Hong Kong for the armchair traveler

I recently had the good fortune to travel to Hong Kong, so I spent a little time leading up to my trip looking for books set in this unique location. Here are some great choices:

This collection of short stories was written by an American who taught English in Hong Kong just after it was returned to China. This unique time and perspective were captured beautifully in the seven stories, mostly about people who were newcomers to Hong Kong or there temporarily. My favorite story in the collection is “The American Girl,” in which an American graduate student regularly visits a blind man to read to him. She is doing research on how people adapt after surviving trauma, and eventually gets the man to open up long-buried memories. The stories all have a quiet feel, the writing clean and simple despite the powerful imagery and turmoil contained within them.

In the 1950s Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong with her new husband Martin and is hired as a piano teacher for the Chen family. She soon meets and begins an affair with their chauffeur, Will Truesdale. Ten years earlier, when World War II first touched Hong Hong, Will was newly-arrived and in a relationship with a notorious socialite who forged alliances with the enemy while Will was contained in an internment camp. Long-buried secrets about this time begin to surface, and Claire finds herself in the midst of a crisis that has been building up for a decade. This interesting historical time is captured beautifully through the deeply flawed, but incredibly compelling, characters. The audiobook version is well worth listening to.

In 1952, when he was just 7 years old, Martin moved with his family from England to Hong Kong, where his father was to be posted for 3 years. Martin quickly took to Hong Kong and its people, learning basic Cantonese, eating whatever was offered to him, and exploring even the more dangerous and seedy areas of the city. The sights, smells, and tastes of Hong Kong are detailed and tangible in this slice-of-life memoir. If you enjoy books with a strong sense of place, or are just interested in travel and other cultures, you will find this book as appealing as I did.

If you’re more inclined towards a movie, try something from director Wong Kar Wai – I especially recommend the gorgeous and sensual In the Mood for Love. The strains of the soundtrack will stay in your head for days.

Do you have any recommendations for books or films with a strong sense of place? Share them below in the comments, and let us know what you think of these suggestions.
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