Mr Tall vs Bizarro Mr Tall!

You remember that original Star Trek episode where Jim, Bones and Spock are mysteriously transported into a parallel universe? Oh, sorry, that doesn’t narrow it down much. I mean the one where all the alterna-univerna-Trekkers have bad facial hair? Spock’s goatee? Now you know the one I mean.

I would like us to go on a little dimension-swapping trip of our own, where we will face the wrath of a disturbed and surly Mr Tall – a Bizarro Mr Tall, if you will – who’s seeing what one aspect of his life might be like if he didn’t live in Hong Kong . . . .

Bizarro Mr Tall (BMT hereafter) hears his alarm braying. He must roll over to shut it off, but executing this simple task proves difficult: the blubber around his middle pins him to his bed. With a heroic effort, he heaves himself up on one elbow, and gets the job done.

Opening his eyes, BMT is gratified to see nothing but airy space surrounding his king-sized bed. Buying this 3200-square-foot house was a great decision, he reassures himself. But where is Mrs Tall? Ah, there she is, coming through the door like a manifestation of Venus herself – it’s just that she’s been staying in the guest room recently, due to the unfortunate sonic manifestations of BMT’s sleep apnea.

A hot shower further improves BMT’s mood – so much so that he’s lost track of time. No chance for breakfast – he will purchase and consume it on his way to work!

So it’s off to the garage, and into the Audi. BMT is not very rich, nor does he covet a place in the public eye, but a man of his carriage requires a solid automobile to support him, to keep his family safe, and to make more tolerable what’s coming next – The Commute.

The first stage of this daily trial is deceptively pleasant – a cruise down the wide, leafy streets of BMT’s exurban neighborhood. There’s plenty of on-street parking, too, though no one really needs it. No sidewalks, but that’s fine – it’s a couple of miles to the nearest retail stores, and they’ve got plenty of spaces.

Eventually, though, BMT hits a red light as his street intersects with the burb’s main drag, which at this hour comprises six lanes of slow-moving mess down a long commercial strip. He makes his left turn, then must jerk quickly right across the other two lanes of traffic to get to the last Starbuck’s before the freeway on-ramp. He’s lucky it has drive-through service; most don’t. But the line of cars and SUVs is long. BMT spends his waiting time muttering imprecations down upon the carpool three cars ahead – it takes them almost five minutes to make up their tiny minds!

Eventually, he’s served, but then it’s right back into another kind of line, as the cars trying to turn onto the freeway stack up. BMT leverages this downtime to attack his muffin and beverage. When he hits the top of the ramp a few minutes later, he tries to merge into the middle lane, but a semi-trailer truck is swaying along right next to him. BMT’s half-drunk double-shot skim latte slops onto his lap as he finally cuts in. Ah, well. His gut hangs over the stain anyway, so no one will notice!

It’s stop-and-go for much of the way into the city, but BMT doesn’t really mind this part of his commute. There’s little need to pay attention to the road, as he can stay on the freeway for the next 12 miles, and since nobody’s going fast enough to do much damage anyway.

Just as he gets to his office building’s parking lot, the rain begins. BMT doesn’t bother carrying an umbrella, so today he pays, as being a bit late means the only spaces available are way out at the margins of the lot.

After dragging through a long day at his university admin job, BMT rejoices as quitting time finally rolls around. But then he remembers: he has been tasked – by Mrs Tall, of course – with obtaining several items from a local home-improvement store on his way home.

At the store, it’s another struggle to find a space, as a holiday weekend is approaching, and he’s not the only poor schlep who’s been sent out onto the brutal suburban savanna to bring home a nice set of tongs and meat fork for an upcoming festival of grilling.

BMT perseveres – and then it’s time for that commute again . . . .

Now let’s see how the real Mr Tall makes it through a similar day here in Hong Kong.

(Cue shift to first person pronoun; writing about yourself in the third person sure is tiresome, isn’t it?)

I get up each morning, and don’t need to struggle with turning over in bed. I’m able to keep the worst of my ever-threatening flab off here in Hong Kong – no thanks to the vast cornucopia of fantastic food on offer – but at least in part because I do a lot of walking. Yes, public transport here is great – we’ll get to that soon – but I estimate that I walk about a mile a day in one way or another, and sometimes much more than that. In fact, I notice in the summertime I tend to put on a bit of weight, not so much because I feel like eating more, but because I avoid walking when it’s so hot.

Anyway, after turning off the alarm – and glancing over at Mrs Tall, and giving the good Lord the daily thanks he deserves for giving me a life with her – I’ve got time to eat breakfast at home. Then the two of us are off to the MTR (i.e. subway) station that adjoins our housing estate. It’s about a five-minute walk, but all of it’s under cover, so even on a rainy day there’s no need for umbrellas. Mrs Tall and I descend to the same platform in the MTR, but then it’s time for a fond farewell, as she takes the train on one side, and I the one on the other . . . .

Mrs Tall can take her train all the way to Central, and then proceed in regal splendor to her office, again completely under cover. Unless she knows she needs to go out at lunchtime, on even the rainiest days she doesn’t even carry an umbrella!

It’s a bit different for me, however, as I must change modes of transport. I get out of the MTR, and must (horrors!) descend to street level to wait for the public bus that will take me to my office. I have to cross one street, then walk about two blocks. If it’s really chucking down, however, I can take a roundabout route through a shopping mall; this way, I’m exposed to the heavens for only about 10 steps or so. I figure I need to use this route about once or twice a month here in the rainy season.

My commute takes around 45 minutes if the connections are good and traffic is light, and up to an hour if I’m unlucky. I’ve been doing this commute for several years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been seriously delayed by traffic. On both the train and the bus I read virtually non-stop; there’s of course no need to pay any attention to the driving.

Oh, and if Mrs Tall sends me out to do some simple shopping? I can step right off the MTR on my way home, and into the shopping mall above it. I'll have to carry what I buy home, but it's still just that five-minute walk.

What’s the price I pay? Well, in the description above I neglected to describe my gaze around my bedroom when I get up in the morning. Let’s just say any survey of the familial domain doesn’t take long. We live in a very small flat (around 900 square feet in Hong Kong terms; maybe 650 in reality) in a very high tower (around 50 stories) in a very big development (15 identical towers).

Is it worth it? I think so, or I’d have left here a long time ago, or at least moved out to a part of town where I could afford more space. Am I happy living this way? Not always, of course, when I think about how big a house even a modest salary can pay for in many parts of my homeland. But over the years here I learned first to tolerate the tiny flat + public transport way of life, then to be content with it, and I wonder these days if I’m actually starting to love it just a bit. Some evenings, in our bedroom with aircon whirring, the June rain slapping against the window, a compelling book in my hand that I know I’ll be able to continue devouring during my commute the next morning, and Mrs Tall gently whispering ‘Will you quit reading that stupid book and turn the light out so we can sleep’, it all just seems so cozy.

Bizarro Mr Tall, eat your heart out!



Bizarro Gweipo

Mr Tall, you have but touched the tip of the iceberg ...

Mrs. BG has two young children. They live in a cushy location on expatriate conditions in a warm climate surrounded by some poor local people and quite a few weathly people who have made it and could retire early in life. The country is a gateway to Europe. Unfortunately this also means it is a gateway to illicit drugs. The country has experiencd quite a boom, but has not invested much in infrastructure. There is no nursery school for children and only one international school in the area. The local schools in the area have been suffering greatly from the huge influx of foreigners - to the extent that the local language is hardly spoken. To the detriment of local students. There is a lot of tension between the 'locals' and the 'expats'

There is not a lot to do for young children. Not if they're 3, and definitely not if they're 13. They hang out at the nearest port at night. There's an old guy there sitting outside one of the bars. Cocaine is not very expensive and he's not terribly selective of the age of his customers. Mums and dads have to pool resources to fetch and carry the youth. Some hang out at nearby bars and drive the kids home inebriated. Others are a little more careful. There is no public transport and taxis are extremely expensive - if you can find one at closing time. Some kids persuade their parents to get them motor bikes. Quite a few teenagers get killed riding these motor bikes.

The nearest supermarket in either direction is about 40km, unless you want to shop at the supermarket that costs 50% more than necessary, in which case its about 10km. You always need to be in your car. There are n school buses. And when the school hires in a bus for school excursions, there are no seatbelts. You see they're not mandatory yet.

Mr. BG heard from a friend in a country a little further up North the other day. Its become common among 12 year olds to drink themselves into a coma.

In contrast Gweipo has 2 young children in Hong Kong. They are fetch by bus for school every day. the bus has seat belts and a bus mother. There is plenty for children of all ages to do in HK. The city is very safe. There is abundant cheap public transport, and abundant cheap taxi's.

.... need I carry on?


It's not how big it is..

It's how you use it.

I lived in Canada for 12 years during the 1997 Terror Movement and enjoyed a luxurious 2500+ sq. ft. house with a nice front yard, and a spacey backyard full of fresh tomatoes. Was it worth the cultural barriers and sub 20 Celsius winters? Hell yeah! I could not imagine what I'd be like without the education in Canada, which I am always grateful for my parents. They worked their asses off for a useless dude like me, not taking on any part time jobs at the time to finance the schooling.

After 2 years of working there, I came back to Hong Kong looking for mates. It's too hard to look there when everyone is in a car. You can't just roll their windows down and say hi. Anyway, this is my 7th year back and I had to deal with the 600 sq. ft. flat, especially the amount of dust. Makes your computer cry. Deal with the humidity that kills your skin fast, the people in MK omg can't walk straight with arms swinging freely as you always feel like you're in a perpetual ballet. Was it worth it? Hell yeah. Met my share of mates here alright. And I don't mind the small flat (I live alone). It's not how big "it" is. It's how big you can be. :)