Mizu and Zelda walked into the upscale Ozone bar that had swanky blue lights and foggy glass windows. At its far end, they met a group of Chinese and Japanese men and women that were hurdled together, deep in conversation. Among the troop, one woman stood out. She had her hair tied up like the girls from Tokyo’s Shibuya cat street. Mizu wondered if she was the “Japanese friend” Zelda told her about. Zelda interrupted the tête-à-tête and introduced Mizu to the group, not having much to say for they had spoken the bare minimum.
After the brief awkward encounter, a Chinese man with a navy blue vest asked Mizu, “Why leave Tokyo to come to Kowloon City?”
“To see the Hong Kong skyline, its like no other”, she replied warmly.
“That’s the least exciting bit about the city”, he said, sharing a laugh with the group.
“Well, so what was Zelda doing there?”, asked Mizu.
“Hmmm. She’s a smart one”, he said to the others and then turned to Mizu. “… Stay with us longer and you might know”, he smirked back at her cheekily.
As time passed, Mizu warmed up to the group. The girl who looked like she was from Shibuya, was indeed from cat street. She had left Tokyo five years ago to come to Hong Kong to work as a textile artist. She had met the group here and stayed with them. They were all artists, she said.
At intervals, Mizu looked outside at Kowloon City. She was on the 118th floor and the city felt too far away as though she was back in Tokyo. It was probably the fog on the glass or the blue neon lights at Ritz Carlton. When she accepted Zelda’s invitation, she thought she would be on the highest peak of the world. But, now she’d rather be on the boat and look at the city loom before her. She felt that man should only reach for the skies after he has scouted all the earth.
After the 3rd round of cocktails were done, the troop decided to leave and head back to their artist residence. The Chinese man with the navy vest, whose name was Koshi, had a lavish jet black mini van in which all of them fit quite comfortably. They sped off to the PMQ, which was earlier Kowloon’s Police Married Quarters.
Koshi told Mizu that the PMQ had quite a history. It was earlier a school that was burnt to the ground during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Then, it was built into a residential space for junior married policemen. It had around 168 rooms for those who served in the Central Police Station. But in 2000, they evacuated the quarters. Finally, it was converted into a space for artists – what were the odds that this very criminal looking troop was staying in police quarters?
When they got off the van at PMQ, Mizu saw rows of boutiques, studios and design stores lined up inside a white multi-storied building. Koshi escorted them to his boutique which had the most expensive red and neon clutches Mizu had ever seen. Mizu then visited many tiny kiosks and tried everything from high- end perfumes to rhinestone rings. She would have never guessed that the PMQ was once a school.
After an hour of showing Mizu all their art stations, the troop decided that it was time to see the great Big Buddha that sat on a mount far away. Mizu realised that Zelda wasn’t around the whole time and she met them only after they were leaving PMQ.
Mizu knew that the Tian Tan Buddha was a magnanimous giant Buddha that sat in deep meditation on Lantau island. What she didn’t know was how would they get there late in the evening.
It about an hour’s drive, they passed Kowloon city and drove by few long bridges until they reached Ngong Ping 360. The troop seemed to have some settlement with the locals that ran the cable car. Although, they usually shut at 6:30 pm, they allowed the troop exclusively to the see the Big Buddha late in the evening. Mizu along with troop got into the cable car which had a glass bottom.
It traveled around 6 kms into the air. The transparent surface of the cable car made Mizu feel like she was inside a bubble, drifting slowly, ready to pop any minute. She looked around to see that Hong Kong was green on the outside, growing in present’s peace, while Kowloon city lay at its core sky-crapping through its painful pasts. Mizu saw a dark film that stretched at the end of the forest – it was the sea, dark blue and quiet as if it were wary of danger too.
The cable car stopped at a village and Mizu got off to see the Big Buddha at a distance, with his head turned away from her. They then began the long walk. Mizu passed by many food stores that were now shut, some were also selling tofu pudding. Mizu smiled recalling her lone evenings in Kowloon city.
Mizu and the troop climbed 268 steps to reach the Buddha – it was a long long journey, but when they did arrive at the top, Mizu felt like she was finally at the highest peak of the world. There lay the Buddha, floating above all of Hong Kong under a dark evening sky.
“Mizu, we got you here for a reason”, said Koshi, interrupting her, while she was longingly looking up at the Buddha.
The group stood behind him in silence and Mizu feared that the moment had arrived. “We are not just artists”, said Koshi. “You must have noticed how Zelda wasn’t with us at PMQ. She was out, getting us, let’s call it our daily sustenance. We supply it around Hong Kong and we store it here at the edge of the island”, he said, pointing to the west. “Where the Buddha can’t see us.”
Mizu stood there without uttering a word, fearing that there was ultimatum soon to come too. The sea lay silent in the distance.
Then, Zelda came in front and stood before the troop. She turned to Mizu. “You see…many of us were living at Kowloon Walled City. We had 33,000 brothers living with us too, but they evicted us. We had families and they threw us out of our homes. They brought our buildings to the ground, only to build a pretentious garden in its place. We had no choice, but to move here and to live like this”, said Zelda.
“We are in a much better place now. Look at us. Would you think we once lived under ceilings drenched in water and ate dog meat almost every day of our lives?”, said Koshi , as if reassuring himself.
Then the group chimed in unanimously.
“We want you to join us.”
“Stay here, by the Buddha, live with us.”
“You can look over Kowloon from here everyday, as if it were all yours…”
Mizu had known that this was coming, but she hadn’t gauged what she would say at the exact moment…
Will Mizu stay back with Koshi and the troop or will she bid adieu to Kowloon City forever? (If she has a choice)
…to be continued next week.