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The time I almost overcame all the obstacles

Alex 2017-09-13

I can’t believe it. It was such a simple and essential task, and I forgot to do it. This is going to ruin my otherwise perfect workday.

I forgot my lunch at home, which is a seven-minute walk from my office. I can imagine the eye rolls I’ll elicit when I tell my friends back home that this is my biggest predicament today.

If only it was so easy. In Hong Kong, a seven-minute walk is dangerous.

As soon as I step outside of my office building, I bob and weave through the crowd. I slip past grandmas, who walk too slow. I zip past zombie texters, who walk even slower. I dance around people holding styrofoam cups of steaming hot sui mai and fish balls to avoid the sauces in their food that threaten to slosh onto my shirt.

I’m about to take a step to cross the street when a red cab blazes down the road towards me. I lock eyes with the cab driver as we play a life-or-death game of chicken. I concede and step back. The cab whizzes by. The wind following the car slaps me in the face, a punishment for losing.

As I continue home, I awkwardly tip toe around a tiny puddle with wide steps. I look up to see the rows of air conditioners dripping water. The water droplets fall to form puddles that serve as a warning: avoid these puddles or air-conditioner water will splash onto your skin. Gross.

But all of these things — the people, cabs, cesspools of air-conditioner water — they’re not threats. They’re just inconveniences. The real peril greeted me as soon as I stepped out of my fancy air-conditioned office building. As I walk, I can feel it pulling me into a warm hug, slowly constricting me. It brings itself to my lips and breathes into my mouth, choking me with it’s presence. Hello 90%+ humidity in Hong Kong, we meet again. This is the real reason why seven minutes is dangerous. The longer I stay out, the more the humidity squeezes every last drop of water out of my pores. It crawls under my clothes and invades my most private parts, building the beginnings of armpit stains, back stains, and the very embarrassing swamp ass.

But I’m a professional now. After several months of practice walking home five days a week, twice a day, I know the humidity will not defeat me today. When I finally make it to my apartment building, I open the door, releasing the sweet blast of AC to drive back the ugly heat.

Inside my apartment building, I wave hi to the doorman and walk into the elevator. I press the 6th floor. The elevator starts moving, but decides to stop after only going up half a floor.

I wait a second to see if the elevator will change its mind. Maybe it’s playing a practical joke on me. The elevator stands still.

I press the open button. The doors don’t respond.

I spot an emergency number on the wall and pull out my phone to make a call. “NO SERVICE” flashes on my screen.

I yell to the doorman in Cantonese, hoping he’ll hear me. He shouts back to me in Mandarin. I can’t understand him because there is half a floor between us. It is also possible that my inability to understand Mandarin hinders me from hearing the doorman. I yell again in Cantonese, and the doorman responds with a sentence that I think includes the words “phone call”.

There is nothing else I can do. I am a man whose life is fully out of his control. Somehow, that idea puts me at peace. If this is how I’m going to go, that’s fine. I accept my fate.

Alex is an American who moved abroad to find himself. He did not find himself nor his lunch.