Notes in Cheung Chau

Dec 28

4:40pm

It’s almost been 24 hours since I arrived at Cheung Chau. Out of which I’ve been distributing most of my energy towards keeping warm while failing to do so. It occurred to me before my setting off that my planned 3-day island stay would collide with the biggest temperature drop in this winter so far. Not an ideal time to be away from home and grinding into an unknown residence. I tried to prepare as much as I could, not just for how cold it has been, but also for how warm it will be by the time I need to leave.

As of now, I’ve encountered a few issues including 1) a mini cash crisis – had a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant which billed almost 500 hkd but was told cash only so I ran to the only non-HSBC ATM on the island in the cold to find out the machine was out of cash as myself, which led to me having to withdraw money from an HSBC ATM against my principle for the first time in my life; 2) insomnia – the Airbnb host prepared 6 pillows (who needs that much pillows??) but no extra duvet other than a thin aircon blanket so I had to layer all my clothes on top of myself and stay as stiff as possible through the whole night to trap a thin supply of self-generated warmth. It’s funny how you’re supposed to stay still to sleep but when you’re too focused on staying still you might find it hard to fall asleep. 3) cold shower – long story short, I had to take a cold shower in the morning due to my lack of patience. If I waited another 20 mins, I might be able to have a hot shower – according to my host – and I surely will try that tomorrow, perhaps using the wait time to draft in my mind the review I’m going to write about this premise…

I guess I got a bit carried away with my rant, even though I wasn’t gonna write to rant. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I want to journal at all as I felt the coldness and the sleep deprivation have got the better of me that it’d be hard to produce any words of meaning. As I went through these little glitches in the past 24 hours, I was inevitably reminded of many similar moments in my past solo trips – the real ones in a remote country or a remote city – and for this reason, this “staycation” – I use it despite my disapproval of this term – feels more like a real trip than the previous two short island stays I had this year.

Instead of the moments of enjoyment, it’s usually these less than ideal situations that make you wonder about the essence of traveling, or, in my current case, some desperate attempt to recreate any experience that resembles traveling. Would I have been more content at this moment if I wasn’t enduring the coldness and constantly solving some problems in my head – primarily involving how/where to spend the next hour – but idling cozy and warm at home? And isn’t the latter the precise reason why I wanted to spend some time away, to unplug my existence from the familiar and repeating routine and temporarily replant it somewhere less known?

We modern travelers are already so spoiled (and doomed) in many ways. With money and information, we can easily make the transition into this new temporary existence quite smooth and pleasurable, and like everyone else, I certainly intended to do so. What I cannot deny is, that coping with the unknown, and being part of the unknown, is after all what primarily itches at every wanderer’s heart.

Because we believe in the religion that life is elsewhere, even though no one ever promised life is necessarily easier there than here. We simply have to leave to answer to that urge of leaving, but what’s more, we also simply have to live somewhere, wherever we choose to be. Now, as my life-of-the-moment continues to unravel in Cheung Chau, I’m going to search for some supper.


10:40pm

Some lovely/quaint little anecdotes:

  1. I went to a little massage parlour last night. The boss lady / masseuese is a middle-aged woman with a strong accent. For most of the time, she was quite preoccupied with managing her business on her phone while using the other hand rubbing hard at me. But in that one hour, we did have a short conversation.
    She: Do you live here, pretty girl?
    I: No, I’m just visiting.
    She: Oh, and you’re staying here for the night?
    I: Yes.
    She: By yourself?
    I: Yes.
    She: You’re not scared?
    I: No.
    She: Where are you staying?
    I: I rented some place online.
    She: Oh. I know most hotels and hostels on the island don’t accept single guests.
    I: Really? Why?
    She: They worry a single guest would commit suicide.
    I: ……!!!??? (inwardly gasping at this unintended insensitiveness )

    Out of all the conversations I’ve had with strangers about me flying solo, this must be the most unexpected direction one has gone.

  2. I had dinner at a small family-run Nepalese restaurant tonight. When the first thing I ordered – half portion of momos (Nepalese dumplings) – was served, I took a glance at it and continued to operate on my phone. Five minutes later, the Nepalese father came upon my table and concerningly nagged: “The momos are getting cold. Not good if it’s cold. You could check the photos later?” “Sure sure.” I blushed and complied instantly by eating all five momos at one go. Somehow, that felt like the warmest moment of the day.

Dec 29

7:40pm

I definitely drink a bit too often these few days. By 6pm, I felt suddenly drunk and lost the motivation to do anything when I came down from my roof with an empty can of Hoegaarden Rose – 3rd drink of the day. Losing motivation when you’re on your own during a trip – a “trip”? – is a terrible feeling. But right now, as I’m sitting at a fake Japanese izakaya, I still couldn’t help ordering more alcohol and am sipping at a glass of overly sweet plum wine. What’s the thing with this elusive connection between drinking and being on holiday? Why do people always feel almost compulsive to drink on holidays to manifest some sort of “vacation mood”? It seems we human beings just have to consume something to conceal the embarrassing fact that we’re wasting our lives, one way or another. Still, it could be worse, I assure myself. Better drinking than swiping, which would probably only make me wanna drink more.


11pm

This morning I went to a brunch place and sat at one of the two outdoor high tables, reading my book over a big breakfast. On the table behind mine sat another single guest – a western guy who seemed quite occupied with his kindle and notebook. Everything was great in that small shaded space, chill, warm, and rather insulated from all the buzz in the inside of the restaurant. So great that I was lingering on my lukewarm coffee so I could enjoy the moment longer. When I raised my head from my book again, I realized a group of four had taken that table and started generating noises louder than what my AirPods could block out. The western guy – my quiet fellow reader – had left! At that moment, with a feeble sense of loss, I traced back to a subtle codependence between me and him, or any two solo guests sharing some common air. The moment he was gone, so did the peace I was enjoying. So I drank up my coffee and left too.

I must have been to Cheung Chau at least five times before this stay. But it’s certainly possible to have a “new experience” in a place that isn’t “new”. Other than the fact that it’s the first time I’m here alone, and the first time I’m staying overnight, I also decide to avoid doing anything I have done before – the street food, the touristy spots I went with others, the paths walked, the restaurants dined at – and relieve myself from any ‘must-see’s and ‘must-do’s. Every day, I start with hungrily zooming and surveying on Google Maps to flag random places I wanna check out. Most of the time, when I’m not drinking or eating or reading, I’d be just wandering in the narrow lanes crossing through the residential villages – with nothing “worth seeing” and no business at all – and being fascinated by the fronts of people’s homes and the numerous simple lives lie behind.

Yesterday, I was intrigued by a “retreat home” on the map – I’m interested in all kinds of retreats! – and went to find it. I was very close to giving up as Google isn’t very accurate with small paths when an old gentleman stopped to ask if he could help me – I guess I did look rather confused in the middle of the way – and finally led me on the right way to the entrance. I buzzed the gate bell and someone let me in. I walked through the front garden and was “greeted” coldly by a female local staff outside the front office. “Can I help you?” she sounded nothing like she wanted to help at all. “Oh, I just passed by and wonder what kind of retreat program is available here,” I said. “You’re not supposed to just come over like this, you should have called to ask,” she said. “Well, I’m here now. Is there any information you could tell me?” I pleaded. “Are you Catholic or Christian?” “No.”I supposed I shouldn’t lie in front of God’s gaze. “Then there’s no need to continue this conversation. You don’t fulfill the basic religious requirement.” This woman just jumped on the perfect excuse to maximize her meanness. And just like that, I was sent off…and warned that I should not wander around in the retreat premise.

It took me a while to recover from the negative shock of this interaction, at a place that should technically be blessed by God’s love. This reminds me of how a trip – again, a “trip”? – is not always full of serendipities. Sometimes, you find something by not finding it. And you get satisfied from being disappointed. This is the deal, I guess, when you set out to explore things. You resign to whatever comes your way – even when it’s unpleasant.

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