八月瀑布 | August Waterfalls
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 3:34pm on 24th August 2018
1. 陳沁昕的裝置作品《Entanglement》（纏結），2018年（圖片由藝術家提供） Detail of Tap Chan’s Entanglement installation, 2018 (image courtesy of the artist)
2. 磅巷的樓梯，大雨時像瀑布一樣，2018年8月20日（攝影：約翰百德）Pound Lane’s flooded waterfall-like staircases, 20 August 2018 (photograph : John Batten)
(Please scroll down for English version)
by John Batten
On some nights during this summer heat, I have dragged-out simple bedding to sleep on my Sheung Wan rooftop to purposely, and in disdain of air-conditioning, enjoy the night-time sky and watch the fast-moving, ever-changing overhead clouds. I am woken by the birds or the early morning drench of humidity that occasionally turns to a cloudburst of rain, at which I scurry inside. It must be an odd sight for residents in overlooking flats to see my camped-out, modest-but-still-semi-clothed body. Any early morning onlooker would prefer someone lithe and younger going through their yoga routine, but I might be forgiven as anything - even my sleeping blob of a body - is better than a noisy Sheung Wan rooftop BBQ gathering that starts as polite early night conversation, degrades around-midnight to boisterous talking and disintegrates into early morning atonal singing.
My rooftop is…the best way to describe it would be…comforting: views overlooking the greenery of Blake Garden and towards, but not in the glare of, the lights of Central. It is an unusually special and quiet part of Hong Kong; my street is a dead-end and there is no through-traffic and the steep ‘ladder streets’ behind my flat are only for pedestrians. The rooftop’s night-air, especially with its usual cross-breeze, is a perfect place to spend a summer night. Even when Hong Kong’s August heat and humidity can drive you to turning it on, I don’t like air-conditioning.
Recently, there has been a knee-jerk reaction to curbing our use of plastic straws, but the big environmental offenders responsible for global warming and increasing carbon dioxide emissions, including air-conditioning, continue to be used unabated, almost unthinkingly. Air-conditioning especially is a circular menace: the hotter we feel, the more we use air-conditioning, that in turn raises the outdoor ambient temperature, and the hotter we feel….
I did not have air-conditioning for my first seven years of living in Hong Kong. Climate change was unheard of then, and it was not for altruistic reasons that I did not use air-conditioning. Simply, I was determined to endure the summer heat, it was a personal stubbornness to ‘suffer’ and not ‘succumb’ to needing air-conditioning.
Sigmund Freud possibly has a deeper, sub-conscious reason, but having a Christian school education and attending the local Sunday School in my early years clearly infected me with lots of Protestant guilt. That is the only explanation for wanting, when offered either an easy or more difficult path, I often choose to take the difficult. Thus, I am sleeping on my roof. I’m not trying to save the world by being one less person using air-conditioning, although systemic change does require changes in individual behaviour. No, it is ingrained that I should not have a too-easy life and that I will be a better person by taking that action. Ultimately, any personal sacrifice has the outcome, my guilt tells me, of also making a social contribution!
I must admit it is satisfying to be in touch with the outdoor night-time sky while living within a kilometre of Central Hong Kong, one of the world’s great financial centres. The other night, the day’s humidity increasingly rose and the early morning lightning and thunder was a prelude to a huge downpour of rain. It rarely happens, but Pound Lane in Sheung Wan, one of the ''ladder streets'' linking Caine Road with Hollywood Road and just behind my flat, sometimes suddenly returns to its origins as a water-course running down from The Peak. Throughout the year underground drains usually carry most of this water, however on really, really heavy downpours the drains can''t cope and flooding occurs...and Pound Lane becomes a swollen stream and the staircases become cascading waterfalls....I went downstairs to photograph Pound Lane in flood.
Earlier that week I had seen Tap Chan’s beautiful Entanglement installation in a Central restaurant. Inspired by two of Stanley Kubrick’s movies (Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey), Chan creates impressions and reflections of light within the restaurant to allow visitors “to feel that they are mingling in real and unreal situations.” The scene was almost déjà vu, for one part of her installation uses strips of polyester wrapping-string to create an impression of a waterfall.
It could easily be Pound Land waterfalls I was looking at.
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This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 1 Sep 2018 and translated by Aulina Chan.