This summer, one of the places I went to in Belgium was Brugge, an ancient small town encircled by an equally ancient canal. The town consists of many rows of traditional, small and well-kept terrace houses and at least 5 big churches that look more like cathedrals. They stand proudly almost alongside each other, that makes you question their justification to be in a sparsely populated small town.
The magnificent and ornate churches tell a story of how important religious belief must have been for people in Brugge for centuries, in particular their faith in the divinity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. People’s everyday living and habits must have been organised around church rituals, their values and attitudes must have been derived from and nothing else, the belief of original sin, the salvation, the eternal life, the promise of a heaven and the condemnation of hell.
The linguistic understanding of the opposition of heaven and hell, God and Satan, good and evil, has been expressed in the geometrical layout of the town, the tidiness of the place, the regularity of life, they together form the ordination of an ultimate standard that stays still in time and is believed to be the eternal value. Therefore, nothing seems to have changed or is intending to change.
The unchangeness that has preserved the whole town and the routine life of its people is the very thing that attracts visitors. However, what other choices this small town can offer to visitors after they have viewed all the churches, walked through every ally way, tasted the two signature choice of food - mussels and waffles? No wonder, by 6pm, it would magically turn into a ghost town that you could be the only soul walking down the empty ally ways, that the echoes of your own footsteps would induce thought of either going to the square for something to eat or heading back to the lonely hotel room. Either way, you are just repeating picking from the same 2 choices that you had the day before…..
Four days later, I was in another part of the world, in a city where its philosophy differs from that of Brugge, I would say it is a philosophy of no absolutes, and therefore there isn’t a universal standard to go by. In this city, people perpetually live at the intersection between the traditional values and the global values that are currently experienced by them. In this grey area of the intersection, things are unceasingly shifting and changing, which gives rise to the rapidly changing cityscapes and the fleeting life style of multiple possibilities. As a result, what was there yesterday, its trace cannot be found today, and what seems to be here now will no longer be tomorrow. No wonder I felt like a stranger in this city, in a place where I was born and grew up in. This is Hong Kong.
From Brugge to Hong Kong, a space of four days, I strode across centuries.