Yesterday I’d arranged to meet some friends in the evening. I am usually late for everything, mostly because I get lost very easily and things are never as easy as I expect. As many places in Hong Kong are built up, you might walk straight past a building not realising that the place you seek is on the third floor. Streets never seem to make much sense, and some of the roads are so long that they reach across several districts. But I have a particular knack for getting lost. One time three friends all split up to try to find me and bring me to a meeting place, only none of them could find me. I seem to fall into a parallel universe whenever I’m heading somewhere, and I just disappear into nowhere for ten minutes or so. That particular time, I actually found the meeting place while they were all still out looking for me and I had to wait there while they all came back. In my defense, one person had told me that there was a huge great picture of Jamie Oliver on the side of the building and I should look out for it, but it turned out that she didn’t know what Jamie Oliver looked like, and it was most definitely not a picture of him.
Anyway, somehow yesterday this parallel universe fucked up and spat me out 45 minutes early, rather than 10 minutes late like usual. I was most surprised to find myself standing outside a café with so much time to spare. I was planning on just going in to have a coffee, so I could be smugly waiting inside when they all arrived. I wanted a quick cigarette first, but I couldn’t see an ashtray, so I scanned the streets for a glimpse of orange. Almost all bins in Hong Kong are this startling colour, and have ashtrays built in to the top. I spotted one in the distance, and as my eyes focused on it, I noticed it was in front of a shop called U-Select. This name sounded so familiar, and as the sudden realisation of it came to me I had to stop myself from sprinting there.
A couple of months ago, some British friends here told me in excitement that they had found a store that sold Tesco products. At the time I was thrilled, but when I looked up the shops they were all miles away from everywhere I usually go. It seemed silly to go really far out of my way just for some Tesco goodies. But here they were, in a shop just in front of me. This might all sound ridiculous to some of you reading this, but when you’re miles away from your home country, a familiar brand is heavenly. We do have M&S stores here, but they are so expensive that they are an occasional treat. Plus, sometimes cheaper things taste better. Like onion ring crisps for instance. I once excitedly bought some from M&S and was gutted to find they were an upmarket version which weren’t nearly so greasy and satisfying. They tasted like real onions, not the fake onion flavouring I was hankering after.
Stepping into U-Select was wonderful. I even bought a bottle of water, because most of the stuff you buy here is distilled with the vitamins and minerals added back in, or Evian, which is expensive and tastes strangely too thick. I perused the shelves, trying not to buy everything, because I’m heading back to England soon anyway and it would be crazy to stock up now. I wasn’t the only Brit in there looking excited. A couple rounded the corner of the cereal aisle I was in, arms full of goodies. “We don’t need any more,” she was saying, as he looked wildly around for inspiration. “We… we could, umm, how about, umm… we NEED some cheese straws!” he said, bustling past me. She rushed after him, muttering an apology in my direction as I giggled away.
Despite my upcoming England trip, I did end up lugging a carrier bag of shopping to the café with me. But I was still fifteen minutes early, even after all of that excitement. Thanks, parallel universe that has no concept of time. You can do that again.