need to be jogged to see where we’ve been to maybe understand where we should be heading next.

Scavullo’s photograph reminds me of my very first memories of the city I found myself in when arriving here by ship with my parents from Colombo, Ceylon.

I had no say in where we were going. But with my father’s elder sister having helped the rest of the Ebert family settle in Hong Kong, we were the last arrivals.

I felt like the kid Christian Bale played in “Empire Of The Sun”. I was lost and confused, but also excited and innocent enough to believe that this was one big adventure and that things would work out for this stranger in a strange land despite his parents having to start their lives all over again from scratch.

We were practically penniless and staring into a future with no signs of hope. But, somehow, this funnily named place offered shelter from the storms of uncertainty.

Through a series of jump cuts that included racist taunts in and out of primary school, living in a shoebox on the 27th floor of Fung Wah Mansions in North Point with my parents, my uncle, aunt, cousin and family matriarch, making the time to appreciate the beauty of the cheongsam and those able to carry it off, seeing a different life coming into view at Secondary school, taking walks on the wild side without even knowing it, meeting the American missionary’s daughter who became my wife, having HK$1600 to pay the rent and raise a daughter, we somehow managed.

We more than managed. We walked through barriers because maybe we never saw them. We made the impossible happen without keeping count.

This was something exclusive to Hong Kong. There was no need to do the Watusi and shake a tail feather. We knew everything we had overcome and achieved and this was more than good enough.

It might have had to do with Hong Kong’s “Can Do” spirit. This was our Just Do It decades before it became Nike’s call to arms.

This dysfunctional functional school of off beat cha cha’s and hard knocks have served many of us well.

As Bruce Lee said, Be water, my friend.

All of this and more has brought us to the table where we’ve dined with kings and queens. We’ve seen the best and we’ve dodged the curve balls and bullets that life has thrown our way.

And now, our home that is Hong Kong is asking for our help.

We’ve gone through a helluva lot together recently. This city has taken a battering- physically and mentally.

Our home needs healing and just a flicker of hope and inspiration.

I keep my feelings in check, but I am crying inside. There’s nothing wrong in crying. It washes away the clouds. It helps new plants to grow. It brings about changes because we need changes in order to move forward.

You complete me, Hong Kong.

You had me at Hello and Jo Sun.

I ain’t going anywhere.

I am here to stay.

It won’t be easy, but we can get over everything that’s been placed in front of us.

Nothing is going to trip us up except ourselves.

Copyright © Hans Ebert. December 2021

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