When I was fifteen I went to the assembly rooms in Lancaster and spent fifty quid on a long black leather coat. I wore it everywhere – to university at Manchester and for five years working in London. I loved that coat, it was real vintage. The label inside the collar said, in small type: “1974”, and then in type too large for my liking: “GAYLORD”.
I moved to Hong Kong and I left the coat with my best mate who waited three months then threw it away. My dad always said never let cow hide get in the way of a friendship so we’re still mates, but I didn’t listen to my dad’s advice much after that.
Getting off the plane in Hong Kong is like getting body slammed by a heat wave. It’s the kind of unrelenting, screw-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on battery that makes grown men cry and grown women take up hot yoga.
The first guy I talked to said there are people that sweat and people that don’t sweat. If you’re a person that sweats you just have to own it. Go big or go home. No vest, no surrender.
If that wasn’t bad enough people are setting fire to stuff all the damn time. Barely a day goes by without seeing an aunty burning paper in a bucket, begging her ancestors to intercede for the success of her cha chaan teng.
From sheung wan to wan chai you can’t budge for flaming mock-up iPads, fire engines and cars. Somewhere there’s a guy sat at a desk thinking up new ideas for things people can set on fire. He’s there now, hunched over an iPad. Google just bought Nest? Dave! I’ve got one! Let’s do a paper thermostat! What? Yeah mate, they’ll lap ’em up! Yeah!
If you think about it for long enough, that brings up all kinds of theological questions. What use is a heavenly iPad without an ethereal iPad charger? Is there a reliable power grid upstairs? What would a fire engine in the netherworld really achieve?
Weird is fine – fun, even – but what’s hard about moving to Asia is explaining the whole thing to people back home. It’s a head trip, there’s no other way to describe your life here.
From London you can take a four-hour flight to Italy, but for the most part you don’t. This last month I’ve skipped over to the Philippines, Malaysia, and Cambodia. You meet fascinating people, mostly because the kind of people who up-sticks and move to the other side of the world aren’t going to be bland and inoffensive.
Going home for Christmas is a minefield. Your friends worry about your newly acquired penchant for street drinking: hobo chic or a cry for help? You eat salad with chopsticks because, no matter what they say, it is easier. You ask “what’s it like?” When someone comes back from the first bathroom visit in a new bar.
In restaurants you shout for the bill, you wash your own crockery, you take ironic square photos of people taking ironic square photos of their food (#nofilter).
Nothing phases me any more. I’ve eaten a chickens testicle, you don’t scare me. I’ve played chess with different coloured dog turds and I’ve slept in shop doorways, chain smoking Marlboro lights to stay warm.
Wish I’d packed that coat.