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May 14 2020

Valentine: Return to Paradise

by Peter Chung
Fortune Swimming Club.
Fortune Swimming Club.
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At the secluded edge of Hong Kong Island is a stony ruin populated by gods and aged swimmers. Here, at the end of the world, marine life flows in cataclysmic currents, and trade winds roar under the watchful gazes of divine beings.

God is a squid.
God is a squid.
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In this dark age of paranoia and information overload, many of us are in search of utopia. We look toward virtual realms, to sourdough and local farms, and to our forgotten inner selves. At the foot of a public estate, the old men of the Fortune Swimming Club have long been accustomed to this stylish mode of living. Each morning, they gather driftwood and seafood, and have a sun-lit lunch with scotch on the rocks. Blissed-out with boredom, they play perpetual card games in which nothing is ever accomplished. Time is an illusion in the confines of an old shack.

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Bliss to the spirit.
Bliss to the spirit.
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Still, this new horizon is far from an untouched one. The blasted landscape is haunted by history; it was once a rendezvous point for colonists and was an Allied bunker in the Battle of Hong Kong. A ruinous World War II pillbox sits by a waterfall while polyfoam and garbage plummet from a residential complex above. The waste floats all the way over to the South China Sea, where cargo ships serving global trade routes remind us of our collapsing system. As society struggles with healing itself, we face the damages that we’ve done and the relationships that we’ve broken. Can they even be reconciled? Are we the virus?

A swarm of bees nested between the Goddesses of Mercy.
A swarm of bees nested between the Goddesses of Mercy; we are millions and millions are one.
A swarm of bees nested between the Goddesses of Mercy; we are millions and millions are one.
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It’s against traditional Cantonese beliefs to dispose of a broken or unwanted statue of a deity. With the city’s rent soaring to peaks higher than even the gods can reach, however, rumor is a retired butcher rescued the abandoned figurines and put them here among bamboos and lilies. Worn by sea spray, the particolored collection has now merged with the concrete slopes. Believers offer incense and clean the porcelain by hand with love. In the face of planetary-scale uncertainty, we return to forgotten rituals and old ways of living—to touch the world and experience the glory of God. Is this what escape feels like?

Spiritual freedom
Spiritual freedom

As isolated dreamers imagine reality anew, old states and Big Tech march on without mercy. The construction of a communal Eden sounds ever so wondrous, but it remains to be seen whether our exodus is truly revolutionary. Perhaps the style of faith is more important than its effect. In troubled waters, the swimmer glides gracefully without actual motion.

“Valentine” is a biweekly project by ArtAsiaPacific’s photo editor, Peter Chung, in which he gives a loving eulogy to each day.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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