Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last train to Kowloon

***Please note: if you are my mother, please do not read the following without taking a Valium/glass of wine/oxygen. In fact, you can just skip to the happy ending.***

Speaking of comfort zones: after finishing up my Greek Salad and rice in Lan Kwai Fong (What?!? I did have to eat! It’s not my fault there was not any local cuisine and it was too late to metro somewhere else!) I headed to the MTR station in time to catch the last train to the hostel I was supposed to stay at. “Supposed to?” you ask? In my next post, I’ll tell you a little story about getting lost in translation. And lost in a cab. But first, divine intervention, public transit style.

So, after dinner I catch the train to the station where I think my hostel is. This was the fourth time I was taking the MTR, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with the system. Everything had English subtitles (thanks, Colonialism!) and was extremely well-lit, clean, and filled with teenagers on their own. I figured if their parents felt safe with them on the MTR at 1am, mine could deal too. My sense of familiarity and confidence soon deflated, however, as I could not find anyone to tell me where the hell the correct line was to get to my stop. I could see the stop on the map; I could see the correct line. I could not, however, find the right line to take in the three story level station. So I’m running from one level to the next and back, any shot of looking the cute girl needing assistance blown by the fact that I am drenched in sweat (and the fact that I’ve been wearing the same yoga pants for 24 hours), and my desperation to find the right train is increasing with every announcement- growing in frequency- that the last train to such and such stop will pull out at 6 minutes to 1 o’clock, 4 minutes to 1 o’clock, 2 minutes to 1 o’clock. Shit shit shit. Where was the right train?? The whole MTR system was about to go to sleep, and I had visions of myself having to do the same on a bench in the station.

My friend Ginny’s voice sounded in my head, “God’s brought you this far…” I improvised a bit and ended the thought, “She’s not going to drop me on my ass now.” I got on the train that the station person I asked had directed me to- a train I had just gotten off of three minutes prior because, according to the map, it was going in the opposite direction of where I wanted to be. But, frankly, I was out of options and thought some divine intervention might take place.

It did. And its name was David. Sitting next to me as I frantically scanned the map, trying my very best to not look like the sweaty, lost tourist that I was, I overheard the two men next to me speaking in West-African laden French. Taking a chance, I asked the guy closest to me if he knew English and if he knew if this was the right train. Twenty minutes later (after I sized him up to make sure I could take him in a fight if he tried to go all Silence of the Lambs of me), this young man, father of one, DJ by night at the only African club in Hong Kong, was walking past his apartment and insisting on walking me to the right place, not leaving me until I had a clear view of the concierge. As we shook hands, I thought about all of the internal tug-of-war I had to go through to have this little human moment- one person helping another, just because. Not only did this guy not know me and not have to walk fifteen minutes past his apartment once we learned we both needed to go to the same stop, he was on his day off and it was 1:30am. I’m a nice person and all, but I’m not sure I would walk fifteen minutes out of my way in drizzling rain, about a million percent humidity, and 90 degree heat in the middle of the night on my day off to help someone.

While he certainly went off the beaten path to lend me a hand, I also had to depart from my usual path to accept the hand he offered. As a general rule, I am terrified of accepting help from men I don’t know. This is probably a pretty natural side effect given that I study rape about 80 hours a week, but it makes for rough waters when you REALLY need a hand and the only ones around happen to belong to someone with only one Y chromosome. The whole time David and I were walking, I was thinking about all of the ways that he might be plotting to kill me. Frankly, if he wasn’t about six inches shorter and a good twenty pounds lighter than me, I probably would have ended up sleeping on the MTR. All those damn forwarded emails that your girlfriend sends you “because this email might save your life!” where it tells you (again) to immediately start and pull out in your car when you get in it, to always look in your backseat before getting in, to not stop if someone keeps blinking their lights at you (“it’s a gang initiation! They have to kill someone to get in, and that’s how they signal you! Don’t you know?!” screams the judgmental email)…all of this is so, so deeply seeped into my consciousness at every level that I can’t help but imagine all the little bits I will be chopped into whenever I am in a situation with an unknown male. Yes, this is sick. And so is all of the shit messaging that goes into making women feel this way. Rant over.

Anyway. My main point is this: I am traveling to challenge myself to push my boundaries, and in my mind what that meant up until last night was to be away from my partner for an extended period of time, be in a developing country (no hot water!) for four weeks, and make friends with students from other countries. Challenging my internal ‘OH-MY-GOD-I’M-GONNA-DIE’-ometer didn’t really occur to me as something that I wanted to challenge. And while I’m certainly not going to attempt to switch it off completely (don’t hide in my backseat as a joke.Seriously. I will see you and I will shank you with a shiv in cold blood) I am grateful that I had a moment of complete desperation where the options presented to me: 1) sleep in the MTR station or 2) trust a male unbeknownst to me, made me reconsider my scared-shitless policy towards men in one-on-one situations.

I am not sure how this will carry forth in the future, but I’m happy it happened.

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