I. Continental Appropriation
I carried a garment bag there with my suits in it. If I was going back to the first world then I’d need my first world uniform. Fretted in the airport the whole time about wrinkles.
In the city I went up the three-foot wide sidewalks with all the paper lanterns and bamboo scaffolding. My conduit into this foreign world is the cool British sheen overlaying everything. MTR stations and stoplights keeping everything flowing smoothly through the grid. Such a woozy relief. I’d been too long in the wild.
My 20th visit to Hong Kong. Or something like that. The point is that I’ve lost count. The first time was six years ago. I was pretty young then. Feels like I’ve been young forever.
(Six years ago)
Half of my DNA is elitist Northeastern Ivy League jackoff, and the other half is impoverished Jack-in-the-Box Florida Everglades con artist. The cheap side won out as usual, and instead of a hotel I stayed in a dorm with six hirsute Europeans. Shared the floor space and the shower like refugees.
As the day turned golden I did my Tabata sprints in the lane in front of the Coach store. It rained and I fell and split my knee open. I let it just bleed down into my sock and hobbled two blocks to the bay for a look.
The cityscape is narcotic and so beautiful it’s actually hard for me to look at. The capital megacity of an alien empire. It gloats at you.
Rich blue water with 100-mile tall supertowers casually scattered along it. Curved glass panes keeping you away from the mannequins and Jaguars. Energy sucked out of Kowloon villages to keep the AC pumping for a mere 70 people out of the 7 million who live here. Energy appropriated to keep that clear high-wattage light exploding out of every crystal tower from now until forever. A light that serves as a snide reminder that you weren’t invited into the Illuminati. This is the kingdom of the orphan-killers and dark gods.
And who can blame them. I’d been in Vietnam too long. I forgot what money looked like.
II. Up All Night
I got suited, then went to Western Union to launder some of my dirty money back home. Then I went out. My American friend lives there and makes good money consulting. Whatever that is. Just sending vague emails all day. Saying empty phrases like project specs into the speakerphone and getting paid a king’s ransom for it. The longer I do it the more I realize writing was a waste of time.
We spent too much. But I like spending money, because I work a lot. Purchasing something feels like a validation of my diligence.*
We were out in Lan Kwai Fong and so were all of the other people in the world. When movies show festivities, and the best times of someone’s life before it all fell apart, they show a party going on in a place like Lan Kwai Fong.
Several people are very angry at me, because I keep deciding to be single again. They’ll be happy to know I do get lonely, more often than I care to admit. They’ll be less happy to know that when I go out, I have an amazing time.
A decomposing band of expats was playing Mr. Brightside when my buddy’s friend from South Africa came around. He let slip that he’d been working on her for a while. She winked at me while he was paying for something. I kissed her. And would have gone home with her but I didn’t want to lie to him about it later.
Actually that’s not true. What really happened was: I would have gone home with her but she turned out to be a Christian. Weird to stumble upon one of them. I’ve been out of the cult for so long I forgot they existed out here in the wild. Like sleeper agents.
We rode deeper into the morning. I was glad to be alive. Some things happened.**
III. The Help
Later on in the trip I walked two hours from Causeway Bay to get brunch at a place in the Midlevels. I was sweaty and wearing Ray-bans like one of those assholes I hate because I’m afraid they might be more handsome than me.
In Central the Filipina housemaids had their blankets spread out on the overpasses and under bridges. Thousands of them. They have to leave the penthouse sometimes so their Chinese owners can have iPhone time with their families.
I was going to take some pictures of them all sitting by the fountains near the Mandarin Oriental and the Gucci store. But some of them saw me and covered their faces. Not because they were camera shy. It was their way of asserting that they were humans and not a feature of the landscape.
I put the phone away and sat down nearby. Fat British men were out there, trying to pick up the Filipinas. Their moist Guinness belly rolls jammed into polos, their smartphones drawn, their thumbs cocked back over screens like cobra heads, asking hey how do you spell that funny name of yours again, love?
I at least have the decency to fuck above the poverty line.
I watched the PRC flags snapping above, occupying the exact midpoint between my face and the top of the Bank of China Tower. Perfect cool fall sun above Victoria Peak. A deep, deep quiet sitting in the shady city canyons.
I thought abstractly about punching someone. Every now and then these days I start spoiling for a fight. I think it’s road rage from Vietnam, activating dormant Neanderthal brutality. I left the area.
IV. With Love and Apologies To Those I’ve Hurt Before
I got up the mountain to the diner and read the Communist propaganda paper where China was still gloating about repelling a Japanese invasion in 1945. Come on guys. Not even us Americans jack off to World War II this much.
I sat at the same table I used to with my ex-ex-girlfriend. Four years ago we used to come here all the time. She was boring. Started strong, but burned through all her good stories within the first week. There was a reason I was her first. But she was really nice and for that reason I couldn’t dump her.
She extradited me back to America and her Reaganite parents. At their house I’d trip over the hints they kept dropping about me going to grad school. They worked 70 hours a week and the way that they saw it, Obama was the one and only reason they weren’t trillionaires yet.
I wasted years being nice to her. I almost married her, just as a favor. I hate her for being boring and wasting my time when it was my fault. I should have just killed her earlier, when my instincts told me to.
I circled my hands around my coffee mug, closed my eyes and willed myself back to the last time I was at this table, her across from me. I hijacked my younger self and had him do the cold, honest thing: tell her it was done.
When I opened my eyes I was back in the diner at the table by myself. Almost trembled with relief.
V. The End of History
I ate. $200 HKD for eggs and a waffle and bottomless coffee. I’m boring too, I realized, as I sat there with a goddamn newspaper. So, that little ritual was cruel of me.
I do get lonely, which makes people like her happy. I have enemies who used to love me, but hate me now because I was too nice to hurt them. It’s weird and unpleasant.
But that doesn’t bother me as much as writing does. The only thing that bothers me in life is that I’ve never quite nailed it, never written something perfect.
I worked on the book for a while. Having to do a lot of historical research for it. Tens of thousands slaughtered in every paragraph as dynasties bubble up and heave into each other. Blood and tragedy used to be the absolute default.
Now, it’s some weird historical aberration that we’re all currently alive. Now, everyone has to really reach to find something to be scared of, and the best they can come up with is a vague threat of Muslim Mexicans. Or something. Some imagined tertiary threat to their SUV life. Meanwhile the older generation who fought to make the world safe and comfortable now berate us for enjoying safety and comfort.
After two hours I closed the laptop, refilled the coffee again.
Here you are, man. All you’ve ever wanted. Minus the having-a-lot-more-money part. Just for kicks, I fired up Tinder. I’m ugly and boring so Tinder never works. But sometimes you still have to play.
VI. Hail Mary/The Thing With Chinese Women
I need beginnings with women, only beginnings, because nothing ever goes wrong with beginnings. I don’t do middles and definitely don’t do ends. Middles, you can start to feel the magic go and it’s quietly horrifying. Ends are so painful they leave you feeling torn on a psychic level. Go beyond a beginning, and it fails 100% of the time. But beginnings are nothing but sweet beautiful promises.
her, not the dog
When this happens, it’s like someone in the office put a piece of birthday cake in front of you unexpectedly. You didn’t look for or hope for it. But there it is. If cake presents itself, you should have some cake. Someday you’re going to be dead, after all.
I only go for locals if they’ve lived in the West and have perfect English. Or at least 95% perfect English. Mistakes are cute after all.
They have to be able to understand you well enough to know if you’re weird. They have to have that comprehension, in order to put up the same barrier Western women have. And you have to make it past that barrier. Not satisfying any other way.
If they don’t have that barrier, then any man with his weak sperm can make it past. And I have to be able to hurdle barriers that weak men can’t, in order to maintain the delusion that I’m the greatest man who ever lived.
(^^This is how a single white man under 40 in Asia thinks because he has the luxury of doing so. After 40, when the face bubbles and sags like they’ve been hiking in the Martian atmosphere from Total Recall, they start slyly dropping pro-prostitution arguments into political conversation.)
Just beginnings. She was in North Point, where they just put luxury towers in the hillside. Buildings with uniformed staff and flower vases the size of Panzer tanks. She’d studied in England. Her parents are traders. Vacationing in Germany, left her home alone. We met at the MTR station and she took me up.
It was more fun than I hoped. She’d come up on the same porn I had.
It happened twice and then I left and the beginning was over. It meant nothing. But not in the sad poet way. It meant nothing in a good way.
VII. Your Regularly Scheduled Disaster
I only had time afterward to shower before my sushi date with a Chinese-born Swiss banker. I was punching above my weight; I shouldn’t have asked her. I’m an English teacher with a minor book deal and nothing about my existence impressed her. She was too smart for me. Too rich.
Actually those are excuses. What happened was she didn’t laugh at the first story I told her and inwardly I panicked. I was on the back foot the rest of the time. Walked her back to her flat on the bay but she told me stay downstairs. She said I was nice to chat with. But she didn’t want more.
It hurt for a while. I went to get coffee at McDonald’s, because it was the only place open and I didn’t want to drink. It would take a while for me to remember it’s good for you to hit the barrier. Wakes you up a little. No man is a cock superhero but all men sometimes forget this.
VIII. A Relative Lack of Motifs & Symmetry
Coming back to Hanoi is like unplugging from the Matrix. Like living past the end of the world. Ever-present smoke hovers like a huge bomb went off a few hours ago. Stupid buzzing bikes and horns and speakers.
I landed and immediately had to motorbike across the city to work. Longest day of my life. Finally got to release some Neanderthal pressure, though. I got into a scuffle in the parking garage with a Vietnamese man who cut me in line for a ticket, and ignored me when I tapped his shoulder. I’d been rushing all day. In lines and in the air. All day since 8 am in another country. Fuck him.
I jerked him backward by his backpack and said he’d been rude to slide in front of me. The veins in his neck swelled up and his eyes beamed hate at me. But then he nodded and got behind me. It felt amazing.
At home, I was thinking about this post. I couldn’t figure out a theme or a Big Statement for the end. To tie it all together. Because there’s nothing. It was simply a trip to Hong Kong. My activities, my life are too messy for a theme. My life isn’t a story. No one’s is. You have to lie to make your life into a story. I don’t learn lessons or achieve growth in a way that dovetails with an itinerary.
We don’t live in stories, we’re stuck in limbo, in survival, and just doing things and going places to kill time while we are. We are not going to figure anything out. I know this because I don’t have things figured out and I also don’t know a single soul who does.
The theme is this: that none of this means anything. And not in a sad poet way, but in a good way.
*This is the exact thought the dark corporate gods want me to have.
But I specifically like spending Hong Kong dollars and I like how they feel between my fingers. It has a texture like canvas and it’s wide and stout, like how old bills in movies look. HSBC paid to put their stamp on every bill. A level of blatant capitalism not even America has reached yet.
**first time I’ve forgotten someone’s name the next morning.