Expectantly, I drifted from one island to another.
In the summer of 2019, I exchanged from UCSB to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and started my six months as an exchange student.
In fact, UCSB cannot be counted as an island, it is a “point” on the southwest coast of the United States. However, there is a small lake on the beach of the campus, the water surface is almost flush with the sea. Looking out from the campus to the sea, there is a raised hill in the middle of the lake and the sea, blocking the lake from the sea. This small mountain bag is like an isolated island.
The freshman dormitory was near the sea. I had to walk through this island for class. Every time I passed by, I would look at it in a daze, my soul floating above the island. In front of the American campus with noisy human voices, I stretched out my hand and looked forward. The scene in front of me was suddenly blurred, like water vapor on the glass, evaporating weight. Behind is the faint Pacific Ocean, and the sea breeze growls endlessly and majesticly, sealing my ears, and looking towards the sea, my eyes are vast, without seeing the other side.
So I fled back to another island, Hong Kong.
A stunning glance, a long braid. Hong Kong greeted me kindly.
In the lobby of the dormitory, the exchange student is a girl who should be a volunteer from the school. A white girl came in front of me and communicated with her in English. I tilted my head and looked forward, only to see the outline of the volunteer girl’s face. His skin is clear and delicate, and his head is round, unlike a local Hong Kong. I hesitated, what language should I use to communicate with her for a while, Cantonese is not easy to speak, and Mandarin is not enough, so English is the safest. So I spoke English when it was my turn. Speaking English to the friendly faces of Chinese people is as awkward as acting in a mask, but rather stubbornly speaking.
The girl didn’t care. After finishing the formalities, the girl stood up, Yingying turned around, “I’ll take you to the elevator.” Before I had time to be surprised by her special treatment, I was attracted by the braids drawn out behind her. The girl is tall, with her braids reaching up to the waist, not thick, but tightly tied into a ring of twisted braids, gently and skillfully, shaking side by side with the steps. I was pulled back into the hazy memory, and the Zhaodi in “My Father and Mother” and the Milan in “Sunny Day” appeared in front of me. They were all such an unpredictable splendor bathed in the sun. In reality, for girls in elementary and middle schools, the braids should be tied up by parents or grandparents. After elementary school, or school regulations, or catching up with the trend, it may be simply too troublesome. In short, I have never seen twists.
After thinking about it, she realized that she changed to speak Mandarin with me, “Oh, how do you know that I am from the Mainland?”
“I can tell at a glance.” She looked back at me, her eyes were clear and sincere, “Where are you from?”
“People from other provinces in Guangzhou don’t know how to speak Cantonese.” I smiled embarrassedly. “Your Mandarin speaks a good standard. Are you a local?”
“I’m a Hongkonger. My family moved to Hong Kong from Hangzhou when I was very young, but I didn’t have any impression of Hangzhou.”
“Then have you returned to Hangzhou to see it?”
“Yes, I will go back occasionally during Chinese New Year. Shenzhen often goes to Haidilao for hi tea.” She smiled shyly.
I bid farewell to the braid girl, went up the elevator to the fifth floor, found my room, opened the door with the key card, but failed to open the door for a long time. Helpless, she had to go downstairs and ask for help from the braid girl.
“Oh, I took the wrong path! There are two buildings in this building. You are in the other five, two and three.” Her eyes were still round with a smile, very serious, “Where is your luggage?”
“Stay upstairs, I thought it was a problem with the room card.”
“Other volunteers came back after eating, let me help you carry your luggage.”
I waved my hand quickly, “No need, I don’t have much luggage.”
Finally, we went to the fifth floor together, chatting all the way. She asked me about my profession, my feelings in the United States, and why I came to Hong Kong. I was very resistant to answering these questions, but facing the girl with long braids, I opened the conversation.
Waiting for the elevator with her in the elevator room, I turned my head to look out the window and saw the silky beards of the banyan tree hanging down. I swayed down the banyan tree’s whiskers and returned to the ignorance and gentleness beside another section of the banyan tree.
Before the gate of junior high school, I arrived early and waited for the gate to open. The road in front of the school was planted with banyan trees. Cicadas screamed restlessly on the trees. The afternoon sun lightly and brightly flowed from the cracks in the banyan leaves. The squad leader at the end of the road walked over, his ponytail hopped and waved to greet me. I nodded. The squad leader is a lively girl. She and I only meet when we are disciplined. She was supposed to keep a reasonable distance from me, but she approached in a cute manner and said strangely, “Why don’t the collars of my clothes get right.” She stretched out her hand to help me arrange the collar. I was taken aback and wanted to step back. But I lowered my head and caught a glimpse of her focused gaze, felt the turning of the collar, and couldn’t bear to back down, and my heart throbbed for a moment. After another thought, the squad leader had already retreated, holding the book and looking at the ground. A few years later, I picked up this episode while listening to “Those Flowers”, and my face turned red instantly.
I said goodbye to the braid girl. She told me that if you have any questions, you can always find her. The problem was naturally gone, and she did not reappear the next day. I think the school is just this big, but I have never seen such a girl and such braids in Hong Kong.
Before school started, the empty campus suddenly became lively. In the squares on the way to class, the doors, floors and walls that were originally clean and reflective were sprayed with hideous black graffiti. The pungent smell of paint and aggressive characters flared their teeth and claws, watching everyone passing by. A few days later, I saw Auntie Cleaning lying on the ground, crouching against the wall, cleaning up these graffiti. Therefore, the graffiti is updated more and more diligently. Later, there were even more angry words of “wipe one and ten” and curses on the whole family of Aunt Cleaning.
The blank campus is filled with black. Students dressed in black and wearing black masks can be seen everywhere in classrooms, cafeterias and school buses. In the dormitory, the same-dressed students sprinted in the cramped corridor under the cold light. They rushed towards them, like ninjas locked in their prey, piercing the target’s throat in the next second. So I got accustomed to listening and distinguishing positions while walking in the dormitory, and also learned to move around in a small space.
The dormitory where I live is the most densely populated area of local students, so the black is also denser, which is a bit scary to me. I was worried that I would be attacked because of my “you can see it” appearance. So every night in the cubicle of the bathroom, before I stretch my head under the shower head, I have to listen carefully to the surrounding movement and do a good job. Mental preparation.
“Boom boom boom”, the door of the room was knocked for the first time. Outside the door was a dark-skinned boy, wearing yellow shorts and flip-flops. His hair should have been freshly washed, scattered on the top of his head, and he kept poking his hands.
“Come down to play cards, everyone is on the first floor, there are many people.”
“Okay.” I responded in the simplest Cantonese. The boys continued to knock on the doors one by one.
When I was still hesitating, the boy turned back, pushed open the door of the room, leaned against the door frame, waved his hand in the direction of the stairs, “Go, go.”
On the first floor, there are already about twenty people sitting on the sofa around two tables. I squeezed into the corner of the sofa, elbow propped my thigh, and sat leaning forward. As a new face, I naturally became the focus, and the people sitting next to me started talking enthusiastically. At first, I planned to challenge speaking Cantonese. But the assembled sentences in the head ran to the mouth and fell apart, jumping out word by word. Their eyes burned my cheeks slightly, and I was ashamed to let them suffer the torment of my drunk man’s dreams, but switched back to Mandarin. They probably can understand Mandarin, but they are not good at speaking, which is equivalent to my Cantonese level. They recommended two students who speak Mandarin well to sit next to me. The two look very Hong Kong, and they speak Mandarin very fluently but with a strong Hong Kong accent.
After two rounds of cards, I was about to find someone to go back to the room. The mandarin brother sitting next to me patted me, “Wait for us, we will be back soon.” So more than half of the people got up and walked to the door. There was a fierce slogan shouting at the door. I turned on the phone and it was ten o’clock as expected. Ten o’clock every night is when they shout slogans. This is the first time I have been so close to someone shouting. I sat on the sofa at a loss. Sitting in the room on weekdays, you can see the violent veins on their necks from the sound. But now, the voice hit the face, but they couldn’t see their people. After a few minutes, they came back. “Come on, let’s continue playing.” With a gentle smile on his face, the little brother waved his hand to greet me, his voice was so calm that I couldn’t understand.
The situation is still developing. My little world seems to be out of touch with the outside world. Finally, at one point one night, I was about to fall asleep while lying in bed, and vaguely heard an argument between a mainland student and a local student downstairs. I rolled over and went to the ground, bending over and looking through the cracks in the blinds. I couldn’t see the two people dancing as they imagined, but only saw several people in black dangling back and forth facing the door of the dormitory. Listening carefully, the two are worthy of being students of the Hong Kong University of Hong Kong. They are well-founded and a wonderful debate based on facts. I can’t help secretly cheering for the students in the Mainland. If I face so many people, I don’t necessarily have the courage to fight with them. Of course, because I didn’t care about it before, and I didn’t know these things well, so I listened more carefully. After listening, I realized that they were arguing in Mandarin. The local students stuttered when they were anxious. If they listened further, maybe they could not convince their opponents after doing all they could. Their emotions became more agitated, and their voices became louder and closer to shouting. They “believe” one sentence, and the rhetorical question is thrown back and forth like explosives, “Why don’t you believe it?” “Why can’t you believe it?”
The sound of rubbing mahjong “Bone Lulu”, wave after wave, like a huge wave, beat the dispute to ashes.
I was tired and fell on the bed, but was overwhelmed by the sound of mahjong again, and I opened my eyes to look at the spinning fan on the ceiling.
My life between Guangzhou and Hong Kong was hardly affected, but the other exchange students were suffering.
On weekends, they dared not go out and had to shrink in the dormitory. For the safety of employees, the school’s cafeteria is closed on weekends. Exchange students have to stock up on instant noodles and bread in advance to avoid food shortages. Fortunately, the MTR from my university to Luohu was not damaged. I went home on Thursday night and returned on Monday morning. Only when I go back to school every Monday at noon, I see the mottled walls, the mess on the ground, and my sight is obscured by the flying posters, I am sure what happened.
I was able to get myself out of business at school, but I witnessed a dumbfounding skirmish in the MTR.
One Thursday evening, I hurriedly packed my schoolbags, went to the canteen to swallow a bowl of roast duck noodles, and ran to the MTR University Station. There are many people in the MTR, which is similar to that of the Guangzhou Metro. Probably because of the early closure, people crowded in the last few cars in the evening. On the bar are densely packed hands. People each held the crossbar with their hands, like a person sinking in the water grasping a floating log, and when they were relaxed, the person was swept away. I look at the numb young people buried behind the phones, the haggard middle-aged people with wrinkled skin and clothes, and the women with delicate makeup but faintly revealing grievances and exhaustion. They all follow the carriage. Ups and downs together, drifting in the night sky filled with neon lights. It was very windy in the carriage, and people’s spirits seemed to be blown away from the place they called home. I suddenly felt at a loss, what is home? I have no answer to this question.
I was tired, sitting in an empty position at the door of the carriage, resting my head on the window, dozing on my pillow.
There was an explosion behind him, “What do you talk about first?”
A 60-year-old man sitting diagonally behind me pointed righteously at a 50-year-old couple standing at the door in front of me.
“I’m talking about my friend’s business, not my business.” The husband looked nervous.
I naturally did not pay attention to the conversation between the couple, but the wind sent a few words into my ears. Recalling a bit, they talked about something like this: A man passed through Hong Kong to the Mainland, and brought two durians, which were confiscated by customs. The husband complained angrily, “The government, even durians are not allowed!”
“You can scold the government for two durians!” The old man’s anger attracted the nervous glances of everyone in the carriage.
“I said this happened to my friend, not me.”
“You are the one who scolds the government. No matter what happens to me, I only hear you scold the government for two durians.”
“Yes. Just what I said, Gan ordered it again?”
“Lost your mother!” The old man lost control of his emotions, and he held the back of the front seat with his left hand, as if he was about to stand up.
“Thinking about it? Do you want to date?” The husband rolled up his sleeves.
The old man was silent, staring at the husband fiercely, and rolled up his sleeves.
I panicked. I was caught between two people. I never imagined that the violence would happen to two ordinary citizens in the subway that was about to arrive.
A young man in a suit who jumped out of the carriage rescued me. “Calm down! Calm down! Don’t engage!” He stood between the two and opened his arms. He said to the old man, “I don’t have to worry about trivial things, okay? The car is almost at the station. And, it’s your shameful mother first, you are all wrong first.”
The young man’s words clearly added fuel to the fire. The three of them entangled their arms with their arms. The train slowed down and stopped at the terminal. The door opened and I jumped out of the car first. The three people formed a circle and staggered out, like a spinning top, buzzing in the air, turning, turning, turning…
Mid-November, Monday morning. As I rushed to the station, I stood in the subway and received an email from the school saying “This semester is over.” The huge tension behind this brief sentence almost tore my phone. I quickly asked my exchange student friend about the situation. He sent a video. There was a car on the playground. Its body was on fire and exploded. Then black smoke billowed. He said that starting yesterday afternoon, a group of people confronted the police with bows and arrows and javelins at the playground next to the MTR station. At the other entrance of the school, a small bridge, the two sides were deadlocked and vehicles could not pass. Another photo was sent. It was a dark night. In the middle of the photo was a bunch of coquettish fires. The tongue of the fire was a person high and illuminated the surrounding ground. The ground was covered with stones, nails and glass ballast. He sent a voice, his voice was faint. They tried their best to escape from school that night and finally contacted volunteers in Shenzhen in the early hours of the morning. But the entrances and exits were blocked, and how to connect them became a problem. Some of them know a side door and take them to try their luck. The side door was unblocked, and it turned out to be an open field. They crossed the field, walked back to the main road, and waited by the side of the road for more than two hours. After six o’clock in the morning, volunteers took them to Shenzhen.