I sit here typing this with a strange jetlag hangover from my trip to Hong Kong. It was an odd, testing trip, but probably worthwhile.
Travelling for work is always a challenge. On one hand, I the trip is paid for by others, and I get put up in a better standard of hotel than I’m accustomed to, but on the other hand, I can never quite shake the feeling that I’m totally owned by work – that I can’t just switch off, run away and go home. They own me, body and soul and that depresses me. So, as a rule, I avoid travelling for work, but I couldn’t really turn down the opportunity to see Hong Kong.
I was staying a massive corporate hotel, adjacent to a new, curvy chrome business park in the middle of nowhere. Everything about the place was modern, streamlined and stylish. It made me feel quite ill. There were no flaws, no dirt, no character. There was no sign of anything human at all. It was like walking around an abandoned space station. Actually, the worst part of the hotel were the arty soundscapes in the lift and corridors, as though silence was so unbearable that we needed piped pseudo-muzak 24/7. I have noted down the name of the ‘composer’ who wrote the soundscapes, and I do intend to hunt him down.
The trip was really divided into two phases. Night and day. By day, I would do my work or explore the city, and I really enjoyed myself, taking buses, trams and trains and doing all the things I promised myself I’d do. By night… oh dear… I would eat on my own in the various hotel restaurants, and then bed would call. Except I couldn’t sleep. I lay there, sweaty and confused. When I did nod off, I would wake at 3am, wide awake, feeling displaced and isolated in my hermetically-sealed air-conditioned room. The rest of my life… my girlfriend, London, my family, all seemed like fictitious fantasies as I slowly went mental on my own in a distant, silent room. And then I’d fall asleep just before my alarm woke me. This routine continued most of the nights, until I started taking sleeping pills. By the end of the trip, my sleeping had improved, if only slightly.
The city itself was amazing. It’s a strange collision of East and West, with Marks and Spencers sitting alongside wet markets where the still-live fish flap around on slabs. I ate, I shopped, I even went drinking with a load of Flemish Belgians. And I took lots of photos, because enjoying things is not as important and recollecting them afterwards…
Some things I noticed:
- On the tube, they played a bad Chinese girlband version of You Really Got Me, by The Kinks, every time the train was about to pull into the station.
- The streetfood absolutely stunk. Maybe my Western tastes weren’t up to the task, but a lot of stalls just reeked of hot, sweet piss. I had to hold my breath as I walked past.
- There are lots of 7-11s in Hong Kong.
- I saw quite a few mixed couples, but it was only ever white man/Asian woman. There were no couples where the woman was white and the man was Asian.
- Instead of Oyster cards, they have Octopus cards. You can get your money back off them if you don’t use it.
I’m sure other pithy observations will come to me in time. Just as I was about to board the plane back to London, my glasses snapped in half at the bridge. I tried sellotaping them back together in Duty Free, but to no avail. I did have my contact lenses on me, so I tried wearing them for a bit, but the air on the planes is too dry and after 30 minutes I had to take them out. Which meant that most of the 13 hours of flight was spent in a state of almost complete blindness. I had to virtually press my face against the screen to watch the in-flight entertainment. No wonder I have a headache.
Now I’m probably going back to bed to see if I can sleep off the jetlag and fever.