He and I both speak Cantonese. It’s our mother tongue.
I’m from Guangdong, China. We younger generations, compared to our parents and grandparents, speak Mandarin fluently.
He’s from Hong Kong. He can barely speak Mandarin.
Last year, a British band called the Libertines did a video promo for Hong Kong music festival Clockenflap on Facebook. In the video, they greeted in Mandarin.
The following are the two top comments on the video:
‘It’s irritating and even insulting to speak Mandarin to Hongkongers.’
‘Speaking Mandarin to Hongkongers is like speaking French to the British.’
I disagree on the second one. Wrong analogy.
My friend yells at me: she has to get out of the crowd. Her family called.
I can’t barely hear what exactly she said. I am in fanatic.
‘The fire is out of control! We gonna burn the city! Burn the city!’ I jump with the band. I jump with the crowd. I don’t care the fact that I stand alone in the crowd, though I am aware of it. But I am not alone. I know I will know other people in the crowd and people going to festival will be very friendly.
The band pushes the atmosphere even higher. ‘Hong Kong is out of control! We gonna burn the city! Burn the city!’ And we the crowd goes even crazier. I can’t breathe. Maybe because I yell too much and too hard. And maybe just because the crowd keeps jostling and pushing.
After a while, I don’t know where I have been pushed through. I guess I will never meet my friend again. I’m a little bit sad. People are all around me, mostly western faces. I am here now without any company.
I keep on chanting, to overrun my feeling lost. I imagine I am the one on the stage, creating such a sensation at the seaside of a city whose language they don’t speak. And yet, we communicate through music.
‘This is such an amazing place! We hope we can come back very soon!’ The frontman said, ‘such an amazing stage!’ We scream even louder. I look up a bit. Layers and layers of skyscrapers surround along the whole West Kawloon Waterfront Promenade. Neon lights dazzle in the night. Music festival in this city is so metropolitan.
‘Burn the City!’
The chorus goes on again. Dancing with the music and the people, my body throws myself into the crowd. My body leaves my sentimentality behind.
Somebody’s arm on my shoulder. I turn my head. A Chinese man. He notices that I looking at him. He turns his head and smiles a bit. ‘Burn the city!’ he yells. ‘Burn the city!’ I follow. And then we jump and dance again with the music.
The song finishes. We clap.
He turns his head again, ‘you alone?’
‘Not really. My friend waits me outside.’
‘I’m Teddy. What’s your name?’
‘Hazel.’ I guess Chinese name is not that important. It’s too formal to bring it up for two strangers meeting at the first time, I guess. And no one will judge this. It is not a pretentious thing to use English name in Hong Kong.
Another song goes on. We scream and then look at each other with smiles. And then we throw our bodies into the music with the crowd again.
Finally the headline finishes. After two days of delirium, my body is exhausted but still hyperactive. Music goes out and the lights turns on. My sentimentality come back. I wish I can come here again tomorrow on Sunday. But I can’t. I need to travel back tomorrow in the morning. I can’t play too hard. I need to prepare for the next week’s work.
The crowd scatters around and heads toward the exits in different direction. Bottles are all on the ground that is soaked with lagers. I guess the aftermath of music festival is all the same around the world.
‘Hey, where do you live?’ It’s him again. I take a good look at Teddy. Dapper dress. Brown blazer and leather shoes. I like people wearing blazer and leather shoes. I am wearing blazer and leather boots.
Where do I live? I am wondering a bit. Sheung Wan? Guangzhou?
Somehow, my mouth mutters,‘Sheung Wan’. I guess it isn’t that necessary to tell a stranger where I really come from. And I don’t really know if I tell him I am a mailander will be ever a difference. For him, or for myself.
‘Yuen Long. What do you do?’
‘I’m still a student. And you?’ We walk together with one of the divisions of the crowd toward the exit.
‘Er… It’s quite complicated. It’s something sort of related to advertisement.’
He must be a very tricky person. His word is so not serious.
‘Not much Chinese faces in this festival, right?’ I ask.
‘I know right. Last year even fewer. You know, Hong Kongers aren’t really into independent music and stuffs. You like Franz Ferdinand a lot?’
‘Yea, I basically own all their albums.’
‘Yea? I have their first album. Do you go to gigs or music festival often?’
‘Not really. The first time in Hong Kong. I am not really into Chinese bands, they are too melodic. Their lyrics are all too sentimental for my liking. And going for a western band gig is very expensive here. Also, only very few of them will go on tour in Asia.’
He nods. ‘Which film is your favourite?’
I start to think a bit. I never take this kind of ‘your-favourite’ question seriously. There is no such a thing as favourite. People keep changing. It’s just all about how much you have encountered so far and how do you feel at this very moment.
‘Well, I can’t say I have favourite. But I like Stephen Chow (周星馳) a lot.’ I do really like Stephen Chow. I like his senseless humour. Stephen Chow, all Cantonese knows and can fully appreciate his humour. You can read Stephen Chow’s films from a very artistic perspective, or in superficial way- just for a good laugh.
And I don’t want to give out some serious names or condescending answers for this question to a stranger.
He says he likes him too. I smile. He doesn’t explain further. I’m not going to take his reply seriously. But I guess neither does him.
But then he starts to recite loads and loads of Stephen Chow’s lines.
I laugh. I didn’t expect that. And then he continues to recite more. He is also amused by his reciting, laughing out loud. His laugh is so contagious. He laughs like a child who doesn’t care how others think of why he’s laughing so loud. ‘I have nearly all his DVDs.’
My friend texts me. ‘I have to go. My friend calls. Nice to see you.’
‘Do you mind exchange our numbers?’
‘Sure.’ I suppose it won’t be much a trouble. If I don’t like him, his number and him will be just gone with my Hong Kong mobile number tomorrow.
We head home separately.
I am on my way to meet up my friend. Alone at the street, no accompany again. My mind is occupied with strange feeling. The contrast between the festival in Hong Kong and the reality in Guangzhou is too overwhelming. It’s only about 90-mins train between the two places though.
Back to my place. I mean, the place where I stay tonight. My grandpa owns a house in Hong Kong. So I guess technically it’s my place/home in Hong Kong?
My mobile buzzs. He texts me. I didn’t expected this, at least not so soon. He looks like some tricky person, like I said.
He asks if I will go to the festival tomorrow.
I replies him I can’t. I already bought the return ticket and I need to go back to university a little bit earlier to prepare for next week.
I should not talk to him too much, I tell myself. We are not in the same city. I won’t be in this place tomorrow. The festival is too good I know, but I need to go back to reality for work. I need to continue my life and do what I’m supposed to do.
I am a mainlander, which I still haven’t told him, yet.