The ferry tipped almost far enough for water to enter the lower deck, but careened back the other direction just before it could breach. An old style junk was headed across the ferry’s path and for a moment Shan Tao actually panicked, imagining a collision.
Why are all of the life-jackets in plastic bags?
He imagined the girl to his left scrambling to tear open the thick plastic while water surrounded her ankles, calves, then her knees. She’d be gasping for air from the panic long before the water reached her neck. His hand gripped his wife’s thigh a little tighter which she noticed and looked up to him.
“Do you think we will hit it?”
This wasn’t an idle question. Not too long ago many had died in a nighttime collision. With the night’s rough waters it was easy to imagine the chaos and death of that night. The water dark and freezing, arms flailing about and reaching for anything to hold on to. The crew shaken and in disbelief, then struggling to manage the situation. Water coming in from every direction. Life vests stored in tidy bins where no one would ever need them.
His eyes went back to the girl and wondered if he would be able to help his wife, himself, and the girl as well. Or would he have to let her fend for herself? Where were her parents and why was she crossing the harbor alone?
Shan Tao held his breath a moment as the ferry tipped again and then rocked back. The junk was clearing their path as the ferry had slowed to let them pass. Crisis and collision averted. He could breath a little easier. His wife had been squeezing his hand and lessened her grip, blood pressure slacking as the tension of the moment passed. Only a few minutes left until they reached Tsim Sha Tsui.
At the other side the ferry operator had to work the engines in order to get the side of the vessel up against the pier. As people lined up to disembark they were tossed back and forth. Shan Tao felt a little sick, which was new for him. He’d not been on a boat which had listed so bad before and even against the pier it was heaving to such a degree that he thought he might vomit. But the gangplank went down and he managed to get off the ferry with wife and dignity intact.
Crowds were denser than usual, the Christmas shopping traffic bringing millions into the city for tax free shopping, warmer weather, family visits, good food, and myriad other reasons people find themselves in Hong Kong in December. Tour groups with badges huddled in masses, migrant workers from Malaysia on the streets eating out of Styrofoam bowls, Indians hawking watches and suits, Russians, Australians, British, Americans—all shopping and drinking. Strangers weaving back and forth as you try to pass, or walking three wide on a sidewalk big enough for two. Crowds gathering on a closed street for a flash mob by school children in Santa hats, complete with a Santa and Gingerbread man. People on the sidewalk of this street pushing and beginning to yell, and this is Christmas eve.
They approach the church and find there is a long line, weaving all the way around the opposite side of the church and back to the entrance. They queue up and wait, walking forward bit by bit as people are seated. Behind them two British women talk in their characteristic way, accents unmistakable, commenting on everything and unable to enjoy the silence of the moment. Christmas silence. Eventually they arrive at the entrance only to be told that it is full and that they must go to auxiliary seating. They go and find their seats in the back. They sing, and pray, and feel Christmas in a way that they haven’t in some time. Then they leave and go back into the fray of Hong Kong’s Christmas, but with lighter hearts and minds.
Past all of the bustle of TST, past the crowds, past the shopping, past the endless sales and displays, past the incredibly high and lit up Christmas trees—past all of this there is a peace as Shan Tao and his wife enter Hung Hom where the tourism ends and normal living life begins. In this peace as they walk along the street holding hands, still in bustle, there is a Christmas silence. It’s internal but it is still there. No words necessary as Christmas envelops them.