15th Sept: here, a Nutrigrain bar
by Vivien Chan
I just landed in Hong Kong this week. It was a long journey, but I am reminded why I enjoy travelling, specifically alone. Academic work allows me the excuse to do this, but I get to engineer a lot of what I do towards finding meaningful connections with places. I’ve spent a lot of time on buses, trains and planes, it’s transience allowing me to switch off, look out at the view, use my hands making paper stars, knitting, feeling the cold condensation against the window. These past few months have also been a lot of time in hotel rooms, and I currently write from one in quarantine. I got my slither of sea, as I had wished for, plus a few other features to boot; a pedestrian bridge with portholes (turns out this is the roof of the Western District Wholesale Markets), the mundane idiosyncrasies of each window of the estate next door, two large potted plants on the rooftop. Maybe in the next few days I’ll see some friends drinking on that roof, or the silhouette of a meal behind the curtain.
The night before travelling, friends had come over to catch up after many months of being apart. K had brought a gorgeous plum cake, her mother’s recipe on a big plate she had made for her father, a tub of creme fraiche on the side. My last plate at home, breakfast, was leftover guacamole and sourdough, and a slice of cake, my final taste of home and what a decadence it was. Leaving the Midlands, London is the first stop. A nonchalant PCR test later, I drag my luggage across Waterloo to meet a friend on The Cut. It’s our first time meeting in person, she’s here from Malaysia, a place I would love to know more. She tells me our ramen date is a welcome relief from Western cuisine, and we slurp our lunchtime specials. The yuzu mayo that comes with the chicken karaage hits the spot, a dot of greenish yellow elegance in the fast pace of the office lunch run. I have a diet Coke, reminiscent of the gullet boat, as if to remind me to ground myself together with my friend rather than anticipate the instability of travelling to Asia right now. Later that night, after having dropped off my suitcase in my Zone 6 hotel and relieved myself of some anxiety filling out the various travel declaration forms, I met H for a dinner of picky foods, and a short, but nostalgic walk back and forth along Bankside. We got chicken wings, beer, and I indulged in an overpriced ice cream sandwich in the cool September night, my favourite month in the capital. It’s been a while since we had a relaxed night out for dinner, just the two of us. I forgot that I’d already had deep-fried breaded chicken at lunch, and my stomach growled at me for it. I lay in bed in the Premier Inn at Heathrow, thinking about how even though London is no longer my home, it will always be a place of love. I can’t resent it precisely because it holds and has held so many people I have in my heart, connections made through the coffees and beers and noodle bowls and picnics and roast chickens on balconies and pasta nights.
The next morning is a stop and start of waiting and running for connections, eavesdropping and desperately ignoring my seat neighbour incessantly playing mobile games with the volume up. I stare at the board as it says ‘please wait’, ten, fifteen minutes after the gate was supposed to be announced. I had already distracted myself buying a pack of blackcurrant Soothers as a treat to suppress my edginess. Patience wanes though even as we board, the poor flight attendants have to constantly assert to the groups of self-righteous passengers to ‘shimmy down’ the aisle as they try to cram the oversized bags they didn’t fancy checking into the hold in the already exploding overhead lockers. I feel bad for the attendants as they give us all a sad nutrigrain bar for breakfast. We landed with 20 minutes to connect to our flight, and suddenly the fifteen-odd people making our way to HK became compadres, we’d stick together. I noticed most of us were solo young femmes and I felt a kinship, maybe we’re all coming home in a sense, or in the midst of some crossroad. As we’re running through transfer security at Charles de Gaulle, my backpack and crossbody bag, hugging my documents tightly to my chest, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Here we are, so alive, so late, so tired, so thrilled! I ran for my life through the airport, dodging pushchairs through the duty free shops, QR codes scanned, boarding pass printed. I sat down, one of the first people on the plane, and still can’t quite believe I’m on this flight. Catching my breath, I peel off pieces of the nutrigrain bar to eat under my mask, no longer sad but grateful for the sweet honeyed taste. Us young Asian travellers smile at each other across the seats, strangers looking out for each other as we part ways in our sojourn. I think about the person with the matching cream outfit and suitcase, and the blonde streaks in their ponytail under a cream cap, and feel warmth from their smile as we queue up, one last time, in the airport entering Hong Kong.
Vivien Chan, she/they
Vivien is a design researcher, educator and occasional maker based in the UK. She is currently finishing her PhD and researching design history and material culture in Hong Kong, and East and Southeast Asia more broadly. She is otherwise found sowing seeds and making sensations.