Heavy Daze in Hong Kong

I had about a thousand word article written for this blog but unfortunately the dreaded cybergobbler devoured it. Not sure how I managed this but I was trying to free up space and deleted it accidentally. I had a local copy on my iPad and not my Dropbox and deleted this. Damn. A great tragedy for literature, no doubt.

It’s coming to the end of my second month in Hong Kong and it feels like I’ve been here forever. What a place! I did some research before I came and spoke with people who had lived in HK but nothing prepared me for the experience of actually being here.

I arrived from Chiang Mai in Thailand at the beginning of August in an Asian version of RyanAir. Uneventful flight. I arrived in Hong Kong at around midnight and was through immigration and picked up my baggage in around 30mins. A guy from work, Dave, an American, met me at the airport and brought me to my apartment. The apartment was called a ‘loft studio’ and looked fab on the website, all cool and mod. The reality was a little bit different. It was on the third floor of a Hong Kong ‘walk up’. This meant that there was no lift and a narrow stairs up which I had to drag my 30kg plus bag. Did I mention it was hot? Byjesus, was it hot; and clammy too. But, up the stairs I got my bag, with some particular Irish curses and sweat.

The ‘studio apartment’ was essentially a bedsit with a little kitchen on one end and an separate loo cum shower room. It was actually fine but tiny. The air conditioning was mighty though and very welcome after a long hike around the hot streets of Hong Kong. It was in the Shueng Wan area, very close to central HK. It wasn’t one of the super modern buildings of HK but an older building, maybe 30-40 years old but refurbished to a modern style. It cost HK$16,500 a month, about €1,900 or £1,400. A ferocious amount of money for such a tiny and not so fancy place but about the norm here in Hong Kong. Luckily, the firm paid for the first month.

I unpacked a bit and got my bearings. It was now about 2 in the morning and I was feeling a bit tired. I was also very thirsty as well and not too keen to drink from the tap as the water had a very strong smell of chlorine. I walked down to a 7-Eleven, a chain of convenience stores all over Asia, they sell everything. I bought a huge bottle of water and a few pot noodles for breakfast. Pot noodles are very popular over here and come in a large range of size and flavours. I guzzled over a litre of water, went to bed and slept the sleep of the just. Or should that be the damned. Could never figure that one out.

The next morning, at around noon, I met with some of the guys from work for brunch at a ‘famous’ all-day breakfast place. I had a full English with all the works. Lubbelydubbely.

It was about a 15min walk to the cafe and halfway there I thought I’d melt, it was so hot. Really hot and with very high humidity. My shirt was drenched with sweat in a few minutes. With grateful schadenfreude, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one pink of face and damp of armpit. A lot of people looked flustered. As this was my first trip out in HK, I just assumed that this was how people looked her all the time.

As it turned out, the day was the hottest ever recorded in Hong Kong since records began over 150 years ago. A typhoon off the coast of Japan was the culprit, apparently. I was relieved that it wouldn’t be like this everyday.

imageTalking about shirts, I bought four ‘technical’ shirts before I left Dublin. Three short-sleeved and one long- sleeved. The short-sleeved one were very colourful and all are supposed to be designed for a tropical climate. They cost €60 each and were reduced from €120. I bought them hoping that they would be half as good as they said they would be. They weren’t. They were twice as good. Sweat and high humidity is not a good combination for clothes and most of my shirts get a wee bit whiffy after a few days. Especially if they’re stored in a dark wardrobe. Cotton and linen shirts also look terrible when they’re soaked through with sweat. This is especially true when you buy shirts a little on the large side to hide the side of yourself that is a little on the large side. Guilty, m’lud. Then there’s the hassle of washing when on the road and waiting to dry and then they’re a bag of creases and make you look like you’re homeless.

These technical shirts don’t do any of that. I wore two of them for almost a month, alternating each day, and they smelled as fresh on the last day as they did on the first. When I did wash them, they came out of the machine without creases and almost bone dry. Best of all, when wet, they drape gracefully, and gratefully, rather than cling. An important consideration. Also, they wick most of the sweat away so it evaporates. They have an anti mozzie screen built as well in so the little bastards can’t bite through the shirt. And they have a SPF50 so I don’t get burnt. They have lots of clever hidden vents to help airflow and prevent the buildup of heat. And so on.

I was wrong about people being flustered all the time here. That’s not the case at all. Generally, it’s the westerners who hustle and bustle about with angry or worried looks on their faces. The Chinese are chilled. They meander about and get to where they’re going with a minimum, it seems to me, of fuss and bother. There’s a lot of people here in Hong Kong, a hell of a lot of people. At rush hour, it’s unbelievable. You’d wonder how all the opposing hordes of people would get past each other. Yet, they seem to and without the aggression and tutting usual in Dublin or London or other western cities where large groups of people are trying to get past each other. This is even more remarkable given the fact that about 90% of the population are zombies. Cell phone zombies, that is. It’s gas seeing people walk down the street with their huge smartphones gripped in their hands and busily texting away. And do you know what the most amazing thing is? They never bump into you. I don’t know how they manage it but at the last moment they glance up and gracefully move their bodies around at the hips so there’s no crash. I’m impressed. I think the only people who have bumped into me are westerners and the occasional Japanese tourist.

I hear expats constantly bemoaning the fact that Chinese people are rude. Forgetting for the moment that I suspect that these comments come from a nasty colonial racialist attitude and that expats are not my favourite sort of people but I guess that for someone to be rude, there must be an intention to be rude or the thought that my needs are more important than yours and of course, it’s complimentary thought, that your rights are less important than mine. Therefor, I’ll push past you at a queue or cut across you when we’re crossing the road etc. If this were the case then the recipient of such behaviour would be within their rights to experience a rush of outrage and think that the other person is very rude. All basic human communication 101, boys and girls.

I haven’t seen this happen in China. People here come from a radically different history and culture to ours and their social mores have evolved differently. What I can perceive to be rude is rarely so. The rudeness is in my head and has little to do with the here-and-now and a lot to do with the there-and-then, probably essential psychological needs not met within the first few years of my life and giving rise to increasingly unmeetable expectations which will increasing never be met combined with an increasing desperation to have that need met or acknowledged. That cataclysmic trauma, in infant terms, is still frozen in unexpressed outrage and desperate need to express that outrage. It frequently translates as rage in the adult.

So, when a tired Chinese person, on their way home from work or rushing to get lunch, brushes past me with a different personal space bubble perception to mine, the old thought forms in my head that they’re being rude quickly followed by thoughts of ‘they think I’m nothing’, ‘they think I’m not important’, ‘they don’t like’ me etc etc etc. Take your pick. There’s a lot of choice! Except that I don’t really think that anymore. I learned a lot in Thailand about yielding and not getting hot under the collar, never a good idea in the tropics. Now, I think ‘Just yield and keep smiling’. Works wonders and allows me the freedom to be and to remain in places of noise and confusion and alienness without getting reactive. I think I have a better experience of China doing this because I am unnoticeable. I have seen many expats and tourist consumed with a sense of entitlement and tribal exceptionalism who don’t get this and act like, as our American friends might say, assholes. I long to bury my boot in their holes. Except that would be rude!

I was looking out the window of my studio flat and I noticed an old man in a flat on the other side of the street trying to hang a towel on his window grill. He seemed very feeble and every time he hung it up, it would fall down. He spent hours doing this and each time it fell down. Occasionally, it would stay put and then all I would see were two ancient gnarled hands poking out from underneath the towel, resting on the window sill and trembling. I don’t know why but this disturbed and distressed me greatly. I knew nothing about this man but imagined he was in his 80s and like most people in Hong Kong, he was possibly a refugee from the mainland. The gods know what suffering this poor man had seen. Maybe it’s my own fear of growing old and being lonely, a thought that inhabits the darker reassesses of my mind more frequently than it ought. There’s a Buddhist expression I cannot remember for the near enemy of compassion; it’s translated as horrified fascination. Maybe that’s what it is. All about me!

imageHong Kong is built on the side of a mountain so there are lots of hills and even more steps. They carve a bit out of the mountai and plonk a street on it and then carve a bit higher up and build another street on that. They join all the carved bits with steep steps. In the posher areas they have escalators that join up the levels but most areas use lots and lots of steps. I thought I would struggle with the steps as my knees are a bit knackered and my legs not strong due a lifelong evangelical avoidance of any form of sport. Or so I thought. When i arrived back from London almost 2 years ago, I brought a pushbike back with me. I used it nearly everyday while living in Dublin and just before I left, I was regularly doing 50km runs, a lot for me. All that exercise really developed by leg muscles so I bound up the steps of Hong Kong little a little round gazelle. I generally trot just to feel the pleasure of muscles that work well. I love passing people by who are half my age and struggling. Mean, I know, but not nasty, so it’s ok!

That’s it for the time being. Now that I’m back in the swing of writing again, I’ll get another blog off in a few days. I meant to write something about the terrible air pollution in China, hence the title Heavy Daze in HK, but forgot. Maybe the smog has chewed a lump out of my memory neural synapses.

More soon about being gay in China, fine tunes played on old fiddles, skinny muscular Chinese guys and bouncy mattresses. They are all connected, believe me!

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