Readers of this blog probably know that I have a great affinity to 1890's Chicago -- to me, that era was the birth of everything I liked about architecture: beautiful tall buildings, thoughtful urban planning, and an industrial-commercial city on the rise on the great prairie. Another comparable place and time would probably be 2010's Shanghai, or 1960's Hong Kong.
As I sit here in quarantine, eating my quarantine rice and beans, drying my clothes indoors, and stuck inside a small Manhattan apartment, I imagine living in 1960's Hong Kong -- also stuck in a small apartment, thinking about life and the future. I open the window, not to find a quarantined New York, but a bustling, thriving Asian city. Radio playing the songs of Cantonese singers. There would be constant news about the flood of migrants from Red China, rushing to come to this relatively free city, run by a fading European empire. Out on the street would be a cacophony of billboards and signs, clothes on clothes racks, trams and rickshaws running about. There would be women playing mahjong, children playing soccer in alleyways, men smoking on makeshift tables. I would hear about white westerners, these wealthy Brits and Americans who lived in the hills, opening factories left and right, sending goods and products to far away places like Tokyo, New York, and London. At the movie theaters, Bruce Lee would start making his action films, about how a small Chinese man can defeat his enemies and adversity through strength and discipline, and I would cheer. Out on the main harbor, there would be unceasing construction work, and buildings racing into the sky, 30, 40 stories tall, much taller than the diaolou of the old country. And year after year, it seemed like life was getting better - suddenly there was air conditioning, refrigerators, and big department stores and escalators. Slowly and surely, the government would release public housing in the Northern Territories, and people can generally afford to buy their own place, go on weekend dates, and maybe get promoted to manager from the factory floors. There would always be distant rumblings, of faraway westerners waging war, or nuclear annihilation, and sending men into space --- but I wouldn't be bothered. Life is short, the city is beautiful -- and what more do I want, than the occasional weekend dim sum with some colleagues, go on some dates, and maybe save up to get out of this small apartment in Sheung Wan? Maybe I'll learn some English, and finally get a chance to visit the capital: London. For now, I'll just enjoy this night breeze, and gaze upon this magnificent, mad, and crowded city.