I went to Hong Kong for the first time last July and had a great time and thought the city was amazing and lovely, seen through the eyes of interesting people with interesting interests, who do interesting fun things in the city. But what would I have thought of the city if I’d read Jess Row’s collection The Train to Lo Wu before heading over there? I’m not sure - maybe the same thing. But maybe not. Maybe I’d be more aware of the mood Row builds through his stories about lonely, handicapped, alienated people living together but altogether separate in Hong Kong (the stories do not overlap in plot in any way either). A certain atmosphere of severity, of striving and desperation, and tragedy.
Reading the literature of a place changes your relationship to that place, for better or for worse. I studied Russian literature, but have yet to travel to Russia. It’s incredible that that’s a truth in my life. What I’d give to see for the first time the white nights I’ve read about, walk through the museums of my literary fantasies, gaze at statues, walk along the lakes I think I can see and smell and hear. I can think of no other place for which I have such a huge imagination, and that I haven’t yet realized.
“The boat heels sideways, and he moves away from the tilt, instinctively, reaching for the rail. The city has become a wall of light, streaking, bleeding into the churning water. He grips the rail with both hands, forcing himself to stare straight ahead, until he feels the brightness surrounding him, dissolving him, as if he’s stepped inside the sun. What a relief, he thinks, what a relief, to be invisible.”