Hong Kong, how I love you, but sometimes you drive me nuts, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s you or I who are more perfectly insane. Having arranged to meet a writer friend, ‘Verne’ for the first time at a popular arts bar, I’m not too surprised to find it closed for renovation; it was a fully functioning, low-key bar well suited to our purposes after all. I have no phone number for ‘Verne’ so email details of an alternative venue, already inhabited by our co-conspirator ‘Jules’ – still, ‘Verne’ may not have picked up my email so I linger in the heat warning by the entrance of the now-defunct bar, waiting for him. Luckily, we’ve exchanged photos, and I know that ‘Verne’ is shaven-headed and heavily tattooed (so we look pretty much alike, except in place of tats I’m sporting my ‘trademark’ oversized specs). We shouldn’t have a problem. There he is in fact – right on time – coming my way. I intercept him, hastily grab a hand, shake it warmly and apologize profusely for the mess up with the venue.
What I say: Sorry ‘Verne’, place is closed. Lucky we exchanged photos, good to meet you at last.
What he says: Ay, same here. I was just trying to check into that wee hotel across the way there.
What I think: Wow, I know he’s had a couple of books published lately, cause for celebration and all that, but he looks WAY too pissed to be taking part in a workshop tonight.
What he thinks: Who the hell is this guy? Still, he’s friendly enough – must be a mate of my brother’s.
What I say: So I’ve arranged for us to meet ‘Jules’ up the road. We should really head off there.
What he says: My brother’s not coming until tomorrow now, but that hotel wants $1300. When you work out what that is in beer… Where do you live?
What I say: Wan Chai.
What he says: Any places to stay round there?
What I say: Err…not sure. Maybe. I’d say stay at mine but it’s pretty small to be honest. Size of a bed, and we don’t know each other that well (laughs nervously). Let’s have a look on the way to the bar. There might be somewhere decent up in Soho
What he says: Sure, let’s do that. So when did we last meet? Your hair’s looking shorter now.
What I say: Than the photo? Yes, I took the fuzz off. I guess you recognize the glasses though? (waggles them humorously)
What he thinks: Shit, I’m stuck with this bespectacled idiot: still, the night is young and at least I didn’t spend $1300 on a hotel room.
What I think: Who is this guy? How am I meant to introduce him to ‘Jules’ in this state? He’s wearing shorts and doesn’t appear to have any notes with him. We’re meant to be discussing our VERY IMPORTANT WORK. Writers!
What I say: So when did you join the Writers’ Circle then? Must have been a while ago now?
What he says: Circles within circles, lots of circles. Never very far away from anyone, are we?
What I think: True (time passes, we walk and talk).
What I say: I didn’t realise you were up in Guangzhou. How is it compared to here?
What he says: Quieter, for sure.
What I say: But you know Hong Kong?
What he says: Aye a little, and you?
What I say: More than I did. Two years now. I’m always amazed by how safe it feels.
What he says (ominously): Until you’ve had too much to drink.
What I say (trying to ignore his evident drunkenness and apparent homelessness): And you’re a New Zealander? A Kiwi? Is that the right way to put it?
What he says: Irish.
What I say: It’s just that in your emails you mentioned…
What he thinks: This guy is confusing me now.
What I think: This isn’t ‘Verne’.
What I say (very clearly and patronisingly): Are – you – ‘Verne’?
What he says (very honestly): No.
What I say: Then that means … better run back to … nice meeting you … (sweaty handshake) ‘bye!
What he says: See you there!
What I think: Hope not.
What he thinks: It was a lot more fun last time I was here.