each time i visit shangshui (admittedly not all that often), i am caught off guard (again) by how much i like it precisely because the area forms an eddy of difference within hong kong. yesterday, for example, i trundled across the border to shangshui to meet with friends robin and venus who had directed me to meet them at an old style cafe, 广成冰室 in 石湖墟, a short walk from the shangshui metro. the cafe itself teemed with people eating set lunches of macaroni and beef soup, an egg sandwich, and milk coffee or tea. there were also red bean ices, pineapple rolls, and various other foods that had a definite greasy chopstick appeal. indeed, i´m thinking that in the american context, this kind of old style cafe might be more accurately translated as ¨hong kong style diner¨.
when i visit shangshui, i appreciate the low-riding buildings and narrow streets, and sidewalks occupied by fruit vendors. i enjoy the slower jostle of people window-shopping and the mom and pop scale of business. that said, i´m not sure how much shangshui´s appeal lies in it´s being relatively isolated from the glass and steel and tall looming buildings of central and admiralty. in other words, i´m not sure how much of shangshui´s appeal to me is in what it is not, rather than what it is. thus, my pleasure seemed derived from how shangshui contradicted stereotypical notions of what hong kong is.
the distinctly ¨non-urban¨ feeling i had in shangshui also made me aware of how different shangshui is from shenzhen´s urban villages, which are shenzhen´s ¨non urban¨ spaces. admittedly, ¨non urban¨ is not the same as ¨rural¨, nevertheless, shangshui, like shenzhen´s urban villages had me thinking countryside and not metropolis. and this is a difference that seems important. in shangshui, i felt the non urban to signify relative impoverishment – a form of ruralization, if not in actuality, at least ideologically. in contrast, in shenzhen, even though the urban villages actualize relative impoverishment, they also enable a transformation of rural identities and economies into something more recognizably ¨urban¨ and so the feeling is one rural urbanization.
the eddies of difference that shangshui and shenzhen´s urban villages actualize are valuable because they remind us that not only are there many ways of being human, but also that lived difference is created through human interaction. moreover, these eddies also constitute a warning; our urban environment testifies to the extent to which we unequally value rural and urban lives, despite our need for clean water and air and sources of food.