night in Hong Kong



On my occasional trips to Hong Kong, I find that the city by day is all sharp corners, rushing traffic, commercialism, and faceless shopping malls. The city softens and changes its personality at night, when it becomes a clash of colors, neon signs, food smells, clamoring crowds, and suddenly-quiet and dark streets. The city becomes more intimate, enclosed; its hidden spaces – storefront restaurants, dimly-lit stairways leading to mysterious spaces above, lighted upper floors – revealing themselves.



On a recent overnight trip, I explored the night streets of the Jordan area, in the Kowloon peninsula, an area abounding in restaurants and the touristy Night Market. Nathan Road, with its tall buildings and double-decker buses, slices through the area, lined with shops and hotels. Side streets branch off to either side, lined with small markets, food stalls, massage parlors, and restaurants offering a dizzying array of cuisines. Near to the Night Market is an entire street of restaurants serving spicy crab and other seafood, seating areas spilling out onto the sidewalks.




I’d had my first Hong Kong dim sum meal earlier in the day, grabbed a half sandwich from Pret a Manger in the afternoon, and was now hungry for dinner. I wasn’t adventurous enough to order a platter of spicy crab (market price), so decided on a plate of fried noodles with shrimp, and steamed clams in brown sauce. My table was on the sidewalk, and I aimed my camera into the crowd and snapped away at random into the nighttime scene, hoping for some interesting results.




The Night Market was far too crowded to explore, so I headed into the side streets and away from the crowds. Architecturally and culturally, Hong Kong is different from mainland China; it’s more cosmopolitan and more westernized, with English spoken as much as Cantonese or Chinese. I photographed night restaurants and shops, and enjoyed the mystery of streets that alternated light and dark. Wandering at night requires you to peer into shadows and to be more alert to changes in atmosphere and mood.





I became tired after a while, so I headed back to Nathan Road and then south to Tsim Sha Tsui, where my hotel was, instead of taking the crowded metro. Back at my hotel, I contemplated my adventures, and began to plan my next nighttime walk.


a new obsession

conkline-duragraph-my-photoConklin Duragraph “Cracked Ice” fountain pen


My first love was writing. The sheer physical act, filling up line after line, page after page, first in pencil and later in pen, entranced me. I undertook any writing assignment in school with a passionate sense of purpose. My writing instrument of choice, all the way through graduate school, was the ubiquitous see-through plastic Bic ballpoint pen with blue ink. Their blue plastic caps were usually indented with tooth marks, from my holding them in my mouth as I thought about what to write next.



Edison Collier “Persimmon Swirl” fountain pen


Then, this past year, my writing life took a major new direction with my discovery of fountain pens. Oddly, I had never before written with one of these instruments, considering them an affectation, even though my mother had always written in blue ink with a fountain pen. Even when one of my classes of Chinese university scholars gifted me with a black Parker Urban fountain pen a few years ago, it rested mostly unused in its box until this past June, when I decided to rescue it from neglect.

The impetus, I think, for this new-found passion was my revived interest in dip-pen calligraphy. As a child and teenager, I had collected Speedball calligraphy nibs, occasionally trying may had at complicated Old English lettering. I still have those nibs, stored in a plastic box.


Platinum 3776 in “Chartres Blue,” 14k gold nib


My fountain pen obsession was instant and all-consuming; I pored over fountain pen blogs, bought several pens on eBay, and read online reviews of pens and inks. On occasional forays to Hong Kong, I discovered pen shops where I could indulge my passion. After buying an assortment of cheap Chinese fountain pens, I turned my attention to more expensive high-quality models: a Platinum 3776 in “Chartres Blue,” an Edison Collier, and a vintage 1946 Parker Vacumatic.

The good thing about my collection of pens and inks is that they take up little space. My creativity , however, knows no bounds: I am improving my handwriting, learning to appreciate what makes a good pen nib, developing an appreciation for good writing papers (Clairefontaine and Maruman are favorites), and experiencing how the same ink will perform differently depending on different nibs and feeds, nib width, and paper. I’m learning what shape and length of pen is the best “fit” for my hand and writing style. Surprise: the skinny, weightless Bic ballpoints and narrow pencils of my youth were all wrong for my grip, causing discomfort, cramping, and requiring too much pressure. I find that wide-barreled fountain pens, well-balanced, are not only more comfortable for my hand but beautiful to look at as I write with them.

Perhaps best of all, this new hobby is portable: pens and notebooks can be conveniently carried anywhere, and any coffee house or comfortable place to sit can be a venue for my creative self-expression.


a selection of my pens