It is an unusually clear morning and unusually for me, I have a clear head. Last night, my girlfriend complained for 3 hours straight about how I was not spending enough money and time on her – in that order. I was surprised how quickly the time went and how clear her voice was. It must have been the new phone I bought her last time she visited. Right now however, I have other things to be concerned about, so it’s downstairs for coffee.
Even at this relatively early hour, cleaners are already out on the street, wiping down filthy surfaces with filthy rags dipped in buckets of filthy water. As always, visually effective measures are of paramount importance when it comes to public safety in Hong Kong.
Sensory overload as I walk past the newsstand and see the headlines enunciating the latest ‘H1-N whatever -SARS-type virus scare’. It appears that another apocalyptic epidemic is on the way, just when I had no plans for the weekend. Hard lived experience in Hong Kong tells me that white face-masks will soon appear like mushrooms and bottles of hand sanitiser are going to sell out everywhere. Some people actually look more refined in a face mask; call it ‘epidemic chic’ I guess, but everyone in The Kong knows the real reasons for wearing a face mask are to remain anonymous, get more space on the train or just to make sure that people leave you the hell alone at work. All they do for me is give me a rash and a headache from the elastic band.
Segue back to ‘Doomsday 2003′ when SARS shut down the city overnight, emptying the streets of all but the most hardened touts on Nathan Road, peddling their counterfeit wares to the 50 lone tourists who arrived from Europe before anyone could tell them what was going on. Even now I shudder at the picture of myself back then, barricaded in my apartment amongst crates of water and canned pork, watching pirated DVD’s whilst brandishing a bat against would be looters, convinced that the world was going to end. I emerged 16 days later wild eyed and unshaven, to find the Apocalypse over and the city in fine health.
A loud, uncovered sneeze suddenly explodes near me and is followed by a susurration of alarm as everyone sidles away from the perpetrator of this deadly sin. Now there is a clear view of him through the edges of the throng as he wipes his nose with his sleeve and the back of his hand and proceeds down an escalator to the MTR Wasteland, grabbing the handrail with a mucous laden paw. Long ago, during science lessons held on long hot drowsy afternoons, I learned about how viruses are spread and I realise that I have just witnessed a textbook example of a virus delivery system. I ponder the possibility of 10 million infected by lunch time – an interesting theory, but in reality, most people in The Kong are too busy trying to make money to get sick, so viruses just don’t work here.
I call the factory and inform them that I am coming down with a really bad flu.
“Worst I’ve ever had”, I croak.
“Oh, you need to take a rest, don’t come here!” shrieks the front office matron.
Ok, if you insist…
I walk slowly back to my apartment sized shoebox, enjoying the sunshine, taking in every sight and sound along the way. After all, if this is the Apocalypse, then these might be the last things I remember. My phone buzzes. It’s my girlfriend again.
I give her the good news.
“Honey pack your bags and come over, I’ve got a week’s holiday…”
-Jon Van Wyk