The first time I saw Tancrede, he was sitting on the curb in front of the 7/11 in Long Kwai Fong with the strap of a backpack in one hand and an analog camera in the other. Hong Kong has no opener container laws, which meant two things. First, Tancrede had a bottle of wine to keep him company on the curb. Second, the square in front of 7/11, popularly considered the cheapest and easiest place to purchase drinks, was bustling with people of all types: skinny-jeaned teens with American brand t-shirts, leather-skinned old men playing majong, college students from Hong Kong University, groomed expats, backpacked tourists, suited-up club promoters, short-skirted bar hoppers, beggars in monkish robes, homeless men with patched-up pants, and a smattering of other curiosities—a Day-Glo raver, a lady painting a picture of a brick wall, and a woman wearing a giant Hello Kitty head, handing out art museum pamphlets to passers-by.
People filtered in and out of the 7/11. Businessmen brushed shoulders with partygoers, young people with old, locals with foreigners. Tancrede stayed put, absorbing the energy from his seat on the curb. Whenever an interesting character walked by, Tancrede would snap a picture. People stopped by and talked to him—as the night wore on, his visitors became more frequent. But beyond that, Tancrede never once got up. When I spoke with him, I learned that he was a French student taking a gap year to travel the Far East on his own.
“When you travel with friends, you have to talk to them,” he said. “When you travel alone, you watch others.”
In just three months I will be departing for a semester abroad in Tancrede’s hometown of Paris. As I live more or less alone in a foreign city, I hope that I can approach my experience with something approaching Tancrede’s Zen — watching, waiting, observing, immersing and, bit by bit, understanding.