‘Where are we staying?’ I ask my husband as the plane begins its descent into Hong Kong. Through the window, there is a dome of smog covering the city. Despite everything I’ve read and heard about this city, I’m not sure I’m going to like it here.
‘We’re staying in an AirBnB,’ says my husband, still responding to emails.
‘Why aren’t we staying in a hotel?’
‘Because you wanted a kitchen to cook in.’
Did I? I don’t remember the conversation but it sounds like something I’d say. I must have figured it would be hard to get food that I could eat in Hong Kong, you know, given that I still can’t eat rice, or spices, or sauces, or herbs. Oh, to be able to eat.
One of the specialists I’d seen just before we left, told me it ‘probably’ wouldn’t do me any damage if I kept eating the foods that hurt (I really appreciated his conviction), and that I might just have to suffer for a bit until my body became used to these things again. Easier said than done, my stomach feels like it’s on fire whenever I eat anything that isn’t ridiculously plain and slow cooked. It’s as if my body has completely forgotten the art of digestion, so that food just wanders around like lumps of lead while my body panics, unable to figure out what it is supposed to be doing.
Inside the apartment, my husband tries very hard not to let his head explode, and I try very hard not to laugh, but i can’t help it. It comes out high pitched and squeaky, the hysterical laugh of a woman with 10 bags, two children, no food, no sleep and no idea why anyone would think moving to a new country is a good idea.
‘We can’t stay here,’ insists my husband, attempting to carry the ten bags down the three flights of stairs they’d just come up. His face was flushed, and his jaw locked. I can tell he is embarrassed. Anger and a ‘take charge’ attitude usually flair up whenever he feels ashamed. I want to hug him, but I’m still trying to figure out how the seven of us are going to fit into this dingy matchbox.
‘It’ll be fine,’ says my Mum, traversing the kitchen/lounge room/dining room in three steps and poking her head behind the doors, ‘an adventure.’
She doesn’t sound convinced.
Our nanny and her fiancé, choose the double mattress wedged into the cupboard to the right. Their very own little burrow.
I ignore the delightful ‘used to be white but now are more of a creamy grey’ tiles throughout the apartment that makes the place seem like one giant public toilet that is sprayed clean upon each guest’s departure. I look at the ceiling but cannot find any taps. I also ignored the shower/toilet combo, which we later learn should only ever be used in one order, and find myself in what is ambitiously calling itself the second bedroom. Really, it is the end of the lounge room cordoned off behind glass sliding doors that are just waiting for one of my children to run face first into.
‘The photo’s didn’t look great,’ Mum says to me later.
I bite my lip and my stomach churns. What on earth was he thinking when he booked this? I look over at my husband who is busy looking up directions for the nearest supermarket. Sometimes he is so focussed on getting things done, that he doesn’t pay attention to the details. Months later, I discover this hideous apartment was actually the best option available, given my need to cook. Sometimes I’m such a jerk.
The girls pick their bunks, and my husband and I draw straws for who will end up with our youngest’s feet in their face all night. It’s me.
Mum sleeps in the only room that looks as though it was originally designed as a bedroom. And if you stand on your right foot, tilt your head wildly, and squint your eyes a bit, you can just make out a rainbow of neon.
‘The house in Amsterdam is better than this isn’t it?’ I whisper into the dark. The top bunk squeaks as he turns over.
‘You’re going to love it,’ he says sleepily.
‘I know. But it’s all going to be okay.’
You don’t know that, I think. But I don’t say it. I feel like I’m seven years old again and I’m moving house, and changing schools, and my parents have just married new partners. Everything feels wildly out of control.