Life Is Elsewhere

Xu sit in the littery shop, with a cigarette burning between his fingers. Photo:Evita Li

HONG KONG–A man held an electric welding, noisily and dazzlingly, with his back to the road, a cigarette burning between his lips. Wearing grey Ralph Lauren t-shirt, collar distorted and a pair of gloves, full of black stains, he worked with ease and concentration, staying still. Only summer wind kept teasing his hair, grey and messy.

This is a Saturday night of the well-known Hong Ham Wreath Street, a place people would visit only when someone they know died. Neon light shining down, no one was passing.

Xu Bo, 55, came to Hong Kong in 2003 from a small town in northeast China which is near North Korean, after marrying to a Hong Kong woman. Together with his wife, he is now running a wreath shop of 10 square meters, flowers scattering around, tools and cooking utensils mixed up meanwhile well-decorated store stands across the street.

Xu manufactured floral wreath for the funeral, dealing with death every day. Fifty-five years old, working 10 hours a day, Xu said: “I am exhausted but I can’t afford hiring an extra hand.” The rent and labor cost rises meanwhile his energy and health decreases. Wreath sellers normally do not deal with customers directly. Coffin sellers obtain the custom resources and distribute package business. Neck ache, thus is the only one that visits frequently.

Born in 1957, Xu grew up in a turbulent era when the bloody Cultural Revolution started. Just like all the enthusiastic young men who deeply worshiped Mao Zedong in 1970s, he worked in the countryside as a “sent-down educated youth” for several years.

With a faint smile, he said “I d­­idn’t get any benefits from my country while I served my entire youth for it”. In 1983, when the “Reforming and Opening” policy swept mainland China, Xu lost his job as a manager in a state-owned department store.

Xu divorced his first wife after 23 years marriage. His son, 31, works as a doctor in that small city. “He doesn’t want to come to Hong Kong, holding on to that poor salary.” Xu said, and refused to talk more about his family in China. “It’s all gone and I don’t want to look back.” He lighted another Marlboro.

“Life is about choices. I do want to go back to my hometown but I have no other choice but to stay here”, Xu paused and looked in blank, taking a deep breath with Marlboro cigarette in his mouth.

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One thought on “Life Is Elsewhere

  1. Robin 19/12/2012 at 11:37 Reply

    great subject for a profile! I’d love to know more about the wreaths he makes and the actual process. what’s special about them?

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