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Lindsay Varty, a professional rugby player proudly playing for her home city and author who penned Sunset Survivors, tells us what she missed about inimitable Hong Kong and her love for the city. She shares what inspired her return, what continues to inspire her love for her homeland every day, and the importance of preserving its past.
Growing up with an eclectic mix of Western and local cultures, courtesy of a Macanese mother and British father who spent most of his life in Hong Kong, English was the Varty family’s language of choice at home. Varty’s mother was always keen on the kids using Cantonese whenever possible, such as becoming familiar with “the names of fruits and vegetables and meats” in the wet markets. As much as her family reminded her to get to know local people, Varty confesses that “it was really the rugby girls that taught me Chinese” when she picked up the sport at age 12.
Spending her university years in the UK, Varty came back to Hong Kong every holiday because she felt homesick for the city. Upon graduation, she made a beeline back home and felt a sense of loss when some of the local, cultural things her mother had advocated for her to learn and love slowly disappeared from the city.
In particular, she remembers walking past the same man every day while on the way to work, a vendor stationed at the bottom of Lan Kwai Fong who sells small white flowers. “They’re $10 a flower for your top pocket, you know?” she laughs. “And every day, my dad would buy one and I would see the flower in his pocket.
“One day, my dad came home and there was no flower in his pocket, and when I walked down the next day, the man was gone and I never ever saw him again. It made me realise these people are passing away and nobody is replacing them. I discovered a whole bunch of people like him that would never be replaced, that would take a slice of Hong Kong culture with them when they pass.”
Varty knew she had “to pay a tribute to these old shops and these old traditional industries before they are gone forever.” An important way of ensuring the survival of traditions is for new generations to take up the mantel of local businesses and craftsmanships — something Varty appreciates and plans to encourage. Thus, her work on Sunset Survivors began, celebrating master craftsmen and artisans, and their contribution to Hong Kong culture and history.
For a born-and-bred local like Varty, “Being a Hongkonger is so much more than what you look like. I think Hong Kong is really in your heart.” Her sentiment and attachment to the city shines through in the quirky little things unique to the city, such as “knowing that there’s 19 beeps on the MTR before the doors close, knowing that sound of a taxi when it comes down the road.” Home is also when “I come up the stairs and I hear that clatter of mahjong tiles, that’s home for me. All these little sounds and smells of Hong Kong.”