One of the things I used to love about living in Hong Kong took place only about 100 or so metres above it.
Back in the day, the city’s airport used to be a short taxi ride from downtown. The largest planes in the sky would fly west over the waters of Victoria Harbour, turn a half-circle to head east, then descend low through the teeming warren of streets of the Kowloon Peninsula, nearly scraping the six-storey buildings as they screamed past.
On the final approach, after the landing gear had been lowered, the plane would make a quick slicing arc to the right as it passed a beacon, before finally landing on a strip of landfill in the bay. Though there had been fatal accidents over the years, it was a tribute to piloting skills and maybe a bit of sheer dumb luck that in all the time Kai Tak airport was in operation, not one plane landed on top of all those people living just across the road from the start of the runway.
I was sitting in a window seat my first flight into Hong Kong in January, 1994. I’d been told about the landing, that I was in for something spectactular, but I never expected to see what I did. Through the evening darkness, I looked out the window at the buildings slipping past and suddenly in a flash appeared a figure seated at a kitchen table, the glowing blue light from a television set reflected off a pair of glasses like two flickering orbs. It was there and gone in an instant. By the time I tried to see something similar on the next apartment, we were past them and on the way down. I used to love that ride, and on every flight in hoped the winds were right so that would be the approach we’d take.
Why did I think of this on the way into London?
Because once past the motorway wasteland and into the outskirts, sitting on the bus from Stansted airport on the way to Golders Green tube stop I became fascinated with the scenes laid before my window as we drove by. I saw the silhouette of a man wearing a turban, a bedroom plastered with magazine posters, a dining room with an old-fashioned chandelier, a man getting up off the sofa, a shadow creep across a ceiling, curtains ranging from bedsheets to lace.
Whether it was some form of drive-by voyeurism or mere curiosity, I found myself compelled to keep looking, craning my neck to get the shortest of glimpses, somehow trying to peer beyond the mundane to discover something special, discern from that glimpse what sort of life they must live.
© 2008 lettershometoyou