Lots of people assume that Hong Kong is an incredibly exciting place to live. As I’ve already explained, this is only true to some extent. In fact, considering all the challenges from housing, work culture to money, status and hierarchy driven society, I feel that many long-term residents and even locals would admit that there’s not much left to label as exciting. Unless you are rich and you can indulge in blissful ignorance. An acquaintance of mine who has just moved in here put it nicely – the setting is international, but the mind set isn’t. But this complicated contrast is an amazing source of stories to tell. And that’s where I personally find excitement. This is what, to me, makes life in this metropolis fun. When you learn to find pleasure in small things, this city can reward you big time. So, as promised friends, here’s another glimpse into the conundrum of living in Hong Kong.
Tale about An unusual anniversary celebration
On 11 August 2022 it was exactly a year of my coming to Hong Kong. And I celebrated it my way. Instead of splurging in one of the Hong Kong bars or restaurants – I have given them a wide berth as I reveal in Part 1 – I spent the entire evening at the A&E department of a local hospital. As usual it was quite an interesting experience to say the least.
Sticking to wrong habits
From one of my posts you might remember that I tend to postpone doctor visits until absolutely necessary. I don’t know why that is but perhaps it’s some kind of bravado and a belief that in many cases I can help myself. This naive notion of mine is probably based on the vivid memories from my childhood as well as an active all-about- sports teenage life, where my mum took care of a lot of wounds at home and where healing would happen quite quickly. I had this vague memory that I only went to doctor with serious accidents, which were aplenty too.
Turns out I was wrong. In fact, I believe I remembered what I wanted to and upon digging a tad deeper into my injury history I probably just pushed some of the correct habits away. I also seemed to ignore the fact that as I progress in life, like everyone else, healing takes longer than when you were 14 years old. We live and learn.
My injury happened in Lantau, during one of my staycations, which I will write about very soon too. Long story short, I fell, for no apparent reason, and caused myself some pretty bad abrasions. Blood was pouring out of my wounds on foot and knee, and yet, I thought I would treat it myself. Sadly though, all I did from a medical point of view was wrong as I learned later but that’s me and my rebellion against the norm.
Forced to do the right thing
When after a week my left foot still looked hideous, was painful, swollen, red and hot on touch and there were no signs of healing, I finally made my way to a GP. Upon inspecting my foot, he immediately referred me to a hospital, claiming that it’s the best option as private centre would be too expensive. I meant to suggest I had insurance but something stopped me. I just wanted to deal with it as soon as possible – at this point I clearly had very little understanding of the fact that my visit to the public health care institution would be anything but quick – so I went with everything he said. He could see that I was a tad scared, as I made an awkward joke asking whether amputation was a possibility. He was kind enough to reassure me that the foot would be fine but doctors might need to cut into the wound to clear the infection.
That won’t be pretty
‘Ouch!’ I almost fainted imagining the pain that awaited me. The doctor, noticing my pale face and a convulsive cringe, mentioned, however, that Hong Kong public health care system was brilliant and the only issue there could be was that I might need to wait ‘a little bit’. Despite being aware of the fact that insanely long waits in local public hospitals were something of a tradition, I felt that it would be interesting to see how the health care system actually worked. Worried on the one hand, curious on the other, I thanked the doctor, grabbed the referral and set off to Ruttonjee hospital immediately.
I was smart enough to make a quick stop at home to haphazardly grab a couple things such as a power bank, book and personal documents. Since I wasn’t sure what would happen to my foot, I decided to walk, or limp to be exact, to enjoy the experience a bit more. Another reason I walked was that to that day I had never taken taxi here and had no idea how it worked. Funny, right? My avoiding taxis was intentional though after hearing multiple crazy stories.
It’s semi urgent
I reached the A&E shortly before 6pm and got an impression that the wait might not be as bad since the registration process was incredibly efficient. But it was indeed just an impression. I was going to spend all the evening there. Once your injury is categorised, you are left with your patience.
High fever spot
Moving cautiously through the waiting room, I finally chose a spot in a corner which was labelled ‘High fever’. While I had no fever I liked the area as it was a bit further away from all the people, there was nobody sitting there and it seemed like a place where I could read my book. But as I was about to understand, this was no time for reading. The first thing I noticed was the cold. The air conditioning was blasting and with my short sleeve and semi long trousers I knew the book was not exactly the kind of thing I was supposed to bring with me. A jumper and wool socks would’ve been more useful.
Observing makes me slightly uneasy
As I sat down I started scanning the environment. Behind me was an area for medical beds. There was an old woman chained to one of them, shouting and screaming. More elderly people in a similar situation were on the beds further away too. Chained and motionless, confined to the tiny space. They were there before I came and they were there also after I left.
Patience is my middle name
A&E staff kept bringing more beds in with emerging cases, which only meant a prolongation of waiting. At some point they announced arrivals of severe cases which required resuscitation and asked for more patience. I knew this would be an unexceptionally long evening and quite depressing too. But thanks to the heavy air-conditioning, my body was becoming number every hour. To get the blood pumping, I made occasional trips around the A&E ward and switched seats frequently. It didn’t bring much relief but it was the only thing I could do.
Numb to the core
After about the third mini walk, I sat a bit away from the air-conditioning hoping it’d alleviate some of the numbness. My apathetic body started acting up so I slid my hands into the bag as I kept it on my knees and allowed my head to collapse onto it. It seemed like a solid position for napping. As consciousness slowly abandoned me, I remember thinking that taking a nap could be risky as I wouldn’t hear my name being called. But tiredness was getting the hold of me and I was slowly dozing off.
The strangest encounters
When suddenly I heard a loud, quite unusual male voice piercing the omnipresent buzz of the A&E. Any hope for a kip was gone. As I lifted my head to locate the source of this strange voice, I was truly amazed at what I saw. A very confident, tall man was approaching the bench where I was parked. The confidence was not only a result of his extraordinary voice but there were far more important factors that made him the most interesting person in the whole emergency ward. Accompanied by two policemen, he was handcuffed and chained to one of them.
Sensations of mundane life
I am normally immune to sensational occurrences but I was truly dumbfounded. With my head partially lifted I kept starring at the men. The gait of my new interest subject was brutally self-assured and he looked both incredibly powerful and yet graceful in the way he carried himself. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was wearing a black T-shirt and purple semi long trousers. It’s the colour and shape of trousers that revealed the man’s status. He was an inmate. As he got closer to my bench he looked at me devilishly. Oh boy.
This isn’t for real, right?
The policeman who he was chained to bent as they approached me, met my astonished eye and very politely asked me for the whole bench. The policemen were both handsome too and I liked them also for the way they treated the inmate. As I was developing a serious crush for all three men on the scene, I replied “Of course” and moved swiftly just to a seat opposite them. ‘Excellent’ I thought to myself as I had the best possible view. Now true observation could begin. As I was scanning them all, it was the first time I felt genuinely sorry for not understanding Cantonese. The inmate talked nonstop. Sometimes the policemen laughed, sometimes even the audience, in this case patients in the waiting room. It was beyond obvious that the inmate was churning out hilarious comments.
Too curious to bear it
‘That’s what happens when you have nothing to lose’ I thought to myself because I was sure he was being sarcastic. I was dying of curiosity and all sorts of questions run through my head. ‘What did the inmate do? Why is he there? Which prison was he from? Were the policemen his guards from the prison?’ I was so intrigued but sadly had no way of finding out. At some point the trio went to the toilet. I was thinking whether I would witness an escape story too. But I guess rather than escaping the inmate needed treatment. He had no visible injuries, he just occasionally hissed when moving his left hand. ‘A fight gone wrong?’ I thought as my imagination was sending strong doses to every neuron of my brain.
My eyes were locked on the toilet door. Once it opened I tried hard to conceal the adrenaline rush. But it was futile. I just couldn’t stop eyeing him. Upon coming back to the seated the inmate rewarded me with a boyish greeting and smile with his cheeky eyes. Attraction was clearly established both ways. The policemen couldn’t do anything but they both shook their heads in disagreement as if saying ‘You do not talk to young ladies here, alright? But he was a naughty boy. And I am a naughty girl. “Hello” I replied giving him a mischievous look, dying to ask him all the questions I had about him. ‘Please, unchain him and let’s run away’ I screamed inside occasionally glancing at the policemen.
Imagination runs wild
This spectacle along with an uncontrollable tsunami of ideas, emotions and desires inside my frozen and tired body had me engrossed so much, that I almost overheard when they finally called my name. After a 6 long hours it almost seemed surreal. I was mentally preparing to spend the whole night there. I energetically lifted myself from the seat and took the last chance to connect with my three handsome males with a fleeting gaze. Then I quickly limped towards the treatment rooms. I could feel the inmate’s gaze on my back. I was sure he had questions too. As the only gweilo I was an exotic find for him too. I couldn’t turn back but it was giving me the necessary courage.
Am I a movie star?
Once I entered the treatment area, I was ushered to a room at the end of it and instructed to wait for the doctor. As I sat quietly I noticed that I was near the waiting area where I sat before, separated only by a closed door. I enjoyed the silent moment away from all the other patients, but I could still clearly hear the loud and confident inmate’s voice which was making its way from behind the closed door. Suddenly I heard him clearly say my name. I jumped on my seat. I wanted to run back and ask him every little question that flashed through my mind. If this were a movie, I would do it.
Reality hits back
But I knew I couldn’t. This was reality, albeit very unusual for sure. His repeating my name filled me with even more curiosity and also pride. ‘He paid attention to the nurse calling my name more than I had’ I thought. I smiled to myself, gazed fixed on the door behind which he was sitting, hoping it would suddenly become see-through and I could wave at him, thinking that I too left an impression on him. No wonder. I was definitely the youngest, the prettiest and the most exotic creature in the whole A&E ward. If only I could see also the policemen’s reaction. While there was no chance my wild wishes would materialise, the satisfaction from this encounter was exactly what I needed to endure the pain that was going to follow.
Knife, flesh and gore
But now I was ready to handle it all, full of pride for this brief meeting of an inmate in Hong Kong. With my gaze fixed on the closed door and my trying to x-ray it to see the inmate for the last time, rythmic steps and rustling of Covid-19 protective gear distracted me from my unchained imagination. “Hello doctor” I immediately shifted my focus and greeted him as politely as possible, beaming with life and positive energy. ‘All will be fine now’ I calmed myself down as the kind doctor sat next to me. We briefly talked about Prague and my work and then …knife, flesh and gore.
Feel the pain
The procedure was painful AF. The doctor was kind enough to promise anaesthetic but then forgot to instruct the assisting nurse who quite robotically started to tear infected skin from the wound as if it were hair. For a moment I felt like a chicken before roasting. Obviously. I screamed like crazy, begging for an injection. The nurse slightly puzzled by my screaming called the doctor. ‘Mercy upon me’ I yelled with my terrified eyes. The penny dropped luckily and the doctor swiftly re-emerged with some paper work for me to sign and two options – gel or injection. Without a blink of an eye I went for the latter. ‘Make me numb to the core’ I begged him silently. Once the solution entered my foot, I collapsed in the bed and released the tight grip on the bars.
When a couple minutes later the doctor asked me to lift myself up and have a look, I almost vomited. “So Miss Sona” he confidently explained. “This is what a healthy tissue looks like” pointing with scalpel to a hole of a size of a small apple that he just so proudly dug in my foot. Thank God I was numb and my stomach couldn’t react. I stared at my own flesh and was in a state of disbelief. ‘What the fuck happened to my foot?’ I screamed inside my head but my face was capable of just this plain, apathetic stare. I thanked the doctor for being so nice and proceeded to the next room for a tetanus shot and to collect paperwork. The worst part was over.
Finally going home
When I left the treatment room with a set of antibiotics and painkillers I looked around to see if my darling inmate was still there. But there was no sign of him or the handsome policemen. Just a green bed sheet haphazardly thrown on the bench. ‘I should have asked for one too had I known I could’ I thought leaving the freezing A&E ward, toward the outside heat limping from one extreme to another. The worst was over. I left the hospital precisely at 12am and thank God managed to get a taxi home for the first time in Hong Kong without any problems. There’s indeed a first time for everything.
It doesn’t end there
Of course, the story with my injury didn’t end there because after the procedure, I was supposed to be going to another public hospital for dressing on a daily basis. At first it was okay, because I got a nice nurse. But otherwise not an experience I’d enjoy. Every nurse was different. Some wanted to get rid of me, telling me I could do dressing myself at home, throwing sterile bandages at me. Some were rather rough when treating my open wound. Every day I dreaded the time I was supposed to turn up for dressing, worrying what nurse I would get and how she would treat me. The last drop came when a so-called wound specialist recommended that I shower with it normally and let it be as it is. “Your foot is fine,” she exclaimed as she handed me a package with a special dressing material.
Guess I’m done here
At that point I ran for hills and arranged myself treatment in a private centre, taking advantage of the insurance, at last. Thank God. While the GP was generally right about the quality of services in the hospital, leaving aside the ridiculous wait, the daily wound care by nurses was a hit and miss. Sometimes it felt like being treated by a robot. Once I made it to the private sector, my mental state improved immediately and it felt like healing could start. It made a huge difference. While the private centre took excellent care of me, my foot will never look the same again. To this day I have bloody scars on my left foot and knee and it seems that they’ll be there forever, if they haven’t disappeared by now. I guess it’s time I finally ditched those modelling aspirations for good🙂
As long as I have a healthy body and mind, I will deal with anything.
Tale about Solving the conundrum of Chinese thinking
Early into my Hong Kong life, my body was a mess. Botched haircut and massage didn’t exactly help alleviate the physical and mental pain so I could still feel a strong desire for a quality massage. It was unbearable. The idea of deep tissue and the relief that comes with it was luring me into more Hong Kong parlours. I guess I was also desperate to repeat my mistakes. I went to a salon which was on my way to work and which had a fancy name and great reviews. Apparently my haircut experience was not a good enough lesson. By then I should have known already that reviews were not a reliable indicator of quality. Another thing is that the generic public love stuff that I often truly despise.
Bad vibe from the start
When I reached the salon and rang the bell, the owner, a local woman, opened the door. Apart from her fierce appearance she had this look in her eyes that immediately made me extremely uncomfortable. She looked at me as if I were her enemy but said ‘Hi, please come in’ in a rather soft voice. Whenever body language doesn’t match the words, one must be alert. But hey, I was going for a massage!
I could feel the gwei-lo attitude immediately and was logically offered the most expensive massage on the menu. It was explained to me it would be the best for me if I needed overall relaxation. Well… My reason was rejecting this cheap marketing style but when your muscles feel like stones you tend to be forgiving. “Okay,” I nodded somewhat reluctantly, keeping a glimmer of hope alive. But as expected, it was naive. Instead of deep tissue massage I received a form of soft caressing. During the whole time I was wondering when she would get down to actually massaging and releasing the pressure. I don’t need to tell you that it never got to that. My muscles still hurt the same after it, so logically I was fuming inside. Expensive annoyance, if you ask me.
To add insult to injury, when I was putting my shoes on, the Chinese vulture owner immediately emerged from her backroom and without any hesitation quickly asked whether I’d pay tip to the masseuse. This time I looked at her as if she were my enemy, just to balance the situation, and with a fake smile I politely refused. What I did, however, was booking a pedicure and foot massage since my feet were in similarly desperate condition. I thought that the likelihood of messing these services up was low. Instead of being satisfied with my new booking, the owner wondered why I didn’t add the expensive massage too. I explained to her that it didn’t bring the required relief so I’d go with something else. There was some exchange of opinions as to what constituted true deep tissue and when the mafiosa said I should go to the doctor for pain in muscles I wanted to strangle her. Silly me for ever returning to her den.
Little nervous ants
When the pedicure and foot massage day came up, a new gweilo chapter began. The pedicure guy was late but foot masseuse early. She was nervous as she didn’t want to wait. That’s typical as in Hong Kong everyone wants everything quickly. She was racing around the room back and forth, mumbling in Cantonese. They suggested that they would massage one leg first, then do the pedicure, and then massage the second leg. Both women, the owner and masseuse, started plotting, moving around me in circles nervously like ants who have lost the address to their hive.
No, thank you
The masseuse suddenly put a stool near me, sat down and violently grabbed my foot, as if saying ‘the massage starts now!’ The owner sat down to and started weirdly helping the masseuse looking at me as she wanted to mesmerise me. Both were touching my legs and rolling my trousers up. I nipped the Cantonese witches in the bud firmly and said that the pedicure was more important for me and had to come first. “If the masseuse doesn’t want to wait she can go as I can skip the massage” I confidently explained.
My approach doesn’t work
While I solved the problem for myself I clearly pissed them both off. A lot. ‘Who am I to dictate them how their services will be delivered?’ The masseuse started blurting more Cantonese nonsense, I assume all cursing directed to me. Luckily, the pedicure guy hurriedly entered the scene a couple minutes later. It was a funny moment because just as he finished my left leg, the masseuse again like a bulldog that hasn’t eaten for days gripped my leg and started her massage. So my right foot was in hands of the pedicure guy and left foot in hands of the anxious masseuse. While I didn’t like this, I knew there was very little room for complaining. When it was all over after an incredible 50 minutes, then came the tipping part.
Tip, you owe me a tip!
The general practice has been that the people providing services wait for the tip and don’t want to leave without it. While I liked the pedicure because at least my feet got the necessary relief I wasn’t ecstatic to tip the masseuse. But unfortunately the Chinese witch gave me this look as if saying ‘I’ll do voodoo on you if you don’t tip’ and you, somewhat subconsciously without even meaning to, start pulling banknotes out of your purse to give a tip to both the foot and body masseuse from last week, who was stepping around aimlessly too, probably in the hope that I would book the caressing session with her again. Long story short I forked out about 50HKD on tips to people who I hated and who’d probably cut my throat open for a few bucks if given the opportunity. Congratulations Sonia! Nicely done, indeed.
More, we want more!
Despite this tipping debacle on my part, I had to admit that the pedicure was great so I booked another session a couple weeks later thinking that the money hungry witch would come around. My naiveté was obviously far-reaching. She made an appointment for me without a problem though traditionally she expressed a tangible degree of annoyance for my not booking a massage. Some Hong Kongers have cash machines instead of brains. They always want more. And they get angry when you do not grant their wanting.
Money does not change people. It unmasks them.
This is war!
On one Saturday evening, when the appointment was due, I rushed to get the relief my feet so badly needed after work. But it wasn’t meant to be. I found the unscrupulous crone open the door to me wide to show me a reconstruction in full swing. To crown it all the cold-blooded devil told me “Oh, I forgot about your pedicure. I’ll give you a 10% discount next time” and with a sarcastic smile she smashed the door into my face. What a lovely attitude.
Why am I even surprised
In Hong Kong this is not unusual. Of course there was no next time and I lamented myself for even making the last booking. My feet felt heavier than ever and it was virtually the first time when I visualised throwing a grenade somewhere causing immense damage to the property and severe casualties. Despite being a pacifist, this image occupied the space of my brain for the entire time as I walked home. Strangling and beating the salon owner with a baseball bat occasionally crossed my mind too. Clearly, it was a high time I found another parlour.
When will I finally get it?
I found a salon near my flat and was, completely wrongly, hoping my bad stories were successfully past me. On a promising Monday morning I entered the salon eagerly hoping for the best. When all got set up and the pedicure started the guy had another style of monkey business up his sleeve. He moaned and groaned constantly pointing at the fact that my feet were in a desolate state and his work was therefore very difficult. This went on and on and he was giving me weird looks as if saying ‘better to cut them off’. I knew instantly what was going on – this show was put on to get more money out of me. So pathetic.
Just this one more time
Enjoyment from the pedicure was severely limited. When it got to payment the sleazy receptionist asked whether I would give a tip as a form of appreciation of the services. The pedicure guy standing near me waiting for his tip too. My head was flooding with all kinds of nasty curse words and the fact that I couldn’t release them was causing me physical pain. ‘What bloody services?!’ I screamed inside my head as I violently threw a 10HKD banknote on the desk. One could ask why I gave the tip but this is Hong Kong. These people have been honing their money coaxing skills for centuries. Tea, silk and porcelain to opium trade and subsequent opium wars, complicated relationships with the ‘Empires’, slave or more exactly coolie trade and many other tumultuous and turbulent events made this place what it is today.
If money is not in the air, we don’t want to breathe
Different lobe, different person
At the beginning and as a typical altruistic Westener I used to ask myself how come they didn’t mind losing a customer so easily. Today I finally have the answer. The culprit behind this is simple – the side of brain each population tends to use more. Westerners are left lobe thinkers. They tend to be logical, systematic and apply a rational, step-by-step approach to life as opposed to Chinese, who are predominantly right-hemisphere thinkers. They tend to see things in wholes. They don’t analyse but synthesise. (Dan Waters, One couple, two cultures – 81 Western-Chinese couples talk about love and marriage; 2015, p247) Therefore, the major difference between a Westerner and Chinese losing an opportunity (in this case a potentially long-term pedicure client) is that a Westerner would consider such an opportunity a lost one. They may also ponder what went wrong and try to ensure that similar lapse doesn’t occur again.
Less thinking, less stress
But a Chinese? He goes completely the opposite way. Instead of focusing on the lost opportunity, they believe that there are thousands of fish in the ocean and if this one little fish escaped their nets for good, another one will surely get entangled soon. And if that one leaves, then another will replace it. Rinse and repeat. Therefore, this is the ultimate answer to why some of the local businesses operate the way they do. Not only couldn’t they care less about losing you as a customer, but they truly believe that there are hundreds of people like you and if some Sonia from the Czech Republic decided not to visit their salon ever again, some other Sonia will. Plenty of Sonias. While this is mainly the local formula for achieving prosperity, it is apparently a way of reducing stress too.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is called insanity. Einstein
Thank god I understand this now. The puzzle is solved and I can also better navigate this environment. I choose carefully where I spend my money. In fact, it’s been incredibly helpful in managing budgeting too and I am simply sticking to shops I trust. To end on a positive note I must say that obviously there plenty of those – both locally and Western-run – and it’s only a question of finding them.
Alright, friends. That’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed my stories. Now when I think of it both of them are related to my feet. Interesting coincidence, isn’t it? Wherever you are, stay safe and healthy, and be careful:-)