Simply to see something different than the 150 square feet of studio I call home, I booked a hotel. I wanted to soak in a bubble bath and order room service and wear nothing but a robe for a while. I haven’t traveled anywhere in ages (obviously) and it seemed a reasonable expense exchange for not completely losing my mind or burning down my apartment building. Because some days, it is that close.
I ate a cheeseburger at 11pm and sat at the window and wondered at all the “what the what is up with ________” I’ve currently got going on in my life. The view overlooks Victoria Harbour, one of the busiest in the world. I love watching the cargo ships that defy logic, the tiny fishing boats, the junks, then my favorites – the tugboats. Tiny tugboats patiently hauling massive pieces of machinery. I could do it for hours. I know there is a metaphor here – there is a reason why I am so drawn to this imagery while I sit and mainline M and Ms and pour another glass of wine and wait for someone in my family in America to wake up so I can Facetime them. I watch the tugboats and want to get another fish and name him Tugboat.
Mathematically speaking, from this 26th floor perch, I was probably looking at at least 3 million people and their lives unfolding in front of me; weaving in and out of traffic, picking up take-out, sitting politely on top of each other on the minibus, ferrying around the waters, hanging their laundry. They couldn’t see me, we don’t know each other, but we’re all here trying to make it through together.
And I looked for the tugboats.
I feel I’ve been just existing lately. Not creating, unmotivated, sitting still, wallowing and without a desire to anything for a while . . . feeling lost and vulnerable and silly and pointless.
Then a Facebook memory popped up.
On this day, four years ago, a girl I had met on a mission trip to Mexico responded to a blog post I’d written with a beautiful, encouraging message. It was so kind. Exactly what I needed to hear then and now. She reminded me I process life better when I write it down, and that I will be grateful I made all these memories permanent years from now. And that sometimes, in an even more magical way, what I write helps other people. It pulled me from a dark space.
Reading it, I felt it pull. It was the little thing pulling me through something I couldn’t navigate on my own. A tugboat. My tugboat! Then I was guessing, now I can know – I like tugboats so much because they promise that it just takes one small, hopeful, cheerful thing to get us through the dire straits – with all our baggage and weight and dreariness.
Kel – you were my tugboat that day, and for many days since then. This one’s for you. This fresh nonsense is dedicated to your encouragement.
I’m on a reading binge – “Pachinko,” “Foreign Affairs,” “Circe,” then “Girl, Woman, Other” and was absolutely captivated by it in a way that I haven’t been in so long. I was scared to finish it – read it slowly, savored the world it created in my head. I missed it when I was done. Now I’m reading “Dune” and it’s ignited sci-fi fantasy dystopian feels and made me hyper-conscious about sweating.
Living through the pandemic, I’ve rediscovered how much I love books. To escape into a pretend, to stay up past my bedtime to hit ‘just one more chapter,’ to want a flashlight to finish under the covers like when I was a child. I want to immerse myself into a made up world with rich characters and twisty plots and surprising but satisfying endings. It must stem from a desire to escape the monotony of this Coronalife where so many days are just like the one before.
Remember days of the week underwear? I’m not sure what the original plot line was for creating them, and mostly think of them in terms of those iconic lines in “When Harry Met Sally,” but I was in a store today and they’ve made days of the week facemasks. It made too much sense. Rotating masks daily would actually really help me know what day it was sometimes. So many are all too like the one before – the same four walls of my studio, the same one-pot meals I can make on my stove, the same meetings that could have been emails, the same walk along the only flat space in Hong Kong. The store was also selling Christmas ornaments of tiny ceramic hand-sanitizer bottles. Capitalizing on those 2020 feels.
I’ve also been watching the same TV shows I’ve seen before, too commitment-shy to start anything new. I think this is for the familiarity, because I don’t want to be surprised anymore; I want the comfort of knowing what’s coming next when I’ve been living in a state of “what fresh hell has happened overnight” every morning for the last four years. Thank you Jesus and Uncle Joe, that’s slowly going away.
The other day I noticed a lot of cleaning in the apartment across from mine and thought “yes! Someone is moving in across the way! Change!” But then I realized this is only acceptable if they have a beard and an accent and are ready to fall in love. Or can at least accept that I am not exactly careful about shutting my curtains all the time when getting dressed and talk to my plants quite often.
Then came the bamboo scaffolding and the netting and now I have to contend with construction and dust and . . . well, at least there are men to look at sometimes. It’s been so long since I’ve met a stranger.
Speaking of men, I’ve reentered my strange relationship with Tinder. I’ve been off and on it for years now for the entertainment value, sometimes the dates, always the stories. Sometimes I just want reassurance that I am not a bridge troll and that some guy will swipe right on me just because I can smile in front of a thing I traveled to see. It’s been a year or so since I used it, but guys still don’t know how to post a decent profile picture, everyone says they like hiking and traveling like it’s original. After “hey” “how are you” “how long have you been in Hong Kong” the conversations all die.
I don’t want a monosyllabic penpal, my dudes, I want a DATE. I want to befriend a stranger, I want to flirt, I want to feel butterflies.
I want to feel pretty, and interesting, and wanted.
Valentine’s Day is here and that’s fine. I no longer feel a need to post a “Singles Awareness Day” blog about it. I’m secure enough to not mope about being single. I just really, really get upset about not having an endless supply of conversation hearts, because those are my favorite candy. Because I just love eating colored chalk. Luckily, Seghs is a legend and sent me some. So I live to see another day.
Last year at this time, Coronavirus was just a baby, brand new, and only Asia was really feeling it, so I got a lot of attention from my family and friends in America. :) Now we all have it and I’m not so interesting anymore. On Valentine’s Day last year, my flatmate and I watched romcoms, and I had just entered the bread-making phase, so we ate a lot of toast. We were worried about getting sick, we stayed indoors, people were robbing stores for toilet paper, we stock piled pasta. I had just started online teaching for what I didn’t know was going to be four months, and was overwhelmed and realizing what a physical touch person I am – I was missing high fives, hugs, cheek kisses.
I get really achey for interaction, for new faces, for concerts and sporting events, for any kind of physical contact. I have had exactly one hug from a student this year, and it was ‘illegal,’ but I let it happen. We started this school year online for six weeks, then were allowed back in class, and about one week in, I was walking around the room and all of a sudden some tiny arms wrapped around my waist and a tinier voice whispered “I love you, Miss Weight. You smell good.” Tears came into my eyes even as I said “I love you, too, angel, but you can’t -” and then another girl shrieked “I want to hug Miss Weight!” because they are just nine years old and you love your teacher SO much when you are nine and sometimes they call me ‘Mom.’ It was threatening to become a thing and I was about to be mobbed and I had to dig deep and be very stern about it, peeling her arms off my body, straightened my shoulders, pretend I hadn’t needed that hug, too.
The fact that I can remember it as my only hug this year – that what was once common and daily and easy to forget – and now it’s memorialized forever in my mind – that knocks me over.
But it’s a little tugboat memory – it pulls me along and reminds me that even when I get discouraged because they are so obviously watching a Youtube compilation of Minecraft while I’m teaching a Geography lesson I’m truly passionate about (because dang I love maps) that they know I love them, that they love me. They want to hug me. I remember that we used to be able to hug, and one day we will again.
I remind myself that it’s okay to be overwhelmed and think things are unfair and be upset, but people need me and I have a responsibility and a privilege and a gift to be there for them and cheer them up and pull them along through all this madness.
And I have more little tugboat memories – the rare afternoons or evenings with friends here, the Facetimes with family that fill me up, the way technology has allowed me to reconnect with childhood friends, my plants thriving, my fish doing what I will interpret as an excited dance when I shake their food out, 27 people around the world committed to join my random request to run a virtual 5 or 10k with me for my birthday this year, Mexican food last weekend, a card in the mail.
I’ll tug and chug a long, then, because it’s all good, after all.
I hope you will, too.