23 February 2010

On Being Alone


Edward Hopper, The Automat

Hong Kong, like any other modern metropolises, is of a lonely temperament. Crowded, but everyone bears a soul which is rendered impossible to fathom. Anthropologists, however, invite us to a paradox of life. The definition of existence, we are told, is far removed from medical science. It depends not on the circulation of blood or the silent beating of the heart, but on the presence of fruitful companions and someone we could share our bed with.

The mindset of the people of Hong Kong seem so in accordance with that of anthropologists. So much insistence they have on socialisation, the vice of spending time alone ought to be unlearned.

If we happen to read a book out of intellectual pleasure at the corner table in Starbucks, strangers who are seated across may marvel at the reasons of our solitude. Because Hong Kong seems too lively a city for anyone to enjoy solitude and the act of reading a book for intellectual pursuit suggests that there is something unspeakable behind the reason of our lack of companions. If we are found devoid of any romantic partners in our mid 20s, the herd instinct may demand a peculiar form of curiosity which suggests that our sexual orientation may somehow differ from that of majority.

But what is wrong with being alone? We have been taught that looking up at the sky and lying in the grass are a waste of time because productivity is the key to success. We are living in the age where being successful means owning a Mercedes or Porsche. The definition of failure is determined by the media and the public opinion. Therefore, it is deemed too inevitable and desirable to keep ourselves occupied at all times. Our busy days are supposed to be dense with meetings with clients and business partners rather than spent alone.

Driven by financial necessity, our pleasures are as strenuous as our work. Most ordinary men have to work overtime and moonlight to please their employers and secure a stable income. Our busy yet tedious weekdays leave us no time for slow thought out of which wisdom is distilled. The arguments between husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends, our worries about the uncertainties of future, the unmentionable peer pressure, all these futilities contribute to our days because the herd mentality condemns silent immobility. Such degree of solitude, however, is impossible if we refuse to learn how to be alone. People say metropolises are full of lonely souls. We are lonely not because loneliness is desirable, but because we are deprived of the right to do whatever we want. Before we understand the value of being alone, most of the minutes of our days will still be largely given to futile bustle.

W

12 comments:

  1. An excellent post William. As someone recently retired (at the age of 46) and with a wife running around the world for various reasons I have plenty of time to enjoy being alone. It's great to be able to start to catch up on all the many books that I wished I'd had time to read over the last 25 years but somehow never did. I'm not sure I'll ever get to the end of the list. And in the meantime, yes, telling people you just want to go and read a book for a few hours does get so very strange responses here.

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  2. Smogsblog,

    Yeah, because they think you are pretentious. By the way, 25 years is quite long. I am sure you have a long reading list!

    W

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  3. As someone who has just recently become a part of the rat race life that defines HK, your post came as a reminder for me to take things less seriously, and to give myself more downtime.

    Oh, what reading list? I call it a good night if I can finish a chapter of fiction before a (short) sleep in.

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  4. and it's quite embarrassing for a lady to eat alone (which i enjoy so much in good weather), not to mention with a book. people can't help eyeing you and your book cover. now i always wrap a book with paper to concentrate.

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  5. You are what you read, I say be brave and be seen what you are reading. I usually read stuff I am embarrassed at home instead of outside like on the bus or mass transit. I think reading in public is cool but it's just hard not cross the line of being pretentious especially if the title just screams pretentious intellectual wannabe. At the same time you don't want to be seen reading some book by some semi-illiterate starlet who just want to pretend to be a writer. I guess what I am trying to say is picking the right book to be seen in public can be tricky.

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  6. Simple solution -- don't be embarrassed by what you read. When did reading drop below the NDS/PSP on the pecking order, anyway?

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  7. Thank you anon 21:12
    I guess I am just not so self assured. In the pecking order of things, you think playing NDS is better than PSP or the other way round? Is it OKAY to play pirated game card in public? I know people are quietly judging each other, so I feel tremendously pressured to do or read the right thing in public. Thank you.

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  8. This is getting so 4chan here! The Anonymous!

    Have fun!

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  9. i love anon discussion! it's getting vigorous here.

    picking the right book to be seen...that's distracting itself!

    i always want to try Anna Karenina and Victoria Beckham's autobio, seriously.

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  10. I promise myself when I retire I will read In Search of Lost Time...

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  11. Vigorous is my middle name.
    Anna Karenina while putting you to sleep can double up as a pillow while Posh spice autobiography can be used, in a pinch, as toilet paper. Good choice. I promise I will buy all volumes of In Search of Lost Time and put them on my bookshelf so people know how hardcore pretentious I am. It's a done deal once you have them on the shelf. Granted you can never finish them or know what the hell they are talking about. I think for now I will stick with posh spice autobiography ...

    One of the reasons I don't like Kindle kind of ebook reader, in addtion to the fact that I could never afford one, it's you can't really broadcast your good taste of reading easily in public space and certainly can't use it to wipe your ass.

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  12. The "Kindle" comment endorsed!

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