Checking In

Today, searching for a take away lunch, I ordered "'La Mian' with assorted mushrooms in boiled shark bone soup" at a restaurant.  

Neither my co-worker nor I had any clue what la mian was, but we didn't want to walk any farther, everyone was standing in line, and the prices were cheap.

Plus, I wanted to find out what shark bone soup tasted like.  Sharks don't have bones, just cartilage.  So, perhaps it was going to be fake soup, I thought.  Something along the same trajectory as Chicken McNuggets.  Or perhaps a cousin of the wispy, roughly fin-shaped sheets of scratched yellow-brown material lighted like prize possessions in some Hong Kong restaurant windows was actually going to be flavoring my afternoon meal.

Whatever it was, shark bone soup, a liquid that resembled dirty dishwater with toadstools floating around in it, went pretty well over the noodles (the mysterious la mian).  I had to work at not thinking about what I was consuming several times as I worked the chopsticks, but I got most of it down as I sat at the desk, the fog rolling in once again over the terraces of skyscraper apartments up toward The Peak.

Why do I share this story?  I'm not entirely certain.  Certainly, drawing a rebuke from my friend Kristen, who will no doubt reprimand me for consuming poor defenseless sharks, is part of it.  Maybe it's because I couldn't dream up a post of any length about the coming of greater Greenlandic independence.  Or I couldn't thrust myself unreservedly back into the Madison scene with a comment on the state budget.  Or because I felt it was the most interesting drop of life from my day.

As I roll into my second week here in Hong Kong, though, I realize I've been abroad in one single place for longer than ever before.  So, despite not having my laundry done, despite my nose running from a bit of a cold that swept in today, despite a bit of a sleep deficit, I thought it was time to check in.  I feel I've been incredibly guarded and loathe to post anything controversial on the blog as of late.  Actually, for months.  And in doing so, I think I've snuffed out a bit of the spark that makes it an interesting place to visit, a blog worth checking.

In some ways, being in one outpost abroad for a decent amount of time is rewarding.  It provides a deeper, more mundane interaction with a particular corner of the earth.  It provides real comparison.  It's possible to get into a routine - open the curtains, put jam on the bread, say good morning to Chris (the quadralingual guy at the front desk), walk down the hill through the air conditioner drizzle as the red cabs whiz by without speed limit, hop the 8X to Causeway Bay, swipe the Octopus card and descend into the subway (we the conspicuous two), head to work in Central a bit sweaty, wander through the warren of interconnected luxury mall spaces in search of a decent lunch (or hike up the steep step streets into Soho, if time permits), work with people in the Singapore office on matters on the subcontinent in the afternoon, likely stay a bit late, hop the tram back through the exhaust-filled-old-Vegas-neon-bamboo-scaffolding ravines or catch the subway or a cab if it's late enough, or take the old Star Ferry to Kowloon to pick up the custom shirts from Sunny the Indian tailor, or round things out with a pint at an ex-pat bar near the racecourse like The Jockey or The Stable, or do Journal work, or wander aimlessly with the camera thinking that everyone back home is just getting up, how I missed Grandma and Grandpa's 55th wedding anniversary, how I miss the people from Wisconsin more than when I was in New Orleans, how I miss my friends from NOLA more than I ever have before.

It's a heady time at the end of the night, when you walk past the steamed windows under crimson overhangs, past the piles of halogen-lit spiky durians, past the old shirtless men pushing carts and sing-songing in Cantonese, the scent and air conditioning blasting out of an open hotel bar, past the Muslim-Catholic-Public-Parsee-Zoroastrian cemeteries all in a row with their stone encrusted terraces looming off into the dark hillsides overrun with black foliage.  It's not too difficult to think past the callouses still forming inside your dress shoes at that point, past the shirt stuck to your back, to what's to come.

I'm not entirely certain.  

It's a wonder to think how we end up in certain places, in certain situations at various points in life.  I couldn't have told you as I stood to answer the first question in the Fourth Grade Geography Bee at Zielanis Elementary that I would be heading, in all likelihood, to Macau this weekend.

Reflecting, I have to ask whether all my rushing around is, as some people seem to think, effectively a sort of Panglossian running away from something, from settling down.  Perhaps it is.  But I tend to think its both what I choose to do, and...what I must do as a thinking individual.

Deep down somewhere is the scene from The Snows of Kilimanjaro where the sick man, lying inside his mosquito tent at night flashes back through the seeds of unwritten stories, the memories of his life.  He does so with feverish regret.  But, I always want to tell him, he has those bright seeds at least - like skiing in the Alps.  He lived.  And that's more than some can say.  More than many.

When and if I can write my stories and share them, I will.  Sometimes I wonder if blogging is some inadequate compromise in my attempt to do so - me getting ahead of myself by trying to share my story before actually living or simply living.  But I think the exercise in attempting to tell the story now and then to some extent helps expose the flaws in the attempt at life.  I see more and more that I worry far too much about the dangers of posting, what people will think - killing off the best and real with a caution that has only hollow rewards.  I think many interesting people refrain - no matter how many sermons and inspirational quotes and Emerson essays they've read - leading their versions of quiet desperation, locked into the pursuit of unfulfilling goals that may never come to fruition.

And that's a shame.  For when the hyena draws close to the tent in the end, when it's cackling there with you in the dark, when the certainty sets in, you will have what you have done - not even the regrets - but only what you have genuinely lived.