It’s a Sunday, it is hammering down with rain for the 27th consecutive hour, Bruce Lee looks down at me from above the table I sit writing this while a print of an old Chinese cigarette poster with a tangible sense of menace to it leers at me from above the bed. There’s also a collage of Beatles album covers on the wall beside the bed but we’ll let that slide. The four pairs of shoes I own in this world are lined up neatly, my suits are hung up in the wardrobe, my coats on the rack and a neat thunderclap just rolled its way down the street. I feel calm, irritated by the iffy internet connection and a little bit nervous at the same time. I guess this is what people feel when they move in to a new place.
Except that’s a bit misleading. ‘A new place’ suggests I have moved in to a new flat I’ve just plunked a stupidly big deposit down on. That’s not what I did at all, instead I upped sticks to a hostel cum serviced apartment place on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong for a couple of months. The wonderful apartment I have been staying at thanks to the generosity of my benefactress had to be vacated. All the furniture was being boxed up and sent away while I was at work and by the time I got back the place looked like the first flat I moved in to at university, white and empty. My plan was thus; shove all my worldly belongings into my suitcase and jump on the MTR (tube/underground/subway whatever) for six stops and saunter up to the front desk, ring the bell and collapse on my newly rented bed in my newly rented room. No problem. I worked out I’d have to make two trips due to the sheer amount of crap I had accumulated since October. Bringing back more clothes than I left with every time I went back home showed a clear lack of foresight and in retrospect I should have taken that as some kind of sign.
First of all, as mentioned, it was pissing it down, raining stair-rods, raining cats, dogs, marmosets and elephants and had been all day. As soon as I fell down the stairs and onto the street with suitcase in hand I realised this was probably a job for a taxi. Otherwise I’d have to walk, and thus more likely fall arse over tit, down the steep hill into central in the rain with socks and boxers and contact lens solution tumbling down after me like some sort of stunt laundrette service. Not for me thanks. Hail that cab. The car behind gave me a good glaring at as I muscled the suitcase into the boot, holding him up and wasting his no doubt precious time. I explained where I needed to go to the taxi driver and showed him a slip of paper I had written the address down on. Warned that this may not be enough, the manager had told me I may need to get him on the phone so he could explain to the driver where to go in Cantonese. So I gave him a call and told him I was passing him over to the driver. Concerned for the man’s safety (and my own) I opted to put it on speaker phone and hold it for him. He instead, took it from me and pressed it to his ear receiving a loud blast of Cantonese directly to the ear drum. He made a shocked yelp that I wasn’t big enough to conceal my amusement at and scowled at the phone as he talked. After he passed it back to me I began to feel incredibly guilty though as he rattled off a string of Cantonese and kept ramming his finger in his ear hole for the entirety of the journey as if trying to dislodge something or bring some feeling back to it. This was excruciating. I sat and squirmed in the backseat and we lurched through the tunnel into Kowloon, cringing every time he poked his ear, which was on average every ten seconds or so. Add to that the fact that his car couldn’t quite get up to the heady heights of 55mph giving us a constant, jerky, stopping-and-going movement. Also it cost like $140. I’m sure he jacked up the price but by that point I was just desperate to get away. I couldn’t escape the feeling he would return the day after with his lawyer.
But hey-ho I was there. All I needed to do was show my passport, pay the money and oh fuck I’ve forgotten the passport and the money. Seems I’m not just physically short-sighted as for some inexplicable reason I thought it would be best to leave the passport for the second trip. I apologised to the fella who greeted me and hoisted my suitcase up on to his shoulders and up four flights of stairs like it was empty and he seemed happy enough for me to leave all my stuff locked in the room and pay when I got back with the second load. No problem. Not wanting to risk a further lawsuit or indeed any more permanent damage to the fine taxi drivers of Hong Kong, I MTR’d it back to Central, escalated it back to the now barren apartment and ran back out again, the remainder of everything I own in tow. I reasoned it would be safe to walk down the hill into Central now seeing as the suitcase was less heavy, the rain was easing up a bit and I hadn’t the spare cash for taxis. The walk was exhilarating as the momentum of the suitcase meant it looked like the damn thing was trying to race me. Keeping it on its wheels and behind me was a challenge as it wanted to come around the side, roll over me and otherwise generally screw with me. You win again, gravity.
At the bottom I practically fell face-first into the ATM at HSBC. The tourist couple in front of me didn’t think it worth their while to inform me it wasn’t working so I tried, failed and joined the longer queue at the next one, boring a hole into the back of their stupid heads with my eyes. This machine didn’t work either. This transaction cannot be processed. Please contact your bank. You fucking what mate? I went inside and tried a few others with the exact same result. No matter what denomination I was trying to withdraw the bank wasn’t having any of it. A long and drawn out expletive ran through my head. Half my stuff was in a room across the water in Kowloon and I couldn’t get the money to pay for said room. I found a number on the back of my debit card and rang up for desperate assistance. After handing over my details and waiting for twelve agonising minutes on hold, a bored sounding English woman rattled off the lines she obviously has to read to every customer, all strung together so it sounded like one very long word. ‘Hellowelcometobarclaysmynameisslackbitchhowmayhelpyoooooou.’ You may help meeeee by telling me what the cock is going on love! Yes as it turns out there had been some unusual activity on my card. Shock! It seems some ne’er-do-well has been using my card repeatedly in (wait for it) Hong Kong. Don’t worry though, they put a block on it and that’s why it’s not working. Oh wait a minute…
That’s right! Barclays had cancelled my card because someone, i.e. ME, had been using it in Hong Kong. Damn me! I’m always one step ahead! She then proceeded to tell me off at length for not notifying the bank that I was going abroad. This wouldn’t have been an issue had that been the truth of the matter but, and this may surprise you, I bloody did tell them I was moving. In October. She said every time they flag a card for use abroad it lasts for six months so that would be fair enough, shame on me except for the fact that, and she took great pleasure in telling me this, there was absolutely no record of me telling them I was moving. An interesting thought occurs. They had no record, for all they know I was still back home. I came out here in October. Does that mean if someone stole my card and ran amok with it they wouldn’t cancel it for NINE WHOLE BASTARD MONTHS? ‘There’s some suspicious behaviour on this account, better keep a close eye on it and then cancel it after two thirds of a year go by.’ I was put on hold, as a treat, for another fifteen minutes until the fraud department activated the card again for me. They told me to give it ten minutes then everything will be right as rain. It wasn’t right as rain in ten minutes but after thirty buttock-clenching minutes the ATM accepted it again and gave me $3000 of the $8200 I needed. Well cheers HSBC machine. Luckily, Herculean suitcase lifter was pretty laid back about the whole affair and willing to wait until the next day for the rest of the money if HSBC are going to only dish it out allowance like.
So there we have it and here I am, looking out the window and waiting for the rain to clear up a little so I can go do some shopping or what have you. Bruce Lee’s stern stare carries a reassuring quality (I should mention it’s not the real Bruce Lee but a poster) and I can almost hear him shouting ‘WOOOOR’ as he punches someone’s heart down their pants. Well I can at least, that taxi driver probably can’t.