Once upon a time in Hong Kong

Since booking my trip to Hong Kong, I’ve been thinking about the places I hope to see in those four short days this April. But I’ve also been recalling my first year in Hong Kong when I moved there as a 19 year-old in the summer of 1990.

This photo was taken days after my arrival. Here I am standing at Lok Ma Chau with China looming in the background. I’d visited China in 1988, but it still felt like a world away even in Hong Kong.

Lok Ma Chau, 1990

A month into that first year, I learned about the Mid-Autumn Festival. It quickly became one of my favorite holidays. I kept this lantern on my desk until the cellophane melted from the sunlight that poured in through my dorm room window.

My first Mid-Autumn Festival, 1990

I moved to Hong Kong to study, so here I am in the Office of International Studies Programme. This was well before e-mail, texting, and cell phones, so all my communication with the outside world came through snail mail. I had a mail box in one of those slots to my left. My dad wrote to me weekly.

Hong Kong, 1991

My first residence in Hong Kong was the Adam Schall Hall, named after a 16th-17th century German Jesuit who spent 47 years in China.

In front of dorm at Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1991

To earn some spending money, I taught English under the table. Every Saturday I trekked down to Taikoo Shing to teach a Japanese housewife and her two young children. Here I am at their flat playing a pinata-like game, but with a watermelon.

click to enlarge

I also volunteered at a Vietnamese refugee camp in Kowloon, where I taught English to adults. I had to pester International Social Services before they’d let me volunteer, but it was worth every phone call and written letter. The classes were housed in old British barracks that once held POWs during the Japanese occupation. That land is now littered with luxury high-rises.

With Do'an at the Argyle Street Detention Centre, 1991

This is the Hong Kong I knew and loved from back then. Three years later, I moved back for what I thought would be for good. As fate would have it, I only stayed for four more years. And soon I’ll be returning for the first time since I left in 1998.

Postcard from Hong Kong, 1991

I can’t wait to see Hong Kong as it is today.


  1. says

    I just want to echo what everyone else said about how exciting it is that you’ll be coming back here! I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, and I can’t wait to hear your impressions of HK after all this time.

    • Susan Blumberg-Kason says

      Thanks so much, Shannon! I’m so touched by all the outpouring of support and kind wishes. And I’m definitely looking forward to meeting you when I’m not so jet-lagged! Meeting up with friends there will make the trip all the more special. :)

  2. says

    It’s nice that you go back to HK and can re-visit some of the places in your book. You might wish to write an Epilouge to your book, describing your return to HK in 2012 and your impressions about HK today vs. 20 years ago.

    • Susan Blumberg-Kason says

      Thanks so much! It felt so surreal the night I booked the flight. Now it’s really sunk in! Yes, my agent (!) wants me to leave the ending to fill in after I return from Hong Kong. It will be a nice way to finish the book.

  3. says

    The trip back to HK will surely bring back a flood of memories to you. In one sense we never really leave our past, unless it was a bitter one. Then, we try to block it out. I always wish that we can just stop time whenever we want to. And I always feel that god was not so smart after all, making us age and need to struggle just to keep body and soul together. I want to change all this and put god to shame.

    • Susan Blumberg-Kason says

      Thank you! Yes, that’s so true about never leaving our past. No matter what happened in Hong Kong, it will always be a very special place. I try not to dwell on bitter things, even when they happened in Hong Kong, and can only look at the city in a positive light. It’s time to go back and revisit all these places from my 20s!

  4. says

    Oh, Susan, I’m so excited for you to go back! Hong Kong is my favorite place on earth. I remember the Hong Kong from your postcard well. I bet you’ll find the “spirit” to be the same, even if some of the buildings have changed.

    • Susan Blumberg-Kason says

      Thanks so much, Amy! I feel the same way about Hong Kong and have thought about it almost every day for the last 14 years. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to go back!

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