From Hong Kong, With Love

View from the W Hong Kong in Kowloon

View from the W Hong Kong in Kowloon

Our first full day in Hong Kong was a Sunday, and despite the incandescent sun shining outside, Charlie and I couldn’t force ourselves out of bed until noon. The jet lag and general fatigue from the seemingly endless trip had wiped us out five minutes after we shut the curtains and cut off the view – my brother in the sofabed in the living room and me on the bed.

I had brought all my running gear and was itching to give the treadmill a try, knowing the gym would have an even more awe-inspiring view than the one I was experiencing in our room.

In the daylight, Hong Kong Bay seemed to take on a turquoise tint. A group of fluffy white clouds drifted over the city ahead, as if they’d been put there just for me.

I realized then the gym could wait, threw open the door to my bedroom, and jumped onto my brother’s sofa bed, giving him a firm kick in the butt when I landed.

“We’re in Hong Kong, doofus,” I said loudly. “It’s noon, and we’re missing out on the Dim Sum.”

“Oh my God, fuck the Dim Sum,” he countered from under a pillow. “I drugged myself on the plane last night, and I don’t think it’s wearing off any time soon.”

“Charlie!” I scolded.

“Well, what did you expect? You were drooling all over yourself in the window seat for the last five hours of the trip!” he admitted, taking the pillow off his face and propping himself up on his elbow.

“Look,” I said. “There’s a Cantonese restaurant downstairs. I’m sure it’s designed JUST for tourists, but I bet they food will be amazing and we can at least get in some lunch before heading out to the Island.”

“Fine,” he mumbled, turning his back on me. “Go get dressed.”

I did get dressed, and as soon as I heard Charlie turn on the shower, I headed down to the restaurant to make sure we got a table.

An hour and eight kinds of dumplings later, I was sitting at that table by myself, eavesdropping on a fun couple from San Francisco sitting at the table next to me. Occasionally, they would turn to me to make a recommendation about the dumplings (one of them was a Chinese-American man, the other looked like he’d been plucked straight from the corn fields of Iowa), and then go back to talking about everything they still wanted to see and do in the city.

I tried not to let my anxiety get to me, but when I finished my third round of Dim Sum and Charlie was nowhere to be found, I used my cell phone to call our hotel room.

“Hello,” came the groggy-sounding voice.

“Charlie! Are you coming down??”

“I’m asleeee-” he answered as I hung up.

Typical. Classic Charlie, but I loved him, warts and all.

Knowing any sort of resistance was futile, I headed back up to the Concierge and asked him to call me a taxi. Charlie needed to sleep it off, and I hadn’t flown 17 hours out of my way to sit around a hotel room and think about Andrew. My friends from San Francisco had laid out a very neat itinerary for me to follow, and I was going to start by taking the ferry to Hong Kong Island.

“Excuse me,” I said to the handsome twenty-something Concierge. “I need a taxi to the Star Ferry, please. The one that leaves from Tsim Tsa Tsui?”

“It’s pronounced ‘Shim Sar Choi’” a man’s voice said from behind me. “But the expats call it TST.”

I turned over my shoulder to look at the pedantic stranger giving me pronunciation tips, and found myself face to face with a man in his early forties, of medium height and build, a kind face and even kinder eyes.

Judging by his accent, my new friend was also American – although it could have been Canadian.

“Do they now?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm in my voice. “Well, thanks for the tip.”

I turned back to the Concierge, having – in my mind – just ended the conversation.

“Yes, it’s nearly impossible for us ‘Gweilos’ to pronounce it properly,” my new friend continued. “I’m heading that way, and our friend Hubert,” he said, pointing to the Concierge, “already got me a taxi. Would you care for a ride?”

I turned to look at him again, trying to figure out if we’d met before. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not in the habit of jumping into cars with random strangers, particularly when I’m clearly out of my element.”

“Oh! I’m Mark Wallace. It’s nice to meet you,” he said, putting out his hand.

I shook it, taking the opportunity to look over his face again.

I got a good vibe from Mark Wallace the first time I laid eyes on him. He was good-looking in a rugged sort of way, and the beginnings of a few stray greys around his temples suited him immensely. Judging from our height difference, he was probably a hair under six feet, and while not in terrible shape he wasn’t exactly thin, either.

“Mallory Burns. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Where are you from? A fellow American, obviously. First time in Hong Kong?” he fired off.

“I’m from New York, if you must know. And yes, it’s my first time in Hong Kong. Can’t you tell?” I said, pulling the sarcasm back a smidge.

“Well, there you go. I just moved to New York City myself not six months ago. It doesn’t sound like we’re random strangers at all!” he told me smiling. He pulled out his wallet from the back pocket of his well-tailored jeans, and handed me a business card.

Mark Wallace

Managing Director, Asian Markets

Meegan Stursley & Co

 

My tone finally softened a bit.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Mark. I should get going though, the day’s really gotten away from me and there’s a lot I have to do before dinner.”

“Mr. Wallace,” one of the doormen said to Mark as he approached. “Your taxi is here.”

“It was nice meeting you, too, Mallory,” Mark said as he walked out toward the hotel’s main driveway. “Maybe I’ll see you again?”

I smiled in his general direction, and got back to the task at hand.

A ferry and a lengthy uphill climb later I found myself at the base of the Hong Kong mid-levels escalator system.

Hong Kong was unlike anything I’d ever seen or experienced. I’d traveled extensively in Europe and South America before, and in my hubris had thought I’d probably seen it all. But Hong Kong was an entirely different kind of city.

It was much more dense than New York City, and yet surrounded by the lush Victoria Peak and the mesmerizing Hong Kong Bay, giving it an oasis kind of feel that you don’t get in the Big Apple.

Everywhere I looked there was a mix of Cantonese and English, littering every sign and every corner of Hong Kong Island. Or every corner I explored, anyway.

It’s also a city built on levels. The city itself was erected on the slopes of a the mountains, and as such a series of sophisticated escalator and walkway systems have been created to help people move up and down the multiple levels that make up the city center.

The resulting effect is a network of pathways many stories above the main city that zip across the windows of nearby buildings, prompting their inhabitants to transform what would in any other city be a series of windows into long window-shopping corridors of sorts. When a fifth story window is at eye-level to tremendous volumes of foot traffic on a daily basis, and in a city as densely populated and scarce on land as Hong Kong is, the moving walkways that many stories high become cities above the city themselves.

I wandered around the Mid-Level neighborhoods of Hong Kong for a while, lost in my thought as I took in the surreal scene. {More happens here}

After many annoyed text messages from Charlie, I made my way back to the hotel just in time to get a view of the Hong Kong sun setting below the mountains, the orange glow reflected by the water.

As I turned the corner to enter the elevator bank, I saw a familiar shape waiting patiently for a lift.

I was secretly pleased to see Mark Wallace again, apparently having returned himself from his day out – wherever it was that he’d gone.

“Hello!” he said, with a big smile on his face. “My fellow New Yorker! Did you enjoy your time on the Island?”

“Very much,” I responded, giving the elevator button another push, despite it clearly being already lit. “How about yourself?”

“Oh,” he said. “I only went as far as the Financial District. I’m here for work, I’m afraid.”

“Work??” I asked. “But it’s Sunday! Do they never let you investment bankers off your leashes??”

“Occasionally. I’m free tonight, for instance,” he hinted.

“Hmmm,” I responded, stepping into the elevator.

There were two others in there with us. Eastern European, as far as I could tell.

“You know, I used to live here in Hong Kong. I know where all the best places are,” he continued. “How about I take you to the best Cantonese restaurant in the city?”

“I’m afraid I’m not here alone,” I told him with a twinkle in my eye.

“Oh?” he said, clearly disappointed.

“Yes. I’m afraid I’m here with a man…” I added, relishing the look on his face as the words hung in the air. “My brother.”

“Oh!” he responded with a sigh of relief. “Brother! Well, why don’t the two of you join me then?” Mark chirped, with a look of excitement on his face. “It would be my pleasure to show you and your brother a night out in Hong Kong.”

“Why don’t you give me your number,” I said. “And I will text you once we have made plans.”

“Fair enough. Well, you already have my number – unless you threw away my business card.”

I smiled at him, stepping off the elevator on my floor, not yet willing to show my hand.

His floor was even higher than ours, and I waved good-bye as the elevator doors closed behind me.

“See you later, Mark.”

I’d be honored to get your feedback on this excerpt from the third chapter of my Nanowrimo novel!

I love this chapter, mostly because it reminds me of my trip to Asia with my sister last year – one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life – but one of my most loyal readers and someone who’s opinion I value greatly told me the main character (Mallory – the twit) is a little bland in it.

What do you guys think? Did it entertain you enough to want to keep reading?

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6 thoughts on “From Hong Kong, With Love

    • I’m so flattered! Thanks for reading!

      I went to Hong Kong last year with my sister, so most of this draws from my impressions during my three days there. It’s fairly superficial because we didn’t spend a lot of time in HK, but it definitely left its mark (no pun intended!).

      You’re right about it being a little bit like San Francisco, but with much taller buildings. It’s just as hilly, for sure, but the cool thing about it is that the different “levels” are connected by these moving escalators and walkways, so at certain points you find yourself three or four stories up, just cruising along looking into people’s apartments and shops. I got a definite “secret city” vibe from it. It was a really unique experience.

      It’s funny you should mention the fiction writing thing – I was just saying a couple of posts ago that I’m discovering I’m just not as comfortable with fiction as I am with non fiction. Maybe my next project will be about my own stories – some of them are definitely stranger than fiction!

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      • So we’re in perfect sync today on two things. Wow. Just last night I couldn’t shut my brain off and was thinking exactly what you said about your own stories and writing. I was writing a post in my head about how I grew up on fiction but have found myself drawn to writing and telling real stories on the blog instead. I’m giving the post away – if it ever does see light – but I have come to believe less in going to all that trouble fabricating tales when human drama gets as unbelievable as it does. The other point of connection is on my latest post The Floor I Couldn’t Reach. I had no plans to mention it but your interesting description of HK ties right in, and the comments from Malcolm and WeaverG toward the end of the thread might interest.

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  1. Pingback: Thoughts on being grateful | average yogini

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