The Boy From Po Toi

Echoes of a ghost?  Of the future?  Of the past?

There is a feeling of perplexity.  I’m no longer standing in the conference room on the top floor of a skyscraper.  There are no floor-to-ceiling windows with Hong Kong harbor far below.  And my Armani suit?  Transformed into what appears to be rags.     

There is panic, but also familiarity.  I look down at my hands holding huge buckets of supplies, filled to the brim; shocked to learn I can hold so much.  My first instinct is to drop the buckets, must be too heavy but the weight is electric. My arms and shoulders are full of life.

I let out a lighthearted sigh. I’m not sure what I am doing but it feels right.

Beside me, the sea glimmers with life while the sun prepares for another colorful dive to end the day. I’d like nothing better than to sit peacefully and watch her.  How is it I am here?

I recognize this world.  This body.  My blood, powered by a slow heartbeat flowing briskly with purpose.  I lift a bucket up towards my face without effort, ignoring the pungent fish odor.  The power of my arms makes me smile.  Damn, I feel good.   Am I dreaming?

The smell of the sea vanishes, replaced by the scent of the exotic. My heart races.  Ms. Laura walks my way, pausing as she looks at my hands ~ ha, perhaps it’s my powerful arms?  She blushes, smiles, and quickly looks away.

Her dress, beautiful and modest, does not belong here. We are a fishing village; well-worn clothes are all we own.  It finally dawns on me.  This is no dream.  I am a man of the sea, she is not.  I speak the Hakka dialect, a little Cantonese, and zero English.

“Did you enjoy class today?”  Ms. Laura asks very slowly, enunciating every syllable, her British accent snaps me to attention.

My mind spins with answers.  I understand her English words but my voice cannot be found. With a red face, I spew out a reply in my unintelligible Hakka dialect.

She laughs. “You need to study harder, or could it be you need a different teacher?!?”  I look at her in fear, a little slow getting her joke before she reassures me and puts her hand on my shoulder, resting it longer than one would consider normal.  I relax. Her touch transports me to another world.

A world where we are together, she’s my wife in total happiness. Quickly the dream fades with the chuckle from my fishing partner, Xiao Gao.  He grabs a bucket and loads it onto our skiff and without skipping a beat says, in a rough Hakka tone, “Rui-de, you’ve attended her class all year, yet you cannot speak one word of English,”  his infectious laughter inspires others to join in.

“She is so perfect…” my face still burning, I let my words trail.

Sometimes I’d like to just fly away, I think to myself. Escape into my dreams and chase the world. But then all I have to do is look around.  Everything I want is here.

My mind begins doing battle with my memory.  Somewhere, I know her.  I’ve talked with her.  I’ve been with her.  But I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection on the water and I laugh a bit at the thought.

Me.  A simple Po Toi Island boy.

The blast of the horn signals the departure of the Po Toi ferry back to Hong Kong Island and the wealthy Stanley village. We are cut off again from the outside world until its return.

Three times a week this picturesque lady arrives in Po Toi to teach English to our dwindling population. Most of my friends have already left to seek a better life.  For me, though, Po Toi is my home.

Well, the sea is my home, Po Toi the place where I have the greatest access.

Another great ending to the day.  Ms. Laura takes her position alone at the stern of the ferry and our eyes lock, my favorite part of her visits.

With the sun gently reflecting off her golden hair, framing the picture of perfection, she looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then turns back and brings her fingers to her lips and waves me goodbye.

It is a goodbye with hope.  Recognition of yuan-fen (缘分).  The moment in time where our destinies align and we become what we are meant to be.

The changing reality of what “can be” sends my heart pounding to the beat of the surf.  The world once again has meaning.  I step onto the skiff and head out to the deeper waters to chase my living.  Chase my dream.

The sea knows my soul. The sea is my soul. Nevertheless, it is possible there is something else out there for me as well. My mind and memory once again run wild to find her, to find our future.

167 Comments on “The Boy From Po Toi

  1. You have a certain gift and quality to portray and pretend, my friend.
    It’s especially unusual, too, because you always leave me wanting more,
    and I’m practically disappointed when I come to your last photograph.

    Hope you have a great Sunday! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your super-fine work! Kudos, UT

    • A perfect comment to start my weekend with ~ nothing like a good Saturday/Sunday to get the imagination flowing again. Wishing you a great weekend too UT, thank you very much!

  2. Damn, if you feel good, you make us feel good with your photojournals. You must be missing HongKong.

    • Missing Hong Kong quite a bit, I was back there in March which was just perfect. Will head back there for a quick trip in June, although temperatures now are a bit too warm. Thank you, Perpetua, for the comment ~ it feels great when I can sit down with photos and let the words flow. Cheers to a good day.

  3. A poignant reminder that while those who wander may not all be lost, those who choose to stay at home have their own set of adventures. Always get a kick out of the jewel tones of your photographs and their ability to transfigure your stories into dream worlds. Have a marvelous May wherever you are!

    • You say this so very well. Adventures can be had anywhere ~ all it takes is an open mind and heart. Being in Hong Kong this past March was a perfect time to dream about “what ifs…” One of my favorite questions I like to ask myself every now and then 🙂 Thank you, and cheers to a great day.

    • There is not a better feeling when standing on the shores with a vast ocean spread out before me 🙂 Thank you, Christy, wish you a great weekend ahead.

  4. Beautiful! We really have to visit Asia one day, the flight keeps putting me off a bit. I have a cousin that lives half the year in Thailand. For a minute I thought you were back in HK. What’s your favorite part of the world to live in? We can see the world in soul from your writing 🙂

    • Thank you very much, I like leaving a bit of my soul in the place I visit. 🙂 You really do need to visit Asia, there is so much here: history, culture, and incredible food. SE Asia is a pretty special place, even though when I am out here I am usually just in Hong Kong/China or Northern Asia. I was in HK this past March for about a month, and I’d have to say it is one of my favorite places in the world. Incredible city. So much to choose from out here, you’d love it.

    • Ha, ha, thank you, Charlotte, you’ve had quite a few incredible photos as well. Wishing you a great weekend ahead.

  5. Fantastic post, Randall. Gives a whole different perspective of Hong Kong that I’ve never seen before. It’s interesting you’ve transformed into a Hakka man in this post – my father is a HK Hakka himself. The photos were great too.

    • Wonderful comment, the life of the people who build Hong Kong into what it is today (the Hakka, Cantonese, other migrants from the mainland) is a history that fascinates me. Very cool to hear your father is a HK Hakka himself, their creativeness is one of HK’s strengths. After my first few months in HK, I finally visiting Discovery Bay and decided island life was more my style, and from there began venturing out to other outlying islands and hiking trails. HK is such a diverse city ~ and as I’ve told you before, my favorite city in the world 🙂 Cheers to a good weekend ahead.

      • I wish more people appreciated Hong Kong history like you do. It just seems that money is all a lot of people (locals and expats) think about regarding HK and it’s a shame that they overlook things like cultural diversity and history. I envy what you did and I think that is a very good way of living in HK. I do like hiking myself though I limit myself to more accessible trails, mainly for health reasons (ankle) but also admittedly laziness too.

      • It is so easy to get ‘stuck’ in the Hong Kong Island lifestyle, especially for people working there – I think I got lucky and ventured out to the islands before ‘settling’ down. I believe HK history is one of the richest histories of any city within the last few hundred years. If you are in HK again, let me know we can head out to Lamma or perhaps Po Toi 🙂 Cheers!

      • Indeed it is, whether it be the money, the partying or work. I don’t think most HKers really care about history or culture, which is hugely disappointing. That would be great, I hope I can take you up on that offer next time.

    • I like the way you think, D. Finding and getting lost in the small yet valuable pieces of life is where I think I find the most enjoyment in life. Wishing you a brilliant weekend ahead, take care.

  6. An elegant and thoughtful post Randall – always a pleasure. Love the vibrant fish photo and the white bird in flight – beautiful work.

    • The fish photo is a quintessential Hong Kong sight ~ in the alleys, along the harbor. or in fishing villages around the islands ~ it represents the people of present and past. Thank you very much, Simon, and wish you a great weekend ahead.

  7. Hong Kong — it remains a mystery to me. So many contrasts between the sea and land, city and countryside, English and Chinese, island and mainland, capitalist and communist. I look forward to seeing it.

    Another great post and a fantastic set of images, Randall. Hope your weekend is going well! 🙂

    • You’d have a field day in Hong Kong with all its history, diversity, and of course the incredible food. My guess is you’ll end up staying for a few years 🙂 Wishing you a great day and the coming week ahead, Shawn. Thank you, and best to you both.

  8. Imagination can take us to fascinating places and offers an escape from the mundane world. You’ve got a flair for taking a reader on a wonderful journey through your captivating visuals and thought provoking words. Your travel stories never fail to inspire and capture our fascination for exploring new worlds. 🙂 I’ve visited HK twice and could definitely relate with the first two visuals. And for some reason I remembered Wong Kar-Wai’s, ‘In the Mood for Love’. 🙂 Have a great week!

    • This is the one thing I think we connect with pretty well, the adventures of travel opens the mind to new ideas and cultures ~ a true sense of exploring. Hong Kong is one of the most fascinating cities I’ve ever been, and also thrilled to see you relate this post to Wong Kar-Wai’s film, ‘In the Mood for Love’ ~ just watched it a few months ago. A classic! Cheers to a great week ahead.

  9. As usual, lovely photos and an engrossing style of storytelling that takes me away from my own life for a while.

  10. Love this sweat, burden and odor
    Yet mind over matter
    Of a warm presence
    Blanketed in surrealism 🍸

    • Every now and then, a comment comes around that sums up what I’ve written even better than how I wrote it 🙂
      Love this, Kutukamus, thank you very much. “…a warm presence blanketed in surrealism”

  11. Wow! I’m speechless! Just wonderful! I love photography, but here it’s art! ❤

  12. This was perfection, pure perfection.

    You transported me into the mind of that boy from Po Toi, as you took us not only into his mind… but his heart… his yearnings and longing, and his Dreams of tomorrows and what they could be.. And that all things are possible, when we dream…

    Something all of us can relate to and I wrote a piece some time back I was toying with publishing, reading this has made up my mind, That we need to explore our deeper thoughts, and trust where they lead..

    Many thanks dear Randall, I scrolled down your post many times, re-reading your text, as I devoured not only your words, but drank in the beauty of simplicity of living, and nature’s marvellous creations. As each of your exquisite photographs helped tell the story.

    Always a delight to land here my friend, and now perhaps I dare go and post those inner thoughts of mine..

    Many thanks for being the catalyst today Randall as reading this today was a Sign… 🙂
    With great appreciation and regards
    Love and Blessings
    Sue ❤

  13. Wow! This is one hell of a story. I enjoyed every word of it. You are so talented and this post was an excellent read. Looking for more stories like this one.

  14. Hello my friend,
    Apologies for being away from the blog world. What a treat to read this latest photo story. Learning a foreign language, being “trapped” between different worlds, facing the reality, while dreaming a 1,000 dreams… I think I can relate to the protagonist of this story in many ways. Hope you are doing well, enjoying the early summer. Do let me know when you plan to be in Japan!
    All best,
    Takami

  15. There is something special and magical about Hong Kong, isn’t there. Makes you dream and long for the big city with all in its vicinity. Such a captivating story, not to mention the photos. Hope you are doing well.

  16. Randall, what a wonderfully evocative story! And splendid photos as always. You have such an uncanny ability to transport your readers into the skin of your characters. Hope you plans to compile all these into a full sized book. I’d stand in line to buy a copy 🙂

    Apologies for the belated catch-up. Was bogged down by personal issues for a while and have been using that as an excuse to procrastinate since ;/ Hope all’s well with you.

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