We’ve just completed a second sojourn in Hong Kong to attend a family wedding – a relaxing process, but a surreal one after so long in the environs of India. For two days, I stared blankly out at Hong Kong’s highways, unable to wrap my brain around their smoothness, the lack of chaos, livestock, and honking, of the crowds of motorbikes and scooters, and of beggars and vendors. We spent our stay there in the seedy neon wilderness that is Tsim Sha Tsui, living out of a cubbyhole of a room in the famous/notorious Chungking Mansions, where cheap guesthouses rub shoulders with moneychangers, laundry services, restaurants, travel and visa agents, and everything in between. Our room may have been miniscule, but it was clean and quiet, part of a tiny guesthouse run by a friendly Chinese man named Simon, who lives onsite and eats all of his meals as takeout. We shared the fifth floor, block B, with several other guesthouses, a Jain restaurant, and ‘Hang On Tailor’, all of which left me very much wanting to track down and watch Chungking Express, Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 film about Chungking Mansions and the numerous immigrants who live there. Just around the corner, we attended Andrew and Jenny’s wedding at the grand old Peninsula, with its breathtaking vista of Hong Kong skyline, and spent the rest of the time relaxing with the Connolly family, including trips to some of Hong Kong’s Outlying Islands and a sail in the bay on Louise and Simon’s racing yacht, Cave Canem. We even took the bus out to Sai Kung in the New Territories in our attempt to revisit our beloved Hap Mun Bay, which led to the following conversation:
Sampan operator: “No sampans (passenger boats) running today.”
Loz: “Why not?”
Sampan operator: “Sunday.”
Me: “It’s Wednesday.”
Sampan operator: [shrug]
On our last visit, standing on the public pier in Sai Kung, I asked Loz what would make him feel disappointed with this trip – what would leave him feeling it hadn’t been what he hoped. I’ve spent a good deal of time considering this question myself, and almost halfway through the time we’ve planned, it seems like an appropriate time to address it. I wanted – and want – this trip not just to be leisure, but to be life-changing in whatever small a way; time to think, time to write, time to see so much that we might not otherwise and to consider what’s really important to us. As privileged as we are to take this time, we’ve frequently felt we daren’t ‘waste’ time, that we always must be doing, learning, and moving. Over this time span, that simply isn’t realistic, and at (inevitable) moments of boredom or frustration, the question of why we’re doing this can recur with force. But increasingly, I’m giving in to the idea that any change comes simply from the experience of the trip itself – that there doesn’t have to be one big moment that makes it all worthwhile.
While we were riding the rails of the Trans-Siberian, I re-read Middlemarch, and came to realise that the novel is really all about work – Dorothea is eternally frustrated at not being able to help the poor, Fred Vincy is flailing for lack of a direction in life, and Lydgate’s marriage is the disastrous ruin of his career hopes. The happiest and most grounded characters in the novel are the Garth family – poor, unattractive, but utterly satisfied by their work and the sense of purpose they feel in it. Truthfully, I miss that. I’ve never done well without a goal, and my tolerance for idleness is limited. With so much moving, it’s all but impossible to establish a routine, and I haven’t done either as much exercise or as much writing as I wanted to. We’ve met, along the way, what you might call ‘professional’ travellers, who work remotely, or else only long enough to make enough to pull up stakes again. I already know I’m not cut out for that life. In moments of boredom, I miss that sense of contributing to a larger goal.