Sleepless in Hong Kong

Here I am, in the throes of jet lag. It was going well, but I passed out stuffed with Michelin-starred dim sum at 10 pm and then woke inexorably at 4:00 am. Read for 2 hours in the dark next to John before I pulled on pants to see what happens in HK before dawn. Nothing happens near my hotel, it turns out, but I’m told that there’s an exotic bird market nearby, and likely serious shumai-wrapping going on elsewhere. It’s all quiet drizzle and darkness, but I am comfortable with a book, latte, wifi, and a book in the lobby of my hipster boutique hotel.

John and I travel well together. Usually our adventures evolve from a MacGuffin: a small but complicated errand that organizes our wandering. From Wikipedia: “in fiction, a MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot.”

I suppose it’s a little like The Amazing Race: gamification of our holiday. MacGuffins are basically an excuse; they take us to parts of a city we’d never see otherwise, and force us to learn a little language and talk to the locals.

In Athens we “needed” to find a compass and a Greek/English translation dictionary. Before the Internet, this was much harder than you’d think. We found the compass only after days of looking. It was in a tiny store on a very dusty road lined with stalls, run by an ancient man selling equally ancient nail clippers, corkscrews, and watches.

On this trip, the MacGuffin has been uncomfortably vague, however. Maybe John needs a raincoat or hot-weather pants? But he doesn’t, really, and I find myself wishing there were more of a goal. In the absence of a true plot device, we Googled “hipster coffee” and started walking the few miles to a place called Common Ground, to see what we could see.

There’s food everywhere in Hong Kong: tiny little storefronts with flowered plastic tablecloths under bright fluorescent lights. People are hunched over white bowls working their chopsticks and spoon. The walls have long menu boards written in Chinese, and customers are standing patiently in line outside.

We came across a store that sells poisonous snakes — namely Cobras — which I’ve read is a delicacy in Chinese cooking. There were a few in cages stacked up in the front to get our attention, but most are kept in wooden filing cabinet drawers that line the walls. The drawers have POISONOUS signs on them, and a helpful placard out front explained that this is to deter people from opening the drawers and disturbing the snakes. A disturbed cobra sounds like a situation.

There were just a couple of young-ish men in the shop eating snake soup, and the one guy I inspected most carefully looked pretty normal, aside from some ill-advised eyewear and a more rounded tummy than most Asian men.

The nature of “finding” is changing quickly as the world homogenizes and information and wifi are everywhere. The places I’ve been traveling have ample English speakers, global chainstores, Blue Bottle coffee. So the new travel challenge is to find a challenge? It’s out there. Perhaps Burma will be a little more rough, as Cambodia was 10 years ago. Or maybe I need to take a cue from my friend Bas, who walked with a guide into the north African desert for a week, with no common language between them.

Nonetheless, nothing drives a serious case of FOMO like a massive city I’ve never been to before. Time to go wake up my man and start the day’s adventures.

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