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Archive for December, 2012

Photos Oubliées

I had an envelope of photographs from that time. During a recent move, they tumbled out of a suitcase and spilled out onto the floor of the apartment I was vacating.  Scattered among the blurry images of the Hong Kong skyline, crowded night market streets, and the Wan Chai ferry,  Stephanie stared up at me.  I paused for a moment, considered how long I’d kept them, then threw them all in the trash.  I had to travel light, and some things are too heavy to keep around. Besides I’d rather avoid blurry photos contradicting my blurry memories. Less distinct means less despair.

The stamps in my expired American passport indicate I went to Hong Kong five times that year. I must have then, except in my memory they all merge together into the same experience, each trip essentially indistinguishable from the others. Each time I’d land at Hong Kong International, take the A11 bus to Causeway Bay, check into some hostel’s semi-private dorm, do a little shopping, then proceed to slosh around from convenience store to bar to club until the sun broke over the harbor. Then recuperate with some noodle soup and take it easy before doing it all over again. A few days later, I’d head back to one of the islands where I lived: Taiwan, Honshu, Manhattan, whatever my ticket said, with nothing remarkable to show for it usually. Perhaps a funky t-shirt or strange bruises from misadventure. Even less to show for it now that those pictures are gone.

I cannot exactly recall which visit this was. Of the five I took that year, it was in the middle somewhere. It definitely was not the first, when I had gone for New Year’s eve, so I suppose it was the second or perhaps the third trip. I similarly don’t recall how long I had already been there by the night of the photo, but it was probably the second or third day of a four day trip. I do remember that I woke in the afternoon, feeling dizzy and hungover, though this too was typical. Could not handle the crowds and wasn’t in the mood to shop anyway. Though there’s no import duty in Hong Kong, dealing with the hungry mobs and haggling vendors will tax your spirits. And I needed to keep them up if I was to salvage the day. And the evening, more importantly.

So I washed and threw on some clothes that I’d bought earlier in the trip. New ultrasuede trousers (North Point) and a weird Japanese t-shirt (Causeway Bay) under a leather blazer (Kowloon Tong). All were black and all served me well over the years, though not as well as they would that night. I hit the streets and drank a coke from a glass bottle. Vitality restored, I began to march. Never have a destination on urban holidays. Everything is right in front of you, and you might miss something if you plan anyway. Or someone.

I tramped through Central and Admiralty, admiring the sights and getting my bearings as I thought about where I was. Soon found myself in the Victoria Aviary, watching the painted sparrows dart under the steel mesh searching for a way out into the sky. This was Hong Kong, where signs read “way out” instead of “exit” and they speak Cantonese instead of Mandarin. I wondered if their linguistic differences were equivalent to those found in British and American English, and if the challenges negotiating between these two versions of Chinese were at all comparable to my confusion when speaking with commonwealthers (except Canadians). Then I wondered if the sparrows knew that their admirers were trapped inside their cage as well. Finally, I pondered if admiration was a cage in an of itself. Then I stopped thinking altogether and tried to get into the peaceful spirit of the bird sanctuary. Five minutes seemed like enough to gather myself for the evening that had begun to fall. With the sky darkening, I felt ready to chase the night’s adventures. Again this was SOP for HK. Every night, a new series of sins to misremember and write about later. Though this one remains very clear. Obvious why.

I tramped out of the park and stopped at the nearest convenience store. I did not have a SIM card for the region and felt disconnected. I called my one-time finace with a phone card, but I could not get through to her. She probably had her phone off-it being so early in NYC at the time. Or maybe she did not feel like picking up a call from Asia. She’d know who it was, certainly, unless she’d made Cantonese friends I was unaware of. Since I don’t recall exactly which trip to HK this was, I similarly cannot recall just how much our relationship had disintegrated by that point. On it last legs for sure though. Again it was obvious why.

As the reality of my detachment set it, I decided it was time to start drinking. The convenience stores in Hong Kong have an evil deal when it comes to public refreshment. It’s like they want you to stumble around faced, so you can be a target for pickpockets, sharks, or pimps. At least in my fevered imagination, that’s their plan. Likely they just want to sell you as much of their stock as they can. Anyway, the deal works like this: one can of beer is 9HKD but two is 12HKD. So naturally I’ll walk out with four and consume them on the ferry. Drinking on public transportation is legal in civilized countries, though its social acceptance varies widely. The practice is encouraged in Japan, considered bad form in Korea, and unspeakable in China. In all three cases though, it is entirely legal, presumably because few Asians are violent drunks unlike some other cultures. We cannot have it like that in New York. Third time, it is obvious why.

I cracked the first San Miguel while slowly making my way from back to Wan Chai. To cross the street, I walked up a flyover and skipped along the elevated platform. Again, in Hong Kong it’s a “flyover” and not an “overpass”. One also will “let a flat” instead of “rent an apartment”. There are countless other unfamiliar expressions to negotiate. Always are.

Rather than descend to the traffic, pedestrian or vehicular, I stayed above the streets and followed a cement track that weaved across the streets, narrowed into buildings, and opened again onto wide platforms. Under my feet, the cement turned to marble, then carpet, then tile, and cement again as I cut successively through an office lobby, a shopping mall, a fresh market, and an outdoor plaza, never once returning to ground level. All the flyovers merged and diverted, expelling determined professionals creating rush hour in every direction. Fascinated by their energy, I stopped to lean against a cement pillar in a b-boy stance. I was too old to pull it off, but young enough not to care. All the suits whisking past made me lonely and jealous for a life I had led once had back in New York. More than an ocean away by then.

Took out my second beer and slugged it down in defiance of their purposeful velocity. In the thrust of office workers blazing by me, I noticed their faces were all creased in the same stressful determination found in business districts the world over at day’s end. Save for the uniformity of these commuters’ cultural extraction, it could have passed for midtown Manhattan at six pm. The pace and uniform entirely familiar, even if the faces weren’t. The feeling of two beers at six pm felt familiar enough too. Only added to my loneliness. That’s what familiarity does in a foreign place. Makes longing distinct.

I opened the third beer as I boarded the ferry to Kowloon. Like a good tourist, I sat backwards facing Hong Kong Island to take in the skyline. It grew broader and smaller as we tugged north. So did the sunset, dissolving into an azure haze over the harbor. I couldn’t tell you which held more splendor at that moment. Once the city lights came on though, it was no contest. Humanity’s structures tower over the chaos of the natural world. Symmetry always strikes a more elegant figure than entropy. To the civilized at least.

On Kowloon side, I proceeded to the viewing balcony to the east of the ferry terminal. I needed to take in more of skyline and kill my last soldier. Night had descended entirely now and the buildings blazed with additional neon illumination for Spring Festival, celebrated a few weeks earlier.  Honoring the year of the monkey, little red primates climbed the edges of the Bank of China Tower and the HSBC building. They blinked on and off in sequence, ascending the towers every fifteen seconds or so, only to fall off and climb again in a different color. I wondered how much they paid a few illegals to risk the drop just to string those lights up there. They did a decent job to be sure, not enough to keep the effect from growing cheesy after a few cycles though. The “world’s best skyline” (and there is consensus for this) really does not require ornamentation and I found the effect gaudy. I appeared to be in the minority though, as throngs of tourists surrounded me, snapping away with digital cameras. Little Asian girls threw up peace signs as they are wont to do in photos, while older couples commemorated the moment without posing, or even smiling as far as I could tell. I hoped they would at least smile later when they looked back and remembered their trip. Then again, I didn’t when I came across my photos recently. For the final time, why shall become obvious. Here she comes…

“Could you take my picture sir?” An accented female voice rose up behind me. I spun about and almost knocked into the speaker. Thankfully, she giggled rather than screamed. At that moment, it could have gone either way. Usually does.

As I staggered back to regain my balance, I tried to pass it off as a flourish. When this yielded more giggles, I took a bow. My eyes then focused to figure out who my antics had amused. Just another tourist? If only it had been.

Tall and slender, though hardly a vision in her casual attire: an over-sized blue rugby shirt with white stripes, cinched with a belt like a miniskirt over black capris. Breasts small, legs tight, and curls brown, sure, I’d take her picture. Why not? I can think of several reason now.

“It would be my honor, however, I need you to make a difficult decision first!” I spoke as my eyes ran across her form. Probably I did not pull this off as causally as her attire. Not that I had any designs at this point. Or ever do in such situations. Or in general.

“And what would that be?” She replied, still smiling. Now I had to come up with something. Luckily, improvisation I can do. Planning not so much.

“Do you want a picture of yourself or of the city? If you use the flash, you will come through against a black background. If you don’t flash, the city will come through, but your image will be dark. And what a pity that would be!” I spoke from experience, having already taken a few pictures at that exact place on an earlier trip. The results had disappointed me, and I did not want her to be. At least not yet.

“They don’t seem to care.” She remarked, gesturing toward the sea of Asian tourists flashing away at each other.

“They won’t be happy when they get home, I promise. Unless they just want to take over-exposed portraits without respect to their location or geography. I am sure that’s not what you want, as photogenic as you might be.” I should have considered that I was speaking to a non-native and used less complicated terms. I should have considered a lot of things. A few beers and indifference being my only excuse at that moment. At most moments actually.

“Can you take one of each then?” She said impatiently, probably regretted the request already. She wanted a photo, not a slurred conversation after all. I could not let her off the hook quite so easy though. Nor myself as it turned out.

“Comment t’appelles?” I asked, considering her accent and taking a shot at international diplomacy. Not that I had any other tongue at my disposal. My facile grasp of the French language has seldom paid off in my life. This was the exception that proved the rule.

“Stephanie. Et toi?” She smiled offering her hand. I tossed off an ‘enchente’ and kissed her hand ironically. I introduced myself and proceeded to take her camera. Feeling very charming at that point, I encouraged her to pose ridiculously. She indulged me with an arched back and tossed her hair about with her right hand. I clicked away with a few flashes and the most cliched words of encouragement I could come up with at the time. “Hung Hao! Mad sexy-you’re a tiger! Tres jolie, tres chic! Kawaii!” She continued to giggle, until she needed to support herself with the railing at the water’s edge. I decided we were now old friends, and proceeded accordingly. I had nothing to lose. Except my loneliness.

I handed back her camera and we surveyed the photos. There was one that we both agreed was the best. I admired her other pictures of the city and made a simple proposal. I’d pay for a two copies of all the good pictures, if I could keep one set. I had not brought a camera with me, so this would serve as photos of my trip too. She would actually be helping make my trip more memorable! In so many ways she would.

She agreed to my plan, so we darted up Nathan road until we saw the first of the hundreds of Kodak signs that dot that tourist thoroughfare. I selected two copies of the shots I had taken by the water and a few others of HK street scenes and Stephanie smiling. It only cost a few dozen dollars Hong Kong, and at least an hour to process. I had counted on this to buy me some more time with her, though that was as far as I had considered. Anything further would be planning. Can’t do that.

“Well, what should we do now?” Stephanie asked, reading my  mind and slurping down the last of my beers. We stood in front of the photo kiosk. Chinese couples and elderly tourists wandered past us, some taking notice of the two tall, incongruous foreigners drinking beer and speaking in loud voices on the corner. Apparently, we shared an affect if not a lingua franca. Commonplace indifference and indifference to the commonplace, both ran through our blood. Or at least they did that night. And I have evidence of the fact. Or at least I used to.

I asked if she had eaten, and when she replied no I took her by the beer-free hand. We cut north towards Mong Kok along one of the diagonal lanes that slash across Tsim Sha Tsui. A Macanese place with a steam table out front used a fan to spread the scent of its rice noodles and curried shrimp into the alley. The tables were plastic and the menu just a pink page, a lamentated grease stain with Chinese on one side and English on the other. I pondered the Chinese and asked in French if she wanted me to translate. She smirked and gave me a love tap, rattling off some French slang I could not follow precisely. I rose, grabbed a large beer out of the fridge behind the bemused middle aged waitress, and cracked it with an opener that hung from twine off the table. Steffanie flipped two of the glasses that sat upended in the center of the table. We clinked glasses, I said “salut” while she said “cheers”. The absurdity of it all inspired another spasm of laughter. I decided then to put my French away and play to my strengths. Have so few after all.

Under the harsh industrial florescent lighting, we finally got a decent look at each other. She seemed a few years younger than I, and I probably came across as the inebriate I was. In spite of this, a flash of interest came across when we made eye contact. This encouraged me to proceed with my foolishness. God looks after us I am told. Not watching closely though.

“What’s a nice girl like you doing in place like this? And with such questionable company?” I inquired, and drained the small glass. She filled it up for me, then just started sipping from the bottle. We were comfortable enough in places like this. And with each other. At least for the moment.

“Visa run. The place I work for does not want to sponsor me for the long term, so every three months or so I have to cross the border. Then I return with another three month pass. It’s kind of fun, but the train takes too long.” She explained, assuming I understood the nuances of Mainland Chinese visas. I did not at the time, but would grow familiar with them years later. Far too familiar.

“Going home isn’t possible I suppose. So how long do you stay when you come?” I wondered aloud, thinking this woman seemed a bit young for the full expatriate life. Even though it takes all kinds. Learned that much later though.

“Back to Marsailles? I can barely afford to come here! Besides the whole point was to get out here. Too much to see, too much to learn.” She waxed with some sincerity. Or so it seemed.

“For me there’s too much to eat, too much to drink.” I countered. My own version of sincerity.

“And so many girls to photograph, right?” She finished and tapped me again. Old friends indeed.

Her visits were even shorter than mine, forty-eight hours or less, and punctuated with visits to government offices and visa processors. Then it was back to Jiangxi provence, where she taught English at university somehow. I asked how she could teach English being a non-native herself. She replied that the couldn’t get any native speakers to do it, the salary was too low and the visa situation too dodgy. I knew roughly what they paid in rural China, and with that I decided to pick up the check. Who says chivalry is dead? I do. This was gluttony.

I think we were holding hands by the time we crossed harbor again. We’d been jabbering away since taking the photos, yet somehow the gentle rocking of the ferry silenced us as we took in the architectural masterpieces. I rested my arm on her shoulder, but kept my eyes forward watching Wan Chai come into view. I felt her warmth through the sleeve of my jacket. And that was enough for now. Should have been anyway.

Stopped for a glass of wine at an expat place in Wan Chai. Neither of us were feeling that place though. I asked if she knew anything better. At the time I was not as versed in HK’s nightlife as I would be later. Have the scars to prove it now.

“Have you tried the escalator?” She asked. Hong Kong famously has the world’s longest escalator that takes pedestrians partway up the peak, though it is not continuous having to stop for the streets that zigzag the hillside. I told her I had ridden parts of it but not the entire thing. Even though I had, I was not about to spoil the promise of a long ride up. Plus I had wanted to check out the mid-levels where all the yuppies party. Pretty buzzed by then, I had enthusiasm for just about anything that would extend the evening. This was the fruition of my traveling philosophy realized. In flesh and booze.

“Are you ready to take it all the way up?” She winked, yanking me out of the expat wine bar and smashing a glass as we exited. I insisted we pick up a couple of beers at a convenience store first. Then armed with two more tall boys, we snaked around the alleys until we found the first part of the escalator. We were loud, boisterous, and hilarious so our fellow passengers gave us dirty looks. We cracked wise on the Chinese, the English, the expats, and each other. I decided to stay away from the French though. Too easy a target and might kill the mood. Besides the French are okay in my book. Particularly that night.

We played ridiculous game with each other as we shuffled up the hillside. I’d pretend to climb the steps and stumble almost kissing her, then grabbing her hips for mock support. She’d stand on a step above me, resting her arms on my shoulders pretending to point things out behind me, then smacking me if I dared turn to look. Of course, when we got off each stage of the escalator we replaced our beers. By the time we reached the mid-levels, my hand was in her hair and the skyline had begun to sway, as they usually did by that point in the evening. Particularly that night.

As we exited the moving staircase, there was some loud music coming from up the street. Steffanie pulled me up the incline toward the pulsing percussive place. Not really looking at anything but each other, we knocked into a bouncer. I straightened her up and we made giggling eye contact with him. There wasn’t a line, as the place was kind of cheesy anyway, but she dragged me in. Didn’t take much for her to send me forward. Particularly that night.

There was a Filipino cover band on an elevated platform and a collection of mixed couples at tables. The white men looked bored and uncomfortable, while their younger Asian dates bopped their heads and looked eagerly at each other. This apparently passed for exciting nightlife for this crowd, and I mentioned the fact to Steffanie. She tossed off another sarcastic comment, and I agreed that we were both way too cool for this scene. I suggested we still have a drink before moving on. After all when would were ever be back there? So far, not once in the flesh. In memory, regularly.

No matter how passionate you feel about music, any kind of music, life limits the amount of truly transcendent melodic moments you can hope to experience. The first time you attended the symphony, the first time you got stoned “really heard” Jimi Hendrix, or dancing to “your song” at your wedding reception, seldom come the moments wherein music delivers such a profound emotional thrust that you feel transported. That night, in that cheesy expat bar, Steffanie and I enjoyed the most singularly hilarious medley of early nineties pop hits we nearly keeled over the bar. By the time the lithe Fillipina singer sincerely strutted from “Two Princes” into “Ice Ice Baby”, we were holding onto each other for support. I think I kissed her for the first time as we stumbled to the floor. We then danced away with complete abandon, kissing and slamming into each other with drunken abandon. When the entire dance floor clears a space for you, you know you are having the best time of anyone in the club. At least that what you tell yourself.

We stumbled out into the jagged roads of the midlevels. I thought we should try for the peak, but grew dizzy and could not find the escalator again. Somehow we uncovered something better. There is a park about halfway up the mountain, and I never found it again despite trying on repeated visits. The best way I can describe its location would be to the east of the club district of the midlevels, on level with the sixtieth floor of the Bank of China building. The proximity to the skyscrapers felt so intimate that we could count the windows. From the bench where we sat, it seemed like we could reach out and touch the Island’s tallest structures. The glow of streetlamps and flourescent bulbs wafted up from the surface streets, mixing with the new year’s neon that adorned the buildings into a haze of lumencense. The towers, the light, the hillside, it was all too much inspiration not to demands the inevitable. I reached my arm around her  back and drew her toward me.  Thrusting my hand into her brown curls, I found the right angle for her lips and they parted slightly. We found a drunken rhythm and clutched ourselves together. I grew aroused by the pressure, opened my eyes and took in the splendor. As far as nights in Hong Kong went, this was pretty much as good as it ever got for me. The towers, the lights, the booze, her tongue, her scent, all made my heart blast in my ears and my blood coarse through my extremities. She broke away when she felt it. And it was all downhill from there. Literally, as we were halfway up the peak.

Somehow, that would have to be enough. I took her back to her hostel and kissed her goodnight. She had already described the friends she had come down with, two Canadians who I did not feel like meeting. Sex was out at my hostel too, since it was so late I would have to have the owner unlock the place and he would no doubt object to me bringing a girl back to my semi-private. In retrospect, I have lamented not being more aggressive in that glorious park. Still, the twenty minutes we spent there inspired me enough. Perhaps to have gone further would have cheapened the memory. Or perhaps these are the sour grapes of cowardice.

We made our way slowly down the hillside. By the time we reached Wan Chai, the ferry had stopped running. Both tired and worn out from drinking, dancing, and running around hand in hand, I spotted a mini bus that read Mong Kok. It would have been gentlemanly to escort her back, but my place was in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong side and she stayed at the notorious Chungking Mansions on the Kowloon side. I asked her if she wanted me to take her back and when she demurred, I swiped her on the bus with my card and kissed her good-bye. I watched her pull away into the roadway that led to the harbor tunnel, then turned back toward my place. Feeling thirsty, I grabbed one last beer at a market stall. Then I amble toward my place in Causeway, just as the sky turned purple in anticipation of the dawn. The night manager unlocked the door and remarked that I always seemed to come in at this time. He was basically correct, which is why I cannot remember which visit this one precisely was. Except that it was the best one.

I awoke in the afternoon as per usual. After the usual toilet, I spirited out into the fading sunlight. Drinking a cold can of coffee, I felt more drained than usual. The previous evenings activities flashed over my mind. Dug my hands in my jacket pocket and came up with the receipt. I picked the photos up and glanced at them, wondering how I could get them to her. I stopped by Chungking Mansions, before realizing she told me she would have checked out by this time. So I made my way back to the ferry and spent the evening being hit on by prostitutes and doing the whop at a nightclub in North Point. Wasn’t nearly as inspiring, but when the sun rose I returned to the hostel and packed my bag. I kept the photos in that front pocket for over five years, apparently. When the reappeared recently, I decided they could never do any justice nor could my blurry memories of that encounter. And neither was worth holding onto. Again, I like to travel light. Some things are too heavy to keep around.

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Excess Baggage

Note: Cette histoire est vraie pour la plupart. Je ne sais pas pourquoi dix ans plus tard j’ai ressenti le besoin de l’écrire. J’ai probablement voulais juste arrêter d’y penser. Pourtant, ce serait impossible …

We woke up in Prague. We’d tried to make up on the promenade. And the gallery. And the hotel. Which is where the sun had just cracked the window, laying bare the futility of our final session. At least the light made that much clearer.

The night passed without sleep. Our reunion passed without resumption. At least without resuming anything like what we had before. So there was not a whole lot to say as we dressed and packed. We checked out and took a taxi to the station. With time to kill, we stepped into an internet cafe. I checked my flight status. She checked her email, presumably to communicate something to whatever man she had waiting for her. I had no one to greet me where I was going, save the customs official. I did not even have a place to stay. Not this bothered me much.  Other things bothered me a lot more.

I’d asked her if I could return at the beginning of the trip. She said she’d think it over during our week in Europe. I had not asked again, as our estrangement grew evident and palpable as our week together lapsed into despair. We dragged each other across the continent, thinking each change of scenery would change something inside. Never did as it never does. When something dies.

We boarded the bus and spoke in ellipses about the future. We tried to stare at the shards instead of the entire broken thing, as though this would make things more understandable. Like a paleontlologist trying to discern an entire epoch with a single tooth and bone, we sifted through the years and the changes trying to identify where precisely it went wrong. As though this would provide some comfort. When machinery breaks down, it becomes a monument. Etching the death date was all that remained for us to do. Today would be that day.

The bus pulled onto the motorway. A light snow fell as we crossed into Germany. At a truck stop, I smoked a cigarette and had a conversation in French with a senior gentleman going east. I had not spoken the language in years, so between this and my sleep deprivation I could barely get past introductions and destinations. I might as well have had the same conversation with her at that point. That point being that of strangers, heading in opposite directions. Riven toward opposite ends of the earth, literally.

She refused to get off the bus, as though willing it forward to the point of arrival. She listened to her music and flipped through a book, while I peered out the fogged window onto the autobahn. We caught snatches of sleep as the day wore on. I whimpered at one point and she woke me up. If out of concern or embarrassment, I remain unsure. One in the same by then.

Paris’ bus depot lay on the east side of the town. I had a flight in six hours, hers in twelve. I asked if she wanted to check in somewhere for the duration. I did not really seek another passionless round of physicality, and she knew this would be pointless too. Instead, we locked our bags at Gare du Nord and walked around the city for a few hours. Drank a glass of wine at a brasserie and had another heated exchange about whose fault it all was. I claimed the long term blame, but felt the holiday’s misery was mostly her doing. And that’s all that was left to do, to decide which head would hang lower as we went our respective ways. Her west, and I east. She would return to her job, our old place, and the other familiar confines. I was cast upon the wilderness. Given our measures of guilt, it seemed like a just sentence for us. A sentence just for us.

We had a final meal together near the station. Like the entire holiday, it fell so far below expectations I found myself wondering how the French acquired their culinary reputation. When it mercifully ended, I threw down the rest of my euros. I told her to keep the rest since she would be staying a bit longer. I could not spend them where I was going. Not that I knew where that was exactly. I knew it would not be home. Not that I knew where that was exactly.

I thought we would part at the cafe. That would have been more painless. As I rose and grabbed my bag, she reached for my free hand. Loose at first, I tightened the grip and helped her up. We stepped out of the place and into the square that way. Sitting before the station, a beggar lay crumpled in the snow on the sidewalk. With her free hand, she took the last of my euros and dropped them into his box. So everything I gave her would be left behind on the continent that lay between us. Much like our love.

I had bought a round trip ticket on the way into town. We descended to the platform, still holding hands. We stood there in silence, looking at the tiles and tracks below. I released her hand and looked up at her. Like a cliche straight out of film, she looked around and her eyes welled up with tears. The gust from my train’s arrival ripped them from her lashes and onto the platform. Her hands still covered her face as I pulled away into the night. In that moment, I did not know which of us I hated more. Now I do.

She had given me some of my old things to take back. As I tried to check onto my flight, I was told my bag was now overweight. They told me I would need to pay 20 euros for each kilo over the limit. With no money left, I made my way to the trash can. I zipped open my bag and tossed out everything she had brought me. I fought back my own tears as I surrendered the shoes, sweaters, and books that simply were not worth keeping. Not worth the money. Or the sentiment.

I returned to the counter. I explained to the attendant that I had removed my “excess baggage”. I was returning to Asia with less than I came with now. Having lost time checking in, I rushed to my flight and the middle seat that awaited me. Sitting down, I finally had a chance to smirk over the metaphor. The obviousness of it all exhausted me. Yet sleep still did not come.

Still I lucked out on the flight, sitting next to a Japanese girl flush from a solo Parisian adventure. She had also booked a few days layover to shop in Hong Kong. By the time we landed at HKG, I had convinced her to stay in the same hostel as I had booked. We spent two jet lagged days in each others’ company, never separating until doing so forever at the airport. I wonder if she remembers my name. I cannot recall hers. There were no tears when we parted.

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