Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lonesome Town
One reason for my recent malaise and yet another self-pitying/self-absorbed post is the fact that I'm increasingly lonely in Hong Kong. Virtually all of the people I considered reasonably close friends - i.e. we could talk about topics beyond hangovers and weather - have left the paper.

After work it's me, books, the CDs, TV and all too often ... my pals Jack or Jim who don't say an awful lot beyond (assume eerie high pitched voice): "C'mon, drink meee! More!!! A little more iccceee, that'sss it, now drink meee...More! Now call an old girlfriend who hates you and who you haven't talked with in 20 years. Or maybe an old boss you always loathed! Let him have it! C'mon! It's only 4:30 in the morning there..."

No. Not pretty. Not too pretty at all.

I found myself mulling this over considerably during the last two days when I had some out of town visitors and was almost ecstatic at the thought of having someone to talk with after work. Fish and visitors stink after three days, goes the cliche, but I had to restrain myself this morning from falling on my knees and begging them to stay

Then, after walking with them to the MTR entrance before peeling off to deliver my laundry I was almost giddy with anticipation at the thought of small talk with my laundress whose comments normally don't go beyond "Hello! Minimum! (HK$27, the usual charge for my sack o' filth) You want tomorrow? Not possible! Thank you!"

Today I knew I had more than the "minimum" and got caught up in a fantasy wherein I would be able to spin that fact into a charged give-and-take 20 minute philosophical discourse on the connections between lesser works of the Roman poet Virgil, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and, oh, maybe, the Buzzcocks.

Alas, it was not to be. "Hello! Wha!? WhAAA?! No minimum? Maximum!"

"Uh, yeah. You see I was listening to Spiral Scratch by the Buzzcocks last night, you know while reading Virgil's Book One of the Georgics and I got so excited when I realized that it all mirrored Murakami's obsession with mysterious women who lead him through walls that I knocked a bowl of curry noodles all over my last pair of good pants..."

No. I just paid HK$37 and asked if I could pick them up tomorrow. "No tomorrow!" she said. "Friday! Bye bye!"

No tomorrow, indeed.
We arrived home safe and sound after having spent two nights in your very appreciated and meticulously clean - with the exception of a dusting of melted paper scraps - apartment.

It's too bad we didn't have more time for palaver (your word, which I have appropriated entirely due to fondness); we were trying to squeeze in as much HK as possible.

BTW, we did try to bring you instadinner in a bag, complete with miniature chopsticks (which was selling like, well, hotcakes in a bag) but apparently it's a fresh product to be assembled, stirred and served upon ordering. The process is as follows: customer selects what ingredients s/he wants (we opted for mysterious green noodles, julienned cucumber + squid and octopus - which allowed us the romantic pleasure of feeding one another little tentacles in the middle of a busy street) which are in little translucent plastic bags in a display case. These are then culled, torn open across the top, consolidated via dumping into the bag with the noodles, mixed with chopped garlic & soya sauce and then eaten by being held in the palm of one hand while the other manipulates miniature chopsticks. Four stars.

Thanks for the relics from the floating world, and please beware of that high-pitched voice.

I can sympathize w/re to a lack of close friends. Though I've been in HK for two years now, I haven't made more than a handful of casual acquaintances. I'm married, so it's not as though I'm completely alone, but going for long periods without having more than very minor smalltalk with anyone but one's spouse ... is, I've found, not conducive to maintaining one's sanity.

Partly, it's my fault - I hate crowds, don't drink or smoke, etc. Then there's my wife. Throughout my life, my closest friends have primarily been female. My wife isn't too keen on that sort of thing and flipped her lid a year back or so when I was (quite innocently) hanging out (lunch, catching a movie, etc.) with someone who happened to be a woman. That was the end of that.

We also tried double dating with her friends and their husbands/SOs, but it just sort of fizzled out. Most locals in their early 30's seem focused on popping out babies for their Ph/Indo maids to raise and travelling to neighboring 3rd world countries to ... uh ... eat the local cuisine.

I've managed to keep myself in pretty good spirits, amazingly enough.

YOu can take this with an appropriately-sized grain of salt, but I thought that I'd throw it out there.

(1.) Exercise. This really improves my mood but is not really feasible in HK. I used to bike for an hour each day. If I tried that here, I'd likely be either run down by a cellphone-encumbered minibus driver or succumb to some pollution-induced respiratory ailment within a year.

(2.) Dietary tricks. Dark chocolate (it's the cocoa) and/or fish oil capsules (the stuff with EPA and DHA, not cod liver oil) are great mood regulators. There have been studies conducted that support this (you google for references).

I began taking 2-4 GNC cholesterol-free "fish body oil" capsules every morning after reading on the BBC health news site about a study conducted in a British school showing that students taking similar amounts of fish oil each day showed a marked improvement in their test results and seemed to have significantly greater ability to concentrate.

In addition to better concentration, I realized after a couple of weeks that I hadn't had a "bad day" since I'd begun taking them. More googling turned up other studies that supported a mood evening-out effect for DHA/EPA.

If you don't want to try the fish oil pills (because it seems too wacky or for fear of fishy burps), then you can try dark chocolate. Cocoa contains theobromine (, which is "mild, lasting stimulant with a mood improving effect". The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa it has and the more bitter it is. The highest cocoa content that I can stand is about 75% or so (Lindt and some other brand put the cocoa percentage on the label). When you're feeling down, try munching on some dark chocolate.

Hope things start looking up for you soon!
Mmm, yummy. Wierd food and vitamin tips. EPA sounds like it's got possibilities if you can snort it.

Up here in SZ, and I imagine in HK too, there's this pronounced "rotation effect" that hampers building a community of buddies. Most people stay here just 1-2 years, then move on. Takes at least that long for us elderly curmudgeons to bond well, so we get these sort of half-friendships that don't last long. I'll probably end up with all my best friends among the Chinese, just due to seniority alone!

Coping methods include; fits of Skyping everybody I know...."Dad, really, what's up with this? You've called 3 times in 2 days.", Hanging around the cheese section in the Ole supermarket, hoping to meet someone who's not French, turning up the amplifier and playing with my imaginary band (it gets worse, but this is all I can divulge).

Shenzhenren is sorta back, at . Mind if I borrow a big part of this post? It's pertinent to most of the expats I know!

Sam in SZ
If you go to that laundry place in Telford Gardens across from the post office, that woman will rip you off!

Take your laundry somewhere else. She charged me $70 for a load when I first arrived in Hong Kong. I've been fuming over it since and I want to go back and give her crap. But besides that, I have no reason to return to Kowloon Bay.
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