Sucking Chest Wound*

It was ‘eighty-five or ‘eighty-six, I’m not so sure about the year anymore, even if it was only thirty-three or so years ago. Sounds like a lifetime, or just yesterday, depending on the intensity of your memories. I still have the picture imprinted, as if it were yesterday.

I have been traveling non-stop for six weeks and found myself on my first free day in Hong Kong. Hong Kong in the eighties was for somebody from Europe an exciting city. Poverty and ridiculous riches, side by side, walk up Nathan street to find exclusive and expensive shops while turning at the next block, and one saw old men in shabby clothes cleaning the roads, kids with running noses, and women cooking on the street shouting to get your attention.

I stayed in The Peninsula, embracing the very British institution of five o’clock tea, Europeans and wealthy Asians met, observed and were scrutinized. It sounded like a vanity fair, all the whispering, it looked like a vanity fair, sure enough, a lot of eyes, and it even smelled like a vanity fair, as if the perfumes of the ladies were fighting for supremacy. All in all, it left me slightly nauseous, and I decided to look for fresh air.

The walk to the harbor was a short one. You turned right after leaving the hotel, actually, if I remember correctly, it felt more like a steeplechase, balancing over wobbly planks, and overcoming ridiculous streams of people when crossing sidewalks. Yes, the sidewalks, you usually stood at least for a minute before you found a gap, jumped in, and found yourself spat out of the human torrent, maybe twenty meters further down than anticipated, still, happy I made it!

Finally, I arrived at the harbor, famous for its skyline and the boat people. It was spring, the weather and temperature were benign. For the record, don’t visit Hong Kong in summer, it feels like a furnace in hell, hot and humid. I stood at the pier and looked into the harbor. It was a kaleidoscope of colors and forms, creating a beautiful picture of ancient Chinese boats and junks (Yes, they are called junks!)

I turned to the right, starting to say, “look, how beautiful,” only to realize there was nobody there.

It did feel like a chest wound, painfully sucking the air out of my body. I was the loneliest man in the city.

Two years ago, I was on a business trip to Barcelona and decided to extend for another two days, enjoying the city’s impressive sights. I did visit three of Gaudi’s works, enjoyed some … er, perhaps too many tapas, and in the evening I sat down in a restaurant. I did not feel too comfortable sitting alone, but it felt ok because right beside me, at the neighboring table, sat a woman – alone. We started a conversation, it turned out she didn’t like to eat alone. That sounded familiar, so I invited her for dinner the next day.

*)”Sucking chest wound” was the moniker of a hacker in the series “Elementary” and I love the word for its graphic expression.

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