Written by Gabriella Au | Photograph by Karen Chan
It was a spring morning when my grandmother first brought me to the park next to our mid-hill apartment. I remember walking hand in hand with her, two streets down and a corner away. As we were walking, instead of paying attention to where I was going, I was busily finding the perfect leaf to show my grandmother. Everytime I picked up a really green one, she would laugh and pat my head.
She opened a blue gate and led me in. It was uncharted ground. I knew this only because there were no grey bricks on the ground; it was dirt road, with little wild bits of grass poking out of the ground. There it was, a bright red swing in the middle of an opening surrounded by big trees that seemed to go on forever. Of course I ran to it, putting my chubby little hands onto the newly installed chains. “I wanna go on grandma,” pointing up at the freshly painted seat. She lifted me onto the seat and my legs dangled out over the edge. The first time she pushed me I got scared so I clung on tightly to the chains with my eyes shut, but as the fear slowly went away, the thrill of it got the better of me. I would ask for her to push me higher, seeking the adrenaline rush of weightlessness. The higher I went, the further I left the real world behind.
As spring blossomed into summer, grandmother would let me run down to the grocery shop. No, not supermarkets. I’m talking about the kind where there are two rusty see-through ice boxes with popsicle sticks sticking out, and iron sticks that form half dented shelves with snack heaven stocked. “Hello Gabby,” the shopkeeper would say to me every time and help me up to one of the fridges. I tried my best to open the jammed ice box door but ended up falling off. The shopkeeper rushed over and helped me up. “Come on, I’ll help you.” He pulled out my favorite popsicle, the one with the rainbow colors. I handed him the two dollars and fifty cents my gran gave me and skipped happily back to our apartment.
Our apartment was in an old rundown building next to the University of Hong Kong. No, I didn’t live in one of those fancy apartments most of you grew up in. I lived in a 20 level apartment building next to the older part of Hong Kong, with the rundown shops 20 steps away from the entrance. Our apartment wasn’t tiny, no, on the contrary, quite spacious for our family. It was a three room apartment with a balcony (aka a concrete platform half the size of a classroom). In the summer we would take our bikes and play there, and in the winter we would have barbecues and in the autumn we would hang Halloween decorations in front of our neighbour’s windows since they were just above our balcony.
Not having revisited the swing during the past few years, my recent trip there brought on a rush of memories. The blue paint on the gate was chipping off and when I pushed it open, I found the previously uncharted ground turned into a playground. Newer slides and swings stood over my old swing, looking sad and outdated. I walked towards it, and as I got closer to it, I thought of the times my gran would take me here just as a treat. I put my hands on the chains and memories of my childhood came rushing back to me.