A Place Called Home
To kick-start my much anticipated reading on Brazilian / Bahian affairs, I picked up a book entitled ‘Brazil’s Living Museum: Race, Reform and Tradition in Bahia’ (Anadelia A. Romo) from our Program House here in Candeal. I intend on writing a post about some of the things I’ve learnt so far, but the following paragraph — as found at the beginning of Chapter 4 — sparked an ‘eureka’ moment for me that deserved some time for thought.
“The U.S. sociologist Donald Pierson memorably characterized the city of Salvador in the 1930s as ‘not unlike a medieval city surrounded by African villages.’ […] Salvador’s spatial juxtaposition permitted one to walk through ‘Europe on the ridges’ of the city’s hills and hear ‘the insistent boom of African drums… from Africa in the valleys.’ […] This vision of a medieval European town and an African village coexisting side by side clearly communicated the idea of a city lost in time and space, and outside the present world.”
…hmm. A description not unlike that of Hong Kong.
Home, to me, would probably be the space I occupy in a city almost 20,000 kilometres away. In this city, the past and the present co-exist in ways both peaceful and tumultuous: it is common to smell the incense of tradition whilst walking on an urban road, yet vestiges from the past — often buildings — are taken down to make space for re-development. Having been a colony, Hong Kong has its fair share of colonial structures that exude a vaguely ‘medieval’ air, yet there exist untouched villages that boast tradition over today’s excessive zeal for modernisation.
I found this parallelism to be interesting, not only for its commentary on development but also for the implications it has on my time here in Brazil. Perhaps working with communities here in Salvador will be more transferable to Hong Kong by virtue of the cities’ similarities. Over the past months I’ve had a niggling fear that my time in Brazil will just become something of ‘the past’ with no direct relevance to my life back in Hong Kong, which would render my stay here as, frankly, a waste of time and effort.
If I am able to carry what I learn back home, however, and change my life accordingly with the lessons I’ve learnt here — be it on culture, on marginalised communities, or on the environment — then I’d be able to say for sure that Brazil has left me a better person than who I was when I walked in.
But having said all that, even if I don’t end up changing anything back in Hong Kong, I’ll always know that Salvador has taught me a valuable lesson in finding homes away from home. I’ve never been to Brazil before, let alone Latin America, but I already see elements of Hong Kong in the way tall buildings loom over ‘squatter’ villages, I see Singapore in the trees that separate parallel roads, I see Korea in the storefronts that line the high-end residential area right outside of Candeal, I see the flea markets of Spain in the commercial roads of the Lapa shopping district…
…and on and on go the reminders of places I know well.
Which is a source of — to use my favourite word — consolation. Despite the language barrier, despite the different foods, despite the alienating effect of physical differences, I’ll always find an element of home. I just have to look.