It’s a big world out there. Temple Street, Hong Kong is no doubt part of that big world. The street is mainly an open air market which runs in the day, but is also known as a night market. It is a busy street with people bustling around, all talking in a higher pitch than I am used to. To an outsider’s ear Cantonese is a strange sounding language. On this day there seemed to be too many people, too many voices and too much heat. The story I’m about to tell you involves my mother and the people in this street.
Let me start off by describing my mother to you. She is a small person, just and inch shorter than myself. She has grey hair, cut in a style very similar to the Chinese women around her seventy plus age group. In fact, it seemed the only difference between my mother and the average Chinese woman her age, was her face; her eyes to be more exact. I would never have had to make this comparison before, but as you read on you will understand why it is quite relevant to the story.
It was a scorching day in Hong Kong. We decided that we would brave the heat because there would be no point in being there and not explore a little. So, we decided to take a casual stroll down Temple Street.
I had never before felt like such an alien in a strange country. Even though I was told that most of the locals could speak English, I found this to be quite the opposite. When I enquired about the cost of particular items, I was shown the correct amount on a calculator rather than being told because of the language barrier. It had come to my attention that many of the items on sale are actually also available at markets in South Africa (my homeland) too.
As we strolled along, stopping here and there to look at things my daughters pointed out, I had suddenly realised that my mother had disappeared out of sight. I quickly asked the others if they had seen her. No one could recall when last they had seen her. We all started frantically searching around the area. I spotted someone looking quite like her and rushed after her. As I moved in closer to her, all I found was a stranger with a very perplexed expression looking back at me.
The girls kept up with me. We were walking very fast trying not to bump people in the slow-moving crowds. Down the end of the road, I spotted her. We had to speed up. Mom walks very fast under normal circumstances so you can imagine her speed was in turbo mode here in this strange place.
Anyway, hearts pounding, we tried our best to make up the distance between her and ourselves, all the while trying to keep an eye on the grey head, which was so easy to confuse with the other pedestrians in the area.
My heart sank when at the corner a very slim, stern-looking policewoman stopped me. She told me I that we couldn’t cross the road. There seemed to be some sort of emergency going on. I tried to tell her that I have to cross because I would lose my mother in the crowds and I didn’t know any other way to go.
She raised her hand in the air “No, you go that way!” I tried again, but the words which came out of my mouth seemed to be banging on a brick wall before falling to pieces on the ground. “YOU GO THAT WAY,” she said again pointing in another direction.
Now, there is something you should know about us South Africans, we are tougher than people realise. The stern policewoman was still in front of me, refusing to let us cross. She looked away for a moment, and that was when we just slipped over to the right of her. We quickly walked between a police car and another emergency vehicle; the cars shielded us from view. I kept expecting someone to come up from behind me and grab me by the arm for disobeying the police woman, fortunately nothing like that happened. The chase started afresh again.
We eventually caught up with mom. When I looked in her eyes, she seemed a little off balance or confused. We got her back to the hotel where she told me that she felt terrible, all she heard were the voices and people muddling in front of her and behind her and she just wanted, needed, to get out of there. I made a little joke with her telling her that she looked quite a bit like the Chinese women her age, it’s just that her eyes were different. She laughed and said that it is quite ironic, because when she was a little girl she would tell her little brother and sister that she was adopted, and that her father was actually a Chinese man and her mother a French woman. Mom is still blessed with that creative imagination.
Anyway, we all decided that we would not go to the market again because everyone seemed a little upset by the whole experience.
I must tell you though that I thoroughly enjoyed my walk down the Temple Street Market that evening, when I slipped out quietly by myself. I found the sellers at the market to be sweet and gentle people. After my solo walk, I would recommend the market to anyone who was to visit Hong Kong.