Hong Kong as Creative Practice 3031213610, 9783031213618

In this book, Hong Kong is seen as a labyrinth, a postmodern site of capitalist desires, and a panoptic space both homel

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Hong Kong as Creative Practice
 3031213610, 9783031213618

Table of contents :
List of Figures
1: Introduction
The Flâneur and the City as a State of Mind
The Writing of Place
Street Photography and Visual Ethnography
Practice-Led Research
Subsequent Chapters
Works Cited
2: Tsim Sha Tsui as Labyrinth
Works Cited
3: The Mall and Park as Heterotopic Spaces
Works Cited
4: Street Markets of Sham Shui Po: Going on a Dérive
Works Cited
5: Embodied Mobilities: On the Subway, Cycling, Running
An Embodied Mobilities Approach
Commuting by Subway
Recreational Running
Trail Running
Works Cited

Citation preview

Hong Kong as Creative Practice

Eddie Tay

Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture

Series Editors Vlad Petre Glaveanu Department of Psychology and Counselling Dublin City University Dublin, Ireland Brady Wagoner Communication and Psychology Aalborg University Aalborg, Denmark

Both creativity and culture are areas that have experienced a rapid growth in interest in recent years. Moreover, there is a growing interest today in understanding creativity as a socio-cultural phenomenon and culture as a transformative, dynamic process. Creativity has traditionally been considered an exceptional quality that only a few people (truly) possess, a cognitive or personality trait ‘residing’ inside the mind of the creative individual. Conversely, culture has often been seen as ‘outside’ the person and described as a set of ‘things’ such as norms, beliefs, values, objects, and so on. The current literature shows a trend towards a different understanding, which recognises the psycho-socio-cultural nature of creative expression and the creative quality of appropriating and participating in culture. Our new, interdisciplinary series Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture intends to advance our knowledge of both creativity and cultural studies from the forefront of theory and research within the emerging cultural psychology of creativity, and the intersection between psychology, anthropology, sociology, education, business, and cultural studies. Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture is accepting proposals for monographs, Palgrave Pivots and edited collections that bring together creativity and culture. The series has a broader focus than simply the cultural approach to creativity, and is unified by a basic set of premises about creativity and cultural phenomena.

Eddie Tay

Hong Kong as Creative Practice

Eddie Tay Department of English Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture ISBN 978-3-031-21361-8    ISBN 978-3-031-21362-5 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5 © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover pattern © John Rawsterne/patternhead.com This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

To May Lyn, Titus, Tabitha and Peggy.


This research project was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. CUHK 14607219).



1 I ntroduction  1 2 Tsim Sha Tsui as Labyrinth 19 3 The Mall and Park as Heterotopic Spaces 37 4 Street Markets of Sham Shui Po: Going on a Dérive 61 5 Embodied Mobilities: On the Subway, Cycling, Running 81 C  onclusion107 I ndex109


List of Figures

Fig. 2.1 Fig. 2.2 Fig. 2.3 Fig. 2.4 Fig. 2.5 Fig. 2.6 Fig. 2.7 Fig. 2.8 Fig. 2.9 Fig. 3.1 Fig. 3.2 Fig. 3.3 Fig. 3.4 Fig. 3.5 Fig. 3.6 Fig. 3.7 Fig. 3.8 Fig. 3.9 Fig. 3.10 Fig. 3.11 Fig. 3.12 Fig. 3.13

Writing on the wall 23 Along Nathan Road 24 Architecture of consumption 25 Victoria Harbour view 27 Ode to Chinese capital 28 Entrepreneurs of ourselves 29 Consumption 31 The scent of time 32 Waiting at Tsim Sha Tsui 33 Abstract figures 41 Artful abstractions 42 ITSU larger-than-life person 43 Expresscalator 45 Birdcage 46 Shatin Plaza, a housing estate connected to New Town Plaza by a walkway 48 Chinese pavilion in a miniature fortress 50 Bridge 52 Invitation to community 52 Companionship or solitary contemplation 53 Fuwa54 Engagement 56 Cycling as a core activity 56 xi


Fig. 3.14 Fig. 4.1 Fig. 4.2 Fig. 4.3 Fig. 4.4 Fig. 4.5 Fig. 4.6 Fig. 4.7 Fig. 4.8 Fig. 4.9 Fig. 4.10 Fig. 5.1 Fig. 5.2 Fig. 5.3 Fig. 5.4 Fig. 5.5 Fig. 5.6 Fig. 5.7 Fig. 5.8 Fig. 5.9 Fig. 5.10

List of Figures

Family cycling Selling used hardware Boutique hair salon hidden behind makeshift stalls Selling mini fans, torchlights, showerheads Selling SIM cards Lunch Sham Shui Po as subjective experience Critical judgements Spatial discipline Genial conversations Found art unwittingly masqueraded as shop display Entirely closed off Bodily armour Posture of engagement Ubiquitous photograph Friends On a quadracycle Affection Running alone A space negotiated Shrine

57 65 66 67 68 68 71 73 74 76 77 86 87 88 92 93 94 95 98 102 103

1 Introduction

Abstract  This chapter addresses the underlying approaches of the book. It looks at the figure of the flâneur as well as place-writing as to argue that the city, apart from its physical infrastructure, is also a state of mind. Keywords  Affect • Autoethnography • Practice-led research • Street photography • Visual ethnography • Writing of place This book is a practice-led creative research project informed by street photography and creative writing. It seeks to articulate thinking via the process of art-making. It is a research project on affect and the psychogeographical mapping of various sites in Hong Kong. It examines what Hong Kong is, as thought and felt by the person on the street. By meandering through urban space and taking street photographs, the practice is open to the various metaphors, atmospheres and visual discourses offered up by the street scenes. As such, this book maps the affective terrain of Hong Kong, through the intertwined disciplines of street photography, autoethnography and psychogeography. Street photography engages with “the literal and the figurative, the given and the possible, the seen and the hallucinated”, negotiating between the actual-empirical and the actively experienced in © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5_1



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Hong Kong’s urban space (Scott 2007). Via street photography, this book is a response to visual scenes of the streets in Hong Kong. Autoethnography allows the researcher to attend to “lives, identities, and feelings […] connected to […] the sociocultural contexts in which we live” and hence is able to foreground the practice of art-making in relation to my sociocultural environment (Anderson 390). Psychogeography as a discipline inculcates a reflexive mindset that attends to the influence of external environment on the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of individuals. It is also a discipline which this project draws on. These approaches, taken together, constitute an art-making project. This book is about “thinking in, through and with art”, offering a reminder of “unfinished thinking” amidst ideas and affect that form polar oppositions, such that Hong Kong begins to speak (Borgdorff 44). It is a literary, visual and creative exploration, seeking to produce a “thick description” of Hong Kong at present, tracing its “webs of significance”, thus bringing to bear an interpretive approach to the understanding of what Hong Kong is alongside its condition of possibilities (Geertz 5). Many books on Hong Kong have emerged in recent years which engage with the post-2014 Umbrella Movement protest culture. Antony Dapiran’s City of Protest (2017), Joshua Wong’s Unfree Speech (2020) as well as Karen Cheung’s Impossible City (2022) are some that come to mind. As can be seen from the titles, these books engage with a drastically changed political landscape which has subsequently seen violent protests in 2019 on university campuses and on the streets. The 2019 protests led to the introduction in 2020 of the National Security Law, which detractors claim are vague as to instil fear and stifle public protest and political opposition. The disbandment of prominent pro-democracy groups as well as the closure of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, and the imprisonment of its owner, Jimmy Lai, as well as prominent pro-­ democracy political figures, are among the more alarming events that have occurred. These books have focused on how politics have diminished the social landscape of Hong Kong. Cheung’s Impossible City is a memoir documenting Hong Kong’s fast-disappearing culture. The impact of recent years can be felt in literary works as well. Kit Fan’s novel, Diamond Hill (2021), set in 1980s Hong Kong, has its characters ruminate on the

1 Introduction 


impending arrival of 1997, when Hong Kong is to be handed over by Britain to China. At the end of the novel, the use of the British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) passport as a pathway to emigration is mentioned. The BN(O) passport is issued to permanent residents in Hong Kong since 1987 for use as a travel document. In this way, the novel projects itself onto the contemporary period, whereby Britain has announced a pathway to citizenship scheme for Hongkongers holding BN(O) passports. More than half a million Hongkongers have been issued the passport since 2019, portending a shift in Hong Kong’s population demographics in a city of more than 7 million people (Westbrook “More than 540,000 Hongkongers”). The above-mentioned books have made politically charged events their central focus, to the point where it seems that culture and everyday life are no longer tenable in the impossible city of Hong Kong. That there is a persistent wave of emigration is often reported in the media; one such report tells us that between mid-2021 and mid-2022, the population has “slid to 7,291,600 from 7,413,100 the year before” (Yiu “113, 200 Residents Leave Hong Kong in 12 Months”). If it is all about impossibility and emigration and emptying out of culture, what else is there to say for the person who chooses to remain? Clearly, there is a need to address what the city is like for ordinary inhabitants—of which there are more than 7 million—going about their everyday life. Written in the shadow of the 2019 political protest and the National Security Law as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, this book seeks to moderate the somewhat apocalyptic sentiments of the above books, hence giving voice to the silent majority. While Hong Kong has been portrayed as an impossible city, this book—in exploring contemporary everyday life via street photography, autoethnography and psychogeography—makes the point that Hong Kong continues to be a city of possibilities for its inhabitants.

The Flâneur and the City as a State of Mind The figure of the flâneur, who carries out the contemplative act of walking and observing everyday life in an urban environment, is at the centre of this project. Charles Baudelaire, most notably in his work Paris Spleen,


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had made the acts of walking and observing central to the poetic experience of urban space, such that the urban experience is revealed to be an aesthetic experience. The urban environment compels one to be urbane, such that one is able to remain affable (and hence anonymous) and yet at the same time, if he or she chooses, singular in one’s thoughts: “[t]he poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself or some one else, as he chooses” (Baudelaire 20). In his essay on Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin makes the point that “[t]he street becomes a dwelling for the flâneur […] [t]o him, the shiny, enamelled signs of businesses are at least as good a wall ornament as an oil painting is to a bourgeois in his salon” (Charles Baudelaire 37). At the heart of modern life is an aesthetics of experience that needs to be unpacked. It is not that the experience of modernity is aestheticized through writing, but that modernity is itself a form of aesthetic experience that needs to be clarified. In other words, it is not the case that the urban experience is being conveyed via artful writing, but that the modern urban landscape itself—with the intense visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and gustatory experiences it offers—is already a work of art that has to be brought to light. Furthermore, Benjamin’s invocation of Georg Simmel’s work in his essay on Baudelaire is especially telling, in that it reflects an understanding that modern life has brought about a sea-change in the way one’s surroundings affect one’s inner life and hence one’s response to the external environment (37–38). Simmel’s essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life” spells out the effect living in the city has on its residents. As a consequence of preserving the self against assaults from external stimuli the city affords, “[t]here is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which has been so unconditionally reserved to the metropolis as has the blasé attitude” (Simmel 413). This blasé attitude, which is the outward appearance of being unimpressed or indifferent to the various inducements and excitations of city life, is the modern person’s logical response in the preservation of the self. As Keith Tester points out, “[t]he anonymity of the poet is merely a ruse” (4). Baudelaire’s recourse as a poet of the streets is to adapt this very formula for his use: to be outwardly blasé and inwardly intoxicated. In their writings, both Baudelaire and Benjamin (most notably in writings collected in The Arcades Project) were intoxicated by the streets. For

1 Introduction 


the urban stroller, there is to be found “a singular intoxication in this universal communion” (Baudelaire 20). As has been argued, “Benjamin saw in Baudelaire the individualist on the edge of the abyss, the solipsistic soul facing the world of capitalist alienation, the dreamer lost in a world of phantasmagoria” (Buse 5). At the heart of flânerie is the notion that the cityscape offers up an affective experience. The notion of the flâneur may be expanded by drawing from the field of affect studies. Affect can be thought of as sensations that operate “at scales of bodily matter below or beyond human perception [and] human cognition” (Clough 223). As these sensations are a function of the physical environment, one must then consider “the materiality of thinking” such that the research process would need to “include the study of material culture” (Thrift 8). Pertaining to affect, Jo Labanyi invites us “to think of emotions as practices, rather than as states that exist inside the self and are often regarded as properties of the self ” [italics in original] (223). I find this notion of affect as practice to be insightful for the purposes of this book, insofar as we are interested in how the environment shapes the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of its inhabitants. What can we learn by considering Hong Kong as an affective environment? Insofar as this is a work of practice-led research, we are interested in the interaction between the environment and the mental state. Hence, a key concern of this book, related to the role of the flâneur, is the understanding of “the city as a state of mind”; this is the idea that the urban landscape possesses (or engenders) a “particular mood or sentiment” that is as real as physical structures (Pile 2). While what constitutes affects or whether the claims made by affect theorists are valid is by no means a settled issue (see Ruth Ley’s “The Turn to Affect: A Critique”), as far as this book is concerned, the affective experience is a dialogical process between the observer and the external environment. As has been argued, “[a]ffect can … be said to place the individual in a circuit of feeling and response”, and this project is very much an individual’s feeling and response to the external environment (Hemmings 552). This is not to say that this is a subjective (in the sense of being singular) experience that is of no critical relevance. To deal with affect “means paying attention to feelings as well as ideas, and viewing feelings, not as properties of the self, but as produced through


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the interaction between self and world” (Labanyi 223). As such, to feel and to respond to the city is to read and inhabit the city. There is a transformational aspect as well to this approach: “[I]t is affect’s difference from social structures that means it possesses, in itself, the capacity to restructure social meaning” (Hemmings 550). In the field of humanistic geography inaugurated by Yi-Fu Tuan, the term “topophilia” has been used to denote the study of “affective ties with the material environment” (93). As Tuan puts it, “[t]he response to environment may be primarily aesthetic” (93). It comes as no surprise that in his discussions of city spaces as a humanist geographer, Tuan engages with the works of Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot, among others (50–51). It is through affect that this book comes to terms with what Hong Kong society is at this point in time. Hence, this project is in part aligned with the psychogeographical agenda which is the “study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of the individuals” (Debord 23). As we shall see, from the glitz of shopping districts to the serenity of running trails, the Hong Kong landscape has much to contribute to its inhabitants’ sense of place.

The Writing of Place While the flâneur is often regarded as an observer walking on city streets, there is a secondary activity involved as well. It has been said that “[w]alking seems to be the exercise of choice among writers” (Piirto 112). The activity of writing, as part and parcel of being a flâneur, is so obvious it is often overlooked. As has been argued, we need to acknowledge “the flâneur as [a] producer of texts”, as evident in the case of both Baudelaire and Benjamin (Tester 83). As Baudelaire confesses, it was the “exploration of the cities” that fuelled his “lyrical impulses” (x). In the case of Benjamin, the material and thought contained in The Arcades Project have been composed out of the arcades, street signs and passageways of Paris. There is a history of flânerie to be uncovered in canonical works of philosophy and literature. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were known to be avid walkers, the former because of his health, the latter as a way of

1 Introduction 


composing new ideas in between writing sessions. Mrs Dalloway and Prufrock would not be who they are if it were not for their walks. For the flâneur, there is a dialectical relationship between walking in the city and writing; just as walking engenders writing, writing engenders walking. From the Paris of Baudelaire and Benjamin to the London of Mrs Dalloway and Prufrock, it is this dialectic that leads to the depiction of urban spaces in literary writings. Hence, an important concern of this book has to do with the writing of place. Place-writing is creative work in that it transforms objective space into a place, into a terrain invested with social and personal meanings. As Tim Cresswell argues, “[t]he act of writing is part of the process of relating to place—not just a record of it” (Maxwell Street 3). Through the practice of what Jane Rendell calls “site-writing”, we are able to “investigate the spatial and often changing positions we occupy materially, conceptually, emotionally, and ideologically” (180). As she puts it, “Where I am makes a difference to who I can be and what I can know” [emphases in original] (Rendell 179). Such writing draws attention to the situation of the author, and this level of reflexivity is aligned with the reflexivity found in analytic autoethnography in which there is a turn toward blurred genres of writing, a heightened self-reflexivity in ethnographic research, an increased focus on emotion in the social sciences, and the postmodern skepticism regarding generalization of knowledge claims. (Anderson 373)

As such, analytic autoethnography goes hand in hand with the writing of place. In this way, this book represents a contingent gathering together of specific sites, social meanings and aesthetic observations. It is in line with critical writing that focuses on the experience of space. As Cresswell points out, “[R]ecent writing of place (and region) has taken an experimental turn—the complexities of place-as-assemblage have been reflected in various kinds of text-as-assemblage” (Maxwell Street 5). The notion of place-as-assemblage involves regarding a physical location as a “gathering place of things, meanings, and practices” (Creswell Maxwell Street 6). By focusing on various specific places in Hong Kong, ranging from the


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tourist and shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui to the street markets of Sham Shui Po, from cycling and running trails linking New Territories villages, this book may be seen as an assemblage of the affective spaces of the city. It is about how places generate meanings both personal and communal. As such this book may be seen as a work of imaginative geography—namely, the way in which specific sites in Hong Kong are ordered in accordance with autoethnographic impulses.

Street Photography and Visual Ethnography This book relies on street photography in its creation of the imaginative geography of Hong Kong. Street photography involves the use of small cameras to capture people in urban scenes in a candid manner. Illustrious exponents of street photography include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Bruce Gilden, Lee Friedlander, Saul Leiter, Daido Moriyama, Fan Ho, Helen Levitt, Dorothea Lange, Vivian Maier and Diane Arbus. When it comes to walking, loitering and taking street photographs, there is a certain element of contingency to this project in that it involves “what Bourdieu has theorised as the logic of practice or of being in-the-­ game where strategies are not predetermined, but emerge and operate according to specific demands of action and movement in time” (Barrett 4). There is a connection to be found between the flâneur and street photographer; it has been argued that “[t]he flâneur is like a detective seeking clues who reads people’s characters not only from the physiognomy of their faces but via a social physiognomy of the streets” (Tester 63). As we shall see in the chapters that follow, the power of the camera lies in the workings of the optical unconscious: The camera can capture scenes that pass too quickly, too remotely, or too obscurely for the subject to consciously perceive. By enlarging details, or by slowing down or stopping time, the camera pictures phenomena that the viewer has encountered and unconsciously registered but not consciously processed. (Smith and Sliwinski Photography and the Optical Unconscious 14)

1 Introduction 


In this way, we veer between social documentary and aesthetic apprehension of the city. This wavering between art and documentation is very much a feature of street photography. As Clive Scott puts it, It is as if the shutter of the street poet’s eye, like that of the street photographer’s camera, has the power to create a channel of communication between the literal and the figurative, the given and the possible, the seen and the hallucinated. (43)

It is the practice of street photography that allows for this movement between a given scene and its figurative resonance. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the pioneer of street photography, has this to say concerning his work: In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a leitmotiv. We see and show the world around us, but it is an event itself which provokes the organic rhythm of forms. (29)

In the chapters that follow, we shall see that there are visual leitmotifs to be found on the streets of Hong Kong. Sarah Pink has outlined a number of strategies of the visual ethnographers who make use of cameras; in many cases, the assumptions and approaches are in alignment with street photography. She writes of “photographing and viewing as we move through and in as part of environments”, allowing for knowledge to be accumulated via the experience of walking and exploring a place (81–82). She writes of ethnographers who use “walking, narration and photography as ways of exploring and communicating to readers about the specificity of one person’s interior experiences of traversing a route across a particular urban landscape” (86). In drawing attention to the work of visual ethnographers as creating “empathetic and experiential text”, she might as well be describing the practice of street photography.


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Practice-Led Research It has been argued that “[i]n the humanities, theory, criticism and historical investigation have been heavily prioritised over arts practice” (Smith and Dean 2). Theory and criticism are often aligned with Roland Barthes’ “death of the author” thesis and Wimsatt and Beardsley’s argument concerning the intentional fallacy. Hence, critics and theorists often ignore artists’ and authors’ intentions concerning their works. Such a formulation prevents theory and criticism from examining literature and art as living forms of practice. This book articulates a phenomenology of aesthetic practice. It foregrounds “three fundamental events”: namely, “the formation of a first artistic gestalt”, the “materialization of a principle […] governing and directing the work” as well as “the emergence of style understood as an articulation of the law of the work of art” (Kolle 10–11). Anders Kolle’s approach takes us back to the Heideggerian emphasis on the relationship between the work of art and the artist: “The artist is the origin of the work. The work is the origin of the artist” (Heidegger Poetry 17). Such an approach allows for a language of reflexivity, communicating the experience of art-creation and participating in a larger conversation among arts practitioners concerning the process of art-making. It allows for the exploration of kinds of knowledge not usually discussed in traditional research, namely, “actional knowledge” which is “experienced as confidence in acting, as personal style, as practical tact, and also as habituations, routines, kinesthetic memories” (van Manen 271). Actional knowledge, to do with craft from the point of view of the artist or author, is an important component of art-making not often discussed via theory, criticism and historical investigation. The art-making aspect of this project has to do with the role of flâneur “seen as a positioning, or more strongly perhaps, as a way of organizing the city” (Jenks and Neves 2). As has been argued, Flânerie is an activity that requires training—in order not to overlook the obvious in one’s own city and in order to engage in meaningful collection of images—and a particular social habitus. (Tester 92)

1 Introduction 


The point has been made that “[a]s researchers, we are often trained to hide our relationship to our work; this is problematic for some, impossible for others” (Leavy 21). As a scholar, poet and street photographer who looks to the streets of Hong Kong as material for my work, I have often found this to be an impossible demand, one which compartmentalizes the research and artistic process into neat categories and disciplines. By recouping the role of the artist and scholar, I hope to reinvigorate discussions concerning art-creation and scholarship among the community of arts practitioners and scholars. It remains to be said that the artist or author is not to be regarded here as the final authority of the work. Rather, it is about what Gary Peters calls “the working of the work that produces both the artwork and the artist” (14). We are interested in the experiential process that leads to the work. As Juhani Pallasmaa puts it, “[C]reativity is … based on vague, polyphonic, and mostly unconscious modes of perception and thought instead of focused and unambiguous attention” (26). This book seeks to engage with this unconscious mode of perception and thought. As has been argued, “[T]he training and specialised knowledge that creative practitioners have and the processes they engage in […] can lead to specialised research insights which can then be generalised and written up as research” (Smith and Dean 5). This focus on practice-led research which is a focus on process is able to produce knowledge distinct from those developed via theory, criticism and historical investigation. The term “nomadic research” (Fentz 289) has been used to describe this sort of practice. This invokes Deleuze and Guattari’s notion that the “life of the nomad is the intermezzo”, existing in the space between organized terrains (380). As such, practice-led research represents the act of thinking with and through practice, a form of meandering through organized discourses of (in this case) scholarship and Hong Kong’s urban landscape, hence allowing for the merging between the “scholar-self ” and “artist-­ self ” (Leavy 21). Such an approach would be an addition to the field of Hong Kong cultural studies, of which the following books are seminal, among others. Ackbar Abbas’ Hong Kong: Culture and Politics of Disappearance (1997) examines the films, architecture, photography and literature of Hong Kong as to articulate a culture seen as fast-disappearing in the light of its


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1997 handover to China, arguing that there is a lot about Hong Kong that “was just not recognized to be culture as such” (6). Gordon Mathews’ Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong (2011) looks at a run-down commercial and residential building in the tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui from the point of view of an anthropologist. Mathews makes the point that the building, as well as the commercial and everyday experiences of its inhabitants, is part of a prosaic and unglamorous globalisation process submerged under the glitz of the metropolis. Chu Yiu-Wai’s Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China (2014) and its sequel Found in Transition: Hong Kong Studies in the Age of China (2018) examine the postcoloniality of Hong Kong in relation to its status as a Special Administrative Region of China. Through the use of street photography, this book contributes to the scholarship by foregrounding an autoethnography that takes into account the psychogeographical affects of Hong Kong. In so doing, it demonstrates the potential of creative practice-led research to the field of Hong Kong studies.

Subsequent Chapters Chapter 2 focuses on the concept of the labyrinth as we survey the street scenes in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. The streets of Hong Kong have been made unrecognizable as a result of the 2019 anti-government street protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. The following quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson has always been a creative touchstone for me: “[P]hotography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression” (42). What, then, was I recognizing as I walked the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui with my camera? In these street photographs and the ensuing thoughts and feelings evoked by them, the focus is not so much on what they represent but how the uncanny emerges from scenes that are determinedly familiar. Chapter 3 looks at the interlinked malls around and including New Town Plaza at Shatin as postmodern sites of desires, commodity fetishism and profit-oriented planning. It also looks at the Sha Tin Park adjacent to

1 Introduction 


the mall as a contrastive space, one that allows for engagement via architectural features that invite community interaction and aesthetic appreciation. Edward Soja has famously described the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles as follows: “Everything imaginable appears to be available … but real places are difficult to find, its spaces confuse an effective cognitive mapping, its pastiche of superficial reflections bewilder co-­ ordination and encourage submission instead” (243–244). The same may be said of the immersive shopping malls in Hong Kong. However, instead of looking for “real places” elsewhere, this chapter argues that there is the interpenetration of lived spaces within these sites of consumerist desires. The photographs of the park adjacent to the mall will show that, “as an alternative to more Foucauldian analyses of spatial discourse” (Phillips 509), a contrapuntal cognitive mapping is at work, such that the environment is reconstituted and re-appears as lived in spaces and thus made habitable. As such, there is an “everyday sociality” to be uncovered in such spaces “which constitutes an important aspect of the making of social worlds” (Watson 1579). Through street photography and the creative writing of place, this chapter looks at the mall as a total experience of consumerist psychogeography and the park as a contrastive space of community. Chapter 4 explores how urban scenes are haunted, via an exploration of the street markets at Sham Shui Po. Here, the discussion takes a more reflexive term, focusing on what is meant by a hauntological approach to street photography latent in previous chapters and fully articulated here. As Elisabeth Roberts argues, “[h]auntology … does not replace other concepts but instead inhabits (or revisits) them” (393). We see how normative experience engenders its own counter experience. The approach here is via “the image’s constitutive haunting of its representational register by the rupture of non-signification, but no less so by the signifier, in the performative, the affective” (Roberts 387). The focus is not so much on what the street photographs represent but how the uncanny emerge from scenes that are determinedly familiar. At the street markets at Sham Shui Po, we see thriving pedestrian streets and vendors with their goods. As the street photographs will show, we have learnt to not see the gloomy store displays, empty stalls and wry expressions on faces.


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Chapter 5 focuses on how embodied mobilities such as commuting on the subway and recreational running and cycling contribute to the sense of place. If we understand the city as not just composed of static spaces (sites) but also of movements of its people, then it is imperative that we account for how space may be expressed as a function of embodied mobility. As Luis A.  Vivanco puts it, “[E]veryday movement through urban landscapes is woven into lives in contextually specific and personalized ways, in which meaning is created through embodied and sensory engagement with a cityscape” (59). As we shall see, just as embodied mobilities engender alienation in what Marc Augé calls “non-places” in the case of the subway commute, they can also create a visual-spatial sense of community via recreational cycling and running even if encounters among strangers do not lead to direct conversations or interactions. The conclusion will draw out the larger implications of the book, making the point that “[t]he flâneur introduces a phenomenology of the urban built around the issues of the fragmentation of experience and commodification” (Jenks and Neves 1–2). I am attempting what may be called a “wandering scholarship” which enables “affective languages and embodied learning” by taking street photographs and by being attentive to the affective qualities of street scenes (Jacobs 1). Hong Kong, as we shall begin to learn to see with this book, is a heterotopia, a space of affects often incompatible and in contradiction with itself.

Works Cited Abbas, Ackbar. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. U of Minnesota P, 1997. Anderson, Leon. “Analytic Autoethnography.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 373–395. Augé, Marc. Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe, Verso, 2009. Barrett, Estelle. “Introduction.” Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, edited by Barrett and Barbara Bolt, I.B. Tauris, 2007, pp. 1–13. Barthes, Roland. Image-Music-Text. Translated by Stephen Heath, Hill and Wang, 1977.

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Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen. Translated by Louise Varèse, New Directions, 1970. Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Translated by Harry Zohn, Verso, 1997. ———. The Arcades Project. Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Harvard UP, 1999. Borgdoff, Henk. “The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research.” The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, edited by Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson, Routledge, 2011, pp. 44–63. Cartier-Bresson, Henri. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture, 1999. Cheung, Karen. Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir. Random House, 2022. Chu, Yiu-Wai. Found in Transition: Hong Kong Studies in the Age of China. State U of New York P, 2019. ———. Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China. State U of New York P, 2014. Clough, Patricia Ticineto. “Afterword: The Future of Affect Studies.” Body & Society, vol. 16, no.1, 2010, pp. 222–230. Cresswell, Tim. Maxwell Street: Writing and Place. U of Chicago P, 2019. Dapiran, Antony. City of Protest: A Recent History of Dissent in Hong Kong. Penguin, 2017. Debord, Guy. “Theory of the Dérive.” Art in Theory, 1900–1990, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul J. Wood, Blackwell, 1992. pp. 693–699. Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Continuum, 1988. Fan, Kit. Diamond Hill. Little, Brown Book Group, 2021. Fentz, Christine. “A Walk through Walking.” Artistic Research: Strategies for Embodiment. Edited by Fentz and Tom McGuirk. NSU Press, 2015. Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books, 1973. Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. Harper and Row, 1971. Hemmings, Clare. “Invoking Affect: Cultural Theory and the Ontological Turn.” Cultural Studies, vol. 19, no. 5, 2005, pp. 548–567. Jacobs, Katrien. “Out of Thousands and Thousands of Thoughts: Wandering the Streets of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement”, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2017, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1310016. Jenks, Chris and Tiago Neves. “A Walk on the Wild Side: Urban Ethnography Meets the Flâneur.” Cultural Values, vol. 4, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1–17.


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Kolle, Anders. The Work of Art: Its Process of Becoming. Atropos, 2015. Labanyi, Jo. “Doing Things: Emotion, Affect and Materiality.” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, vol. 11, 2010, pp. 223–233. Leavy, Patricia. Method Meets Art: Art-Based Research Practice. Guilford Press, 2015. Ley, Ruth. “The Turn to Affect: A Critique.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 37, no.3, Spring 2011, pp. 434–472. Mathews, Gordon. Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong. U of Chicago P, 2011. Pallasmaa, Juhani. “Space, Place, and Atmosphere: Peripheral Perception in Existential Experience.” Architectural Atmospheres: On the Experience and Politics of Architecture, edited by Christian Borch, Birkhäuser, 2014, pp. 18–41. Peters, Gary. The Philosophy of Improvisation. U of Chicago P, 2009. Phillips, Andrea. “Cultural Geographies in Practice: Walking and Looking.” Cultural Geographies, vol. 12, 2005, pp. 507–513. Piirto, Jane. “The Creative Process in Writers.” The Creative Process: Perspectives from Multiple Domains, edited by Todd Lubart, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 89–122. Pile, Steve. Real Cities: Modernity, Space and the Phantasmagorias of City Life. SAGE, 2005. Pink, Sarah. Doing Sensory Ethnography. 2nd ed., SAGE, 2015. Rendell, Jane. “Site-Writing: She is Walking about in a Town Which She Does Not Know.” Home Cultures, vol. 4, no. 2, 2007, pp. 177–199. Roberts, Elisabeth. “Geography and the Visual Image: A Hauntological Approach.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 386–402. Scott, Clive. Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. I. B. Tauris, 2007. Wong, Joshua and Jason Y. Ng. Unfree Speech: The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now. Ebury Publishing, 2020. Simmel, Georg. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. The Free Press, 1950. Smith, Hazel and Roger T. Dean. Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts. Edinburgh UP, 2009. Smith, Shawn Michelle and Sharon Sliwinski, editors. Photography and the Optical Unconscious. Duke UP, 2017. Soja, Edward. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. Verso, 1989. Tester, Keith, editor. The Flâneur. Routledge, 1994.

1 Introduction 


Thrift, Nigel. Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. Routledge, 2008. Tuan, Yi-Fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values. Columbia UP, 1974. Van Manen, Max. Phenomenology of Practice. Routledge, 2016. Vivanco, Luis A. Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing. Routledge, 2013. Watson, Sophie. “The Magic of the Marketplace: Sociality in a Neglected Public Space.” Urban Studies, vol. 46, no. 8, 2009, pp. 1577–1591. Wimsatt, W. K. and M. C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 54, no. 3, 1946, pp. 468–488. Yiu, William. “113,200 Residents Leave Hong Kong in 12 Months”. South China Morning Post, 11 August 2022, www.scmp.com/news/hong-­kong/ society/article/3188536/113200-­residents-­leave-­hong-­kong-­12-­months-­ contributing-­16/. Accessed 20 August 2022.

2 Tsim Sha Tsui as Labyrinth

Abstract  This chapter focuses on the concept of the labyrinth as we survey the street scenes in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. The streets of Hong Kong have been made unrecognizable as a result of the 2019 anti-­ government street protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. What was I recognizing as I walked the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui with my camera? In these street photographs and the ensuing thoughts and feelings evoked by them, the focus is not so much on what they represent but on how the uncanny emerges from scenes that are determinedly familiar. Keywords  Achievement society • Capitalism • Disciplinary society • Labyrinth • Reverse hallucination This book offers an insight into Hong Kong not as an object of politics or economics but as a consequence of subjective felt experience allied with a poetic sensibility. Through the perspective of a flâneur, I seek to “remythologize the city … [and] explore the poetic surface of the urban spectacle” (Gros 2014). The bulk of this book was written in 2020 and 2021, in the shadow of anti-government protests and the COVID-19

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5_2



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pandemic. However it is not about politics or the public health crisis per se, even though they do cast their shadows on the writing that follows. Hong Kong is an aesthetic object. In this I am not claiming that the aesthetic approach is another way of understanding Hong Kong. Rather, it is the primary way, the pre-reflective way. As Steve Pile argues, “What is real about cities … is also their intangible qualities: their atmospheres, their personalities” (2). Insofar as sights, sounds and smells constitute the pre-reflective everyday experience of the city, Hong Kong is already an aesthetic experience. The aesthetic experience comes before any organizing principles of the mind. As Mirza Tursić argues, “studying the aesthetic space can help urban researchers better understand how the world becomes internalized or externalized by inhabitants” (207). Even as we are immersed in a physical landscape and are paying heed to our surroundings, our mental workings imaginatively “bring to mind what is latent and invisible through what is present and perceived” (Tursić 209). To observe the visceral aspects of our environs is to internalize the physical and experiential elements of the city that help us make up our mind about where and who we are. What photography offers is a way of viewing the city via the optical unconscious. Very often, we do not realize what we are seeing; or rather, what we see influences us in ways we do not immediately grasp. As Shawn Michelle Smith and Sharon Sliwinski argue, when we consider the optical unconscious, “the pivot point is not photography’s so-called indexical relationship to reality, but rather its proximity to fantasy” (9). As we experience the city in our everyday lives, much is missed in our daily routines, whether through habituation or via the relegating of the cityscape to the peripheral in search of our destinations. Nonetheless, the accumulation and thickening of our convictions, belief systems and ways of life are achieved within an environment that shapes our thoughts, feelings, dreams and desires. For Henri Cartier-Bresson, photography is a way of being “attentive to life” (66). Photography brings the psychic structures of the city to the fore by arresting time; the scene is frozen into an instant that invites contemplation. The viewer is arrested into thought. My interest in street photography stemmed from writing poetry. The visual images of my poems were created out of remembered visual scenes. Long before I knew about street photography, I was already capturing

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street scenes in my mind. Hence, in the language of Marshall McLuhan, the use of cameras became the extension of visual memory. Given the ubiquity of cameras (and camera phones), once we are in public spaces, there is always the potential for any one of us to be captured by photographs. Street photography is almost always a self-reflexive act, in that when we capture candid moments of others on the streets, we are also capturing ourselves. In this respect, to look at fellow inhabitants of the city is to look at ourselves. What, then, was I recognizing as I walked the streets of Hong Kong with my camera? In the street photographs that follow, the focus is not so much on what they represent but on how the uncanny emerges from scenes that are determinedly familiar. In this respect, I am drawing from Ackbar Abbas’ point concerning what happens when one takes photographs in Hong Kong: “To photograph disappearance is not to defamiliarize, only that a sense of the unfamiliar grows out of forms that remain stubbornly familiar. Like the uncanny” (106). Abbas’ famous thesis concerning Hong Kong is that it is a culture of disappearance. Hong Kong culture disappears not because it is vanishing, but because of “reverse hallucination”; as he puts it, “[i]f hallucination means seeing … something that is not there, reverse hallucination means not seeing what is there” [italics in original] (6). According to Abbas, Hong Kong does not disappear; rather, it dis-appears in films, in architecture and in literary writing. It remains to be said that his 1997 book Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance speaks to its time as well as the contemporary milieu, in the wake of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the 2019 anti-­ government protests, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 National Security Law. Hong Kong continues to dis-appear. The reverse hallucination involves not seeing the labyrinth that is Hong Kong. The labyrinth remains a potent and fruitful symbol of the city. The Greek mythology involving Daedalus the master craftsman who created the labyrinth, Icarus the overreacher who flew too close to the sun, King Minos the unfaithful worshipper of Poseidon, his wife Pasiphaē who gave birth to the Minotaur and Ariadne (Minos’ daughter) who helped Theseus—Minos’ nemesis—find his way out of the labyrinth are the key characters who come to mind. The labyrinth has been used as a literary trope, associated with the intricate plots of Jorge Luis Borges,


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Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco (Falahat 62–64). The labyrinth is a space of complexity in which one is lost. For Walter Benjamin, the city is a “labyrinth of urban dwellings” composed of daytime experiences as well as dreamscapes: This labyrinth harbors in its interior not one but a dozen blind raging bulls, into whose jaws not one Theban virgin once a year but thousands of anemic young dressmakers and drowsy clerks every morning must hurl themselves. (Arcades 84)

The labyrinth that is the city has a dozen raging bulls to which workers are sacrificed. Is it possible to develop the analogy further, to consider who Daedalus might be, who might be its Icarus or what sort of person might Theseus be? The way in which Hong Kong is being thought of is labyrinthine. In the second half of 2019, during the height of the anti-government protests, in the underground pedestrian tunnel from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station to the Peking Road exit, anti-China pamphlets would be put up, only to be torn down a week later and replaced by pro-China pamphlets. I would walk through the tunnel on a weekly basis, my gaze drawn to the walls. The photograph (Fig. 2.1) was taken when the pamphlets of both sides had been removed. The irony is that the pamphlets that represent antinomies are taken down only to reveal the very antinomies that are already there. Canton Road and Peking Road are well-known streets in Hong Kong. Slogans such as the fruitlessly denying “Hong Kong is not China” and its opposite, the pointlessly insisting “Hong Kong is part of China”, ignore what is already there, which is the always-already presence of China in Hong Kong. China is already present in Hong Kong in the same way the rest of the world is in Hong Kong. Both the anti-government street protests and the resultant National Security Law and associated policies are borne out of binary thinking. The discourse of yellow (representing anti-government protestors) versus blue (pro-government sentiments and the police) is a binary conflict writ large. Slogans such as those in Fig. 2.2 are engendered by binary thinking. In “The Uses of Binary Thinking”, an essay largely on the writing process, Peter Elbow reminds us that “wherever there are polar

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Fig. 2.1  Writing on the wall

oppositions, there is dominance” (51). He argues that the Hegelian approach to binary thinking, which is to work through a thesis and its antithesis to come to a synthesis, is not ideal as “difference and diversity are eliminated” (51). The synthesis may ultimately prove to be a thesis that subsequently generates its own antithesis. He points to a form of thinking that foregrounds “the ability to ‘try on’, enter into, and experience ideas or points of view different from the ones we presently hold”, and this involves “emphasizing dichotomies but holding them unresolved, giving equal affirmation to both sides” (59). While I am not so presumptuous as to seek to resolve the fraught political situation of Hong Kong, it is worth considering that what Elbow says about the writing process applies to the thinking process as well, a process that might be fruitful for thinking about Hong Kong politics. If each side were to concede the validity of its other, the resultant indeterminacy and ambivalence might enlarge Hong Kong’s political space.


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Fig. 2.2  Along Nathan Road

It may seem like a diversion to be discussing the writing process here, but Hong Kong demands to be read and written at this critical juncture. This is a city that requires tactical behaviour from its inhabitants. Hong Kong (and Tsim Sha Tsui, its metonymy) is a strategic place of consumerism, created out of political and economic rationality. Owners of capital and political elites have placed an overarching politico-consumerist grid onto the city. Michel de Certeau reminds us that a strategy, one which creates cities, malls and institutions, is created out of “will and power” (xix). On the other hand, the ordinary people of the city have learnt to be tactical, for “everyday practices (talking, reading, moving about, shopping, cooking, etc.) are tactical in character” (xix). It is tactics that made possible the writing of this book, via “the ruses of pleasure and appropriation” (xxi). Hence the facades of shopping malls and tourist scenes are here subject to “[r]use, metaphor, arrangement” (xxi). The urban space of Tsim Sha Tsui is here subjected to the play of ambulatory trajectory.

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Fig. 2.3  Architecture of consumption

The next photograph (Fig. 2.3) is of the external façade of K11 Musea, a high-end luxury mall that opened its doors in August 2019. Overlooking the Victoria Harbour, it occupies a prime location in the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping and tourism district. There is still a structural order to the physical landscape of Hong Kong, as indicated by the orderly form and shapes of buildings such as K11 Musea that loom over people on the streets. These monumental buildings are haunted landscapes, a testament to consumption and commercial activities that are struggling to resume. At times, it seems that any attempt at returning to normality would be repelled. This is exemplified by events organized by several private dance clubs which lead to the fourth wave of coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong from November 2020 to February 2021. At the time of writing (March 2021), there is a super-spreader cluster emerging from one of the restaurants in K11 Musea, the result of which was that the mall was shut down for two days for cleaning (Low). Social, commercial and


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consumption networks have been greatly reduced, even as the physical landscape of Hong Kong continues to haunt us with what was possible. In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau writes of urban visibility as follows: “[t]he ordinary practitioners of the city live ‘down below’, below the thresholds at which visibility begins” (93). This famous passage on looking down from the World Trade Center is rather pessimistic in its theorizing of the impossibility of ever seeing a city as a whole: “[t]hese practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen” (94). For de Certeau, to grasp the city in its totality is to grasp an abstraction, a “fiction of knowledge” (93). De Certeau writes of the obliviousness of pedestrians as if it is impossible for them to ever look up; to be on the streets is for him to be in a state of an “Icarian fall”, hence evoking the possibility of considering the walking trajectories of the city as a labyrinth (92). It is tempting, given the number of skyscrapers that tower over us in Hong Kong, to give in to the phenomenological blocking out of visual sightlines, to recognize the city as a labyrinth, one forged out of urban planning, in which we are lost. It is not true that pedestrians are in a space beyond the threshold of visibility. That much is obvious to a street photographer. Walter Benjamin has a similar proposition concerning the city as a labyrinth: “[t]he city is the realization of that ancient dream of humanity, the labyrinth” (Arcades 429). The next sentence is as follows: “It is this reality to which the flâneur, without knowing it, devotes himself ” (Arcades 429). Rather than giving in to the predisposition of being lost, blind and trapped, it is possible for us to recognize our predicament. It is possible to look up and understand the condition of being in a labyrinth. The skyscrapers of Hong Kong that are monuments to capitalism and consumption, to “expenditure and production” (de Certeau 91), demand a re-visioning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For one devoted like a flâneur to the urban landscape, the uncanny moment occurs when we are able to extract something else from the environment in which we are habituated. The flâneur recognizes the labyrinth as labyrinth. To evoke Barthes, street scenes provide moments of punctum, of those moments that prick us into a moment of realization. In the next photograph (Fig. 2.4), what would have been a picturesque brochure-like scene of Victoria Harbour with skyscrapers in the

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Fig. 2.4  Victoria Harbour view

background now speaks of what might have been. The trajectories of the capitalist labyrinth have ceased its monetary flow. The view at Victoria Harbour continues to be scenic in the absence of tourists. The junk boat, a popular tourist cruise option, is empty. The ferryman is a forlorn figure, almost as if he is taking himself to Lethe, that is the river of forgetfulness and oblivion. The write-up below, pulled from a tourism-oriented marketing website, is a kind of zombie writing, a text without readers, an undead form of writing that has yet to acknowledge its own demise.  e Best Things to Do in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong Th Located on the tip of Hong Kong’s peninsula by Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui is famous for its iconic view of the city’s harbour. This neighbourhood should be your top priority if you’re a first-time visitor. (Yung)


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This June 2019 entry on the website is now read as a fissure between representation and reality. The city that engendered the labyrinth is, at moment, empty, vacuous and void of capitalist flow. It conjures a representation it cannot fulfil. The brochure-like scene of Victoria Harbour, empty of tourists, is (for the time being) an empty promise. Nonetheless, the landscape continues to remind us of the power of capital. The unwitting juxtaposition of the Hong Kong Film Awards Statue along the Avenue of Stars on the waterfront is telling (Fig. 2.5). The statue raises its hand towards the China Construction Bank banner as if signifying a call for the celebration of Chinese capital that flows into Hong Kong from mainland China. Despite the political uncertainty and the pandemic, Hong Kong continues to be an achievement society. As Byung-Chul Han argues, Today’s society is no longer Foucault’s disciplinary world of hospitals, madhouses, prisons, barracks, and factories. It has long been replaced by another regime, namely a society of fitness studios, office towers, banks,

Fig. 2.5  Ode to Chinese capital

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airports, shopping malls, and genetic laboratories. Twenty-first-century society is no longer a disciplinary society, but rather an achievement society [Leistungsgesellschaft]. Also, its inhabitants are no longer ‘obedience-­ subjects’ but ‘achievement-subjects’. They are entrepreneurs of themselves. (Han Burnout Society 8)

As Han reminds us, this condition leads to a society of work in which the master himself has become a laboring slave. In this society of compulsion, everyone carries a work camp inside. This labor camp is defined by the fact that one is simultaneously prisoner and guard, victim and perpetrator. One exploits oneself. (Han Burnout Society 19)

We are reminded by the urban landscape to continue to work hard, despite everything. The pandemic throws up even more urgent calls for us to be entrepreneurs of ourselves. In the next photograph (Fig. 2.6), we see two human

Fig. 2.6  Entrepreneurs of ourselves


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bodies shaped by capitalism. One represents a physical vitality that can only be obtained through training in self-discipline. The other, dressed in office clothes, is focused on a smartphone screen, the ubiquitous node to webs spun by technologically supported capitalism. Even as the economy falters, the premise of the economy does not change. Workers who have been laid off pursue new ventures. We have to at least appreciate that some of their premises are thrown off, having been forced to consider the advantages of working for themselves as opposed to working for others. The impulses set up by achievement society as identified by Han press on within us. The headline of this news article captures this wonderfully: “Beating the gloom: enterprising Hongkongers find ways to boost income, running yoga classes or selling at bazaars and online” (Magramo). From remote work to new startups, we are all trying to cope, and crisis mentality has been rechanneled into entrepreneurial mentality. We are all asking the question—when can things get back to normal? Normality is defined in part by consumerism. As in Fig. 2.7, the landscape continues to remind us of the goods that are on offer. We continue to be defined by our purchases. In the consumer society, one forgets how to linger. Consumer goods do not permit a contemplative lingering. They are used up as quickly as possible in order to create space for new products and needs. (Han Scent of Time 93)

Perhaps a more productive approach is to interrogate this normal in this time of exceptionality. Walking along the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, I noticed that scenes such as those represented by the next two photographs (Figs. 2.8 and 2.9) are becoming more common. There is waiting and contemplation. The eye glazes over and becomes reflexive. The pandemic is a tragic event—it is disruptive and is the cause of misery and suffering. I do not mean to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic; even as we are waiting for normality to resume, we can embrace this state of exceptionality and recognize it as a moment of possibility. The crisis has given pause to consumerism. In Hong Kong, the pandemic has brought forth acts of kindness. Funds have been raised for the homeless. Free broadband access subscriptions for two years have been provided for those in need.

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Fig. 2.7  Consumption



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Fig. 2.8  The scent of time

Complimentary online forest bathing therapy sessions are available for medical workers (Albert Han). Circuits of capitalism have been rerouted for social causes. Laura Pottinger has written of what she calls “quiet activism”: These quiet, purposeful small acts contribute to progressive social and environmental goals, though they are not conducted in the service of any organised or explicitly political movement or cause. (Pottinger 217)

All the more, within the current politically charged environment of Hong Kong, there is something to be said for such examples of quiet activism. The pandemic also imposes on us an opportunity to rethink our way of life. What is work for? What are our priorities? Life as a state of emergency has led to collective irrationality (such as the rush for toilet paper in supermarkets). I think this state of emergency is also a call for us to consider the irrationality of everyday life, the irrationality of consumerism framed as normality and at the same time appreciate the privileges we have on hand.

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Fig. 2.9  Waiting at Tsim Sha Tsui



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In my case, I am reminded not to take for granted the privilege of art, writing and research. Writing and art-making are necessities for thought. Through the work of enlightened university administrators, I am fortunate enough to have access to funds to engage several writers and a creative arts therapist. We are working on various book projects and conducting various sets of complimentary online workshops for secondary school students during the period when face-to-face classes in schools were prohibited. This is a form of quiet activism that promotes art-making.

Works Cited Abbas, Ackbar. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. U of Minnesota P, 1997. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Translated by Richard Howard, Vintage, 2006. Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Harvard UP, 1999. Cartier-Bresson, Henri. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture, 1999. De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California P, 1984. Elbow, Peter. “The Uses of Binary Thinking.” Journal of Advanced Composition, vol. 13, no. 1, 1993, pp. 51–78. Falahat, Somaiyeh. Cities as Metaphors: Beyond Imaginaries of Islamic Urban Space. Routledge, 2018. Gros, Frédéric. A Philosophy of Walking. Verso, 2014. Han, Albert. “How the Coronavirus Pandemic Brings Out Acts of Kindness in Hong Kong People and Businesses.” South China Morning Post, 2 April 2020, www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-­wellness/article/3077902/how-­coronavirus-­ pandemic-­brings-­out-­acts-­kindness/. Accessed 2 January 2022. Han, Byung-Chul. The Burnout Society. Stanford UP, 2015. ———. The Scent of Time. Polity Press, 2017. Magramo Kathleen, Kanis Leung and Denise Tsang. “Beating the Gloom: Enterprising Hongkongers Find Ways to Boost Income, Running Yoga Classes or Selling at Bazaars and Online.” South China Morning Post, 7 Aug 2020, www.scmp.com/news/hong-­kong/hong-­kong-­economy/article/3096287/beating-­g loom-­e nterprising-­h ongkongers-­f ind-­w ays/. Accessed 10 February 2022.

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Pile, Steve. Real Cities: Modernity, Space and the Phantasmagorias of City Life. SAGE, 2005. Pottinger, Laura. “Planting the Seeds of a Quiet Activism.” Area, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 215–222. Smith, Shawn Michelle and Sharon Sliwinski, editors. Photography and the Optical Unconscious. Duke UP, 2017. Tursić, Mirza. “The City as an Aesthetic Space.” City, vol. 23, no. 2, 2019, pp. 205–221. Yung, Nam Cheah. “The Best Things To Do in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.” The Culture Trip, 24 June 2019, theculturetrip.com/asia/china/hong-kong/articles/the-top-10-cultural-things-to-do-and-see-in-tsim-sha-tsui/. Accessed 21 December 2021.

3 The Mall and Park as Heterotopic Spaces

Abstract  This chapter looks at the interlinked malls around and including New Town Plaza at Shatin as postmodern sites of desires, commodity fetishism and profit-oriented planning. It also looks at the Sha Tin Park adjacent to the mall as a contrastive space, one that allows for engagement via architectural features that invite community interaction and aesthetic appreciation. Through street photography and the creative writing of place, this chapter looks at the mall as a total experience of consumerist psychogeography and the park as a contrastive space of community. Keywords  Community • Consumerism • Heterotopia • Panopticism • Phantasmagoria • Shopping Picking up on the theme of consumerism mentioned previously, this chapter begins with the spaces within the New Town Plaza mall in the Sha Tin neighbourhood, looking at the mall as a postmodern site of desires, commodity fetishism and profit-oriented planning. From the point of view of the flâneur, “the interior became made into a street as all the variety of goods, shops and exotic urban experience became assembled in artificial settings” (Featherstone 914). Conversely, as we look at © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5_3



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Sha Tin Park which is adjacent to the mall, as the photographs will show, there is “an alternative to more Foucauldian analyses of spatial discourse” (Phillips 509). A contrapuntal cognitive mapping is at work, such that the space is reconstituted and reappears as lived-in spaces and thus habitable. There is an “everyday sociality” to be uncovered “which constitutes an important aspect of the making of social worlds” (Watson 1579). A sense of pessimism accompanies writing on capitalist modernity. Alan Latham has this to say of Benjamin’s work on the topic: the mass and force of the material and imageric brought forth by capitalist modernity had destroyed the capacity for critical distance. Thus, the critic was forced to stand amid the storm of the actual, the now. He or she must press up against reality, and find what distance he or she can. (451)

The apocalyptic vision above is understandable. In the case of shopping malls, a feature of capitalist modernity, we encounter waiters, shop assistants and customer service representatives; we regard other fellow shoppers as part of the background; in the retail space, we place the humanity and private, inner lives of other people at arm’s length, distilling from them their functional roles as agents aiding and abetting our own consumerist behaviour. Is it possible for one to be a critic seeking a distance from this? As Jon Goss argues in his landmark essay “The Magic of the Mall” concerning shopping, “there is no possibility of a critique from outside the dominant representational discourses” (42). The critic who finds himself or herself in one of these malls is participating in consumption as well. Where does the critic go for lunch if not at one of the restaurants? Where does the critic buy his or her shoes? Nonetheless, as we begin to see, by capturing photographs and by lingering on them, one can tease out a critical space in which the affective character of the environment can be grasped and made amenable to thought. While the shopper is a consumer of goods, the flâneur in the shopping mall is “a consumer of experiences” (Falk and Campbell 6). In other words, we work through the environment afforded by capitalist modernity as a way of considering that very environment. The mall experience is a mosaic of habituations that involve intimacy and distance, appetite and satiation, fascination and ennui. There is the

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promise of convenient consumerism guaranteed by Hong Kong’s status as an important node in the circuit of globalization, attested to by the presence of recognizable global brands such as Coach, H&M, Zara and Uniqlo, among others. The mall is an environment of meticulous planning, involving business analytics, financial capital, town planners, interior designers, brand managers, tenants and leasing agents, all activities of which revolve around the manipulation of shopping behaviour. Apart from those working in the malls, all others who step into the mall are consumers. Their footfalls and gazes are subject to rational calculation. Physical spaces are organized to facilitate the circulation of shoppers. It has been noted that outside of the mall, “passage areas and footbridges work together to constitute an integral part of an effective economic machine” (Zheng 737). In so far as it is a commodified and bureaucratically legislated space, the mall is a microcosm of the city. The fact that malls in Hong Kong are often integrated with residential estates and are usually located directly above public transport hubs means that they are part and parcel of everyday life. It has been pointed out that in Hong Kong, “walking [has become] a manipulated activity that connects home, shopping centres, bus stops and metro stations” (Zheng 723). The tenant mix is planned in relation to the mall’s immediate residential catchment area. This is in contrast to strip malls in North America that are located on the outskirts of urban centres and which presume car ownership on the part of the shoppers. As Stefan Al puts it, “for millions of people [in Hong Kong], entering a mall has become an inevitability, not a choice” (3). As he points out, “[s]hopping is seamless in Hong Kong. Metro exits lead directly into malls and footbridges connect different malls so that pedestrians remain in a shopping continuum” (Al 7). The boundary between the interior spaces of the mall and public space is often porous and its experiential seamlessness is often taken for granted. A case in point: to get to the main campus of the City University of Hong Kong using the metro, one has to go through the mall. One would walk via an underpass from Kowloon Tong MTR station to the basement floor of Festival Walk, a major shopping mall in the Kowloon City District, and proceed via escalators to a lower ground floor where there is a major pedestrian passageway from the mall to the campus, all the while tempted by the smell of coffee and pastry in cafes. The distinction between public


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and private spaces is unremarkable in the Hong Kong everyday experience: one could be transformed from commuter to consumer to student in an instance. Given the centrality of malls in Hong Kong’s urban planning, the horizontality of the gaze applies to it. In the previous chapter, we have seen how de Certeau contemplates the act of looking down from the World Trade Center, making the point that to understand the city is to understand an abstraction with “a celestial eye” with “all-seeing power”, the kind that “created gods” (92). The abstraction and calculation are meant to be invisible to shoppers. All that goes into the building and design of the mall spaces creates the urban experience via calculative abstraction on the part of city planners and property developers. As Cecilia L.  Chu argues, economic growth has “led to escalating rent and closures of many long-time local shops that were unable to compete with the more well-­ capitalized international retail chains” (87). Instead, as in Fig. 3.1, shoppers are abstract figures in profit and loss statements. Their eyes are drawn to shop windows and advertising boards; the sensory immersion renders them oblivious to the kind of planning that has gone into their walking itineraries. There is a calculative aesthetic at work in malls. No matter how the paths taken by individuals may be perceived by them as random, they are nevertheless circumscribed within a planned grid. There are limits to the degree of autonomy one has when walking in a mall. To walk into a mall is to participate in an aesthetic experience, immersed in a phantasmagoria of signs and images. There is no getting away from the fact that the flâneur is complicit with the mall experience. The flâneur is anyone who is not caught up in the act of buying something. Even those whom have made their purchases and whom are strolling aimlessly and soaking in the environment are momentary flâneurs, coaxed into a sensory lull. Every single possible view within the mall is an artful view, as in the case of Fig. 3.2. The mall is a total experience of consumerist psychogeography, a utopia, an idealized landscape that does not exist. There is no surface within the mall that does not partake in enhancing the immersive sensory experience of the shoppers. Glass windows are forever highly polished to showcase the wares. Surfaces are reflective to enhance their flawlessness.

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Fig. 3.1  Abstract figures



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Fig. 3.2  Artful abstractions

A small army of invisible cleaners ensure there is no litter on the floor. There are no reminders of occurrences that detract from the shopping experience. The mall was the site of anti-government protests that culminated in confrontations between the police and anti-government protestors on a Sunday night in July 2019, when thirty-three people were arrested on grounds of unlawful assembly (Siu et al. “Pitched Battles”). Not surprisingly, this dramatic event did not leave a single mark on the physical surfaces of the mall. Instead, we see surfaces such as in Fig. 3.3: Here, we see a larger-than-life advertising model enticing a female shopper. This is a commercial board for ITSU, a brand specializing in massage chairs. Its SENSEI Inspire series of massage chairs promises to deliver human expertise from rollers activated via a smartphone app, with their sports car-style design promising a high-end luxury experience. It promises an impersonal yet therapy-centred experience, a technologically enabled yet intensely personal good, a sterilized yet sensual product, hence fulfilling the consumer fantasy of affective and sensory pleasure. The massage chair makes complete sense in a capitalist life-world,

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Fig. 3.3  ITSU larger-than-life person

promising an evening of relaxation after a hard day’s work. At once intimate yet asocial, an embodiment of contradictory impulses, the massage chair is a microcosm of the shopping mall, which is in term the microcosm of the urban experience. In Fig. 3.3, the blasé shopper walks by. It is too much to expect that advertising images be decoded by shoppers in a dedicated and attentive manner. However, the inattentiveness of shoppers is a given, built into the semiotics of advertising. Advertising works via repetition. The very same image on a wall is repeated in television commercials, on the side of buses and on leaflets, among others. It comes as no surprise that a retail enterprise that is able to afford rent in a mall like New Town Plaza is also able to afford an elaborate advertising campaign. A shopper in a mall is already familiar with most of the brands on offer, primed by memory traces of previously seen signage, billboards and televisual commercials. The blasé attitude, theorized as a reaction against the hyper-stimulation of urban life (Simmel 413), is countered by a campaign of inundating repetition. The blasé attitude extends to an important yet ubiquitous feature of malls—the escalator. Unlike sprawling North American strip malls, the


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sheer verticality of shopping malls in Hong Kong is to be expected, given the constraint on land. Hence, escalators play a key practical role in facilitating the flow of shoppers, representing a retailer’s dream of a conveyor belt of willing consumers with acquisitive gazes. This in turn led to the development of atriums, open-air interiors which take the view of the shoppers into consideration. With escalators and what Stefan Al calls “expresscalators” (10), escalators that join one level to other several floors above, shoppers’ views are opened up vertically, allowing for a breath-­ taking vision of multitudinous store windows and shopping activities. Such vertical acceleration is also found in malls such as Megabox and Langham Place, indeed constituting a major architectural feature of these malls. In the case of the latter, a malfunction of such an escalator which led to the sudden reversal of direction resulted in injuries to eighteen people (Tong “Escalator Accident”). Used to the smooth functioning and ubiquity of escalators, the event is now a dim memory in the minds of Hong Kong people. The blasé attitude towards accelerated verticality afforded by escalators leads to boredom, as seen in Fig.  3.4. There is ascension to sameness. What can one expect on the escalator? Why does one seek verticality? For the answer, we look to Zygmunt Bauman: The task of the consumers therefore, and the principal motive prompting them to engage in incessant consumer activity, is the task of lifting themselves out of that grey and flat invisibility and insubstantiality, making themselves stand out. (12)

The escalator is a machine of convenience. Unlike in an elevator, where mobility is experienced as stasis and as a physical non-event, on an escalator you see where you are going. There is a view from the moving stairs on which your feet rest. You are in motion even when standing still. You see your own ascension. You participate in the speed of modernity, as part of the flow of visual consumption. You see but are also seen by fellow consumers. There is an accessibility of sight, made possible by atriums that open up the vertical space of modern malls. If you make it to the top of the escalator in New Town Plaza, you will be rewarded with a view as seen in Fig. 3.5.

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Fig. 3.4  Expresscalator



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Fig. 3.5  Birdcage

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Light enters from the glass enclosure. There is protection from the elements and summer heat. As one looks up and out, one cannot help but be seized momentarily by a sensation of being constrained. As has been argued, in Hong Kong, “[t]he exercise of urban design relies on developmental layout plans or developers’ discretion. The government’s lease conditions or other piecemeal quantitative control do not suffice to meet people’s qualitative demands (e.g., comfort, aesthetics and belongingness)” (Zheng 723). One feels as if one is in a birdcage, and the view is the same whether in the mall or one of the high-rise apartment buildings visible in the image. One cannot help but feel as if one is caught in a grid, a social structure, a positional relation. There is a panoptic capitalist structure at play here. Jeremy Bentham’s prison design compels prisoners to watch over themselves, because at any time, there may be an unseen guard in the central tower looking at the prison cells arrayed around it in a circular fashion. Similarly, the mall is often at the centre of urban space, surrounded by residential estates. Unlike Bentham’s prison, there is no guard, and there is no central observation tower in a circular prison, of course. The modern counterpart to the observation tower is the mall itself. The centrality of the mall and its location immediately above transport hubs (a major MTR subway train station and a bus terminus) ensure that the flow of commuters passes through it in the mornings and in the evenings. As mentioned earlier, passing through the mall is an inevitability in the everyday life of Hong Kong people. Hong Kong is regarded by many as a shopping mecca. Mattias Kärrholm has posed the following question: “[t]he shopping mall want[s] to become a city, the city wants to become a shopping mall. How does this equation balance?” (7). The quality of life of residents in surrounding estates depends on their ability to earn and consume, which ensures an orientation with the mall at the literal and ideological centre. New Town Plaza is a “single-use retail centre [conceived] as a circulation hub for the entire Sha Tin New Town” (Zheng 734). There is a shopping mall panopticism at work here—while the mall is not a literal surveillance mechanism observing the surrounding housing estates, it is the people who watch over themselves. Material possessions are rendered a normalizing judgement in alignment with what is on offer in the mall. The mirrors in the shops and


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polished surfaces of the mall allow for the shoppers’ reflections to be compared with those of the models on advertising signage. Is my attire on trend with those on the mannequins staring at me, perfectly poised from shop windows? Is the smartphone in my pocket obsolete compared to the shiny ones on offer? Is the television set at home compliant with the latest OLED or QLED technology, like those in the shops? Should I buy the latest edition of that smartwatch? (Fig. 3.6) What is compelling people to watch over themselves? Shopping, as we know, is not the mere instrumental purchasing of goods and necessities; rather, it is an expression of symbolic status, self-image and latent desires. What one possesses at home and on one’s body is to some extent a function of one’s shopping itinerary. The same could be said of one’s appearance. One’s perceived station in life is largely dependent on what one purchases. The curation of the self depends on one’s skill at shopping, taste and socio-economic status. Am I a James Cameron Rolex Submariner person or a G-Shock Mudmaster person? Should I bypass all that with a

Fig. 3.6  Shatin Plaza, a housing estate connected to New Town Plaza by a walkway

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sporty and perfectly respectable Fitbit? As Bauman puts it, “What is assumed to be the materialization of the inner truth of the self is in fact an idealization of the material—objectified—traces of consumer choices” [italics in original] (15). As the sayings go, we are what we buy, and I shop therefore I am. The depiction of shopping experience here may seem bleak and overly critical. To be sure, there are moments of meaningful joy in shopping malls. Buying a gift for a loved one or a celebratory dinner at a restaurant, all these are life-giving experiences. The modern shopping mall is heir to world exhibitions in the nineteenth century, where mechanical and industrial innovations were featured alongside exotic exhibits and entertaining circus acts. As Walter Benjamin puts it, world exhibitions (and here we may say the same of the shopping mall) “open a phantasmagoria which a person enters in order to be distracted” (Arcades 7). Benjamin has taught us the importance of viewing the modern environment as phantasmagoria. According to Greek mythology, Phantasos, the son of the god of sleep (Hypnos), appears in dreams of mortals in the form of inanimate objects (Ovid 317). If the shopping mall is a domain of Phantasos, what is there outside of the mall? If our idealized and fantasy selves are defined through our individual purchases, one may argue that our collective selves are articulated via the fevered imaginations of urban planners. By looking at objects in the urban environment, we continue to read the city as a work of mythos. Sha Tin Park, of about eight hectares (approximately eleven soccer fields), is a five-minute walk from New Town Plaza. The park is a popular walking itinerary for families and young couples, especially after having watched a movie on weekends in Movie Town located within New Town Plaza. Movie Town is the largest cinema in the New Territories which houses seven movie theatres. On a regular day, after experiencing an immersion in phantasmagoria in the form of a movie, cinemagoers may find themselves in the park in the evenings. Such is not to be when I last visited the park, given that many areas have been closed off to discourage social gathering due to the ongoing pandemic (see Fig. 3.7). One of the functions of a park is to foster a sense of community, the park being a place for social gathering in a non-commercial space. Unlike shopping malls with relatively few resting and sitting areas to discourage


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Fig. 3.7  Chinese pavilion in a miniature fortress

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loitering and non-consumerist activities, features such as open grassy spaces and benches in parks are often meant to encourage lingering. Hence, Fig. 3.7, with the sign discouraging the community from gathering, is especially heart-breaking. The architectural structure found in the North Garden section of the park resembles a fortress with a drawbridge, with a distinctive Chinese pavilion rooftop. The structure resembles an entrance to a Chinese city. For me, it calls forth memories of wuxia TV dramas, in particular The Romance of the Condor Heroes (based on Louis Cha’s Condor Trilogy novels), where Guo Jing, Huang Rong, Yang Guo, Xiao Long Nu and other martial arts exponents were defending the city gate of Luoyang City against Mongolian invaders. It has been argued that Cha’s works are “imagining China as a chivalric topography, close to a ‘situationist psychogeography’” (Song 77). If that is the case, then the North Garden structure is re-imagining a Chinese chivalric mythos, one which is not applicable in the modern context. Furthermore, while it is not obvious from the photograph, the “entrance” is too small for an adult, who would have to crouch to enter. It has been argued that parks have led to the “museumification of nature”, a process whereby the natural landscape is bracketed off from everyday experience and put on display, resulting in “a form of detached observation”, hence leaving people “on the outside looking in” (Gobster 96). The same might be said of the structure in Fig. 3.7. One is hard-pressed to say that it is a play space for children, as the passageway leads to a set of staircases that brings one up to a pavilion of which the rooftop is visible. It is meant to be looked at, rather than an object or architectural feature to be experienced. Where may one find experience in the park? In Figs.  3.8, 3.9 and 3.10, we see architectural features that invite engagement and aesthetic appreciation. The features are not just meant to be looked at but interacted with. Here, the experience of urban space is the antithesis of the indoor mall experience. The bridge is an invitation to walk amidst cultivated greenery, while the circular entranceway to a shaded sitting area is an invitation to community. The bench is an invitation to either companionship or solitary contemplation in the evenings. There is much to say about Chinese garden architecture, the least of which is that “the overall spatial pattern and design details […] reflect the


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Fig. 3.8  Bridge

Fig. 3.9  Invitation to community

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Fig. 3.10  Companionship or solitary contemplation

aspirations of the distinguished literati for a spiritual and utopian shelter away from the sociopolitical realities of the time” (Chen and Wu 1018). In terms of affect, one does not need to be a poet to perceive that there is a sense of tranquillity and harmony to be found in these spaces. There are occasional moments for celebration. In Fig.  3.11, I overheard a conversation between two people who met by chance. There was an expression of delighted surprise between friends who have lost touch with each other. They were standing beside a sculpture specially commissioned for the Beijing 2008 Olympics for the equestrian events held in Hong Kong. The sculpture represents one of the five Fuwas (dolls of good fortune). This particular Fuwa is meant to represent passion. The sculpture brings to mind the recent Olympics held in 2021. The Tokyo Olympics was a cause for celebration for Hong Kong. Hong Kong has achieved six medals that year, compared to three medals achieved over its seventy-year history of participation. Crowds have gathered at shopping malls to watch the events telecast live on giant TV screens. Celebrating the achievements of Siobhan Haughey, Edgar Cheung


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Fig. 3.11  Fuwa

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Kar-­long and other Hong Kong athletes have been seen as a way of reclaiming Hong Kong’s sense of community (Wong “Hong Kong’s Olympic Glory”). Indeed, much has been said concerning Haughey’s Irish and Hong Kong roots and her fluent Cantonese as evidence of Hong Kong’s continued reputation as a global city. As raised in the previous chapter concerning the quiet activism of Hong Kong people, after the social unrest in 2019, would it be possible to re-establish a sense of community for Hong Kong, without resorting to political alignments? The chance conversation, the 2008 sculpture and the Tokyo Olympics—these associational fragments brought together by the scene offer glimpses of Hong Kong as a community. Within walking distance of the Fuwa is the Sha Tin Marriage Registry. According to the description provided by Leisure and Cultural Services Department, this is a sculpture of wedding rings at the registry courtyard (Fig. 3.12); the diamonds at the top of the rings are meant to resemble glasshouses (“Engagement”), and newlyweds and their guests would pose for pictures beneath those glasshouses. The glasshouse is an apt symbol of marriage, given the social import of marriage as observable evidence of individual and community wellbeing. The glasshouse also connotes deliberate and dedicated cultivation, such that its contents might flourish. Glasshouses are fragile but necessary structures that require careful maintenance. Adjacent to Sha Tin Park is a cycling track that is part of the sixty-­ kilometre New Territories cycling network that connects Tuen Mun in the Western New Territories to Ma On Shan in the Eastern New Territories. It has been argued that cycling is “[o]ften misrepresented as a form of instrumental mobility” (Spinney “Movement, Meaning and Method” 824). Certainly, we might think of cycling as a form of commute, though in space-constrained Hong Kong where roads are often narrow, it remains a niche and sometimes hazardous choice. There is a need “to unlock the more ‘unspeakable’ and ‘non-rational(ised)’ meanings of cycling that often reside in the sensory, embodied and social nature of its performance” (Spinney “Movement, Meaning and Method” 826). Figure 3.13, with a bicycle rooftop decoration against the skyline of Sha Tin housing estates, suggests that cycling is posited as a core recreational and fitness activity in Sha Tin. Figure 3.14, which shows a father


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Fig. 3.12  Engagement

Fig. 3.13  Cycling as a core activity

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Fig. 3.14  Family cycling

cycling with his young son, is a common sight, as cycling is more often associated with family recreation in Hong Kong. Bicycles are easily available from rental kiosks. When my son was five years old, I wanted to teach him to ride, only to discover he had already taught himself to do so. There were bicycles at his school he could use during break times. Now a teenager, my son works part-time via the FoodPanda delivery app. Delivering food via cycling for him connotes independence, exercise and breaks from his studies. He has regaled me with conversations with fellow FoodPanda cyclists. There is an informal community of delivery riders who, while waiting to collect their orders from restaurants, exchange tips and gossip concerning rude security guards and shortcuts to various residential estates. FoodPanda cyclists and walkers, I was told, do not speak to their motorcyclist counterparts, who are perceived to be getting the more lucrative orders. A tour of New Town Plaza and the adjacent Sha Tin Park has conjured up scenes of heterotopia. Heterotopias are “sites which are embedded in aspects and stages of our lives and which somehow mirror and at the


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same time distort, unsettle or invert other spaces” (Johnson 790–791). The shopping mall, a space that invites the purchasing of goods with which to ground one’s socio-economic identity, can be panoptic. The park, with its architectural features, can alienate (as in the case of the Chinese pavilion atop a miniature fortress) as well as bring people together (as in the case of the bench and the circular entrance to the shaded sitting area). Heterotopias are to be differentiated from utopias: “whereas utopias are unreal, heterotopias are ‘actually localisable’” (Johnson 791). By being attentive to the phenomenology of such spaces as the mall and the park, as well as the memories and feelings they evoke, we experience in these heterotopic spaces a microcosm of what Hong Kong is.

Works Cited Al, Stefan, editor. Mall City: Hong Kong’s Dreamworlds of Consumption. Hong Kong UP, 2016. Bauman, Zygmunt. Consuming Life. Polity Press, 2007. Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Harvard UP, 1999. Chen Xiangqiao and Jianguo Wu. “Sustainable Landscape Architecture: Implications of the Chinese Philosophy of ‘Unity of Man with Nature’ and Beyond.” Landscape Ecology, vol. 24, 2009, pp. 1015–1026. Chu, Cecilia L. “Narrating the Mall City.” Mall City: Hong Kong’s Dreamworlds of Consumption, edited by Stefan Al, Hong Kong UP, 2016, pp. 83–90. De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California P, 1984. Falk, Pasi and Colin Campbell, editors. The Shopping Experience. SAGE, 1997. Featherstone, Mike. “The Flâneur, the City and Virtual Public Life.” Urban Studies, vol. 35, 1998, pp. 909–925. Gobster, Paul H. “Urban Park Restoration and the ‘Museumification’ of Nature.” Nature and Culture, vol. 2, no. 2, 2007, pp. 95–114. Goss, Jon. “The ‘Magic of the Mall’: An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 83, no. 1, 1993, pp. 18–47. Johnson, Peter. “The Geographies of Heterotopia.” Geography Compass, vol. 7, no. 11, 2013, pp. 790–803.

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Kärrholm, Mattias. Retailising Space: Architecture, Retail and the Territorialisation of Public Space. Ashgate Publishing, 2012. Latham, Alan. “The power of distraction: distraction, tactility, and habit in the work of Walter Benjamin.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 17, 1999, pp. 451–473. Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Hong Kong SAR Government. “Engagement.” www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/stth/programmes/cityartsquare/engagement/. Accessed 5 Jan 2022. Ovid, Metamorphoses. Translated by Horace Gregory. Viking, 1958. Phillips, Andrea. “Cultural Geographies in Practice: Walking and Looking.” Cultural Geographies, vol. 12, 2005, pp. 507–513. Simmel, Georg. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. The Free Press, 1950. Siu, Phila, Zoe Low and Jeffie Lam. “Pitched battles on Hong Kong streets and inside shopping malls as police move to clear extradition bill protestors after stand-off.” South China Morning Post, 14 Jul 2019, www.scmp.com/news/ hong-­kong/politics/article/3018531/thousands-­gather-­hong-­kong-­park-­ latest-­rally-­against/. Accessed 10 March 2022. Song, Weijie, “Jin Yong’s Method of Imagining China.” Chinese Literature Today, vol. 8, no. 2, 2019, pp. 77–83. Spinney, Justin. “Cycling the City: Movement, Meaning and Method.” Geography Compass, vol. 3, no. 2, 2009, pp. 817–835. Tong, Elsen. “Escalator Accident at Hong Kong Shopping Mall Leaves 17 Injured.” South China Morning Post, 25 March 2017, hongkongfp. com/2017/03/25/just-­e scalator-­c ollapse-­h ong-­k ong-­s hopping-­m all-­ leaves-­17-­injured/. Accessed 9 February 2022. Watson, Sophie. “The Magic of the Marketplace: Sociality in a Neglected Public Space.” Urban Studies, vol. 46, no. 8, 2009, pp. 1577–1591. Wong, Michael B. “In Hong Kong’s Olympic glory, a glimpse of a hopeful new future.” South China Morning Post. 4 August 2021, www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3143610/hong-­k ongs-­o lympic-­g lory-­g limpse-­ hopeful-­new-­future/. Accessed 7 January 2022. Zheng Tan and Charlie Q.L.  Xue. “Walking as a Planned Activity: Elevated Pedestrian Network and Urban Design Regulation in Hong Kong.” Journal of Urban Design, vol. 19, no. 5, 2014, pp. 722–744.

4 Street Markets of Sham Shui Po: Going on a Dérive

Abstract  This chapter explores how urban scenes are haunted, via an exploration of the street markets at Sham Shui Po. Here, the discussion takes a more reflexive term, focusing on what is meant by a hauntological approach to street photography. We see how normative experience engenders its own counter experience. At the street markets at Sham Shui Po, we see thriving pedestrian streets and vendors with their goods. As the street photographs will show, we have learnt to not see the gloomy store displays, empty stalls and wry expressions on faces. Keywords  Dérive • Hauntological • Lifeworld • Reverse gaze • Surveillance This chapter takes a tour in the street markets of Sham Shui Po. Formerly a hub of industrial factories and textile manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s, Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong’s current socio-economic discourse connotes poverty and crime. It has been described as the “centre of poverty in Hong Kong”: “[T]he underprivileged residents of the underprivileged neighbourhood Sham Shui Po are relatively immobile, and their experiences of ‘mainstream’ urban life limited” (Cheng 7). The neighbourhood is associated with the phenomenon of cage-homes and © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5_4



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subdivided flats. A cage-home is a bed installed as a cage to secure the bed-owner’s belongings. Subdivided flats are flats divided into partitions to house separate families, partly to maximize rent for the landlord and partly to lower rent to affordable levels for the relatively underprivileged socio-economic class. It has to be said that while absolute rents for subdivided flats are of course less than those of regular apartments, the rents of subdivided flats are significantly higher on a per square foot basis. Christopher Cheng’s “Sham Shui Po: The Centre of Poverty in Hong Kong”, a work of ethnography, is an important paper that provides insights into the lives of people in the district. As Cheng points out, “Most days, life inside [these areas] occurs mostly unseen—happening behind closed doors, partitioned walls and mesh screens” (16). Based on interviews with residents and on the author’s experience of living in a subdivided flat, Cheng describes Sham Shui Po as “a place known for its state of deprivation” (7). The neighbourhood is described by another ethnographer likewise as having “the reputation of being one of the most dangerous areas in Hong Kong, with criminal activity, pawnshops, gambling establishments, and brothels” (Ta 123). Trang X.  Ta’s paper focuses on the elderly and working poor who are engaged in the work of rehabilitating and revalorizing the remnants of material life salvaged from recycling bins, dumpsters, and renovation sites around Hong Kong for resale in semilegal secondhand markets. This market activity illustrates the vulnerability and resourcefulness of those who extract additional value from the discarded and the discounted to support themselves in a metropolis gentrifying beyond their means. (121)

The title of Ta’s paper, “A Space for Secondhand Goods: Trading the Remnants of Material Life in Hong Kong”, says it all. The paper goes on to describe Sham Shui Po as a place inhabited by those who are struggling economically in a city famed for its thriving financial centre and its high cost of living. On the other hand, Sham Shui Po is also celebrated as a unique cultural and retail hub. “Sham Shui Po: Self-guided Walks”, a pamphlet

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produced by Time Out Hong Kong and published by the Hong Kong Tourism Board in 2020, describes the neighbourhood as follows: Instead of glitzy, glass-panelled skyscrapers, here you’ll find buildings that hide a rich history behind their humble façades. Don’t come here for a fancy gourmet meal. Instead, come here if you want to try Michelin-­ recommended noodles and snacks that only cost HK$50. And if you’re planning to do a bit of shopping, be prepared to spend several hours here, sifting through all the eclectic wares at the open-air street markets. (1)

The pamphlet features Sham Shui Po as a place where one could find specialty artisan shops for leather and textile materials. There are independent boutique shops specializing in locally designed backpacks. There are traditional dim sum, dumpling and noodle restaurants as well as dessert shops scattered about the neighbourhood, as indicated on the pamphlet. Sham Shui Po is understood both in terms of its social class and as a place for bargain hunters. In terms of practice, I am trying hard to evade such top-down narratives and am interested in the accidental, allowing for an understanding of the place via the accumulation of various urban scenes captured by street photography. How do we negotiate between the aesthetic, the sociological and the personal in the understanding of an environment? What do we make of the various frames? There is the danger of over-determination, identification and projection, aligning Sham Shui Po with a narrative about poverty or as a tourist haunt. What has Sham Shui Po to say about everyday life in Hong Kong? Christopher DeWolf has engaged with these questions in his book, Borrowed Spaces: Life Between the Cracks of Modern Hong Kong (2017). In it, he documents his explorations of Hong Kong’s street markets and conversations with various people he encounters. He makes the point that culture is found in informal spaces rather than in museums. As he puts it, “[T]he entire city seemed to mimic the street markets” (2). The subtitle of DeWolf ’s book alludes to Richard Hughes’ Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time: Hong Kong and Its Many Faces that was published in 1968. In many ways, DeWolf ’s book provides an update to Hughes’ colonial account of Hong Kong. While for Hughes, “1997 is still two enigmatic decades distant”


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(14), for DeWolf and his readers, it is decades past and Hong Kong’s situation after the 1997 Handover is no longer an enigma. Nonetheless, the act of documenting everyday culture in Hong Kong is no less urgent. Walking the streets, we learn to see the city not as town planners, not always reading via habits of capitalism, of buying and selling (though we acknowledge their presence in our lifeworlds), but through an aesthetics of the everyday. We are on a dérive. Guy Debord defines the dérive as such: In a dérive, one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. (696)

In so doing, we are on the alert for lifeworlds. By “lifeworld”, I mean “the everyday way humans relate to the world prior to any abstraction” (Gorichanaz 883). In this way, “lived experience can be identified when a question is asked of the lifeworld” (Gorichanaz 884). Hence, we are staying away from abstractions. As Clive Scott points out, “[W]hat we should imagine is that this instant of arrest is not a sudden conjuncture, but an accumulated and accumulating process interrupted by a shutter” (100). This is in keeping with a reading grounded in the indexicality of the photograph: what is depicted is being addressed, rather than being passed over as a generic moment for critical reflection, with the subject treated as a stand-in for an analytical category. There are graduated layers of experience in Sham Shui Po for the flâneur. In the street market, one finds makeshift stalls selling used and discarded items such as hammers, drills and screwdrivers. Some of those stores also sell film cameras and vintage lenses sought-after by hobbyists and collectors. Others sell brand new mobile phone covers and leather bags. Behind these rows of makeshift stalls are specialist shops offering hi-fi equipment, car accessories and toys. In Fig. 4.1, we see a man at his station, reworking a hardware tool for resale. We note used items arranged in front of him. We take in the density of the goods, their latent utility and masculine potentiality involved in physical labour that can be released by those tools. As Kärrholm reminds us, “[t]rade and shopping are means of creating a living urban environment in which people can meet and see

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Fig. 4.1  Selling used hardware

each other” (7). Who buys stuff like these? I cannot imagine myself buying anything from him. Yet this does not prevent me from acknowledging that the stall is a relay in a larger configuration of relations, of repairmen, carpenters, woodworkers, plumbers and builders. There is a boutique barbershop tucked away behind the makeshift stalls (Fig. 4.2). Despite the heterogeneity of goods and services, all are to be had at relatively competitive prices because of the relatively low rent. We take in the customer of the barbershop waiting his turn. That is another relay in a larger chain of relations, to do with regimes of appearances, fashion, service and conversations. Tucked away in various corners of the flea market, one could find trendy cafés and independent boutiques selling leather products such as handbags. The barbershop is one of a handful of such small businesses catering to loyal followings of customers. It is tempting to survey everything and everyone with a totalizing eye, defining the street market and its vendors in accordance with a narrative of poverty and economic hardship, as encapsulated in the research


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Fig. 4.2  Boutique hair salon hidden behind makeshift stalls

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mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. It would be tempting to include Figs. 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5 into a narrative of ennui on the one hand, or into a narrative in which one sees, eats and buys local culture, as provided by Hong Kong Tourism Board. In Fig. 4.3, a totalizing eye would cast the vendor as an anonymous seller of various household items (fans, showerheads, torchlights and batteries). Yet the viewer is lured into the personal psyche of the subject. The categorical vendor is transformed into a non-fungible individual. We are lured in to the leisure and pleasurable distraction afforded by a newspaper connecting her with various reported events of the day and the multitude of household goods awaiting placement in different homes. Surrounded by the products she is selling and immersed in her everyday (Fig.  4.3), is it fair to say she is looking to the news to take her elsewhere? In Fig. 4.4, we see another person awaiting customers, surrounded by SIM cards that provide affordable data and voice connections. Selling SIM cards and immersed in his everyday, is it right to say he is searching

Fig. 4.3  Selling mini fans, torchlights, showerheads


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Fig. 4.4  Selling SIM cards

Fig. 4.5  Lunch

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for distractions via his phone? The photograph encourages the viewer’s gaze to linger, transforming the subject into an individual. To risk a poetic conceit—perhaps it is not too much to say that we are witnessing an unassuming Hermes quietly at work. A messenger vital to the work of a merchant city like Hong Kong, his work is a vital node in a hyper-­ capitalist world defined by instantaneous telephony communications and connections. There have been moments when those I photographed looked back at me. Figure 4.5 shows a woman in the midst of her lunch, in front of her stall that sells decorative trinkets and jade accessories. What happens when the subject looks back? In Fig. 4.5, the old lady looked directly at me as I was taking her picture. She reminded me of my late grandmother whom I think of fondly. Though I bowed a little bit and smiled (through my face mask), it was not clear at all whether she saw me. Nonetheless, I felt the responsibility of social engagement. It is tempting to read the photograph as that of stasis, with the porcelain horse at the right corner looking like it wants to leave the scene. For me, that was an event, an encounter that requires social acknowledgement, though it was probably an uneventful moment for her and for the lady next to her. I see and I think I know what the photograph will be about, until I see that I am seen, and walk away a little less certain of what the encounter means. What is evident is that there are transactional moments between the photographer and those being photographed. Alex Gillespie has this to say of tourist photography: “The photographee can gaze on the tourist photographer, and this ‘reverse gaze’ can play an important role in constituting the emerging self of the tourist photographer” (344). He writes of a moment in Tibet when a particularly gregarious tourist began following and photographing a local person, and when his behaviour was noticed by other tourists, the local person was handed a camera as to point it back at the photographer (Gillespie 344–347). The flustered and embarrassed reaction of the photographer, argues Gillespie, is the result of the reverse gaze that “positions the tourist photographer as an ignorant and superficial tourist” who seeks stereotypical images of the places he or she visits (349). As Gillespie puts it, “[i]t is not only the photographee who is influenced by the interaction, so too is the photographer” (344). Street


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photography appears to be one-sided, with the photographer stealthily shooting passive subjects, until the subject looks back. Figure 4.6 is another instance of the reverse gaze. I have seen this man many times over many days sitting on top of the same electrical box along Apliu Street. I took his picture while walking past, thinking I would be unnoticed. To my surprise, he turned and smiled at me, saying he did not realize he was that good looking. From his good-natured response, I understood him to be taking me for who I was, a photographer simply interested in recording transitory moments on the streets. That was a person in good humour. (I have had a bucket of dirty water thrown at me at another time for trying to take a photograph.) Perhaps that was a moment of recognition of one’s compatriot. In many ways, he was my counterpart. Prior to the exchange, I have observed him many times to be sitting contentedly at his elevated perch, looking around and simply enjoying the atmosphere of the street market. As can be seen, the slight elevation places his view above the scene. His gaze consumes the scene, just as he recognizes that he is not beyond observation. No wonder he was not surprised that his photograph was being taken. As Roberta McGrath puts it, “The rigid division between an active gaze and passive object of the gaze turned out not to be quite so fixed” (195). Unlike me, he was an observer not surprised at being observed. Images haunt. Between walking the streets, conducting an inner dialogue with myself and looking at these photographs and recollecting those moments, I realize there is an attachment that refuses to go away. So much of photography depends on the gaze. As McGrath puts it, “[T]o gaze […] is to acknowledge the limits of what it is we can see, and that we will need to keep looking” (193). I find the term “hauntological approach” to be useful as a way of describing the entire process of street photography and writing. As Elisabeth Roberts puts it, A hauntological approach takes into account the capacity of the image to take us by surprise, to resist interpretation, to appear to mean nothing (naturalized) and deceive us, examining our ability to invest images with meaning. (397)

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Fig. 4.6  Sham Shui Po as subjective experience



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One never does street photography alone. By its nature, a street photograph usually consists of the affective gestures of people within an urban environment. The composition of the image is a collaborative act, albeit the fact that subjects in the photographs are collaborating unknowingly. Their collaboration lacks premeditation. I could always anticipate but not guarantee the results of an image. This unknowability haunts the practice of street photography and guarantees a degree of open-endedness. Tuan writes: “[t]he given cannot be known in itself. What can be known is a reality that is a construct of experience, a creation of feeling and thought” (9). One sees the quotidian, or one sees the extraordinary. I am learning to see Sham Shui Po as subjective experience. In this respect, what are the conventions and values to follow and judgements to be made? Is it possible to present that first take, the surprise and that which one is unprepared for, before the subsequent arrival of appraising and critical judgements? The images serve, to some extent, as “prosthetic for thinking” (Thrift 36) in that there is something in excess that language cannot convey. They haunt, because they cannot be finalized and conceptualized. Ultimately, the indexicality of the images is such that they represent a fixed moment in larger experiential flows, one belonging to the photographer, the other belonging to the subject. The images haunt because they crystallize a momentary encounter before each person returns to their separate experiential flow, testifying to the fact that there is much which escapes cognitive arrest. As Roberts points out, “[i]mages haunt between the visible and invisible, real and virtual, as material objects and abstract cognitive, embodied, subjective processes” (387). To focus on process rather than to work with a structure, to engage with procedures rather than facts (Vieira 5)—such is the way towards an aesthetics of an everyday hauntology. Figure 4.7 shows the act of policing—the details of the scene were being recorded in a notebook, to be filed away and contained for official purposes. The police notebook is a tool of public surveillance. The encounter between a police officer and an ordinary citizen is often understood to be within a conflictual framework. The binary oppositions of legitimacy and crime, order and anarchy, discipline and punishment are immediately invoked. It is difficult to avoid this supposition, given that police are trained to resolve conflicts, while the ordinary citizens are

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Fig. 4.7  Critical judgements

posed as its potential harbingers. What does one do when a policeman approaches? To walk away might bring undue suspicion, yet standing one’s ground and even smiling and making eye contact might be taken as a sign of belligerence. Perhaps a slight friendly bow might do the trick. The consciousness of the ordinary citizen turns inward under the police gaze. The police uniform reduces the human wearing it into an impersonal function and interpellates others as potential troublemakers to confront or victims requiring assistance. The reputation of the Hong Kong police in the aftermath of the 2019 anti-government protests, while absolutely irrelevant to the immediate moment, continually casts its shadow on encounters between the police and the ordinary person. Nonetheless, to be fair, the police are also an ordering presence in the street market. It is a reassuring presence, in that everything is as it should be on the streets when one sees police officers walking casually by in a relaxed manner, observing all that is around them. The stalls and people police officers walk by are granted their legitimacy, while those they stop at might fall under suspicion. The police officers, too, are reading the streets, and we read alongside them. The


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street is a public theatre where the audience perform for one another. We are both audience and performers all at once. There is a search here for a poetics of everyday life. I am invoking Nigel Thrift’s words, as to “think of the leitmotif of movement as a desire for a presence which escapes a consciousness-centred core of self-reference” (5). I confess I am in search of an everyday aesthetics, and it is easy to read that search into various scenes. It is becoming clear that there is no such thing as an unadulterated, depthless and ahistorical frame. Roland Barthes has posited an association between photography and death in Camera Lucida. Going against the Barthesian grain, there is no loss and death here; rather, there is an emergence of the communal, as seen in the next few photographs. There is spatial discipline at work here in Fig. 4.8—stalls that are not in use are packed up and chairs are stacked onto the kiosks in an orderly manner to preserve space. There is no one here and nothing is for sale. Yet as Alphonso Lingis puts it, “[t]hough there is no longer anything to see, we see and do not see nothingness” (Imperative 9). The overall sense is

Fig. 4.8  Spatial discipline

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that of regulation—there is an organized space, such that even physical absence implies human presence. The scene in Fig.  4.8 speaks of the awareness of other people. There is also the acknowledgement that work is a temporary and precarious station, a provisional activity. There is a “here” and there is a “there”. The usual is away, attending to something elsewhere, a life. It is the middle of the day and yet there is the suspension of labour, calling it a day. There is an elsewhere not accessible to the current scene; we witness the limits of seeing. The person who would have been here and the space that might have been, the goods that might have been on offer, are simply not available and withheld. The everyday experience of the street market is such that one would walk by such a kiosk without taking another look. Yet, as Clare Gallagher points out, “[i]n making permanent and reproducible that which is so essentially transient, the camera fundamentally changes the everyday by eroding its ephemerality” (353). The anonymity of the kiosk is such that were it not for photography, we would not see this absence in the midst of abundance. Figure 4.9 is another example of absence we do not see. I enjoyed the rectangularity of the scene in the alley. The stall is fashioned out of the concrete wall, pavement and an aluminium roofing sheet. It is ephemeral in its very construction. The rectangularity of the scene is reinforced by the office and dining chairs. The Chinese characters “Forever Friends Barber” promise a social experience. Its contradictory claims to permanence speak of an ambition that belies the making-do of the stall. The objects are set up for genial conversations. I imagine people waiting in a queue on the chairs, chatting with one another and looking on while the barber attends to a school child. The barber service for a child would cost only HK$30. I see a frame, an infrastructure that facilitates conversations and social interactions. Lingis has this to say of the attentive gaze: “[t]he perception of things, the apprehension of their content and the circumscription of their forms […] ends in enjoyment” (Imperative 70). When we consider the physical infrastructure of lives in Sham Shui Po and elsewhere in Hong Kong, we think of cramped flats, subdivided flats and cage-homes as manifestation of capitalism. Here, we see a latent joyous and communal infrastructure at work. As for Fig. 4.10, perhaps if I could read Chinese better, I would be able to work it out quickly. The shop was closed, but its window display


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Fig. 4.9  Genial conversations

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Fig. 4.10  Found art unwittingly masqueraded as shop display



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puzzled me for a long while. The lit fluorescent lamp was casting light on what looked like a clay sculpture. If it was nighttime, it would be rather macabre, with a face perched on a pedestal looking up at its viewer. Encountering it in daytime, I saw a light-hearted grin on its face, a hand holding a plunger and another a spanner. I soon realized that the face was emerging from a toilet seat. As I scrutinized the Chinese characters, I could make out the words “water box”, and it became obvious to me this was a display advertising the services of a plumber. I was grateful for the lack of immediate recognition that opens up a field of visual experience. This is found art unwittingly masqueraded as a shop display. We have been reading the streets, regarding various scenes as live exhibits. The streets are the very opposite of museums. Live exhibits are the antitheses of dead exhibits that have undergone musealization. By “musealization”, I am referring to the process of removing objects from their original settings and placing them within a specialized space for viewing. Often, such objects are displaced discursively as well, in that they are monumentalized in service of official narratives. An item in a national museum is made to play its part in a larger, officially approved national narrative of culture. In this way, the aesthetics of everyday life is encased, repackaged and contained. So far, we have been resisting such an understanding of the city in a progressive manner. In Chap. 2, we encounter the city as a labyrinth. In Chap. 3, we see the mall as a panoptic structure. Here, we encounter the street market as an organic display of community. In Chap. 5, we shall see how spaces can be understood using an embodied mobilities perspective through activities such as commuting via the subway, recreational cycling and running.

Works Cited Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Translated by Richard Howard, Vintage, 2006. Cheng, Christopher. “Sham Shui Po: The Centre of Poverty in Hong Kong.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, vol. 53, 2013, pp. 7–30. Debord, Guy. “Theory of the Dérive.” Art in Theory, 1900–1990, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul J. Wood, Blackwell, 1992. pp. 693–699.

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DeWolf, Christopher. Borrowed Places: Life Between the Cracks of Modern Hong Kong. Penguin, 2017. Gallagher, Clare. “Boring Pictures: Photography as Art of the Everyday.” A Companion to Photography. Edited by Stephen Bull. John Wiley, 2020, pp. 351–367. Gillespie, Alex. “Tourist Photography and the Reverse Gaze.” Ethos, vol. 34, no. 3, 2006, pp. 343–366. Gorichanaz, Tim, Kiersten F. Latham and Elizabeth Wood, “Lifeworld as ‘Unit of Analysis’.” Journal of Documentation, vol. 74, no. 4, 2018, pp. 880–893. Hong Kong Tourism Board. “Sham Shui Po: Self-guided Walks.” www.discoverhongkong.com/in/plan/traveller-­info/e-­guidebooks/. Accessed 6 February 2022. Hughes, Richard. Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time: Hong Kong and Its Many Faces. André Deutsch, 1968. Kärrholm, Mattias. Retailising Space: Architecture, Retail and the Territorialisation of Public Space. Ashgate Publishing, 2012. Lingis, Alphonso. The Imperative. Indiana UP, 1998. McGrath, Roberta. “Reviewing the Gaze.” A Companion to Photography, edited by Stephen Bull, John Wiley, 2020, pp. 189–207. Roberts, Elisabeth. “Geography and the Visual Image: A Hauntological Approach.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 386–402. Scott, Clive. Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. I. B. Tauris, 2007. Ta, Trang X. “A Space for Secondhand Goods: Trading the Remnants of Material Life in Hong Kong.” Economic Anthropology, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 120–131. Thrift, Nigel. Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. Routledge, 2008. Tuan, Yi-Fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values. Columbia UP, 1974. Vieira, Ricardo. “Life Stories, Cultural Métissage, and Personal Identities.” Sage Open, vol. 4, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1–12.

5 Embodied Mobilities: On the Subway, Cycling, Running

Abstract  This chapter focuses on how embodied mobilities such as commuting on the subway and recreational running and cycling contribute to the sense of place. If we understand the city as not just composed of static spaces (sites) but also of movements of its people, then it is imperative that we account for how space may be expressed as a function of embodied mobility. As we shall see, just as embodied mobilities engender alienation, they can also create a visual-spatial sense of community via recreational cycling and running. Keywords  Commuting • Mobilities • MTR • Non-place • Sensory ethnography • Subway In the introduction, I have mentioned how this project is allied with the work of ethnography. Sarah Pink has made the point that anthropological practice is a corporeal process that involves the ethnographer engaging not only in the ideas of others, but in learning about their understandings through her or his own physical and sensorial experiences. (12)

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5_5



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This chapter, with its focus on embodied understanding of Hong Kong via commuting on the subway as well as cycling and running, draws attention to the fact that, ultimately, a writer, artist, street photographer or researcher can only offer a reflexive version of reality that is allied with his or her own point of view as to contribute towards an objective portrait of reality (in so far as such a thing is possible). When one looks at the research on Hong Kong’s leisure activities, there is a tendency towards a top-down approach to leisure, in that research is often conceived for purposes of urban planning. The top-down planning approach is announced in titles such as “Willingness to Pay of Trail Runners for Sustainable Country Park Use in Hong Kong” by Samuel Ribart and Luke M. Brander. Another title would be “Land Degradation Effects Initiated by Trail Running Events in an Urban Protected Area of Hong Kong” by Ng Sai-Leung et al. These are policy-related papers to do with urban planning that, while necessary to instrumentalist and hierarchical ways of understanding the city, approach and analyse urban experience from an outside and disembodied (hence impossible) viewpoint. What is needed and attempted in this chapter is an embodied narrative that looks at leisure endeavours from the point of view of lived experience. Here, the traditional notion of a flâneur as a leisurely stroller is updated to one that is more deliberate and self-reflexive, in that attention is focused on how various types of mobilities circumscribe the experience of the city. In this way, we further extend a creative practice-based approach to understanding our place within our environment.

An Embodied Mobilities Approach Embodied research has a significant presence in social-oriented research to do with lived experience, with Paul Stoller’s Sensuous Scholarship (1997) and Sarah Pink’s Doing Sensory Ethnography (2009) being prominent examples. Stoller argues that “the fusion of the intelligible and the sensible can be applied to scholarly practices and representations” (xv). For Pink, such research “takes as its starting point the multisensoriality of experience, perception, knowing and practice” (xi). It is obvious that such an approach is invested in aesthetic ways of understanding one’s

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environment and place in the world. Stoller’s joyous and celebrative perspective is evident in the following statement: “the world, for the sensuous scholar, remains a wondrous place that stirs the imagination and sparks creativity” (136). For Pink, this approach has “theoretical commitments to concepts of place, memory, imagination, improvisation and intervention” (xii). Pink’s invocation of memory, imagination and improvisation opens a path for us to link the work of sensory ethnography with creative practice. Embodied research is inextricably linked to movement. After all, we move through spaces via different forms of activities, and how we move determines how we perceive and constitutes what we perceive. We need to explore how “the felt impact of our contextual environment became embodied” (Sanders-Bustle and Oliver 513). An understanding of the varied mobilities of city life would be an antidote to an abstract and deskbound scholarship that focuses purely on the cerebral. Such an approach would require an immersion into the rhythms of everyday city life. Mobility implies movement from one place to another. However, this movement within the city may be coded in various ways, whether as a commute (via private car or various modes of public transport), a leisurely walk or part of an exercise regime (running or cycling) and so on. Mobilities modify an individual’s coding of the environment as a continual space of activities; as Tim Cresswell points out, we should understand this “socially produced motion” as informing our sense of place (On the Move 3). Hence, embodied mobilities are invested with meanings, related to one’s commitment to capitalist endeavours (going to work) or leisure and wellbeing (exercising). By embodied mobility, I mean movement as “practiced”, as “experienced” and as “a way of being in the world” (Cresswell On the Move 3). Embodied mobility is a way of engagement with one’s environment. One is not just a person, but a committed athlete, a harried commuter, a husband on an errand, a mindful cyclist and so on (Cresswell On the Move 4). In other words, a city is to be understood in accordance with how we move through it in highly individualized and yet socially produced ways. A focus on mobility and the sensory atmosphere that is generated allows for the articulation of what it means to have a sense of belonging


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to one’s environment. As Paul Rodaway puts it, “[p]erception is […] a relationship to the world and a decision-making process with respect to that world” (11). The ease (or lack thereof ) with which we move affects our perception of our environment. In this respect, we go to the words of Maurice Merleau-Ponty in relation to the connection between the self and the world: “We must therefore rediscover, after the natural world, the social world, not as an object or sum of objects, but as a permanent field or dimension of existence” (421). The focus is on affective engagement with one’s environment, on what may be called an empathic sensitivity to physical surroundings. As Merleau-Ponty puts it, “[n]othing determines me from outside, not because nothing acts upon me, but, on the contrary, because I am from the start outside myself and open to the world” (530). What is attained here is an understanding of the interconnectedness of one’s thoughts and feelings to one’s environment, such that one understands that the barrier between self and what is outside of the self is permeable. This ties in with research in the fields of cognition that recognize that “mental processes are (1) embodied, (2) embedded, (3) enacted, and (4) extended” (Rowlands 3). Mental processes occur not just within the mind but are also a function of the environment. Matters to do with identity, culture, feelings and thoughts are not disembodied processes. Our sense of self and belonging to an environment are very much linked to our bodily presence.

Commuting by Subway Walker Evans’ Many Are Called consists of photographs of New York subway commuters taken in the late 1930s with a camera hidden in his coat. Writing of Evans’ photographs, Leslie Baier argues that “[t]he camera could be a legitimate instrument of both public record and private vision” (56). Baier is pointing out the doubled agency of photography, in that, on the one hand, it is realism as it captures the environment and people as they appear and, on the other hand, the methods, framing and choice of photographs betray the intentional artistic vision of the street photographer. As Baier puts it,

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[a]s an essay in portraiture, these subway photographs demonstrate Evans’ growing interest in revealing the ways in which people consciously, through attire, and unconsciously, through posture and expression, present themselves to the public. (56)

Baier’s comments draw together our preceding discussion concerning sensory ethnography, in that the creative practice of street photography is able to articulate bodily presence, which is the sense of emplacement. This comprises the ways in which we make sense of and ultimately articulate, whether consciously or unconsciously, how we are situated within the environment. Evans had to conceal his camera in his coat, yet when taking the following photographs (Figs. 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3), it is obvious that I had no such need for stealth. Unlike the case in Sham Shui Po when subjects looked back at me, the commuters in the subway train were entirely oblivious, focused on their mobile phone screens held in their hands. No one noticed when I brought my camera up to my eye to take photographs of people seated across from me. Nonverbal engagement such as eye contact is not expected of anyone and is unwelcome. Eyes were glazed over or focused on the screens cupped in hands. One is tempted to say that the social distancing behaviour due to COVID-19 is an external manifestation of a mental distancing established long ago in the commuting experience of Hong Kong society and elsewhere, exacerbated by the ubiquity of mobile phones. While Evans’ photographs were of commuters sensitive to their environment, the opposite is true of commuters at present. Simmel’s point about the blasé attitude, formulated in 1903, is still relevant today. Commuters retreat from the external stimuli of the urban environment into themselves and their screens. The commuter walks into a train station and descends the stairs. She plans to go somewhere and her mind is focused elsewhere. The functional and impersonal architecture prepares the commuters for an attitude of detachment. The functionally bright red and green colours that pervade the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) train interiors prepare commuters for a visual assault of non-experience. It has been noted that in Hong Kong, “more than 90 per cent of the population rely on public transportation,


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Fig. 5.1  Entirely closed off

and one-third use [the] railway system” (Xue 92). We recall from Chap. 2 that malls, residential areas and workplaces are often connected via bridges and walkways, which are themselves often connected to MTR stations. Hong Kong is defined by non-places that are places of transit providing “high-efficiency mobility” (Xue 88). Marc Augé has famously

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Fig. 5.2  Bodily armour

described places such as airport lounges, train cabins and bus-stops as follows: the word ‘non-place’ designates two complementary but distinct realities: spaces formed in relation to certain ends (transport, transit, commerce, leisure), and the relations that individuals have with these spaces. (94)


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Fig. 5.3  Posture of engagement

The non-place is a place we return to again and again and do not notice. What do people do in non-places? Not nothing. Is non-place a site of non-experience? If so, this non-experience is pervasive to Hong Kong. Jim Brogden argues that “non-place is familiar territory, yet at the same time, represents an anonymous part of culture” (xi). It appears that

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there is widespread acceptance of the emptiness of the transit experience on the part of commuters. In Fig.  5.1, the nonverbal cues of non-­ engagement are obvious and ubiquitous. His legs are crossed and his haversack forms a protective shield over his torso. He is wearing earphones and his eyes are focused on his screen. He is entirely closed off. Is he on his way to work? One assumes he is listening to music. He is an embodiment of anonymity in the urban sphere, a portrait of determined unreadability. As M. Arnold puts it, in public spaces where mobile phones are being used, “people who are in the same space do not have the privilege of being near” (246). In the non-place, commuters are far away. Look at Fig. 5.2. Where is he off to? Where is he from? It is easy to guess—the luggage tells me he has just come over from Shenzhen. The luggage is the only hint of purpose. This was prior to the closure of the border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong in the early days of the pandemic when travel between the two cities was still possible. Day tourists from Shenzhen would come to Hong Kong to buy luxury goods, while, conversely, Hong Kongers would cross the border for cheaper meals (think Peking duck at Chinese restaurants), facial treatments and foot massages. There is again the ubiquitous body posture of non-­ engagement—with the crossing of legs, head down, eyes on screen, the awareness of one’s immediate surroundings is closed off. He has embarked on his trip and has yet to arrive. For the time being, he is in limbo, closed off to experience. This is, as Augé points out, “a very particular and modern form of solitude” in a non-place (93). Any possible eye contact with fellow passengers has been closed off. The commuter’s arm rests possessively on his luggage case, presenting a universe enclosed upon itself. Such a posture betrays the modern urban experience of articulating the barrier between the self and one’s environment. Ian Burkitt writes of the body as an armour: “[t]his bodily armour is felt to be a ‘presented self ’ or a ‘false self ’, displayed to others yet hiding the ‘real’ ‘I’ inside” (19). In this respect, the bodily posture of the commuter is that of self-preservation, creating a shield of anonymity within this non-place. The person in Fig. 5.3 has both feet planted on the cabin floor of the train. One may speculate that he is dressed for a night out, for dinner and drinks with friends. For now, he is in a posture of engagement, though


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not with his immediate environment. He is focused on the screen of his mobile phone. Is he playing a game? Is he replying to someone on social media? He is elsewhere, in another space. On public transport, his mind has already been transported elsewhere. Non-places are places of anonymity. As Augé argues, “a person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger” (103). The non-place is a place of unreadability, a place of non-­ interest. Given the expansiveness of non-places in Hong Kong (bridges, walkways, public transport), it is tempting to conclude that a person would devote a significant portion of his or her time not engaging with the environment. This corresponds with Simmel’s notion of the “blasé attitude” to one’s surroundings (413). However, as Burkitt puts it, “embodied persons are not simply constructs, but are productive bodies capable of activities that change the nature of their lives” (2) [italics in original]. As we shall see in the next section on cycling, there are forms of mobilities whereby there is an active and agential engagement with urban space that expresses meaningfully one’s connection with a larger social system and the physical environment.

Cycling The contrast in terms of agency between cycling and public transport is stark. While public transport portrays “people as objects … to be moved” (Vivanco 11) and located within non-places such as train cabins, cycling repositions people as agential beings, with degrees of autonomy and experience. As Luis A. Vivanco argues, the bicycle can be seen as “a potential solution to a number of contemporary problems” to do with urban transport alternatives, vehicular air and noise pollution, social inequality as well as physical wellbeing (xix). In Hong Kong, roads are often too congested with vehicles, making the cycling commute a niche and often hazardous activity, as motorists tend to overtake cyclists even on single-­ lane roads. Hence, cycling is more often than not associated with leisure and recreational wellbeing. When it comes to recreational cycling, the bicycle is a machine for socialization. Familial and social networks are important to the process of

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learning to ride a bicycle. Unlike the process of learning to drive a vehicle, which in Hong Kong involves taking lessons with a licenced instructor and undergoing driving tests, the process of learning to ride a bicycle depends to a large degree on personal relationships. One does not pay an instructor to teach one how to ride a bicycle. It is the parents who teach the child, or one learns from one’s friends. I have fond memories of my daughter who, at one point, claimed she has learnt how to make a left turn on her bicycle. She spent a few days cycling in ever-expanding counter-­clockwise circles until she mastered the art of making a right turn as well. My son, on the other hand, learnt to ride together with his classmates at his school, where there were bicycles the younger students have access to during recess for precisely that purpose. Most (if not all) cyclists possess fond memories of learning to ride. Now a teenager, one of the earliest moments in his life when he experienced freedom from adult supervision was when he went cycling with his friends. Just as cycling is dependent on personal social networks, it is connected to the physical body in ways that are distinct from other forms of transport. In a car, the driver is to a large extent cocooned from her external environment, protected from the elements and desensitized to road hazards. In contrast, the cyclist feels the wind in her hair and the bicycle is propelled with her physical energy. The lack of vocabulary to describe the kinaesthetic sensations of riding a bicycle has been commented on. Justin Spinney points out that for cyclists, “many sensations such as balance and touch are often fleeting and hidden moments of existence which do not lend themselves to expression or capture in the same way as the visual or aural” (“Movement, Meaning and Method” 827); despite this, as he argues, it is undeniable that “embodied and sensory engagement” occur through cycling such that “non-places can actually be conceived of as place-like in character” (“Non-place” 25–26). Hence, the non-place Augé describes which “creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude” can be reconceived as meaningful and socially enriched through the use of bicycles (103). This is exemplified in the following photographs, all of which were taken in Tai Mei Tuk, an area near the Plover Cove Dam in the Tai Po District of the New Territories known for its scenic views, barbecue sites and seafood restaurants. Figure 5.4 is a ubiquitous photograph of a bicycle, variations of which pervade social media. People like taking photographs of their bicycles


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Fig. 5.4  Ubiquitous photograph

against scenic backdrops. Such photographs are evidence of the individuals’ active lifestyles. Van Duppen et al. write of the “sensescapes” of the environment as an essential experiential component of cycling (234). The mobility of the body is a sensuous one, made possible by the immediacy of the tactile feedback from the feel of the tyres to the seat and the handlebars, hence allowing the rider bodily access to a kinaesthetic “micro-­ geography” of the terrain (Spinney “Non-place” 37). As such, Fig. 5.4 is a self-portrait in that the bicycle acts as a stand-in for the actively engaged and athletic self in the process of urban exploration. A bicycle connotes individuality in that there is usually only one passenger who is also the “driver” of the bicycle. Of course, this does not mean that one cycles alone. Cycling at Tai Mei Tuk is often an enjoyable social occasion (see Fig. 5.5). The road above the Plover Cove Dam is popular with cyclists taking a break and enjoying the strong breezes. In the densely packed urban environment of Hong Kong, the material affordances of an environment cannot be taken for granted. In much of the city, the gaze is often blocked by tall buildings, as evidenced by the photographs in Chap. 1. In contrast, expansive views of water and hills are

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Fig. 5.5  Friends

afforded by the area here, lending themselves to a mood of relaxation, providing for many a respite from congested everyday urban labyrinthine environs. In Hong Kong, cycling often occurs within a recreational place. In “Toward a Phenomenology of Recreation Place”, the authors argued that “recreation places are sensed as a combination of setting, landscape, ritual, routine, people, personal experiences and in the context of other places” (Fishwick and Vining 61). As such, the phenomenological conditions of such places cannot be overlooked. Tai Mei Tuk is linked to a network of cycling tracks spanning about sixty kilometres from the East to the West of the New Territories. It is linked to the Sha Tin Park which we have explored in Chap. 2. Tai Mei Tuk is an area popular with family and school outings, with a variety of activities available. It is connected to running and hiking trails and there is a water sports centre that caters to kayaking, windsurfing and boating enthusiasts. The overall mood is that of relaxation and a feeling of psychological renewal. Rental quadracycles, bicycles with four wheels that can accommodate two to four people, are especially popular at Tai Mei Tuk. Quadracycles


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are obviously not built for speed, agility or long distances. The very design of a quadracycle betrays its social nature. It is a social machine, an extension of our physical bodies. Quadracycling is part of a larger social ecosystem. One does not ride a quadracycle alone. Figure 5.6 is a photograph taken when I was in one of the seats of a quadracycle soon after a heavy lunch at a Thai restaurant nearby. I was next to my son, on a weekend out with my family. Recreational cycling is a journey to nowhere, really. One does it for its own sake. It is not the same as commuting, as no one really goes anywhere, from a practical point of view. One has to go back to the starting point, if only to return the rental bike. Unlike normative recreational cycling, where gear and bicycles can become coveted consumer goods and are often put on ostentatious display on social media by their owners, the use of rental quadracycles does not involve much deliberation over makes and brands, apart from considerations of safety and comfort. People on quadracycles are not individual consumers but people in relationships. As evident in Fig. 5.7, what is being communicated via cycling, especially on a quadracycle, is

Fig. 5.6  On a quadracycle

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Fig. 5.7  Affection



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affection. If machines are extensions of our bodies, then quadracycles are machines for socialized recreation. The emphasis is often not on the destination (one can’t really cover long distances on a quadracycle) but on conversations and shared intimate experiences of bodily motion. As Vivanco puts it, “[d]ifferent mobilities carry the potential for knowing, sensing, and interacting with the world in specific ways, and are closely associated with certain practices of life” (12). How we understand a place depends on how we move through it. Hong Kong as a city is not just a function of fixed, unmoving sites, but also a function of how its inhabitants move within and through these sites. As we shall see in the next section, the activity of running, much like cycling, allows one to experience the city in a different way.

Recreational Running As Richard Pringle points out, “[r]unning … can be understood as a technology for feeling good in a sensuous, quasi-moral, and embodied manner” (96). By this, he means that running allows one to be engaged with one’s immediate environment while at the same time assuming the responsibility of taking care of one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Running is a placed-based socialized activity, even if one runs alone. It links a personal narrative to a social activity. Until a year ago, I have never liked running. In Singapore, my childhood asthma excused me from physical education classes in primary school and sports like basketball and soccer which most of my peers excelled in were mysterious choreographies to me. In my teens, after my childhood asthma had subsided, physical education classes, particularly those involving running, were a torture. There were not very fond memories of humiliating efforts at keeping up with my peers. Unsurprisingly, two and a half years spent in mandatory military service that commenced when I was eighteen did not endear me to physical exertion. Yet a year ago from the time of writing this, partly out of boredom and out of a vague impulse at an attempt at keeping fit during the COVID-19 pandemic, I took to running, simply because it seemed like the simplest fitness activity to pick up, compared to, say, boxing or going to gyms

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which were closed most of the time anyway due to social distancing measures. During the pandemic, due to the lack of recreational options, running became a respite from my home, office and the supermarket. I now think of myself as a serious recreational runner, as someone who keeps track of the amount of calories burnt for every run while seeking to improve the pace and duration of runs over time. While I have no plans currently to participate in races and marathons, I have been running three to four times a week, either along a promenade or along relatively isolated village hill trails. I often run at the promenade (Fig. 5.8) of Ma On Shan town along the Tolo Harbour coast between my home and office. There, I soon realized that even if one runs alone, one is often running with others. As Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson and John Hockey argue, “making space into place is a fundamentally cultural and social activity” and running routes “are a series of social places” (65). There is a silent community of regular runners at the promenade created out of glimpses of recognition. Given my regular schedule, I could recognize various individuals. There is an elderly gentleman in his seventies who often runs in his bare feet with a shoe in each hand. There is a lady who would suddenly do an about-turn and start running backwards. Sometimes, there are squealing toddlers zigzagging about happily and obliviously with their toys whom runners have to take extra care to avoid. Some run with masks on, whom I gauge to be exhibiting a measure of consideration for others and themselves. There are others who run without masks, whose exhalations I try to avoid. Sometimes, there is eye contact among runners in opposite directions to avoid collision. Occasionally, there are brief nods of recognition between myself and other runners whom I have never spoken to. Such visual interactions, however brief, nonetheless constitute a visual-spatial sociality out of which emerges a sense of belonging. The a-competitive nature of recreational running further contributes to this sense of sociality. Ostensibly, running as a sport is a competitive activity. Yet while running may seem like a simple activity (one runs— what else is there to say about it?), the experience of each person is nonfungible and hence makes any comparison difficult, if not impossible. There is seldom any sense of rivalry involved in recreational running. You simply cannot tell if the person running past you at the promenade is


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Fig. 5.8  Running alone

doing better or worse, relative to their purpose for running. Different runners start at different times and have different start and end points. We run at different paces and have different running aims. For those like myself who wish simply to shed some weight, a slow run would be more beneficial as milder exertions maximize calorie burn. For those training

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ambitiously and more purposefully for a race, interval running at a fast pace may be more suitable, depending on their specific aims (endurance and speed) for that particular training session. My experience of running involves a measure of preparation and attention to gear. I run in moisture-wicking attire, put on a running belt that carries a water bottle and prefer running caps with recognizable brands like Fractel from Australia and Ciele from Canada. I monitor my pace via a Polar GPS sports watch and pace myself with music with a specified number of beats per minute via Bluetooth earbuds. My shoes are from Decathlon, a French sporting equipment retailer with many outlets in Hong Kong. I know I am not alone in terms of paying attention to running attire and gear. In theory, one does not need a lot of equipment for running. However, as Marie-Josée Perrier and William Bridel argue, “gear and accessories certainly help identify oneself as ‘a runner’” and they “serve to situate oneself as part of the larger running community” (203). Often, runners from opposite directions would steal quick glimpses at one another, if only to check out one another’s gear. Sometimes, a few of us will look askance at the odd person or two running in jeans and Converse shoes. It is indisputable that recreational running is a middle-­ class activity involving a measure of consumerism. In Chap. 2, we have seen that the shopping mall is a panoptic structure that oversees the consumption regime of residents in the surrounding neighbourhood. In the case of regular runners at the promenade, there are a few sporting goods stores in MOSTown, the shopping mall at the town centre of Ma On Shan within walking (or running) distance. While running, I would check the distance covered via my watch. At the end of my run, I would check the app linked to my sports watch to look at the amount of calories burned, fully aware that the information would be stored somewhere on the cloud on a computer server halfway around the world where my watch was manufactured. Even when running alone on the promenade, I am encased in an envelope of sociality somewhat mediated by consumerism and linked to a global network. This is especially true if one uses a fitness tracking app such as Strava to keep track of one’s fitness activities. Strava is a social media app for runners and cyclists. Every run or trip is recorded and various quantitative measures are available for those interested in sports metrics such as


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distance covered, pace and heart rate. One could share the details of these metrics, as well as running routes, with others. A particularly useful feature has to do with comparing one’s performance with other runners on the same route. As has been argued, the app helps to “cultivate or maintain a feeling of connection via connectivity that might be particularly valuable for individuals who lack training partners or … offline/physical sporting communities” (Couture 193). One could look at the biometrics of those who had run the same route. In this way, an awareness of community is built up, even if one has never spoken to any of the runners along one’s regular route. Even if it is experienced in isolation when one is running alone, unlike the subway train station, the promenade is certainly not a non-place. A focus on the various types of mobilities, ranging from commuting via the subway to cycling and running, allows one to understand the heterogeneous layers of feelings in relation to the sense of place. While the subway may engender a sense of isolation, running and cycling would invest various forms of meaning onto the landscape. All of these, I would argue, contribute to a sense of familiarity with a place, such that one may call it home.

Trail Running I live in a rented village house in the New Territories region of Hong Kong. Village houses are three-storey houses of 1400 square feet per floor, built on land awarded to male indigenous villagers who could trace their lineage to a male villager resident in 1898, as per the terms of the Small House Policy implemented in 1972. The policy is a controversial matter, given Hong Kong’s limited land supply and astronomically high property prices, not to mention its gender bias. The village I live in is connected by a public road as well as narrow hill trails to several other villages arrayed around a cove. A running circuit around the cove through several villages and back would cover about sixteen kilometres, with terrain varying from hill trails to makeshift aluminium walkways and concrete. While running at the promenade engenders a sense of community, the experience of running along relatively isolated trails could generate a

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sense of homely connection with the environment. It is not from dwelling but through movement that the physical body connects various sites to one another. There is the popular practice of fartlek running (also known as speed play) among trail runners. It is an unstructured form of interval training, juxtaposing periods of relaxed running tempo with intense maximal effort. It involves the use of landmarks to generate personal challenges. For instance, I often pick up my pace at a particular tree and slow down just before ascending a hill slope. On other days, I could do the opposite, dashing up a hill trail and perhaps slowing down only in shaded areas. The use of personal landmarks such as saplings, trees and shrubs, the feel of the ground switching between hard concrete and soft soil trails sometimes interrupted by half-buried tree roots through the soles of my feet via minimalist trail running shoes, as well as the relative isolation of the trails, contribute to a personal and intimate connection with the rural environment. At times, the overall sensation is that of a conduit between the landscape and the breath. At other times, one experiences the running route as a space negotiated alongside various other human projects. Closer to the villages, the path is wedged between various fences and barricades. In Fig. 5.9, there is a construction site on the right. At other moments, there are borders delineating a golf range and various farms. There is a sense that the trail has been created by making-do, via compromises with other human endeavours. In the popular imagination and via everyday experiences, one encounters Hong Kong as a crowded space characterized by high-rise apartments and skyscrapers. It may surprise some to know that about three-quarters of the land in Hong Kong is open countryside, with developed land mostly wedged at the foot of hills. Nonetheless, the rural landscape in Hong Kong cannot be romanticized as a pristine and untouched space. One’s relationship with the Hong Kong countryside is akin to the Heideggerian invocation of the Rhine River as a “standing-reserve”, whereby the river is no longer thought of as the wellspring of cultural pride and poetic inspiration under the pen of the poet Friedrich Hölderlin (Question Concerning Technology 17). Rather, as Heidegger laments, its meaning is reduced, it becoming a source of energy for a hydroelectric plant. The landscape here is likewise instrumentalized, a standing-reserve.


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Fig. 5.9  A space negotiated

Occasionally, one would encounter well-maintained shrines, urns and tombstones along village trails. Surnames are often featured prominently on the shrines, as seen in Fig. 5.10. Ancestral worship in general is common in Chinese culture. Ching Ming Festival (also known as Tomb Sweeping Day) is a public holiday in Hong Kong, during which people would visit the graves of their relatives to pay their respects by burning joss sticks and placing meat, fruit and wine offerings in front of the tombs. An uncharitable and cynical reading of the environment in this case would point to the urns, tombs and shrines dotted alongside village trails as serving a practical purpose, in that they further validate male indigenous villagers’ claims to patrilineal lineage as to obtain land from the government on which to build village houses. It may be said that ancestral lineages, in this case, are standing-reserves for land claims. On the other hand, it might be said that this is a way of preserving rural village identity in contrast to the often-frenetic lifestyles of Hong

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Fig. 5.10  Shrine

Kong city-dwellers. As has been argued, “[v]illagers now emphasize their elaborate form of ancestor worship not only as an act of filial piety, but also as a demonstration of the unique customs that distinguish them from other Hong Kong people” (Chan 50). Hong Kong villagers usually hold elaborate ancestral worship rituals in their village townhall together with traditional poonchoi banquet to which non-villagers are often invited, poonchoi being a communal dish consisting of dried seafood and meat in a large metal or porcelain basin often served during festive occasions in Hong Kong. In this way, a village community is maintained. So there we have it. The various forms of embodied mobilities discussed here represent a gathering of places, engendering a collection of bodily affects. In the subway, one encounters non-places, while cycling as well as running generates a sense of community and homeliness, though, of course, one cannot be naïve about the varied capitalist-related interests that fashion those mobilities.


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Works Cited Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn and John Hockey. “From a Certain Point of View: Sensory Phenomenological Envisionings of Running Space and Place.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 44, no. 1, 2015, pp. 63–83. Arnold, M. “On the Phenomenology of Technology: the ‘Janus-faces’ of Mobile Phones.” Information and Organization, vol. 13, 2003, pp. 231–256. Augé, Marc. Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe, Verso, 2009. Baier, Leslie. “Visions of Fascination and Despair: The Relationship between Walker Evans and Robert Frank.” Art Journal, vol. 41, no. 1, 1981, pp. 55–63. Brogden, Jim. Photography and the Non-place: The Cultural Erasure of the City. Palgrave, 2019. Burkitt, Ian. Bodies of Thought: Embodiment, Identity and Modernity. SAGE, 1999. Chan, Selina Ching. “Politicizing Tradition: The Identity of Indigenous Inhabitants in Hong Kong.” Ethnology, vol. 37, no. 1, 1998, pp. 39–54. Couture, Jesse. “Reflections from the ‘Strava-sphere’: Kudos, Community, and (Self-)surveillance on a Social Network for Athletes.” Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, vol. 13, no. 1, 2021, pp. 184–200. Cresswell, Tim. On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World. Routledge, 2006. Evans, Walker. Many are Called. Yale UP, 2004. Fishwick, Lesley and Joanne Vining. “Toward a Phenomenology of Recreational Space.” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 12, 1992, pp. 57–63. Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Translated by William Lovitt. Garland Publishing, 1977. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Colin Smith. Routledge, 1962. [1945] Ng, Sai-Leung et al. “Land degradation effects initiated by trail running events in an urban protected area of Hong Kong.” Land Degrad Dev, vol. 29, 2018, pp. 422–432. Perrier, Marie-Josée and William Bridel. “An Interdisciplinary Conversation about Running between Two Academics Who Run.” Endurance Running: A Socio-Cultural Examination, edited by William Bridel, Pirkko Markula, and Jim Denison, Routledge, 2016, pp. 196–211. Pink, Sarah. Doing Sensory Ethnography. 2nd ed., SAGE, 2015. Pringle, Richard. “Disrupting Identity: An Affective Embodied Reading of Runner's World.” Endurance Running: A Socio-Cultural Examination, edited

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by William Bridel, Pirkko Markula and Jim Denison, Routledge, 2016, pp. 95–110. Ribart, Samuel and Luke M. Brander. “Willingness to pay of trail runners for sustainable country park use in Hong Kong.” Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, vol. 31, 2020. Rodaway, Paul. Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense and Place. Routledge, 1994. Rowlands, Mark. The New Science of the Mind: From Extended Mind to Embodied Phenomenology. MIT Press, 2010. Sanders-Bustle, Lynn and Kimberly L. Oliver. “The Role of Physical Activity in the Lives of Researchers: A Body-Narrative.” Studies in Philosophy and Education, vol. 20, 2001, pp. 507–520. Simmel, Georg. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. The Free Press, 1950. Spinney, Justin. “Cycling the City: Movement, Meaning and Method.” Geography Compass, vol. 3, no. 2, 2009, pp. 817–835. Spinney, Justin. “Cycling the City: Non-place and the Sensory Construction of Meaning in a Mobile Practice.” Cycling and Society, edited by Dave Horton, Paul Rosen and Peter Cox. Ashgate, 2007, pp. 25–46. Stoller, Paul. Sensuous Scholarship. U of Pennsylvania P, 1997. Van Duppen, Jan and Bas Spierings. “Retracing Trajectories: The Embodied Experience of Cycling, Urban Sensescapes and the Commute between ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘City’ in Utrecht, NL.” Journal of Transport Geography, vol. 30, no. 2013. pp. 234–243. Vivanco, Luis A. Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing. Routledge, 2013. Xue, Charlie Q.L., Luming Ma and Ka Chuen Hui. “Indoor ‘Public’ Space: A Study of Atria in Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Complexes of Hong Kong.” URBAN DESIGN International, vol. 17, no. 2, 2012, pp. 87–105.


This book is a culmination of creative practice-led research work that draws from the disciplines of psychogeography and autoethnography. There is a creative and critical documentary impulse involved in that, through street photographs, it records the thinking and feeling of Hong Kong, exemplifying how the city is experienced as a state of mind. There is an overarching narrative here. In Chap. 2, we consider the city as a labyrinth via the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui. Chapter 3 focuses on capitalism and sociality in relation to a mall and a park at Sha Tin New Town. Chapter 4 looks at the street markets of Sham Shui Po as if they are exhibitions. The last chapter (Chap. 5) focuses on different forms of mobility and ends with the notion of home. There is a progression, from bewilderment in a labyrinth to critique of capitalism at the mall, from aesthetic apprehension of street markets at Sham Shui Po leading finally to the sense of home and belonging via various forms of mobilities. Each chapter offers up various locations as experiential microcosms of the city of Hong Kong. Each place is a fractal, whereby patterns and tropes found at specific sites are also apprehended at the larger scale of the city. Rather than aiming at a “complete coverage” of all sites in Hong Kong, the spaces written about here are those I am familiar with. Hence, © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5


108 Conclusion

the book amounts to an academic and aesthetic presentation of everyday life that is both personal and public. It curates the experience of various sites via street photography, via the attentive consciousness of a flâneur, thus balancing documentary, aesthetic and conceptual impulses. While the individual is subject to ideological interpellations and capitalist demands that structure external reality and behaviour, life is lived from the inside out. Insofar as each of us considers ourselves to be individuals, there is an interiority in each that awaits articulation via idiosyncratic temperaments and inclinations. For academics working in the humanities, it is increasingly clear that the personal is the professional. The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to a wide-scale reassessment of the value of work in relation to personal health, values and relationships. All the more, there is a need for humanities research to orient itself towards combining the experiential with the conceptual via creative interventions. As a poet and street photographer, I am drawn to the aesthetics of experience. As someone living and working in Hong Kong at a time of social and political upheavals, I am attuned to the sociological phenomenology of my everyday life. This book is the result of an attempt at merging experience with scholarship. There are a number of cognate research fields that are open to such an approach that blends the sociological with creative practice, all of which I have drawn from, whether directly or indirectly. They include autoethnography, poetic inquiry, narrative inquiry, literary anthropology, creative writing studies, phenomenology and practice-led research. They balance the documentary impulse with conceptual development, the theoretical with the experiential. In a world that is increasingly fraught and fragmented, through the work of these kinds of scholarship, we are brought back to ourselves.




Achievement society, 28–30 Affect, 1, 2, 4–6, 12, 14, 53, 84, 103 Art-making, 1, 2, 10, 34 Autoethnography, 1–3, 7, 12, 107, 108

De Certeau, Michel, 24, 26, 40 Debord, Guy, 6, 64 Dérive, 61–78 Disciplinary society, 29 E


Baudelaire, Charles, 3–6 Bauman, Zygmunt, 44, 49 Benjamin, Walter, 4–7, 22, 26, 38, 49 C

Capitalism, 26, 30, 32, 64, 75, 107 Commuting, 14, 78, 82, 84–90, 94, 100 Creative practice, 83, 85, 108 Cycling, 8, 14, 55–57, 78, 81–103

Embodied mobilities, 14, 78, 81–103 F

Flâneur, 3–8, 10, 14, 19, 26, 37, 38, 40, 64, 82, 108 Foucault, Michel, 28 H

Han, Byung-Chul, 28–30 Hauntological, 13, 70

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022 E. Tay, Hong Kong as Creative Practice, Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21362-5


110 Index

Heidegger, Martin, 10, 101 Heterotopia, 14, 57, 58 L

Labyrinth, 12, 19–34, 78, 107 Lifeworld, 42, 64 M

Museumification, 51 N

Non-place, 14, 86–92, 100, 103


Scholarship, 11, 12, 14, 83, 108 Sensory ethnography, 83, 85 Sham Shui Po, 8, 13, 61–78, 85, 107 Shatin, 12 Shopping, 6, 8, 13, 24, 25, 29, 38, 39, 42–44, 47–49, 53, 58, 63, 64, 99 Simmel, Georg, 4, 43, 85, 90 Small House Policy, 100 Standing-reserve, 101, 102 Street photography, 1–3, 8–9, 12, 13, 20, 21, 63, 69, 70, 72, 85, 108 Subway, 14, 47, 78, 81–103 Surveillance, 47, 72


Optical unconscious, 8, 20


Topophilia, 6 Tsim Sha Tsui, 8, 12, 19–34, 107


Pandemic, 3, 12, 20, 21, 26, 28–30, 32, 49, 89, 96, 97, 108 Panopticism, 47 Phantasmagoria, 5, 40, 49 Pink, Sarah, 9, 81–83 Practice-led research, 5, 10–12, 108 Protest, 2, 3, 12, 19, 21, 22, 42, 73 Psychogeography, 1–3, 13, 40, 51, 107 Public transport, 39, 83, 90 R

Reverse gaze, 69, 70 Reverse hallucination, 21 Running, 6, 8, 14, 30, 78, 81–103


Urban planning, 26, 40, 82 V

Victoria Harbour, 25–28 Village houses, 100, 102 Visual ethnography, 8–9 W

Walking, 3, 4, 6–9, 26, 30, 39, 40, 49, 55, 64, 70, 73, 99 Writing of place, 6–8, 13