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Chess players

In the three years I’ve lived in this neighbourhood of Hong Kong, I have often noticed them: two greying men, fifty or sixty-something, playing Chinese chess on a foldable table and chairs, right at the entrance of a back alley close to my home. They would be there every evening when I came back from work, sometimes until late into the night — 11pm, midnight, 2am… Just playing chess, sometimes with a third man watching them, sometimes not. Together, they had an air of old Hong Kong, in their dark (but clean) alley, with their faded paper chessboard and their rusted table, repainted dark green many times over. Often, I thought I should talk to them, ask them who they were, how long they’d been playing together, why they enjoyed it so much. I wanted to take a few pictures of them afterwards, black and white presumably, showing them sitting in this tiny slit of a street, between shops and half-broken neon signs.

But I never dared.

And this week, walking past the same alley, I discovered that the entire block had been walled over, to be demolished in coming months and replaced with a gleaming new tower — offices, most likely.

The players have disappeared, and I feel sadness and regret. I should have started that discussion, taken that picture.

Now it’s too late.

Never stop being curious. When you have a question, just ask it.