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Holiday in a Burning City

Allyson Ye

CAS for Database

Hong Kong, China

Chinese International School

Creative Nonfiction

            Welcome to Hong Kong!

            The pavement is your runway. Buildings gallop to the clouds, announcing your arrival to the heavens. Mornings, you sail through cool, perfumed malls; shopping bags sway on each arm, awhirl with thumb-sized delicacies, crystal jewelry, designer clothing, paraphernalia of the everyday visitant. (Occasionally, your eyes flit by the stooped old woman scavenging cardboard from the sidewalk, the hollow-eyed beggar kneeling in day-old debris. You waver, but walk on.)

            Afternoons, you go sightseeing—the four-block radius of your hotel offers a comprehensive cultural experience, after all. Between slabs of glass and steel, a sliver of local tenement sags against bamboo scaffolding, eyes shuttered, carved with paint-peel tears, as if in endless wait for a long-departed lover. Ah, romance! You snap a few shots of the lovelorn edifice (cage home. House, hell, prison cell, where the shallow-pocketed fold into silent corners, elbow to elbow, steeped in the smell of tear gas, the heat of sardined flesh, the weight of desperation heard but unheeded: All I ask for is a soft place to land. Enough space to stand. The warmth of a helping—)

            Evenings, you dine on your hotel balcony because the nightly light show across the harbor is unmissable. You lift the champagne glass by its brittle neck and wring liquid gold into your mouth. Before your eyes, the skyline erupts, dousing the clouds in neon and turning the stars to ashbehold, city afire! (The flames whittle skin into bone, but from afar flash like rubies). Flyspecks of black-clad people roil through the streets, swarming the night with echoes of wonder (shouts of fury). You lean from the wrought-iron rail to feast on the display. (And in your oblivion, you feed the very flames you expect the world to extinguish.)


In “Holiday in a Burning City,” prepare to be swept into a Hong Kong splashed in dramatic contrasts, from the superficial glamour of tourism to the desperation of poverty. Two starkly different perspectives on the same holiday scene are intertwined throughout the piece, both equally rich and raw. The author expertly and artfully peels back the curtain on vast inequality in an urban setting, ending on a biting note that urges the reader to examine the ways in which we, too, might be “[feeding] the very flames” that we “expect the world to extinguish.”

Editorial Praise from Beth Kohl, CNF Judge:

The author skillfully uses the language of travel boosterism. There is an energy to the piece, the way that gleaming surfaces interplay with shadows, the author drawing an adept contrast between a fantasy metropolis and the harsh truth of Hong Kong’s underbelly. Their choice of format, parentheticals undermining the rah rah main ideas, reinforces themes around acknowledging the existence of a subterranean and ugly reality.

Allyson is a sixteen-year-old aspiring author from Hong Kong, whose passion was born from having way too many imaginary friends as a child. Aside from writing and gushing over her characters, she enjoys acapella, palm-reading, and JustDance.


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