It had all become too much to accept as normal- the negativity and the non-stop fear that had gripped the city largely because of a befuddled housewife masquerading as Chief Executive and her team- that in March, I forced myself to get out of Hong Kong and leave for Melbourne.
The midnight run through a deserted airport still haunts me.
It was like entering the Twilight Zone. I was dripping with anxiety as I made my lonely way to my flight on Cathay Pacific that, for some mad reason, was parked way down by gate 42.
The escalators had stopped and it was a long day’s journey into night with only my thoughts for company, and believing that I was in a weird Far Side cartoon and being made to head into the fires of Hades.
When finally reaching Gate 42 and seeing the other passengers on the flight- largely Mainland Chinese and a couple of expats- it was not unlike queuing up to take a flight into further darkness.
Again, it was like being in the weirdest and darkest Far Side cartoon. I was the young reptile.
One of the more elderly expat ladies ahead of me was telling her friend about the time she had spent in quarantine and how she wasn’t sure about returning to Hong Kong.
It was a conversation I really didn’t care to eavesdrop on, but there was no escape route.
The overworked and understaffed Cathay Pacific crew was busily doing the best they could to have people board, and which took almost two hours.
We hadn’t even got to our seats and I was already physically and mentally drained.
I finally found my seat in Business class- there was no First Class- and the flight took off.
I couldn’t help thinking of the fear that cattle are said to feel when knowing they’re in an abattoir and being prodded towards their death.
I calmed myself down by popping a Valium and watched the cabin crew doing the best they could out of a less than perfect situation.
The airplane food was exactly that and two of the six toilets weren’t working.
This was not helped by some passengers trying to force themselves in despite the “OCCUPIED” sign being on. They were absolutely Neanderthal.
Melbourne certainly wasn’t perfect, but far better than the locked down thinking and the rabid fear of pretty much everything in Hong Kong.
Though going through immigration etc was smooth enough, finding my pre-arranged limousine pickup was a dramady of errors.
It took me an hour to realise that the driver- it turned out he was from Egypt- was standing there holding up my name and which was typed onto his small mobile phone.
Instead of dropping me off at the Crown Metropol, I somehow ended up at Crown Towers.
I queued up and waited to check in only to be told very abruptly by the lady at Front Desk that I was in the wrong area and was pointed towards some escalators and told to keep walking- and how it would take me less than five minutes to get to where I should have checked in.
What about my luggage? It was returned to me and I was left to my own devices.
It took me almost two hours to get to my room.
Still, I was able to visit my parents at their gravesites in Springvale and meet up with a few close friends.
The city was in recovery mode after two years of being in lockdown, and it wasn’t difficult to see how this had affected many things and people. There was no masking that.
The Crown Metropol was hopelessly understaffed, and which didn’t make things easy. But this was the new abnormal and I had to remind myself that nothing anywhere in the world was what it once was.
I was feeling okay in Melbourne, but my mind was constantly thinking about my escape from Hong Kong, and where I had to eventually return.
It’s why I stayed put for three months mainly watching the horse racing on television which was becoming an unhealthy diversion.
24/7 of gambling options was not for me. If anything, it’s actually made me lose interest in horse racing.
My ex wife would be happy to hear this. She never approved of those in the horse racing posse who lived off me for decades.
A friend would fly down from Queensland and visit whenever she could, but being in the middle of filming a television series, our time together was limited.
The friends I saw again plus excellent Chicken Satay served at the hotel’s Mr Hive venue made things a little bearable, but I was missing the security and convenience of my home at the service apartment in Hong Kong.
It was also time to leave Melbourne.
Next stop: Singapore.
The relief of arriving in Singapore was quickly dashed when, after overcoming the hurdles at immigration, I realised when checking into the Grand Hyatt that I had somehow lost my passport...AND had mistakenly left the airport with someone else’s hand luggage.
Here started a chain reaction of even more stress and dangling conversations from people whom I expected to be of help- the Singapore office of the British Commissioner. Well, that’s what they’re paid to do...
“Let me say straight off that I have never experienced such an amateurish and incompetent way of working to help British travellers than, ironically, some of your staff at the British Commissioner’s office in Singapore.
“This happened to me over a period of four days while trying to get an Emergency Travel Document.
“Their Keystone Cops modus operandi before me finally receiving an Emergency Travel Document after losing my British passport in Singapore has caused me and my Personal Assistant enormous stress, the cancellation of flights, losing hotel bookings and unnecessary problems through no fault of our own.
“The blame lies squarely with the bumbling Fawlty Towers staff handling my case, an online form where the link didn’t work and unnecessarily turning something simple into a saga.
“After two days of trying to fill out an online form with my address and other details coming up as “error”, something that my IT team and others discovered was because the link did not work, and something pointed out to your staff over numerous phone calls during a period of three days, but especially on July 14 and starting from 8.40am, nothing happened.
“On this day, I made well over eight phone calls to your Singapore office, was handed over from one member of your staff to another with none able to help and with one call even coming from your Hong Kong office who apparently had to call your Singapore office to understand the “status” of me receiving an EDT.
“By now, this game of passing the buck had reached a point of downright silliness with the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.
“There’s far more that I can get into, but I have included some key documentation for you to help join the dots.
“One final piece of advice: Kindly have your IT department look into what is a broken link and a time sensitive online form not recommended by any of the IT professionals who have gone through it with me.
Hans Llewellyn Ebert
With the Grand Hyatt going through renovation work, and my favourite restaurant closed, dining at the hotel was hardly what it once was.
There’s only so much Mee Goreng one can eat before terminal boredom sets in.
Thankfully, there were the banana leaf restaurants for some relief- Sammy’s and Muthu’s- and which my friend Trisno, below, took me to and was an enormous help to me during my two months in the Lion City.
With my return to Hong Kong always on my mind, and all the various procedures to go through, it was impossible to relax even around those very close to me.
Tomorrow never knows, John, and I couldn’t turn off my mind and float downstream.
I also remembered why, when with Universal Music and EMI, those of us from the Regional office in Hong Kong visiting Singapore on business could only manage a maximum of five days in the city. We couldn’t wait to get back. But Hong Kong was a very different city back then.
As for Singapore, it has many good things happening for it and the government has always done well by its people.
But...but, apart from having no access to any horse racing even its own racing at Kranji and which I didn’t miss for even a nanu second, there will always be something lacking in the city.
Excitement, perhaps? Maybe even a brand personality?
The stress and full metal jacket anger of dealing with those in the Fawlty Towers that is the British Commissioner’s office in Singapore had taken much out of me.
This and dealing from overseas with the blah blahs of those in Hong Kong seemingly only interested in bad news, and thinking about the gawdawful management of the city by the hapless housewife, wasn’t easy.
All this has changed me in ways that I am still working my way through. It’s an interesting mind map to walk through and process.
I believe that it’s helped my creative writing skills and ability to find solutions to problems.
Whether good or not so good, I am reading people and situations better.
There’s also a certain nonchalance towards things I once thought important and I am doing
what is best for me, and damn the torpedoes.
In writing, I own everything in the process and that’s a very liberating feeling.
These recent months have also made me far more exclusive and reclusive.
Maybe this is all part of some healing process that was needed and which can only be done in private.
It’s about being able to pry myself away from those who are simply not on the same wavelength and what masquerades as “social media”.
There is often a serious disconnect here with reality.
This is an online world filled with way too much jealousy, too many trying to be who they’re not, and those Yesterday’s people living in the past and refusing to leave this place, perhaps for fear of being seen as a failure.
Who really knows anything about anything for sure these days?
Arriving in Hong Kong, coming face to face again with the airport and the long and winding obstacle course that it still is, made me write to the city’s new Chief Executive- John KS Lee- said by those who know him to be a good man, but who has inherited a scrambled mess, and following orders to ensure a Zero Covid policy.
“John/Mr Lee, during my around five months away from Hong Kong, I kept hearing snippets of news that things were “getting better” and how time spent in quarantine would be shortened.
“Having returned to Hong Kong yesterday, nothing has changed.
“Those hired for the job of herding travellers like cattle and making them adhere to all the rules and regulations are a recipe for disaster.
“These hires simply lack people skills and, very frankly, make a bad situation worse.
“These order takers- not all- go about their jobs instilling fear into travellers.
“There is going to be the time when one tourist or returnee to Hong Kong bites back.
“It’s going to happen. Bet on it.
“And then what?
“The image of Hong Kong will again be bashed throughout the world.
“Compared to the incredible efficiency and empathy of the airport staff at Changi in Singapore, those ordering people around in Hong Kong could come across to some as being bullies. And no one likes bullies.
“Why on earth should people decide to visit Hong Kong?
“Why should those Hongkongers who have left even think about returning when knowing what type of welcoming party is awaiting them at the airport?
“No one enjoys, especially when tired after a flight and all the pre-boarding protocol, having people unwittingly play with their psyche. They crack.
“My experience upon returning to Hong Kong was far worse than I could have imagined.
“The “herding” process is unnecessarily long, and with very obvious ways on how to cutdown all the time spent walking around and throughout the airport almost in circles with various “testing areas” along the way.
“I counted six of these areas during my over three hours at the airport.
“It was also not difficult to see that those hired to do the job of rounding up travellers don’t believe in what they’re doing, but because they’re paid to take on this task, they do it.
“After all, money is too tight to mention these days.
“John/Mr Lee, none of this is what Hong Kong needs, especially when it’s trying to heal itself and need professional people like myself to try and put Humpty Dumpty together again.
“I fully understand that you’re still new in your job and have inherited a buffet of problems, and all I can offer you in the way of advice is to make those coming to Hong Kong feel welcomed- not having heavy handed exercises in fear and loathing injected into them.
“Us travellers are not criminals and should not be made to feel like one.
“Right now, many in Hong Kong are only surviving. They are not living.
“They’re surviving by being obedient order takers brainwashed by non-stop bad news that your predecessor was so good at doing, and which, like gremlins, has grown and multiplied.
“As a tax paying Hong Kong Belonger who has spent decades in this city and is now under compulsory quarantine “house arrest” in a hotel, I find that instead of the positive spirit of the city being revived and restored, this spirit is being quashed.
“The result is Hong Kong continuing to be a “sick” city with no future for anyone, especially the children growing up under this blanket of fear”.
Having said all this and facing a week in the hell hole of a quarantine hotel, I still felt like how Dorothy must have when knowing she was back in Kansas.
I didn’t have Toto or my beloved Nipper with me, but I was home.
My memories live in Hong Kong. This is where they live inside of me.
I am THEIR home, they are mine and we’re all that we need.
Despite everything it has gone through, and is still going through, this city holds my past, present and future.
Hong Kong is where I attended junior and secondary school before returning to start a career that has included journalism, advertising, marketing and the global music industry.
In between, this is where I fell in love, married, and where our daughter was born.
Especially after the space oddity I have just gone through, my feet are firmly planted on terra firma home base.
Where else is there without its own problems?
Hong Kong might not be perfect, but imperfections build character.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself.