When I was little, I could not distinguish between Horlicks and Ovaltine. The names of both drinks seemed very foreign to me. I always had to ask the waiter if Horlicks is the brown drink or the white milky one before I could place my order. There is a yinyeung for kids version that mixes Horlicks and Ovaltine. I never like it. The drink I like tastes like a watered down version of cocoa. I grew up and I continue to mix up Horlicks and Ovaltine, but I remember the colors of those wall posters of the drinks well. I generally prefer blue over orange and the drink in blue posters is the one I like.
THIS SERIES CAME OUT of memory and an interest in the arbitrariness of signs and symbols one uses to identity with ‘home.’ These cafes are magical places to me as much as to most Hong Kong citizens as a daily reminder of the city’s colonial past through taste and through its unique combination of the interior decor or of the objects on the tabletops. As Hong Kong enters the third decade of its transition from a British colony to a new Chinese city since the 1997 Transfer of Sovereignty, its unique culture and these cafes are disappearing at an accelerating rate. In New York, I found many ‘Hong Kong Cafes’ in Chinatown that mimics the original ones but these replicates – for those who grew up with the actual cafes – only fulfill as a simulation. The menus look familiar, the drinks taste identical. Yet the brands of food products at the counter, the decorative motif of the plates, the choice of plasticwares are always slightly off from the originals. It is hard to decide whether my visits at these cafes in foreign Chinatowns are bringing me closer to or further away from home. I built my models with the aftertaste and my conflicted feelings. This series attempts to speak to a symptom of the generation of international residents: the dual capability of being at home and of belonging to another place distant in time and space brought by our power of cultural replication. Maybe in the future, with technology and other progressions, we could no longer feel completely at home anywhere.
I created the images with a life-size architectural model I built with paper and foam-core. The components, or interior furnishings, are based on my own photographs of actual cafes. Each model combines a number of different cafes, a collection of symbols and the collective memories of a local community into a single representation. I want to say thank you to friends in Hong Kong who shared with me their thoughts and feelings of their regular cafes.