- Em, yeah, hi… yeah… that’s me, good to see you – I giggled antsy – how did you know which flight I’m gonna be on?
- You sent me a picture of your boarding pass, remember?
(Riiiiiiight… bright pink shades must have covered my face…Let’s bear in mind that making great first impressions by saying something like for example “oh, you exist” is my bloody trademark.)
A bit of a nervous small talk later (I mean I was nervous, he was a bloody James-Bond-sipping-martini) and we started making our way out of the arrival hall. I was stressed, I was lost, I was clumsy. He quickly found the ticket booth and just a while later our lovely trio was on a bus going to the city centre. By trio I mean myself, my tinder-phone friend and my massive turquoise suitcase.
During this almost two hour journey, I couldn’t stop wondering why on Earth nobody had told me that talking on the phone (with the phone in one hand and a cheeky glass of red in the other) might be easier than talking face to face. WHYYYYY? To be honest, I don’t even remember much of this conversation, because trying to look as cool as a cucumber took all of my skills and energy, at the same time, turning my brain into a cauliflower.
But there’s one thing from that conversation that I remember very well:
- Where are you staying? – asked James.
- I’m renting the same Airbnb I had before … from tomorrow on, I mean…but today…today I’m gonna stay in a hotel…or a guesthouse of some kind. Looked good enough…I think as for one night and it’s in TST.
- What’s the name of it? – he continued suspiciously.
- Well, let me find it on the booking confirmation, just a second… there it is. Chun-kin…chon-king…
- CHUNGKING MANSIONS?!? – burst with laughter James, almost choking on the last syllable.
The Creepy Mansion.
I was embarrassed as hell. I felt like a 5yo girl in front of her older friends she wanted to desperately be friends with. A girl who did something very stupid and had no idea what it was.
Do you know what Chungking Mansions are, or rather is? Yes? Good for you, because I hadn’t the slightest idea.
Chungking Mansions is a dystopian edifice immersed in a thick curry smelling mist. Filled with fake Fendi vendors, Indian restaurants, drug dealers and prostitutes. Five blocks of mazes with 10 lifts. Being a solo, tattooed, blonde girl there, is an adventure. Or any kind of girl. Let’s face it: being there is a freaking adventure.
And that was supposed to be my cosy nest for the first night of my lovely reunion with Hong Kong. Nagaland Guesthouse, 30£ per night. Masala smell to your hair and men undressing you with their eyes– free of charge. This was what I’ve booked. Have I mentioned that I’m an absolute master of first impressions?
Anyways, long story short, we entered the mansion, my shoes sticking to the floor, my suitcase uncontrollably driving into brown-faced men wearing long white stained…clothes(?). His Prada shoes and white shirt completely didn’t match this place. When we got to the 17th floor of the greasy mansion we were both just like the mansion: greasy and smelly.
Welcome to Nagaland.
After a bit of struggling, getting lost and confused we finally tracked the right block, corridor and door number. To our amazement, instead of a proper desk with someone competent and responsive behind it, we found a very tired foreign couple. Young, thin and white, sitting on the only two chairs provided by the Nagaland Guesthouse they looked rather hopeless. The whole corridor, let’s call it like that, looked also pretty hopeless and rather tiny; even for Hong Kong standards.
- Hey guys, what’s going on here? – asked my phone pen pal with his deep as an ocean voice.
The long-legged, long-haired and long-faced young girl started with a heavy Russian accent:
- We…we booked our hotel here, but they say there is no place for us. All rooms are full. We said that we paid and we need a room. The guy went somewhere and we are waiting now.
- How long have you been waiting for?
- 2…3 hours actually.
- 3 HOURS? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? How long are you staying in Hong Kong for?
- Just this one day, we work in China. We wanted to have a short one day holiday.
- EXCUSE ME…WHAT? Ok, wait, I’m gonna do something about it, this is ridiculous.
Suddenly things just started happening. My phone pal hero somehow managed to find the owner (or one of the workers) of the guesthouse.
- Hello. My name is James and you are…?
- Habibi – responded the caramel-faced young Indian man. Habibi or something that sounded equally weird and exotic to me. Let’s call him that.
- Habibi, pleasure to meet you – continued James – You see, we are facing a kind of a serious problem here. These lovely people – he pointed theatrically at the young thin couple – have booked a room at your guesthouse and you let them wait for almost 3 hours. Habibi, my friend, please, let’s do something about it.
- But no, no rooms. Full everything – started explaining the guesthouse guy.
I noticed James’s face changing, his eyes turning to steel.
- Listen, I don’t care who’s in charge here but these young people are going to have their room in less then 15 minutes if you don’t want me to call the police. And I believe you don’t want to, understood?
Camera. Lights. Shitstorm.
The guy was petrified and so was I. But at the same time my heart was rising: my hero!
He put the ultimatum straight out there: “They paid, they need to have a room and if not – I’m calling the police”. Mister Indian was super perplexed and kinda shocked facing a situation, where instead of two scared and passive teenagers, he was facing a guy DEMANDING from him a quick and logic solution of the case. Demanding both in English and Chinese.
It was a proper mayhem with all of the staff of Nagaland showing up one after another with their “wasn’t me, soriiiii, didn’t knoooo, my friend, soriii”. It lasted for 30 minutes and all of the top floors of Chunking Mansions were involved.
I just remember standing in the corner of this curry smelling corridor, looking probably like one of the emojis. This one with hearts instead of eyes. And not daring to say a word. (Was that where it started? The downward spiral? Or was I hooked even earlier?)
Within an hour the lovely Russian couple had their room sorted in another guesthouse in Chunking mansion, everyone was bowing in front of James and everyone was “veri sori”.
When the show was over, without even taking a bow James turned his face to me and said: “I’m done with this shit. You’ll stay with me tonight and tomorrow you’ll go to your Airbnb. Let’s have some sushi.”
Could I say anything? Like “I don’t know you, WTF?”
I probably could. But I just tilted my head to the side like a retarded cat and said “OK”. (Yeah, it started already.)
Sightseeing with a twist.
So we had some sushi with the couple we kinda stumbled upon on the way, in the meantime, charming James managed to get a phone number from the owner’s daughter (WTF) who was actually only working part-time in the guesthouse. She was studying design and her favourite designer was Alexander McQueen. Why do I remember this I have no idea, I’d rather remember my friends birthdays but brains are funny blobs and what can you do.
BACK TO THE MAIN STORY!
Sushi, then a quick visit to my new friend’s flat (that left me kind of perplexed), then off to Victoria peak, then…then it was enough. He definitely made this poor couple’s day. Solving their guesthouse situation, taking them for lunch and to The Peak – one of the most scenic places in Hong Kong. If that wasn’t enough, at The Peak, James launched his brand new drone. Illegally. He was this badass, scared of nothing and we just stood there, speechless, clapping.
The thing that was bugging me, would be obvious for you if you knew the size of an average HK flat. There’s no space for a GUEST ROOM, LIVING ROOM or any other kind of a room. There’s a bed, there’s a tiny bathroom. End of the story. 30M2? Maybe. For two, more or less, strangers and a slightly autistic cat (he was such a babe).
So as you might assume I was a bit uncomfortable because I’m not used to sharing a bed. Even with friends (whom I’ve never met).
I remember that when I opened my suitcase it took all of the “living room” part of the flat, so I just quickly collected my stuff, put the suitcase aside and jumped in a shower. Then – to the bed (where I was instructed to go). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not SO stupid. Everything seemed cool and my charming Hong Kong friend was way more interested in a cat than myself. Gotta trust your gut feeling, don’t you? Lights off, we were asleep.
I woke up at 3 am, panicking. I guess I needed to doze off for a couple of hours to realise I was in a matchbox-size like flat with a grown-up stranger. And a cat. So I just messaged my dear friend Alice: “Hey, I’m here and here, this is the address, I’m with <…>, it all looks fine but if somehow I’m not gonna report to you I’m alive in the morning, please, do something”.
To be honest, no idea what could there be to do. And how.
What was important, I was in Hong Kong for just a week to sort out my Chinese visa and go to Beijing.
But only two days later I owned a key to this apartment and…yeah… (c.d.n.)
James, if somehow you read this: I hope you’re fine and please don’t try to contact me. Chances somebody could figure out this is you I’m writing about are close to zero. And the story is true.