“It’s an awkward age, too old to hope, too young to despair.”
When I first read the sentence in Doomsday Hotel by Wong Bik-wan, my favourite Hong Kong writer, I was standing on the MTR among the crowds of commuters – mostly half asleep. I was not much better. Sometimes the kind of state made me really desperate. I mean Hong Kong is an amazing city of numerous fantastic views, but apart from that, the daily routine might as well drive people crazy. Never the less, I suppose I was not that desperate. At least as I read the sentence, I didn’t think I’ve come to that age; at least I was planning for my further studies in New Zealand. I know I’d soon be embarking on the new journey; I know I’d escape. And I did.
But … did I? What is escape after all? Or am I trapped in “the city” – not any city – but “the city”, in the poem by C. P. Cavafy?
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.
(The City by C.P. Cavafy, Translated by Edmund Keeley)
And above all … nothing stops people from ageing. A few days ago when I suddenly realised I’d be 26 in a few weeks time, I thought the quotation again. I think it’s the age for me now – for whatever reasons – I just do. I once heard about others talking about the signs of youth and ageing, and one of them is particularly interesting to me: One of the indications of youth is that one views everything as extremely significant. Then I realised I’d already become old, so old that I didn’t remember the point when I turned old. Every time I say “it doesn’t matter” (and I really mean it), the feeling intensifies. Nothing matters. When life lost the sense of ceremonious sublimation, I suppose it’s an indication of ageing.
People become old so quickly nowadays. It’s a severe punishment – by the past. I know the punishment is still gonna accumulate – until the very moment before our death – when the past becomes everything we have eventually, like Lester Turnham did in the last scene of American Beauty:
“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”
I believe I will; and so will everybody.