It all began when I had to make a trip to the Hong Kong side to pick up my ID card from Immigration, along with some computer gear.
I should have known the day would be surreal when I woke. It must have been the weather. In less than 12 hours, the temperature increased and it became humid to the point where the walls were dripping with moisture; everything was damp or limp. I was perpspiring and I'd hardly moved. I had to close the windows and crank the air conditioning to high to dry the place out (it took 24 hours).
It was a weird start to the day; I went to bed feeling cold, woke up feeling hot and muggy. That's what I get for not checking the forecast.
When I stepped in the elevator, it was coated with moisture; I noticed an odd smell I couldn't place. The floor of the lobby was sopping wet and covered in cardboard to prevent slip-and-fall lawsuits. I checked the mailbox; in one corner was a small puddle.
What the heck was going on? Did an angry and spiteful God smite Hong Kong with a plague of wetness? I chalked it up to Hong Kong's inherent wonkiness, and headed out the door to catch the bus to Central.
At the stop a double-decker rolled up. I was taken aback by the way it was painted: three giant horizontal stripes, top to bottom, red, yellow, green. I grinned at the first thought that jumped into my head: this must be the Rasta Bus. I half-expected it to be full of dreadlocked Rastafarians, with ganja smoke pouring out the windows. That would have been hilarious. After the Rasta Bus left my bus arrived.
The mugginess of the day set in, and because I didn't sleep well, I felt sapped of energy.
I looked out the side windows to get a better view of the hilltop we were passing. I reached out to grab the rail — almost at eye level and painted bright yellow — and my hand went right through it. I tried again with the same result. What the Hell? Then it hit me. The wide glass, the texture of the rail and the movement of the bus created an optical illusion. It was like those magic-eye illustrations: the real rail was there, but a second rail appeared in front of it in three dimensions. I was grabbing thin air.
We entered Lion Rock Tunnel, which bores through the hills separating the New Territories from Kowloon, and I noticed the asphalt is wet, although it wasn't raining, and it was a long tunnel. We exited and continued through Kowloon, heading toward the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which would take us under Victoria Harbour toward Causeway Bay on the Hong Kong side. This tunnel floor was wet as well.
As the bus neared my stop, I moved to the exit. There was one other gwai lo on the bus, who sat in the back, by himself, smiling for no apparent reason. He looked like a tourist. I stepped out at my stop, leaving the smiling weirdo behind.
Did I mention the day was surreal? To get to the building I had to use the elevated pedway system, which is like the rat-in-the-maze-with-a-piece-of-cheese thing. As the old joke goes, I couldn't get there from here. Or so it seemed until I figured it out.
I picked up my ID card without incident, and proceeded to the elevated walkway that would take me to the Wan Chai Computer Centre. I'd been here many times, and the first thing I noticed was there were no beggars. The only person asking for money was a Buddhist with a bowl that he tapped with a thick wooden stick to make it gong, but he didn't qualify as a beggar.
Did an angry and spiteful God smite Hong Kong's beggars? It must have been the cops. It was two o'clock and the path was crowded; strange, it's normally only crowded at rush hour. Whatever. I got to the centre, picked up my stuff and escaped.
I caught the bus across the street and hoped to leave the weirdness behind, but no such luck. As we rounded the corner, I noticed a sign for a nightclub painted in large letters on the side of a building: One Night Stand Café Bar. The name was goofy. Whoever heard of going to a café to get lucky? Wouldn't you think a guy who goes to place with a name like that leaves little doubt as to his intentions?
I got off the bus after we crossed the harbour and ran upstairs to the KCR station. I pulled out my Octopus card, ran it over the scanner, heard the beep, and walked through the turnstile. Except the turnstile didn't turn, and nearly broke my left femur as I came to a dead stop. Ouch. I scanned the card again. No dice. I tried another turnstile. No dice twice. I pulled out a backup card; it worked. I shook my head as I rode the escalator down to the platform. Could this day get any more odd?
The train didn't leave the terminus for another three minutes.
As I waited, a voice that sounded like Lt. Sulu from Star Trek admonished me not to sit on the floor or I'd be fined $2,000. I obeyed Sulu and stayed in my seat.
The train departed and headed back to Sha Tin. At the second stop, a mother and her little girl sat themselves across from me. The kid was cute, about four or five. I smiled and she smiled back. Her mom gave her little snacks; the kid liked them. Out of the blue she gave me a Chew 'n' Show: unusual behaviour to exhibit in front of a stranger. Her mother chided her as I got up to leave.
I exited the station and headed to the post office to mail a letter. But I couldn't just walk there! No, no, no; that would have been too easy! It's impossible to walk in a straight line in Hong Kong; it cannot be done. I dodged and weaved, floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, so I could get to the escalator without killing anyone by running them down. I mailed the letter, then dodged my way to the bus terminus to get home. In keeping with the creepiness of the day, the queue for the bus stretched far beyond its normal limit, so I decided to taxi home rather than wait.
The driver was surly, but there was nothing surreal about that, a lot of drivers are surly. This one had a hard time following directions. He either had brain damage, or he didn't listen well, because he stopped three times before getting me to the correct drop zone.
I voted brain damage.
I paid him, entered the building, and walked past the cardboard floor and the puddle in the mailbox. I took the smell-evator to the 30th floor and entered my flat. The air conditioning was working, the walls were less drippy than when I left, and the fridge and toilet weren't sweating anymore.
The day was only half over and I had more to do.
Thank God they were all things I could do at home.
March 20, 1999
Next Tale: The Elevator from Hell