The 11-hour lay-over is actually what made me choose this flight to Hanoi (aside from the fact that it was the cheapest). I love long layovers; it’s like a two-for, a bonus. You get to extend the half-here-ness of transit onto a place—walk through its streets like it were a video game, or bumpy camcorder images from someone else’s vacation, or someone else’s dream, exuding a kind of impermenance that makes you impervious, imperceptible, a kind of illusion, a walking ghost in a half-here city.
Or it could just be the jet-lag talking.
Either way, Hong Kong is a trippy city to spend 11 hours sleepwalking through. Everything is clean, clear and predetermined: signs telling you where to go, signs reminding you to hold the handrailings, signs designating exactly where you should walk and where you should stand and which direction you should look for traffic and when you should be mindful of bicyclists.
It’s a subdued city, a city on Vicodin. Everyone talks in a low, pleasant voice; they smile slightly when they exchange words with you. Skyscrapers rise up to be swallowed in a white fog. Municipal workers sweep sidewalks, trim hedges, wear blue face masks and walk with their hands clasped behind their backs, or piously under their bellies. People walk with the self-possessed composure of business people on their lunch breaks. Shoes click, crosswalk signs hum, the gentle clatter of endless construction (what more could they be building?) echoes. Nothing is loud or jarring or overwhelming. Yes, it’s crowded, but there’s an order to everything—an organized insanity, a colonized chaos.
You could almost begin to suspect that you were in some George-Orwell-esque alternate reality, where everything seems real, resembles real, but really isn’t—just some placated approximation of a real place. Rolex, Prada, Couch, Ralph Lauren, Espirit, Starbucks, 711, Pret A Manger, Citibank, Geox—buildings that stack as neatly as Leggos and fish markets that don’t reek of fish, don’t reek of anything. The thinnest layer of soot covers the awnings, as if to remind you that it’s real—the slightest twinge of exhaust tickles your nose.
None of which is to say I didn’t enjoy my time wandering around Hong Kong—just that it felt more like one of the alternative realities from Inception than a real place. Which could have been the cocktail of jet lag and DayQuil and caffiene and bad airplane food swimming around inside me. It could have been the pork dumplings and Ramen noodles that tasted like childhood.