Charmaine Leung


an excerpt from 17A Keong Saik Road

IT was an interesting time to be in Hong Kong. The mood was electrifying. Worried Hongkongers who were anxious about Hong Kong’s handover to China and could afford to emigrate had left. Those who remained, either by choice or circumstance, were generally counting down to the handover with cautious optimism. As a foreigner who had arrived at this timely turn of history, I enjoyed the many perks brought on by the winds of change due to the transition. Many days of public holidays unique to 1997—English holidays before July, and Chinese holidays after July—were added to the work calendar of the year. There was an overall jubilant and celebratory atmosphere in the air with everyone in expectant cheer.

Work was exciting, I travelled to many countries, and met many people from diverse cultures. These work trips vastly broadened my once-myopic view of the world, allowing me to experience a whole dimension of endless novel adventures. I was having the time of my life. I savoured the exhilaration that new experiences in an unknown country brought, and relished in meeting other kindred spirits in my ‘new-to-Hong Kong’ journey, building lasting friendships that stood the test of time. 

My relationship with my mother became more amicable. I would pick up the telephone and call her just to ask about the ingredients needed to make a soup. I genuinely missed her and spoke to her because I wanted to hear her voice.

Two years went by. Then, it was five. Before I knew it, I was celebrating a ‘Decade-nce’ party in Hong Kong. There were many parties to go to, and numerous friends to meet up with. My life was extremely busy and fun-filled, and envied by many of my less outgoing friends.

There was no doubt that it was in the years which I spent living and working in Hong Kong that many positive changes happened in my life. But after the parties and the fun, in the quiet of the night, I continued to experience a void. It was an indescribable, unspeakable hollowness that gnawed at my insides. Some days, when I was on my own, it was more evident. Other days, when I was with people, or sucked into the busyness of everyday living, it became masked by the bustling distractions around me. But inadvertently, it was always at times when I was at my peaks of happiness and success—being surrounded by my close friends, or after a hard-earned big promotion—that I found myself experiencing a deep sense of emptiness. It was that same emptiness and sadness I had felt so many years ago when I was alone in my walled city, back in Keong Saik Road.

© Ethos Books

by Charmaine Leung
from 17A Keong Saik Road (2017)
published by Ethos Books