Hong Kong Noir

Hong Kong Noir by Jason Ng

It’s been difficult to find English books on HK or by HK authors, so I was glad I stumbled upon this in a Berkeley bookstore. Apparently there is a Noir series with books on a bunch of cities. The short stories themselves were not particularly dark. If anything, the scariest part was how prescient they were.

1) “‘I guess when the government doesn’t look after its people, they have to look to something else.'” – Choi

Up until a few years ago, my two main conceptions about the government were both related to money. 1) You could get make good money at a government job (“iron bowl”). 2) There’s usually a fiscal surplus so they might do a cash handout.

2) “‘I don’t understand what’s with Hong Kong people and their obsession with the lottery! It’s ridiculous.'” – Suze

Lottery is arguably the defining HK pastime.

3) “Where the rest of Hong Kong defines itself by its chaos and right angles, Cheung Chau is about silence and curves.”

Once you get out of Mongkok and Causeway Bay, HK can be so calm and chill.

4) “I hear the slow ping of the Don’t Walk signal turn into a fast metallic rattle and watch a tour group of mainlanders follow their red flag-wielding guide across the road. Every last one of them carries shopping bags emblazoned with names like Louis Vuitton or Giorgio Armani.”

Hong Kong summed up in one imagery.

5) “He predicts that in a few years, Hong Kong will lose even the pretext of voting, will be sequestered by censored internet and state-owned media, and no one will dare question the boss for fear of losing their job or their home.”

When was this written?

6) “A comedian once suggested solving the triad problem by recruiting more police: The law of conservation tells us that having one more cop means one less thug on the street.”

It’s no accident that the most successful HK film of the past 20 years (Infernal Affairs) is about undercover police and undercover triads.

7) “He meant that in Hong Kong it was difficult if not impossible to function socially in both the Chinese and the expat worlds.”

Maybe the same as Chinese in America and Chinese Americans.

8) “Mrs. Cheuk told her that Hong Kong was heaven if you had lots of money, but hell if you had none.”

I agree with this broadly, at least compared to America. The highs are higher, but the lows are lower.

9) “A Chinese news site had put together an animation showing murder methods that could release that much blood.”

Is this referring to those crazy Apple Daily animation videos? What a job it must be to make those.

10) “Because not every building in Wah Fu Estate had ping-pong tables, Wah Ming House became a popular destination for kids. It also helped that Wah Ming was located by the water. The area where the ping-pong tables were had an open design. A breeze could flow freely through.”

This reminded of the ping pong table at my childhood estate. I was also open design and quite breezy.

There were some question marks in this collection of short stories. For example, bad luck associated with the number 14 was brought up multiple times – perhaps understandable if every story were written independently, but the editor could have deduped. Also, there were several stories with an Asian guy and a Western wife. One would already be overrepresentation. Before reading, I had read some reviews saying that the stories aren’t particularly HK and could have taken place anywhere. I’d argue that all of the stories did a good job of integrating HK elements, and I think I was the perfect audience since I could relate but also learned some things that I didn’t know.

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