As the child of migrants, I became inured to biennial 40-hour flights to Sweden, punctuated by those character-building 7-hour stopovers in Changi or Schiphol. My body learnt the rhythms of this journey, where a flight to Sydney was an hors d’oeuvre, the trip into Asia merely an entree, the stint to Europe an impossible braise and the hop across the Kattegatt an anticlimactic sorbet. Thus, flying to Asia as a destination has always been a somewhat mystifyingly pleasurable experience. “Oh, we’re here already.”
So it was that, at 6am the next morning, i woke up as the green dawn combed through the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Alone on a shuttle bus I soon grew cold from the air conditioning. Indeed, in Hong Kong, one dresses not for the weather but for the air con. At this time of year, the temperature outside hovers between 20 to 25 and the humidity is clement enough, but every bus, arcade, restaurant and shop is chilled to ensure everyone can go on wearing suits and jackets. I’m not sartorially, nor ethnographically qualified to say whether this desire to deny the climate is a headache from a postcolonial hangover, but the preponderance of Anglophilia seems to at least nod in that direction.
I’m staying in a serviced apartment in Tsim Sha Tsui with John, the man who begot me a quarter of a century ago. It is, by my standards and by most standards, a luxy pad. As an aside, the receptionist who gives me my keycard and my guest membership to the gym downstairs is called Panther Lee. 12 days later and I’ve said “thank you” more times than i would normally do in a year as doors are opened for me, beds are turned down, chairs are pulled back and i’m otherwise treated to service embarrassingly beyond my means.
Tsim Sha Tsui is on the edge of the Kowloon peninsula, which means our window on the 30th floor faces the two dimensional concrete and glass jigsaw puzzle of Hong Kong island. Or, most days, it faces a wall of fog, spotted by ferries and pierced by falcons that circle at this altitude presumably looking for fake Rolexes or a good deal on a Louis Vuitton clutch bag. The fact that I’m here partly for the purpose of editing the English in science textbooks has meant that I’ve spent quite some time wistfully looking out this window when the thought of correcting another completely abstruse sentence on moss gets too much for me.
Fortunately, I’m also here for a lighter purpose, which is to cover the Hong Kong Arts Festival. First up it was the legendary Wooster group, who lived up to expectations perfectly. Then a far, far less impressive local production that i thought was going to be my taste of young Hong Kong theatre, but turned out to be a school-holiday-shopping-centre musical. A spot of Baroque opera later and i was in a colonial cathedral listening to the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir rock out with some Arvo Pärt and Mendelssohn. On Friday night, Shostakovich snuck his head in with a bawdy proletarian opera set in Mtsensk. It featured some fleshy groping and one of the heartiest brass sections I’ve ever heard, but a dozen French horns make for some seriously disturbing coital accompaniment, so unless your sexual fantasies involve trebuchets and Stalin I wouldn’t go there. Now I’ve just got some Bach cello sonatas and a dance duet between Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche(!) left before i fly out.
My travel joys have been of the gastronomic variety. Sea urchin, sea snail, dim sum, double boiled chicken and more pork than an election-year budget. The local street markets in Mongkok have also been inspiring with everything from dried oysters to live toads on offer to the local cooks. But I wussed out and bought some mangoes and a pair of plimsoles.
I’ve done it in Turkey, i’ve done it in New York and now i’ve done it in Honkers. Whether you call it a sauna, a bastu, a shvitz or a hamam, as long as it’s a dry 58 degrees in there, i’m happy. The gym that our accommodation gives us access to is the very well-appointed invite-only Pacific Club. And so, having wandered past the cadre of naked old Hong Kong millionaire businessmen doing callisthenics in front of the mirrors, i’ve been sweating it out like the hairy little gweilo I am. Yep, I’ll leave you with that image rattling in your id.