Hair in Hong Kong

The vibrancy, and sheer magnitude of people in Hong Kong is something that needs to be experienced, to be believed. Everywhere you look, there is action. The streets are filled with people, the roads choked with traffic and noise, and the sunlight blocked out by the gigantuan buildings. I donned a onesie and backpack, screaming, TOURIST!, and set out to explore. After a short walk in the stifling humidity, I reached a street littered with row upon row of shopping centres. All different shopping centres, and at a cursory glance, I couldn’t tell what the difference was between each of them.

It didn’t take long to discover that each centre had a different theme. One for the young and trendy, one for the sophisticated shopper, one for the nerd, one for the music lover, and so on. Tiny little boutique shops filled with apparel or jewellery or electronics. Many in the same centre were very similar, and I wasn’t sure how each of them could sell the same things and still make a living. I walked past a teensy hairdressing salon, and a small Chinese lady came running out, grabbed me by the arm and told me she would ‘fix my hair.’ I couldn’t say no to an offer like that; afterall, if I looked so hideous I had to be manhandled into a salon, I needed to heed that advice. 

The tiny lady told me in broken English that she would wash and trim my hair. Okay, I could manage that, I thought, but where was the hair basin? I looked around, confused, wondering if there was a secret door out the back to a room with hair basins, but no. The woman pushed me towards a chair and told me to sit. I complied instantly. She whipped out a spray bottle of water, wet down my hair, shampooed it, and skillfully rinsed it clean with the same spray bottle! I was stunned. She applied a leave-in conditioner, trimmed my hair, dried it, and sent me off for little more than ten Australian dollars. I would have paid double for the experience, and to this day, I marvel at the ingenuity of the little lady in Hong Kong, who had mastered the basin-less hair wash.

Bearly There

Despite living in Australia with some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, I’m terrified of grizzly bears. Part of the problem comes from watching too many episodes of, I Survived; a TV series about people who’ve survived horrific animal attacks, telling their story while you sit mesmerised and terrified of their mangled faces and scalps. It was always the bear attacks that bothered me— the brutality of scalps torn off, and deep teeth marks puncturing the sides of the human skull. Here in Australia I can use bug spray to maim a deadly spider, and then whack it dead with my shoe. You’re unlikely to survive a bear attack without a cannon.

I’ve heard the Alaska bear stories and I must say, I’ve never been impressed with them. Yes, the locals go salmon fishing near the grizzlies and they just leave each other alone, but that for me, is what nightmares are made of. I just can’t do bears!

When I visited Alaska, I was on high alert for bears everywhere. I was there at the end of summer and I knew the grizzlies were looking for the last morsels of food before heading into hibernation. I didn’t want to be that extra bit of winter padding. Alaska is incredibly remote, so I was constantly anxious about running into the deadly creatures. In order to allay some of my fears, my kind Alaskan tour guides took me to the Alaska Zoo. It was a lazy afternoon and the bears lay resting at the far end of their enclosure. Right in front of the fence was a large sign giving instructions about how to navigate a run-in with a bear. There are certain signs, like body language and demeanor which help you read the mood and intent of the grizzly, and then instructions on how to deal with it in any scenario. In the ’red zone’ which is extreme danger, they simply say, ‘fight for your life.’ Um, not sure how well I’d fight between bouts of wetting myself and passing out. 

A few days later we headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. It was one of the many highlights of the trip, offering spectacular scenery, and an incredible array of local wildlife; bears, moose, reindeer, buffalo, wolves and so much more. We made it in time for a feeding demonstration with the grizzlies, and an informative talk about each of the resident bears. It was a fantastic insight, but being so close to the bears and marvelling at the sheer dimensions and power of these creatures, only served to deepen my fear. But it’s that strange type of fear that keeps me fascinated, going back for yet another look, another photo, another heart palpitation. I don’t ever want to run into one in the wild, but I can’t stop looking at them. Even now, as I plan my next trip to Alaska, I can feel the knot of anxiety growing in my stomach. Part of me thinks I should face my fears and do the grizzly in the wild tour, with a guide, carrying only a stick for defence, but I do recognise that I’m not really a risk-taker, and my screaming and paralysis would just make me a sitting duck for a grizzly attack. No, I think I’ll enjoy the majestic beasts up close and personal in Gwennie’s Family Restaurant; stuffed and stiff, whilst eating a chicken fried steak.

That coffee hit

I am unashamedly addicted to coffee. I take mine strong, with one sugar, cream, and milk. Each night I look forward to waking, and having that first cup of steaming hot coffee. If I don’t get the coffee exactly right each morning, it can make or break my day. Well that’s an exaggeration, but I really do enjoy that first cup of the day.

Australia has a coffee and cafe culture. We love our coffee here, and I believe we have some of the best coffee in the world. I like a good barista coffee, but I’m also partial to instant. No, not that $4.00 a jar rubbish, but a good quality, dark roast.

I’m not a fan of drip coffee, but as I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the US, and I’m marrying an American later this year, I have had to learn to tolerate it. My fiance, Jim, loves the McDonalds drip coffee and buys big containers of it from Walmart. On my last trip to the US a couple of months ago, I started out small— half a mug each morning, and slowly built up to a full cup a day. I may not have been able to get my hands on the good Aussie stuff, but I needed the caffeine hit so I didn’t hurt someone, or myself. Lucky I built up a taste for it, as once I arrived in North Carolina, every food establishment refilled my coffee cup at least fifteen times in one sitting. Unlike Australia, where you can beg for that second cup, I had to beg them to stop the refilling. Even if I hadn’t taken a sip from the last refill, the waitress still managed to pour in a couple of extra drops every time she passed the table. I was too scared to put my hand over the mug as I was sure she’d just pour straight onto it out of habit. I was struggling enough to sleep with the jet lag and time zone changes, but added to that, I was also wired from all of the coffee.

As much as I may complain about drip coffee and the automatic refills, I do love how much Americans love the stuff. There’s something homely and comforting about the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen, and the joyful sound of the coffee machine letting you know it’s ready. The constant refilling of your cup in any food establishment is a little reminder of home comforts, and who knows? Maybe I’ll be slamming them down as fast as they can pour them once I’m Americanised. 

Dreamtime

After visiting the mainland for a while, I met up with my daughter in Waikiki for one night, so we could fly back to Queensland together. By the time I arrived at Honolulu airport I was thoroughly exhausted, and starving, as usual. From the airport we stopped in at the Cheesecake Factory, (which is my new favourite place on earth, besides Walmart), and had yet another incredible meal, and then headed back to the Airbnb room we’d booked. I know I talk about how tired I am constantly, but long haul flights are exhausting. Travelling through changing time zones, climates, layovers in different airports, and sitting next to tanned young Californian women wearing white jeans, who drink beer all night instead of sleeping, leaves you thoroughly fatigued. By the time I got back to the Airbnb room, I thought I’d die.

This was no luxury room, as they are out of our price range in tourist central, Waikiki. Instead, it was a tiny little studio apartment with a bed, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. It wasn’t particularly clean, or pretty, but it was in a great spot, and affordable. I dropped my suitcase and flung myself onto the bed. I planned to just lie there for a minute, but it was like dropping onto a cloud of feathers. I was out like a light. I remember voices in the room as my daughter loudly discussed the non-working wi-fi with the apartment manager, and the banging of doors, but I didn’t care. I slept as though I was in a coma I refused to come out of. I slept so well that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was that one sleep that you compare every other sleep to, forever. And it was the mattress that made it all possible! There was no light in the bedroom/kitchenette so you had to rely on the dim glow from the bathroom. There was only one powerpoint. The bathroom door didn’t close properly. The verandah was narrow and dangerous, dangling over a busy street, and if you wanted wifi, you had to go down to the fifth floor and hang over the pool. But the bed! That bed was so spectacular, that even now, the Airbnb symbol triggers feelings of euphoria. 

A fork of bliss

There’s nothing extraordinary about being someone who loves to eat— most of us do. I love food, but I can’t eat unless I’m hungry. I flew from Honolulu to LAX late in the afternoon, and American Airlines didn’t provide a meal. By the time the plane pulled in at LAX, I had an hour before my connecting flight, and I was starved. I’d never been to LAX and it was almost midnight when I arrived. I ran through the empty maze of tunnels from one terminal to the next, growing hungrier by the minute, but nervous about finding the right gate. With a little help I finally arrived at the gate, and had forty-five minutes till I could board. Perfect! Just enough time to source some food, or so I thought. So close to midnight, many food places had closed, but there was a bistro style cafeteria brightly lit up and smelling great. I selected a dry looking beef casserole with brownish coloured mashed potatoes, as most of the hot food had been sold, and I didn’t fancy a gutful of curry right before a six-hour flight. I sat down with my food and a bottle of water, warily eyeing off the people around me. I was nervous. Small time Aussie girl in Los Angeles airport alone, at midnight, and I was feeling a bit anxious. I couldn’t tell if those around me were male or female. Everything was different; clothes, style, accents, body language. I was exhausted and emotional. 

With the first mouthful of my dinner, everything changed. That was no dried out beef casserole and dodgy mash; that was bliss on a fork. The casserole was rich and meaty, and the potatoes were thick and buttery. I groaned at how delicious the combination was. I wanted to call out to someone, “You must try this casserole!”, but it wasn’t the right crowd. No one at LAX cared about how much the white, middle-aged, average woman was enjoying her dinner. Once I polished that off and boarded my flight, I remembered that I was in America, and food in America is good.