Apr 17, 2010 | Asia, Tracing China's Past, Uncategorized

March 25, 2008
Anne Black Guest House/YWCA
Kowloon, Hong Kong

I have no idea what time it is, only that it’s still a dark time of morning, and few cars are passing on the usually busy streets of Kowloon, eleven stories below. I feel a fragile safety in my tiny cocoon of a room, about 10-by-8 feet, with a shared bathroom across the hall. It’s much like a college dorm room: clean, tiny, sterile, with two small twin beds and a sink, behind an anonymous door at the beginning of a brief row of anonymous doors.

I’ve woken twice: once with the conviction that it was still the middle of the night and only jet lag had woken me – I was right – and again just half an hour ago, with the conviction that the dull orange glow drifting in through the blinds was the first hint of sunrise – I was wrong. It’s still dark outside, and that orange glow is the diffused light of halogen street lamps suffusing the invisible fog that hovers unseen over the darkened city of Hong Kong.

I feel a fragile safety in my tiny cocoon of a room.

Someone down the hall has a TV on, at a polite, murmuring volume; I heard it as I shuffled across the hallway to unlock the bathroom and pee. The bathroom is clean, with two toilet stalls and two shower stalls. Perhaps I’ll shower at the pre-crack of dawn, before anyone is likely to come in. I still retain some of the internal modesty of the only child, though I try to ignore it when it seems unnecessary.

I wish I hadn’t let Fiona Zhu, my interpreter, leave last night before I went out to buy bottled water. I could have bought the water myself, but I was too exhausted to contemplate the possibility of a non-English transaction. So my mouth is dry and I’m thirsty.

Fiona met me at the airport. She’s a pretty, friendly, quietly laughing woman of about 32, with a slightly moon-shaped face and generous cheeks, framed by long dark hair. Her round head floats precariously above a slender body in jeans, a t-shirt, and a small backpack. When we met, she kept trying to help me with my duffle, but I consider her my interpreter, not my porter, and I politely but firmly told her not to worry about it. She has a degree in international finance, “but I’m not too good at finance,” she confessed, laughing. Her parents own a factory that makes industrial kitchen products, so she works in international trade, a related field. But she says she likes working as an interpreter, “to open my eyes to more,” and “to meet people I would not meet otherwise.”

Her English is good, but some words she dredges up slowly and hesitantly, sometimes using replacement words to fill gaps. When I told her that the temperature was below freezing when I left home, but that it was normally a bit warmer than that in March, she called the unusual cold snap an “accident.” “Yes, an accident, a little unusual,” I agreed. In any case, it’s warmer here, around 70 or so when I arrived after dark last night, and likely to be even warmer by day.

She asked if Hong Kong looked much different to me than it did when I was here nine years ago. “No,” I said. “Still bright, still busy, still crowded with people, still noisy.” We shared a laugh.

Hong Kong (Kowloon): “Still bright, still busy, still crowded with people, still noisy.”

On the bus from the airport we shared the biggest giggle when she told me she enjoyed reading my website and the story about my pole-dancing class. I covered my mouth in embarrassment. I told her I didn’t know what it was like in China, but 20 or 30 years ago “nice” girls weren’t supposed to do pole dancing, and now that had changed so that sometimes even old-fashioned housewives did it for fun. She laughed and reassured me that she knew this, on both counts.

When she asked how long I’ve lived in Denver (eight years, this time), I told her the many places I’ve lived: California, Colorado, Alaska, New Mexico, North Carolina, and back to Colorado. She seemed quite awed, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. But it doesn’t seem to have curbed her warmth.

To dissuade her from once again trying to carry my heavy duffle, I told her, “I lift weights,” and mimicked lifting two dumbbells to clarify.


“Sometimes. Not very often.”

“I think you can do anything,” she said earnestly.

“Yes, I can also become invisible and I can fly.”

We both laughed. But it’s not far from the truth. I’ve flown here, to the other side of the world, and I’m now invisible, on the 11th floor of this YWCA. I confess, I don’t want to leave this room.

I’m now invisible, on the 11th floor of this YWCA.

I don’t own a watch, and usually check my cell phone for the time. I didn’t bring it, knowing I don’t have international service and am unlikely to need it. But that means I have no convenient way to tell the time. The birds started singing a few minutes ago, then stopped; I see no hint of sunlight anywhere outside my window, so they must be mistaken. When I turned the TV on a half hour ago, an American news anchor was discussing the close of trading on Wall Street with someone on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange. So I guessed it to be about 5:00 a.m. here, but I have no idea.

I’ve always loved to travel, but at this moment I just wish I were home. I’m eager for this adventure, but equally eager for it to end, before it has even begun. What is happening to me?

About Cara

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands. She’s a winner of The Moth StorySLAM and performs in many storytelling shows, including Unheard L.A., and Strong Words. Her writing appears in such publications as Los Angeles Times, Manifest-Station, and Writing for Peace. She’s a traveler, swing dancer, and baker of pies. Cara and her husband live in the beach-town of Ventura, California, where they enjoy tending their Certified Wildlife Habitat full of birds.
Cara Lopez Lee

Sign up for my blog posts & news:

Pin It on Pinterest