A Russian in Hong Kong

The beginning of the story looked something like this.

The beginning of the story looked something like this.

I met a girl, European. Maybe Russian, I couldn’t be sure.
She was arguing politely with customer service
About the price deductions on her octopus card
I was next to her, waiting to top up my own.

Eventually, she understood, and apologized for making me wait.
‘Oh it’s fine, it was interesting’ – I responded with reflexive social automation.
At this point I looked away from her. Acknowledging me makes me blind.
She explained the situation in detail, none of which I understood
Or listened to, I suppose they’re one of the same.
‘Ah yes, this subway is a little different to the ones in other cities’

The man looked at my card and money, declared ‘minimum 50’
‘Oh, let me just go to the ATM then’ I responded in miniscule panic
(From being confronted)
‘Such as that, for example’ I sneered jokingly at the European girl.
She probably smiled or made some kind of jocular sound.

As I walked the other way ‘Have a good trip’ she advised.
I muttered something, half looking back, something polite.
She would never know.
That’s how I roll.

But suddenly, I realized. I’m alone for the day, I had no plans.
I called her, caught up with her. I asked where she was going.
I asked to go with her. She said sure.
Introductions began.

We went to Causeway Bay, on the blue line we were already on.
We talked. All day, all night.
I had opportunities to have a good look at her during this time.
She was tall, not much shorter than my 6 foot build.
Maybe 3 inches shorter.
She was that sort of natural blonde that is a common generalization of Europeans.
She was Russian. I showed off my language skills.
I have studied lightly for months.
She was impressed and I was happy about that.
She had soft skin, and a soft voice. Exotic and delicate.
She had good fashion, with jeans and an interesting top of which I forget the details.
She was fascinating, perfect and made me consider a totally different,
Spontaneous
Life change.

Well, it turned out she had a hotel with two beds and offered to share the cost.
I agreed, but we only used one bed.
I argued the next day that the contract was void since I didn’t use my allotted space.
She kept the deposit. The deposit was my soul.
We have arranged to meet again, in Europe. That is where I will go next.

 

 
Well, I would go, but the truth of this story ended at the forth stanza.

Hong Kong – What’s wrong?

You know what I don’t get? Hong Kong. I don’t get how it managed to completely fail in meeting my expectations in so many ways. Granted, it meets many other expectations, but that’s less interesting to rant about: ‘Grr, I hate how everyone speaks English and everything is open way into the night for your convenience’.

But to be honest, I don’t recall a time when I’ve felt so frustrated and angry at a place. Oh, yeah there was that one time – The last time I came to Hong Kong.

I seem to have forgotten the utter uselessness of the city and dreamed about returning, for it was one of my favourite places ever. I’m not sure how I forgot how it was one of the worst places ever.

No, that isn’t true, but seriously, what is your problem, Hong Kong? No, don’t blame Beijing, you are pretty much independent of those guys. You can only blame yourself.

What am I even talking about? Ok. Today, I was up at 7am, out of the place I was staying at 8am, on my way directly to the next place, a hotel, for 2 days.

I arrived at about 9:20. They had no record of my booking, despite showing them my passport and confirmation email, and they said to come back at 11am, and they’ll either have the room or I’ll be on my way having wasted $135. Fine, I thought. I’ll just go and find some wifi and sit there to complain about Hong Kong for a while (Although, the Hotel and internet cannot assign blame to Hong Kong, just general incompetence, the sort of thing you find in Vietnam on an hourly basis). That’s where things started to go wrong.

I also started needing to go to the toilet. Being where I was before – Couchsurfing – I hadn’t thought to use their bathroom until it was too late and I had to get going. No problem I’ll just find a café or something and it’ll have all my needs laid out for me.

For a moment, let’s pretend we’re in Korea:
*walks for 20 seconds* – Aha, a MacDonalds/Starbucks/Internet café/Café Bene/anything else. free wifi. Oh, I don’t need to walk 20 whole seconds, there’s already free wifi all over the city.
But there is a bathroom over in (desired eatery). Oh wait, there’s another bathroom a mere 5 seconds away in that building. Oh, and that building.

Basically, in Seoul, everything is infamously convenient. You cannot really be anywhere without internet, unless you go up some particularly remote mountains. Even then, of course you have 3g/4g. Toilets are by law required to be open to the public in all buildings. Any sudden desire to let loose and you’re no more than 2 minutes away from relief.

Now let’s go back to Hong Kong.  The centre of Hong Kong. In fact, I’m so central by this point, that the next subway stop is at a location named ‘Central’. So how is it, in the most densely populated city on Earth (or at least top 3) I found myself walking for 40 minutes, getting into the subway, transferring and travelling up another 20 minutes, walking again for a further 10-15 minutes to find a MacDonalds in which there is a mere 20 minutes of free Wifi and no toilet?

It’s now 11:15am. I am supposed to be back at the hotel to get my room sorted, yet here I am typing on Microsoft Word, because the free wifi doesn’t even work, and if it did, it would have ran out of its generous 20 minutes long before I managed to post this.

Going around Nepal with no internet whatsoever for the better part of a month, and holes in the ground for toilets, I can understand. It’s an undeveloped nation. This means it has to develop; you cannot lay your expectations of a modern hyper city when you’re in a village of 20 people who have never even heard of such a concept.

But Hong Kong? One of the most developed places on earth, the most openly free and economic powerhouses you can picture, cannot conjure up a public toilet or wifi access?

I’ve wasted half my day because I expected this place to be a bit easier to work with than Ho Chi Minh, a place in a country whose slogan, I decided, should be ‘Vietnam: Where nothing works’. But alas! Free wifi and toilets within a few minutes’ drive at worst there!

Not only that, but when I’ve finished failing to connect to the internet, I have to make the trip back, which means I have to pay for both the subway and a taxi. Free wifi just cost me well over US $10. I have been genuinely furious. And it’s the exact same feeling I had when I last came here.

I had a Korean phone, which, to highlight one of the flaws in Korea, doesn’t work abroad or with different SIM cards, to my dismay. So my only way to communicate with people I was to meet was via the internet.

I remember it like the devil itself is dancing in front of me with flashcards of horrible memories. I had to organize a meeting time and place exactly via the internet. How did I do that? I went to an internet café. Where was an internet café? I have no idea. I had to walk around for half a day to find a single one. From that point on, I had to travel to that exact location every time I wanted to communicate or organize various things to do during my stay. I went to ‘central’, and even asking people just created a sort of puzzled expression, as if I was wacky to think Wifi was something you actually get, and not merely read about in fantasy books.

Needless to say, things were slightly confused at points and I failed to meet people entirely, having to go BACK to the internet café, 20 minutes away via the metro, to wait for them to get online again on their non-Korean, working phones.

Another little detail: No plug sockets. When I was trying to find one to charge my phone, I searched at the airport, and the metro stations, and the malls, and I found one, labeled ‘for staff use only’. I plugged in, and received no power whatsoever. MacDonald’s maybe? Starbucks? Wishful thinking. Korea has plugs. Vietnam has plugs. Hell, I plugged my laptop in at a restaurant in Kathmandu!

So even now, now I’m still attempting to connect to the numerous wifi’s that are unlocked and titled ‘Free wifi’ or ‘OneTwoFree’, only to find I need a password via the browser, or they just won’t connect at all, and my battery is running out, never to be charged again, perhaps when I go back to Shanghai, a city that works.

That’s right, Hong Kong. Further proof that Beijing isn’t to blame. How come it allows such conveniences in Shanghai, your direct competitor? I think I know the victor here.

Hmm, what else do I have to complain about… Oh, well there is the thing where I left my camera on a bench for 20 seconds, only to find it was gone when I returned. Something that would basically never happen in Japan, Korea or Shanghai. I guess people here still haven’t gotten their morals ironed out. It’s that British influence, I’d guess. But no, I’ll save that for the next post. That’s right, Hong Kong’s indecency deserves two whole posts by me.

I suppose I should round this off by justifying my trip here. It’s not a BAD city. It just has a lot of shit about it. It’s a very developed place.  It’s economically, structurally and socially very developed, above most cities you can imagine. Above Korea. But Korea and Shanghai are both far, far more technologically advanced. Korea, with a subway system you can barely comprehend via the intuitive map design – easily mistaken for a particularly prolific spider’s web – and touchscreens everywhere, wifi wherever you go, shiny and modern taxis complete with sat nav in each one, buses with interactive screens and live schedule updates, it’s understandable how I am reacting based on my time living there, but at the same time, Korea is a depressing place. People seem to be fading away, their souls weakened by the pressure of existence.

Here in Hong Kong, the people seem to have settled their souls in place, they are content with it and they are pushing on with energy and enthusiasm. They are drinking their coffees without a desperate pen in one hand, a large study guide full of highlighted notes on the table and tears of fear down their cheeks. There are old people who are sober, hands behind their backs doing that annoyingly slow walk they seem to do whenever their hands are behind their backs, rather than stumbling around with soju in one hand, cigarette in the other, yelling about foreigners ruining their country. Obviously this is just the image I get from observation, but to me it’s that obvious and that aura created is pretty important for a city’s image.

The buildings are impressive and beautiful, the fashion is classy and expensive, the accessibility for the disabled is consistently high – With beeping signals at every traffic light, brail with signaling sounds in every subway for help and explanations, pathways with ridges in the pavement for the blind to feel around, and slopes for wheelchairs in the majority of subways.
The weather is hot and variable. You might think that’s a bad thing, but try living in Ho Chi Minh City, or Dubai, where it is 38C and cloudlessly sunny every day for 6 months, and then, in HCMC’s case, 34C and permanently rainy for the next 6.
The people speak English very well, be they 18 or 80 years old. This will save many people’s lives when getting lost in the maze of the metropolis. Stores are open late, and late on Sundays. I’d even go as f… wait…I need the bathroom badly now. I’ll be back in 4 hours when I’ve actually found one and vomited my pure rage into the sink.

(As of posting, it’s 1:15pm. I have found wireless in a subway station (some have it, not all), where the free internet is a limited 15 minutes, and the computers with said internet don’t work. I had to get my laptop out and now I stand here like a doofus and potential theft victim whilst I try and get myself organised. Still no toilet.)

Music drafting

Last night, I woke up and spent a few minutes writing some lyrics out. I didn’t wake up particularly inspired or anything, it was just some idea and it would make me tired enough to drop off again.

I looked at them today and just before I went to bed (as in, after I write this), I created a 3 minute song out of it.

What I sometimes do is I make a very brief draft of a song that I can, if re-discovering it, re-make in a proper way later on. Right now I don’t have a microphone, so I just used my laptop built-in microphone, no tuning, mixing, fixing, so it’s just my awful voice jotting the idea down, basically.

Beneath the vocals there is a guitar doing a pre-set picking pattern that I just altered the chords and then copied and pasted, and the bass guitar just drew in simple one-note support.

This is the raw bones of a musical thought – https://app.box.com/s/unzy1027jjbktcf5dt2t

The lyrics actually have another verse, I just couldn’t be arsed to put it in, there wasn’t enough development to keep it interesting for that long, but the lyrics extended are below:

On my way to the river
I see mountains, my soul mates

When the mountains meet the sky
When the sky meets the river
When the river meets the tributaries flowing to my heart
I’m home, I’m home

On my way back from the river
I see forest, my trusted friend

When life meets time
When yours meets mine
When the bells of the church resonate through our hearts
We’re home, we’re home

We are all trying to make sense of this fractured puzzle
                                                    (But we know we can’t without cheating)

And then it’s too late, it’s too late to get it right.
                          (And we know we can’t without finding an easier way)

On the way to the place where I belong
I see myself, my best friend

When I meet mine
And the sky feels aligned
and the aura of the stars settle in the central part
I’m home, I’m home

On the way from anywhere else
I see you, my future

When altruism meets truth
When truth meets life
When life meets a reflection in the river to your heart
You’re home, you’re home

We are all trying to make sense of this fractured puzzle
But we know we can’t without waiting
And we know we can do it by looking at ourselves
And then   it’s fate, it’s fate, it’s fate

———

As you can tell, lyrics were never my strong point.
And no, I don’t really know what it means, your guess is as accurate as mine. Something about home, maybe.

Himalayas

Recently I became a published author.

In a book of travels, there are ten short stories written by maybe 6 people. I haven’t counted because I don’t care enough, but I am one of them.

I wrote 10,000 words. half on the driving experience in Vietnam, and the other half on… well it was something about the Himalayas, I don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure it was interesting, since they chose me from a large list of applicants, and now I get to earn about $1 a year from sales.

Anyway, what little memory I have of the Himalayan writing was that how it will affect my life, and I can tell now, 9-10 months later, that I was totally right. Not a day has passed where I haven’t had emotional flashbacks of my time up in those Annapurna mountains.
Even just single-second flashes, they affect me even so.

Today the main theme of the flashback was a location where most trekkers choose to rest for a day and clean up etc, about 2 weeks – or halfway – into the trek (If you do the full month trek, which apparently not many do). They choose it because it is the most ‘developed’. It has a ‘sauna’, restaurants and even a sorrowful excuse for an internet connection. I was hugely impressed by this but it kind of falls flat when you get half the day without power, and internet that takes 20 minutes to load Google.

But the flashback resides on the roof of the LUXURY hotel we stayed at just for one night, since we had our rest day in another location called Kagbeni – which is another story in itself. The luxury hotel earns that title because it had a western toilet. Still no heated water in freezing altitudes but who cares – a western toilet.

I sit down, legs aching after a 7.5 hour trek, on the roof, not long after slicing my finger open attempting to make a bow and arrow from some bamboo I acquired through a little jungle path we trekked on the way there, and a knife from my trekking pal from the internet. For some reason I found it a good idea to slice the bamboo downwards, coincidentally the exact same direction as my gripping hand. I cut the gripping fingers, then attempted it again and cut it worse. So I had a little pain throbbing there, but it was at the back of my mind because I had to pretend it was fine so nobody emphasised how much of a moron I was.

On the roof I sat, with my Russian internet friend and my British internet friend (both of which I met for the first time in Nepal, after emailing them the night before my flight to see if we can make a trio trip for fun). I was learning Russian, the Russian was learning English and the British was writing his diary and basking in general glory. The sun was out, it was… warm-ish. We had trekked for almost 8 hours but we started around 6AM so it was mid-afternoon at this point.

The table was a round one, and I’m not sure but I remember it as one of those cheap barbeque plastic ones with matching chairs. I was sitting there studying the Cyrillic alphabet whilst wondering where the Austrians were.

The Austrians were a couple of 70 year-old’s who decided they could spend a month hiking 5,500 metres in the blistering cold for a month, too. And honestly they did a damn sight better job than me. Not an ounce of complaining. One time my trio took a detour to a special icy lake, and the journey there was so exhausting, so overwhelmingly painful to my legs and my lungs, that, upon arriving at the top, I collapsed to my knees in some kind of relieved horror, wishing I never had to get up again. Meanwhile, the Austrian 70-year-old’s were nonchalantly pondering about, somehow already at the top, even though we left earlier, taking photos saying ‘Guten tag! hahah, this iz good, ya?’.

So yes, the Austrians were capable climbers who we met on one of the earlier days and decided to sort of align our treks with each other for some fun company. They were great people. but on this day, they weren’t around. I was unsure if they had already gone ahead, were lingering behind or were sitting around in another hotel. Moments later, in they come; ‘Guten tag!’ with smug faces full of energy presumably acquired directly from the sun’s core.

Initially this was to be their rest day location, but because we had ours before, they decided to skip their rest day entirely so they could traipse along with us. How kind.

They took a table nearby with their Guide and I was left to ponder some more. I look up, in response to the sound of a helicopter. This was one of two helicopters I would see in the trek. Helicopters, of course, are only around when somebody is in life threatening danger. Usually altitude sickness which can very often kill. Somebody I met on the plane had that exact experience and was 30 minutes away from death if they didn’t rush her downhill again.

The visuals that I focused on at this point is the primary flashback that I was referring to at the beginning of this long-winded post. Ahead of me was a wall of trees, shrubbery, jungle and general green. This wall ascended hundreds of metres above, blocking out most of the sky. This wall represented one side of the valley in which we were staying. To my left was the length of the valley. I could make out the roofs of other buildings – of which there weren’t many. It was called a village but it was really just a row of buildings that happened to serve food and water, and one place for beer.

The valley went on in sight for hundreds upon hundreds of metres. Dare I say thousands? At the very horizon of the valley, the real towers of the Himalayas loomed with a crispy cloudless sky whisping around, breaking up the edges of the snowy-topped monoliths with its own atmospheric thickness.

From top to bottom, colours were so vibrant, yet chalky. mystical. The blue of the sky, the white of the snow-topped peaks, the grey of the mountain, the brown of the dusty sides, attempting to grow life but with too little oxygen to succeed, the green of the high altitude trees just below. Like a trifle cake.

The outline was a little like a natural W shape, with the middle prong of the W being the mountain, and the left and right sides being the valley, only the middle peak was much higher, making out to be a rather ridiculous font.

And that’s it really, that is m flashback. Shortly after, my order of Dal Baht arrived and I stuffed my face.

The emotions of achievement and peace and the freshness of my soul, so far from the rest of the world and the online lifestyle; no phones, no power, no friends, no family. Just me, my two strangers, the two Austrians and our guides. That was my life. I was with my trio 24 hours a day. The only time we were apart were trips to the bathroom. We slept together, ate, walked, laughed, climbed together. And nobody got sick of anybody.

So why did I ignore his email and Facebook friend invitation, and never spoke to either of them again?