Monday, January 03, 2005

Test Pattern

I'm typing from the Hong Kong Library, where I'm trying to get some stuff for school typed up and sent to Brian so that he can drop it off for me (proof positive that he's the best boyfriend, ever). I cant seem to open Word, and the error message in Cantonese isn't much help (neither, unfortunately, are the librarians, who don't seem to speak much English. They must've moved here post-1997).

Liza and I are staying at Mirador Mansions - a ramshackle warren of hostels, low-end tailor shops and stores selling tacky souveniers and knockoff handbags on Kowloon's 'Golden Mile.' Our first night here, having come from the internationally-renowned airport via sparking subways, we were a bit taken aback by the buildings deshabille (I really want that to be a word) charm.

Liza had detailed written instructions on getting to the hostel, and so (feeling very much the seasoned international travellers), we easily travelled through Hong Kong Island and across the bay to Kowloon. Night had fallen while we were underground, and through the bus window, the whole city sparkled. We'd asked to be let off at the Holiday Inn (as the hostel had instructed), and as soon as we disembarked, we were swarmed by solicitous bellmen.

"We're not staying here." Liza said, lurching after the uniformed attendant who had already taken her bag and was heading for the Holiday Inn's bright doors, "Sorry - we're not staying here."

We stood on the street corner and examined her directions. Apparently, our hostel was right nearby.

"Yes? Can I help?" Two doormen stood by, watching us.

"Can you show us the way to the Kowloon Garden Traveller's Friend?"

The solicitous doorman looked at us blankly, then pulled the directions out of Liza's hand.

"Ah. Mirador Mansions. Just down the street. On the left, there."

We followed the direction of his outstretched arm own crowded alleyway. A decrepit looking dog ignored us as we hurried past, its eyes rheumy and distant. We'd almost passed a brightly lit door when I stopped.

"This is it, isn't it? 'Mirador Mansions'"

The directions had instructed us to ignore "beggars selling fake Rolexes and offering rooms unaffiliated with the hostel." This relatively benign description had not prepared us for the scene that greeted us now: In the brightly lit entryway, vendors displayed every cheaply made souvenir of China imaginable: silk sheets, gongs, hats, even sex toys. Men crowded around us, calling out, "Fake watch? Tailor? Madam, yes? You need a room? Yes?"
"Can you tell me the way to the elevator?" Liza asked the nearest and most capable looking man. "The Kowloon Garden Traveller's Friend?"

"Ah! You need room." He hustled us over to a sign for the Lotus USA Hostel. "You want window?" He pressed a set of keys into Liza's hand.

No. We have a reservation somewhere. Where's the elevator?"

Just then, we spotted a bank of elevators. We hurried over, ignoring the men's disappointed cries.

Liza's directions told us to go to the thirteenth floor, where we'd find our hostel immediately to the right of the elevator doors. The doors opened to an dimly lit, sparsely populated hallway. We looked to the right -- an open corridor, looking out onto a ramshackle courtyard. A man detached himself from the group standing by the stairway to our left.

"Hello, Yes?" You need a room?"

"We have a reservation at the Kowloon Garden Traveller's Friend," said Liza forcefully. "Which way is it?"

"Yes, yes" he brisked efficiently. "This way."

He led us off, down the hallway toward the stairwell.

"Here. Your bag. I can take it for you." He pulled the handle of my wheeled suitcase out of my reluctant hand and headed down a the corridor. I wondered at first if I'd have to tip him when we got to the hostel, and then if we'd get to the hostel at all, and if I'd ever see my bag again.

He turned through a doorway into a narrow hall. The thought flashed through my head that this was precisely what my father had been thinking of when I'd insisted that he needn't worry, that Hong Kong was one of the safest cities in the world.

We were at the end of a trash-strewn hallway. The man opened a door, revealing a tiny room: two platform beds, made up with well-worn cartoon printed sheets bolted to a tiled wall, a small window letting in the sounds of the street below.

"No." I said. "This is not our room."

"You don't like the room? I have another. What do you want?"

"No, thank you." Liza and I simultaneously had had enough. I grabbed my suitcase from the man's protesting hands and we hustled back down the narrow corridor and up the stairs, making our way back to the elevator.

"Okay. It has to be somewhere to the right," Liza said decisively. We followed the open hallway along the courtyard, past laundry and darkened doorways decorated with small shrines. We turned a dimly lit corner, and there, at the end of the hallway, brightly lit and painted yellow, stood the Kowloon Garden Traveller's Friend.
Relieved, we rushed toward the card table and mismatched chairs that stood beneath the large, brightly lit reception sign.

After a bit of confusion, we confirmed that we had a room reserved for the night and the night clerk led us down a polished narrow hallway to our room. Inside, the room was small, with twin beds bolted to the wall, and well-worn (but clean) cartoon-print bedsheets. But was clean and safe, and for now, it is home.

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