You really do learn things about yourself when you travel. I, for instance, after two weeks of turning half-hour errands into five-hour odysseys with beginnings, middles, and ends, rising and falling action sequences, motifs, themes, and symbols, am learning that I need to seriously hone my planning skills.
Take my experience of trying to get a haircut from a few days ago as an example. I had grown tired of walking around in the Hong Kong humidity feeling like I had a fire blanket wrapped around my neck, so I looked up a few salons and made an appointment at Daz in Central for the next afternoon.
I left a solid two hours before the appointment to afford myself plenty of leeway for screwing up (prior experience having demonstrated that for me this is necessary). This was the single instance of good planning I can report from the day.
I immediately got on the first bus that came my way, under the impression that all buses going to Central are created equal. PSA to all who find themselves in Hong Kong: THIS IS NOT TRUE!
I tracked our progress on my phone and watched with mounting horror as we traveled in enormous and growing concentric circles around my destination. Finally, the bus stopped at a terminal and the driver alighted, leaving me alone and stranded.
And then the heavens opened up and it began to pour, because of course it did, and of course I did not have an umbrella.
I was a 45-minute walk away from the salon with no bus routes between us, and I was also completely and totally strapped for cash. I got off the bus, head hanging under the weight of my heavy hair, and walked through the pouring rain in the general direction of town.
As I felt water trickle inside my shoe and ooze through my socks, I felt an enormous swell of emotion. There is just something so ridiculous about getting caught in the rain. It is a complete loss of control, a complete domination of your behavior by the ever-indifferent Mother Nature.
I was soaked through and at that point there was simply nothing I could do about it but get through it.
First task – find cover. Second – find an ATM. Third – get a cab.
Cabs in Hong Kong can only stop in certain designated locations. After finally finding cash, I then had to find one of these wild pick-up points. I still have not mastered the art of hailing a cab, so I got to enjoy a further 10 minutes of Splash Zone fun while I stood in the street and waved like an American moron. When a cab finally pulled over and I hopped in, shivering and grateful, I was firmly told to get out by a cab driver who didn’t speak English or, apparently, read maps.
I clambered out of the cab and back into the pouring rain, struck dumb (though given my situation, probably less struck dumb than just dumb already.)
The driver of the second cab I wrangled grunted an affirmation at me when I showed him where I wanted to go and then took off through the bewildering maze that is Central at breakneck speed. I watched the sea of people from my temporary refuge and marveled at how every single one of them had an umbrella.
I was literally the least prepared person in the entire city.
Someone help me finish this joke: A drowned rat walks into a salon…
What followed, once I finally reached Daz, was the best hair-cutting experience I have ever had, bar none. It started normally with a simple hair wash… but the wash then progressed into a head massage. Fortunately, I had been warned that this was a possibility, so my uptight western ass didn’t skedaddle on out of there. I was able to enjoy it – and enjoy it I did.
My hairdresser was a Norwegian woman just a few years older than me and who has been in the city for just a few more months. We chatted about settling in here and she shared some sage expat wisdom for dealing with the humidity as she chopped off my frizzy locks.
I left the salon 680 HKD lighter ($87, yikes) but feeling refreshed and fabulous. My blonde bob was coiffed and chic and bouncy and I was on top of the world.
Not one second after I let the salon door swing shut behind me did a cab barrel past and send up a geyser of puddle water for me to walk through.
Both my spirit and my hair immediately deflated.
Already soaked, I decided to walk the 20 minutes through the downpour to the proper bus stop.
I filed into line, shivering and soaked through but standing resolute against the rain. The man in line ahead of me looked back at me with grave pity and asked, “No umbrella?”
I shook my head. Yeah, yeah, I know. Idiot tourist.
He pointed at the McDonalds nearby. “Go wait under there, I’ll call you back when it’s time.”
Words cannot describe the relief I felt, ducking under cover of both the awning and his hospitality. When it was time, and he indeed beckoned me over to rejoin the line, he extended his umbrella to me until the very moment I was aboard the bus.
I had spent four hours that afternoon negotiating with the rain. His kindness nearly moved me to tears.
In other news, I haven’t left the house without my raincoat since. New ‘do, new me, eh?