This Is the World

I’m in Hong Kong on my way home from Kuala Lumpur. This is for work, for the bill paying day job I have that is a good enough kind of job so that sometimes I get to go to places like Kuala Lumpur to stay in nice hotels and eat great food and suffer from cultural and temporal dislocation, the latter of which sucks but the former of which is one of the wonderful aspects of being alive.

All this for what was basically a one-hour meeting. And if that meeting went well, then I’ll get to return to the region, hopefully often, and perhaps visit more of it. Business is a crazy kind of thing, where travelling half way around the world for a one-hour meeting makes a kind of odd sense, and I wasn’t alone at this meeting; I was joined by colleagues from offices in London, Toronto and Singapore. All flying in for a one-hour meeting. Odd. But no odder than the site of a gaggle of Buddhist monks walking past a Prada store in an upscale mall in the middle of the capitol of Malaysia, or of hearing your Singapore colleagues debate the merits of McDonald’s fries in Malaysia as compared to Singapore, or of the retail extravaganza that awaits one at the airport in Hong Kong. The world is odd and strange and it’s this strangeness and wonder that makes people like me want to write, to make sense of things and, if failing that, to document it for everyone else.

Every piece of writing attempts to expose truths about the world, regardless of the material: a small domestic scene is trying to do the same thing as an epic tale of people migrating across borders.

A loudspeaker in this lounge in Hong Kong, where the music playing is a kind of Celtic jazz and is immensely annoying, just announced delays in Europe because of a volcano in Iceland. I’m eating a delicious Thai “Pig’s Neck” sandwich on white bread (with the crusts trimmed), drinking a Japanese beer and the only odd part about the whole thing, to me at least, is this awful music. And now they’re playing some Ladysmith Black Mambazo type thing, and it’s a little bit too loud (on my way to Malaysia, sitting in this same lounge, they were playing Jim Croce WAY too loud – at 5 in the morning!), and from my seat there are double-decker busses bringing people to the airport, passing by a giant flag of China, and in the harbour, cargo ships by the dozens await their berth, and well, all this says something, about the world, sure, but about me, about everyone in this lounge, speaking in dozens of languages, staring into their laptops (next to me, a Chinese matron-type is watching Friends on her computer), and to tell the stories of the people here would be an attempt to make sense of lives that are lived by everyone everywhere – from grass huts to penthouse suites (not that anyone in this lounge lives in a grass hut). Wouldn’t it?

This trip I just took, am still taking, more than anything makes me understand why I write. And though my jet lag when I get home is going to be epic, I will have stories to tell. My stories. And then, perhaps, some of what I’ve lived will make it’s way into more stories, fictional ones. Your stories as much as mine. Writers (and artists in general) are often miserable, but they are some of the world’s most generous people. In what they share and teach us about what it means to be alive.

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