Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 29 2018

Hong Kong ’18

I felt a certain sense of unease, almost antsy, in the days before we left for Hong Kong on Friday. There wasn’t much to pack; it was just a weekend jaunt, and all I needed was some clothes, my trumpet and cameras. Though our flight was scheduled to take off after noon, we met up at Xindian Station just after 8 a.m. I’d slept poorly, waking up every hour and only sleeping again with difficulty, but I somehow made it on time. I should have been able to relax at that point, but something still felt off.

We got to the airport in plenty of time, David and I having lunch at the Mos Burger upstairs after the quick and efficient customs and immigration. The others wandered off during the time before we met up at the gate for the Hong Kong Airlines flight, a brand-new Airbus A350 waiting at the gate. “Excuse me, could you let us by?” A middle-aged white woman said as she pushed past us on the way to the gate, where nobody had even begun to line up for boarding. It reminded me of those people pelting down the escalator at the subway station, risking life and limb so that they could be at the platform in order to wait eight minutes for the next train to arrive.

The flight was smooth; a couple of hours later we were taxiing into the gate at a new terminal at the airport in Hong Kong. Vast swaths of construction constituted a theme that would continue throughout the weekend. We caught a double-decker bus into town, alighting amid the familiar canyon of Nathan Road. It had been years since I’d been there. Hong Kong, with its rough edges and agrophilic tendencies, will always feel surreal to me; I’ve lived there in relative luxury and destitute squalor, as an overseas company employee and a stateless, homeless migrant; it always messes with my mind.

We made our way to our hostel, the Hop-Inn on Mody Road, dropping off our things and heading out again. The air was heavy with smog, the view across the harbor obscured as we walked along the promenade marveling at all of the massive construction sites and new buildings. We circled around the old clock tower and then headed back to the Chungking Mansions, where Slim thought he remembered a good Indian restaurant. Though the exterior has been renovated, the interior of the building retains most of its old character, and Slim’s memory didn’t let us down; we had an excellent and filling meal at The Delhi Club.

Then we all got on the MTR out to Diamond Hill, where we made our way to an interesting space in an industrial building that Gloomy Island festival organizers Tomii and Andrew have made into their creative space. They’d bought a plastic tub and stick that we needed to try out before the show the next day. The tub, made in China, wasn’t quite up to par, but the stick, while a bit too long, thick and heavy, turned out to work well enough after I sawed a few pieces off of it. Tomii, Andrew and the other residents of the space that night are all musicians, so we jammed and talked into the wee hours of the morning before catching cabs back to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Sandman and I were the first up on Saturday morning, most likely because we’d elected to go to bed after returning to the hostel the night before rather than going out again as some of the others had. As we were waiting to cross Nathan Road, I noticed a group of photographers on the mid-road pedestrian island, all with at least one and in some cases several cameras, shooting each other. I took a couple of shots of them, and they smiled. Apparently at least one of them recognized me and messaged me on Instagram later.

Sandy wanted to walk over to the Marks & Spencer to look at the food there, but it didn’t open til 10 a.m., so he accompanied me through Kowloon Park and over the skybridge to the Pacific Place towers where I stayed during my days with ESO, taking ferries to the interior of China to inspect shoes, me no doubt boring Sandy to tears as I went on and on about those days. I took another selfie at the same place I did back then, but I don’t know if they’ll match up. On the way back, we passed a guard outside an expensive shop holding a pump-action shotgun. Then, at M&S, I bought a sandwich and a yogurt, which I promptly dropped, covering the floor with a combination of blueberries and black current. This, you see, is why I hate backpacks. Every time I need to use them, I have to take off my camera, take off the bag, open it, use it and close it while holding my camera, put it back on, and then put my camera back on. Messenger bags are much better IMHO.

After returning to the hostel, everyone had different yet equally vague ideas of what they wanted to do that afternoon before the gig, so I set out alone, walking down to the clock tower and boarding the Star Ferry for Hong Kong island. It was splendid to be on that old vessel again, bobbing and weaving across that magnificent strait. There is a smell to Hong Kong harbor that is unique as far as I’m concerned. The Hong Kong side pier isn’t the one I knew, and feels crassly commercial, but I suppose they had to move it to deal with the more-or-less constant land reclamation that will most likely result in the crossing becoming a matter of stepping over a large puddle.

I walked through Central, various sights bringing back memories. Markets, crosswalks, buildings, etc. I entered Pacific Place across the same pedestrian bridge I did back in the days when that mall was my way to escape my rather desperate predicament, and took the escalators up to Hong Kong Park, which made me sad and nostalgic. None of the frolicking tourists or kids catching Pokemon could ever know about those days.

I continued walking towards Wan Chai, stopping at another large construction site to take photos, and down towards the harbor where another even-larger one greeted me as I walked over to the Wan Chai Star Ferry pier. Another lovely trip later I was back in TST, arriving back at the hostel in time to take a quick shower, get dressed, grab my trumpet, and head with the others over to Fortress Hill, where the Gloomy Island festival was taking place. We changed trains at Admiralty and arrived for our soundcheck before 5 p.m.

The festival venue deserves special mention, as the MoM Livehouse is located deep within an underground, apparently dead shopping center. A group of men were playing cards in the hallway, and empty shops sported rent signs. After soundcheck we chilled for a while on the hill opposite, and then Cristina and I tried and failed to find a good place to have dinner, only coming across several promising restaurants after we’d already spent too much on some mediocre egg shrimp and beef noodles. Alas.

Before the show, I walked down the road to Tin Hou, at the edge of the big sports park. It was where I stayed when I first arrived in Hong Kong to renounce my U.S. citizenship. I looked up at the building, imagining that tiny, windowless room a quarter of a century ago, and then a the scar on my hand from a piece of glass that had finally worked its way out when I was staying there (I’d cut it on a window during a typhoon in Taipei years before). I thought about selling my sci-fi books for food money, running in the park to get into shape, and watching newfangled “DVD” movies in storefront windows.

And then, 25 years later, I walked back up the road to play a gig at a jazz festival. It went pretty well. The other bands were very good, including both Tomii’s and Andrew’s bands, as well as an enthusiastic Filipino band. We were last, and wrapped everything up. I lingered and chatted with some of the other bands as the place emptied out, and soon it was past midnight and we were standing out in front of the empty center, behind an old building shrouded in bamboo scaffolding.

We caught the last train back to Kowloon, put our instruments and ties away, and rendezvoused back at the clock tower after picking up some hamburgers to munch on. There we sat and drank and chatted through the night. Silhouettes of ships floated across the twinkling lights of the city across the harbor. We talked about oceans, and people, and music. We’d done what we’d come to do. I had, anyway, and by that I mean to play music and visit a few ghosts.

The sky was glowing towards dawn when we left, ferries bringing workers over the waves before the Star Ferry began service again. On our way back, inexplicably, Slim decided to traverse an alley behind the Chungking Mansions.

I woke at 10:30 and started getting my things together. Something had changed over the weekend, over the night. I’m not entirely sure what that means yet. I had a big tasty breakfast at the coffee shop downstairs, eventually joined by Cristina, Sandy and David. One quick walk to the store later, we were once again trudging up Nathan Road, instruments in hand, to catch the bus back to the airport. After three days, I’d lost that frantic edge that had built up before the trip, but it had been replaced by something darker.

The mere aroma of the Popeyes meals everyone else bought at the airport made me regret not getting one myself. I don’t know what I was thinking, but the scraps they did toss my way were delicious. The late afternoon sun was throwing lovely golden beams through the airport lounge as we boarded the plane, but someone forgot to tell them that they needed a little truck to tow them out to the runway, so we waited around for an hour while they looked for one, possibly on EBay. I sat and watched the Han Solo movie, which I enjoyed for the most part, until we managed to finally get dragged out to the runway and take off.

Back in Taipei, the flight ended just before the movie did, so now I have to rent the damn thing to see the last five minutes. So I felt unresolved as I got off the plane, waited for the others to get their luggage, and met up at the food court downstairs, where we sat down to examine the Liberty Times article about us that had hit newsstands that day. We oohed and aahed over the full-page piece, noting a few mistakes, but generally happy that it happened.

Then, because none of us could face the long journey back to Xindian via the subway, we piled into a cab. It was dark outside the cab, but we knew what was out there.

I was the last in the cab, after Slim and then Cristina were dropped off at their respective domiciles. It was a quiet, empty drive across the bridge, as was the climb back to the Water Curtain Cave. Things have been revealed on this trip, some good things, some ugly things, but all real things. Maybe I will sleep well again, but maybe I won’t.

posted by Poagao at 9:10 pm  

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