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Back From the Republic June 25, 2004

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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Our co-worker Luke said Hong Kong wouldn’t know what hit it after Dorothy and I blew through the island and the mainland over the course of these past four days. I can’t quite determine the final verdict yet, but I have to say that Hong Kong put up a good fight against us. I’m back in my apartment in Japan now, vaguely unpacked but still dizzy from the unreality of whirlwind travel. Tonight would have been a good night to lie down on my futon and take it all in: the excess of food and the lack of sleep, the fact that just yesterday afternoon I was riding on the top of a double-decker bus that careened toward Repulse Bay and Stanley Market on a bed of green mountains and oceanside cliffs, the fact that I was really there and those Hong Kong stamps on my passport aren’t accidents or imaginative embellishments. Just because I didn’t stop to journal about it, just because I didn’t read a page of Ulysses over the whole four days, just because I spent more time talking and laughing and eating Western food … doesn’t mean it wasn’t me. I’ve got the pictorial evidence still stuffed into a memory card in the digital camera in the backpack I borrowed from Kristy, burrowed in with Ulysses and my fat journal and some Dar Williams CDs. The usual trappings of Vacations With L. I didn’t use any of it.

I think Ngo was more excited by the “50 Hottest Bachelors” edition of People magazine I surprised her with than by the other gifts I got her: an incense set and some Cantonese DVDs she asked for. Perhaps I don’t blame her. Hong Kong left Dorothy and me with just enough of a taste of Western culture that we started to miss it more than ever. Japan lets you forget you ever knew such things as tacos and English bookstores and Old Navy. Hong Kong gives you a little of each one, with a dash of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream on the side. Last night we were eating bruschetta and proper American-size portions of pasta, and this morning we were buying the Asian edition of Time and the British Cosmopolitan at a W.H. Smith bookseller at the Hong Kong airport, where there may as well have been a physical line drawn down the middle of the bookstore: English books here, Chinese books there.

All food and literature aside, it was still impossible to forget we were in Asia. I should write about the night we went trotting optimistically to Causeway Bay from our hotel, thinking we’d find pleasant upscale urban scenery along the way. Instead we were met with the feeling that we were on the back streets of a mid-size southeast Asian non-capital city. Dripping plastic awnings and shoe repair shops and fruit stands run by hunchbacked women. Legless men propped up against the rusty metal doors of key duplicating services. Lines at the bus stops ran all the way down one edge of the sidewalk, forcing us in our dresses and heels to squeeze into the gutters to pass people. When we finally made it to Causeway Bay, we found little more than clothing stores we couldn’t afford, the same chain restaurants we’d been seeing all day, and the biggest Harry Potter movie poster you could imagine. It reminded us of Shibuya in Tokyo, right down to the pack-’em-in crosswalks that create a piece of performance art every few minutes, a big scurrying X of people replayed with every light cycle. We didn’t need to see it again. We turned around to go back to Wan Chai, where our hotel was, where the massive space station-like convention center is, where the reliable nightlife is, and where we should have stayed in the first place. We ducked into a 7-11 to ask which bus to take, but the clerk was unresponsive even after we bought two sticky, lukewarm bottles of fruit juice.

We walked back. On the way, a taxi slowed down on Hennessey Road so that its passenger could make sucking noises at us. “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look,” Dorothy said.

I stared down at my shoes. Dorothy’s shoes. Black, fake leather, two-inch platforms, from a market in Malaysia. They were a size too big for me and were giving me awful rub marks on the tops of my feet.

skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island

skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island

We were relieved to get back to Wan Chai, where we ducked into an open-air bar called Chinatown. The waitresses wore silk dresses and distributed bowls of salted peanuts to every table. I ordered a mai tai (the weekly special. Half price. I’m cheap) and Dorothy ordered a cosmopolitan. We listened to “One Toke Over the Line” on the sound system and watched some chunky Australian businessmen drink British beer. It should go without saying that we felt utterly displaced, but it should not go without saying that such a feeling isn’t a bad thing to experience. Occasionally.

Must go to bed. I’ve been up since 5:25 AM Hong Kong time, and at 11 PM Tokyo time I decided it was a good time for a 45-minute run. So, yeah, I’m rather tired. In the morning, I’ll discuss the loveliest bus ride ever, Hong Kong markets, Western tourists that didn’t make me miss America, probably some more about food, and theories into whether or not I’m a superwoman, or perhaps where and when I can become one.

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