“I LOOK OVER TO ANOTHER TRAVELLER STANDING ACROSS FROM ME. ‘WHAT’S GOING ON?’ I MOUTH, ‘THEY’RE WITCHES’ HE RESPONDS”
HONG KONG: ENTER THE RABBIT WARREN
I’m on the 34th floor overlooking a spectacularly hazy Victoria Harbour from my hotel room. This 1970’s decor room is home for the next few weeks and after a project I was working on fell through I’m now only left with one purpose: to wear my camera’s shutter button down to a nub.
Hong Kong is a bustling place and is by no means off the grid when it comes to adventure but for me, having the time to get lost in the rabbit warren of streets and alleyways is an adventure that most of us would never make the time to do.
To me, the attraction of Hong Kong is the incredible density of buildings piled up on top of each other, sometimes with a gap small enough to shake hands with the neighbour in the building next door. It’s these buildings that hide the endless markets and narrow streets flooded with millions of seemingly anonymous people and this is what I’m here to capture.
The key to shooting in a place like this is to get off the main streets and make a conscious effort to get lost, so it’s time to play heads or tails. I have a newly adorned ‘lucky $1HK coin” which is my new tour guide being flipped at cross-roads to pick my route through this amazing city. For such a spectacularly sophisticated society the “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” charm of the old world still shines through with bamboo scaffolding supporting modern skyscraper construction and meat markets with fresh produce hung in the humid polluted air ignoring the invention of refrigeration as the warm reds slowly turn to a grey brown. I look up at the skies which have been threatening the city all morning with dark inky clouds; when it rains here it pours. After lunch they close in and make their move forcing me to run for cover under a nearby bridge for shelter from the pelting rain.
Amongst the high-rise buildings a cardboard shanty town is nestled in the gap under the bridge. It’s crowded under here, packed with business people and the shanty town dwellers escaping the rain. It’s fascinating, the split in society between the haves and the have-nots. From the corner of my eye something strange going on, these two worlds collide in the most bizarre scene. An old lady sits on a makeshift cardboard carpet with a business woman directly in front of her. The woman hands over a small piece of paper taken from her Versace handbag. The old lady accepts and begins to wave it over her candle. She takes her shoe and slams it down on the paper repeatedly before burning what appear to be paper tigers over her flame. The business woman sits at attention, fixated on the the old ladies witchcraft. The ritual goes on and climaxes with the business woman being slapped all over with a wad of money from the old lady. I look over to another traveller standing across from me. “What’s going on?” I mouth, “they’re witches” he responds. I look back and the business woman has gone; the spell is complete and the names on those papers have been cursed by the Hong Kong Witches.
I decide the rain is set in for the day so it’s time to accept my fate and move on in the wet. A few coin tosses later and the sun starts to set. The chaos of lights around the streets from the thousands of billboards and advertisements catch in the wet reflections of the street creating a metallic glow from everything in sight. Walking the endless streets I can’t help but wonder what will become of the people listed on the business womens paper. The rain has cleared now and left me in the dark with a gin and tonic on the roof of my hotel, dramatic skies glowing with the city lights. It’s easy to find yourself transiting through Hong Kong but stay, get a little lost and coin flip down the alley less travelled.