Leaves from a lost diary

My old scribbles from the now recovered diary sparked memories of 1976 Hong Kong.

We are often riled by lapses of memory. Where did we keep the house keys, wallet or watch? It is disconcerting when we cannot utter the word or name which was at “the tip of the tongue”.  

I love new notebooks and paper that I can use for later inspiration or mundane memos. A professor counselled us to keep a diary to improve our ability to write fluently and fast, and also to recall facts, quotes and tasks. But the downside is that paper, whether loose or bound, is soon lost or mislaid.

I joined the Indian Foreign Service, and was sent as an envoy to Hong Kong in my 40s. It was a joy to buy trim ring notebooks then. But one day, I was distraught when I lost my diary in a taxi. 

Three decades later, the journal turned up by chance in the back of a bookshelf. My old scribbles sparked memories of that vestigial British colony which is now a valuable, if restless, Chinese corporate asset and a strategic maritime outpost. I pick out some leaves fr-om my diary of April 1976 in Hong Kong.

Repulse Bay. At the new supermarket, the parking lot is full, but there is paid parking opposite. The path to the beach is flanked by two big trees, one with the dark, tender leaves of spring. The other is utterly bare. A tin shack is covered with posters and ads, some peeled off, leaving patches of mottled grey. 

Beyond, I see a wooden superstructure atop a building. A carpenter is sawing off a strut. He wears a denim cloth hat and white woollen gloves. Along the rampart, a man in a brown suit walks with his small child. A woman wheels her overflowing wire-cart of purchases to her car. It is a day for sweaters and cardigans; the sea looks grey.

Bauhinias are blooming over the bare trees, pink and mauve; tender soft on old sticks, like a young woman on an old man’s arm. There’s a big tree with spr-awling branches, leafless, impounded by the cement pedestal, hung with strings of lights, none aglow. Bamboo clumps, a spray of tall poles, like a marine fungus, long antennae, gently swaying from a narrow base, more yellow than green. 

New apartment blocks at Repulse Bay, the scaffolding not yet removed. Car parks are built in several floors. How will those cars go every morning to the city and return at the cocktail hour by that winding road, where every bend offers a stunning seascape? High-rise towers are perched like sculptures made by moronic giants. A hamburger stall. Tall iron gates enclose Chinese mansions.

Island Road, Deepwater Bay. A hoarding with the picture of a girl-skier’s back. It offended her headmaster, who wrote to the evening paper. The nine-hole golf course, floodlit at dusk, the Yacht Club and the Temple house. Trees are sleeved in creepers, pink-tipped leaves, shading to tender, pale-green stems. Dead vegetation, a network of dry brown on the foundation of a house; roots on the ground, gnarled; branches  exploring tendril, like Chinese calligraphy.

The valley holds concrete blocks like pencils. The crisp air has a scent of Queen of the Night. Tunnels of shade, initials on mossy rock, but the rocks don’t last. Yesterday was Ching Ming, ancestors’ day. Clothes of many hues and textures: knitted, velvet, plaid, check designs. Ladies, slim of waist, narrow-hipped. Babies with heads of soft, straight hair. A picnic spot, ice-licking tongues. 

My discarded diary renews moments that come alive to me again.

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