As I clock up more months here, as I near the year and a half mark, as my grip on a pair of chopsticks moves further away from my the end where my food is it begins to feel like nothing can phase me. I know where I’m going and the best way to get there as a matter of instinct (well, as accurately as someone with a notoriously terrible sense of direction), I have mastered the ‘art’ of the elaborate, explanatory hand gesture in lieu of any actual language skills, I don’t even get ripped off at markets or in electronics shops and I have survived the family-wide, week-long Chinese New Year extravaganza. However, this area of the world has a habit of slapping you on the back of the head and muttering “you’re still a foreigner” from time to time. The three biggest signs I won’t ever truly be a Hong Kong…er(?) are as follows.
1) My girlfriend’s father refers to me as ‘ghostboy’ (but never to my face);
2) I’m not eligible for the HK$6000 handout announced for every resident over the age of 18;
3) My daily commute will forever be such a thing of torture and brutality that the Geneva Convention must surely cover it somewhere in the small print. And this is where we alight on this blog entry.
[INCOMNG TANGENT: ‘Alight’ is a funny word isn’t it? I, for one, wasn’t even aware it existed until I moved to London and used the Underground. I used to think ‘what a stupid word for a simple action’ but then saying ‘Get off here for…’ sounds strange and open to misinterpretation.]
It may have a good deal to do with my complete inability to cope with crowds or indeed people on the street, any street, no matter how many of them there are but I will never, ever get used to the morning bus ride and accept it as a totally normal thing. It is a mess. It is a chaos and a nonsense the likes of which should by all rights have us gibbering like lunatics, stumbling out into the daylight at our destination like victims of post traumatic stress disorder.
Despite doing this for four or five months on the trot I’m still enraged and a little disgusted at the amount of people willing to squash themselves into one double-decker bus. It isn’t natural. I mean it’s no Tokyo public transport system, there are no people employed to literally push more people into non-existent spaces with big sticks but that’s the craziest part; they do it of their own accord! Every morning when the bus comes screaming around the corner and one can already make out the flesh pressed against every window, desperate hands clawing at the glass, I seem to be the only one whose face turns to an ashen mix of dread and exasperation. Look, guys, it just seems more sensible to me that when the door opens, releasing two peoples’ arses as if two corks had been pushed out of bottles, I would, and in fact I do, take it as a sign that I should probably wait for the next bus. Said next bus will after all only be a minute or two. I do not put my head down in grim determination and plough forehead first into the aforementioned buttocks, elbows out and teeth gritted, ready to stand in whatever meager scrap of floor there is still unoccupied. These things end up looking like the Ant Hill Mob’s car from Wacky Races.
Those mornings when it becomes obvious that you have to get on the next bus or else end up being late (and the bus hasn’t already sailed past after the driver has had a rare moment of compassion and common sense and just decided ‘fuck it, no more people can get on this death trap’) you then find yourself right at the front. Like, RIGHT at the front. Long over the line that a London bus would say is the acceptable distance from the front window. You end up with literally no space between your nose and the windshield, further to the front and closer to the road than the frigging driver and because you don’t get to sit down and the window is so large it feels like someone is dangling you out over the motorway as if at any moment you could get sucked under the wheels and go bouncing down the road.
Dear Hong Kong Bus Drivers,
It is not necessary, it is never necessary, to hit the brakes that hard. There is such a thing as moderation. It doesn’t always have to be the case that if the acceleration is on it has to be on full and if not that then the brake has to be on full. I’m sorry if this is the result of a past trauma. I’m sorry if a close member of all your families died of some horrible case of indecision and that you have found yourself going full-tilt and hell for leather in everything in your life ever since as a way of compensating but I’m sure all the concussed and bruised commuters nursing whiplash would thank you greatly.
Lots of love, David.
So this just about covers the very small distance from my stop up to the Harbour tunnel. This isn’t a long way but can take anything between ten minutes and forty-five. At this point the various buses are waved into certain spots so that the long, long queue of more commuters can get on. At this time in the morning it is not suggested that you follow the line with your head and see how far back it goes as such an action may cause a greater outpouring of misery and compassion for your fellow man than the film Schindler’s List. It goes up the stairs and far away. If you can bear it, look to the windows of the large building across the street. Yes, all those people in the windows are the same queue. Yes it is horrible.
Such a lot of people to get on to so few buses. How will this be accomplished? Through shouting. Lots and lots of shouting.
Dear Hong Kong Bus Employees tasked with herding this massive line of people on to a bus.
It is not necessary to shout that loud at 8am on a weekday morning. It is not necessary to shout that loud at 9pm in a crowded bar for that matter. In isn’t even necessary to shout that loud at an AC/DC gig in the seventies or indeed at a shouting contest where first prize is a robot maid that dishes out cups of tea and sexual favours (but not at the same time for safety’s sake). What I’m saying is there is no conceivable situation where shouting that loud would achieve anything. For one thing, the driver can hear you, he’s only about a foot away (yet he doesn’t react, never even flinches, that’s some zen shit right there) for another nobody else cares either. Whether you yell or not people aren’t even going to look up from their iPhones or in fact unglaze their eyes for you. You’re fighting a losing battle and stressing us all out. It would be better to occupy yourself with a more constructive pursuit, such as the judge at an arse-kicking contest for one-legged men.
Lots of love, David.
And then there are the TVs. God help you if you haven’t got anything to pass the time or the battery in your phone has died because you are now a captive of the onboard advertising shitfest. These things all play the same set of adverts (and they haven’t changed in all the time I’ve been using the buses) on a constant repeat and at full volume. What fresh hell is this? Which evil bastard is responsible for this scheme? Now that we’re wedged in shoulder to shoulder breathing on each other and irritated, with bruised foreheads, whiplash and impaired hearing you’re going to force us to watch the same three, loud, cheap adverts for up to an hour every morning? O Beezlebub, your dark influence runs deep in this world. Christ, it’s like being strapped into Malcom McDowell’s chair from Clockwork Orange only that advert where the guy in an office fires green shit with eyes from his nose directly at all his co-workers’ faces is perhaps more unpleasant than anything poor old Alex had to sit through.
By the time I reach my destination and fire out the doors like a champagne cork at the Murdoch household after successfully signing Beezlebub as an employee, I’m almost ready to kiss the ground, not that I would because it’s fucking disgusting but you get the message. I may be able to handle addresses in Cantonese with the taxi drivers (even if it sometimes backfires and they try to strike up a conversation to which I can only shrug at – awkward, awkward situation that) but the way Hong Kong approaches the concept of bus rides, I will never be used to that. Nor, I think, do I want to be used to that. I think I’ll sacrifice having ‘GWEILO’ stamped across my face (metaphorically unless that’s another legislation I missed when they passed it) in exchange for my sanity.
I’m David Hetherington and Hong Kong has a ‘you win some, you lose some’ relationship with my blood pressure.
BONUS MATERIAL: Whilst searching Google for some variety of bus picture this came up:
Look at it. Just look at it! This man has, I can only assume, dedicated his life to making an honest-to-god Shark Car! You may as well go back to bed because there’s nothing you can do or see today that will be better than this.