You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ category.

My partner and I boarded a flight to Tokyo at JFK ten years ago last month. And for ten years, we’ve been expats. The plan was always to move back to New York after a few years, settle down, buy an apartment, get a dog, grow organic shit on the balcony, run along the Hudson, pretend not to notice our favourite actor as she walks past us in the Village, you know, settle into a respectable middle-age New York life. But now I’m not so sure.

It bothers me that I prefer London to New York. I feel like I’m cheating on New York as I type this, like I’m turning my back on the city that opened her arms to me as I ran fleeing conservative Texas. “That’s right my little beaner, come running to Mama. She’ll love you. She’ll shelter you. She’ll nurture you.” And she did. I never knew what home felt like until I moved to New York. I remember riding alone in a taxi one evening thinking about this feeling I had. I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I realised it was contentedness. I felt content, and for the first time.

All our friends who have moved back to their respective countries miss living abroad. They’ll reminisce about the good old days wandering Shibuya’s neon maze of alleyways and pedestrian-choked street crossings; or the private junk boat day trips spent downing beers in Hong Kong Harbour, the stretch of skyscrapers and lush mountains as far as the eye can see. It’s real but it’s not. You go to work but you’re on vacation. It jolts you at first and then seeps into you slowly. The formerly exotic becomes mundane. The once imitating outdoor market becomes scouted and explored, the vendor who sells you mixed nuts and dried fruit begins to recognise you, starts to give you a better price because of your loyalty. And with each bit of acceptance and moment of familiarity, you become your adopted home’s citizen.

And then you move. Restart.

We have English friends living in Bangkok who’ve been away from the UK for nearly twenty years. They’ve lived in West Africa, Japan and Singapore among other places. And they have no intention of returning to the UK, planning instead to retire to their home in the South of France.

Most of our friends here in London are expats themselves. Don’t get me wrong, we have English friends too but this is one of the most diverse cities in the world. You’d have to go out of your way not to be friends with someone from another country.

 

In fact, my partner and I hosted a party this past weekend and the majority of our guests were not English, they were Finnish, Indian, Polish, Canadian, Israeli, Swedish, German, Jamaican, Italian and yes, American. And all of them call London home. Some have the desire to return to their home countries one day, others do not. I increasingly put myself in that latter bunch.

I’ve done this three times now. And though I’d like to stay put for the foreseeable future, if the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly move and start again. That’s the thing about being an expat. You begin to crave the adventure.

 

Advertisements

First, I want to say, announce, declare, hell shout that I enjoy being an expat. Love it actually. Ever since my partner and I started on our adventure nearly nine ago, I’ve had the privilege of travel and all the opportunity and experience that allows. I’ve been places I never thought I’d see. Sure, many people would travel around the world to visit Sydney or Beijing but Kuala Lumpur and Seoul? Living in Asia for over seven years meant all these cities were relatively easy to get to. And I can assure you, all those places are worth a visit.

Now that we’re in London, I’ve been able to easily revisit Rome, Genoa and Nice and explore new places like Lisbon an Istanbul. It’s a dream come true really. So what’s the problem you ask? Every home is no home.

There is no such thing as a citizen of the world (Who came up with such a pretentious phrase anyway?). In the end, you have to live somewhere. Maybe it’s a hotel room in Singapore or a serviced apartment in Buenos Aires, but you collet your mail somewhere. And if you are lucky enough to have several homes, you consider one of them your primary residence.

I used to think of New York as my adopted home town. I still do somewhat. Mostly. OK, maybe not really anymore. But that’s not true. I feel like I’m losing my identity. I envy my friends back in states. They’re New Yorkers or Chicagoans or San Franciscans. Friends I met while living in Tokyo or Hong Kong are back in their original cities whether that’s Sydney, Cape Town or elsewhere. They bought property, built homes or returned to old ones.

And maybe this is the problem. We don’t yet own a home. I don’t have a primary residence. Sure I live in a flat in London but it’s rented. And I didn’t grow up in the UK. I always felt like a drifter in Tokyo and Hong Kong because I knew my time there was limited. Now that we’re in London and loving it…well maybe it’s time to put down roots.

I feel like I’m cheating on my hairstylist here in London if I’m back in New York and get my haircut elsewhere. I feel the same way about New York. Even admitting that I love London and in some ways more than New York makes me feel guilty. As if New York would shake me and cry, “Is that mushy peas on your collar? Do I smell vinegar!? How could you goddamn you!!! How could you!?”

Christ, I make New York sound like an overacting suburban woman from a bad 1970s melodrama. And she most certainly is not. New York was the city that called when I was a gay kid and living in nowhere Texas. I longed for big city life, to dance and party with all those people I saw on TV. Crime? Yes. Trash on the streets? Please. Time Square hookers? I’ll take a dozen. The New York I longed for when I was a kid, was the New York of the 1970s. My parents would ask me why on earth I’d want to live there and I’d answer “Because it’s not here.”

And now nowhere is here. I’m lost. A gym bunny gone mad. A house spouse whose primary responsibility is to cook, decorate, shop, run errands and plan trips. I even have a housekeeper for God’s sake–a Russian with animal print bras. She doesn’t speak English and smiles a lot. We’re constantly smiling at each other, like we’re high on Zoloft together.

But I digress.

I’ve played Lady MacBeth for too long. Not that I don’t enjoy strategizing with my partner, helping him with his career. He always thanks me for my “vindictive, conniving, calculating Mexican advice”. Believe me, we take that as a compliment. But maybe I need more than a thank you. I don’t want to work right now because I enjoy tagging along with him when he travels for work. I’m thinking about volunteering again. I love the roaming but I need a rudder, my own rudder. My partner always steers while I look ahead and point. Maybe I need to do some of my own steering for a while. Take command of this boat. Hell command of this goddamn metaphor before I run it into an iceberg (ground).

And maybe write more in this blog that was so important to me when I was losing my mind in Japan.

OK, I’m tired of waiting for that bloody phone repairman! Yes, I said bloody. Where the hell is he? Has he got his knickers in a bunch? I’ve been in my gym clothes for three hours now, waiting for his ass. I need to get to the gym. And it’s sunny! Finally. I need to go to Whole Foods. And as if on cue. Wow. Love when stuff like that happens. Must buzz him in.

Yesterday afternoon while shopping for linens and bathroom accents I held up a soap dish and said, “Ten pounds for this? It’s a small fucking piece of metal.”

The other day at my local Waitrose supermarket I announced, “Do we really need more salad onions? And they’re scallions. Salad onions.”

I talk to myself when I’m alone. It’s a bad habit I developed when we were living in Tokyo. I’m not sure how it developed, I only know that is was soothing and reassuring to hear the sound of someone speaking English, even if that someone was me.

Tokyo was all neon signs, moving billboards, bicycle rings, happy commercial jingles and background chatter. That relentless background chatter. Even with the Japanese I learned, I couldn’t process it. It was a sea of murmuring that threatened to overcome me as I shopped for tofu.

This bad habit was like having a wing man back in Japan, a friend. It was a sarcastic traveling companion, the honest inner voice, my sassy sidekick. The token gay male friend for white women, or straight black woman for gay men. “Girl you know you know nothin’ about cookin’ them Japanese mushrooms. Martha Stewart you ain’t. Best put them back”.

I did as the voice instructed but eventually learned how to prepare maitake mushrooms.

My bad habit died down a bit in Hong Kong. If I were in a large expat supermarket or upscale international shopping center, my sassy friend usually kept quiet. But if I ventured outside central Hong Kong, especially into Kowloon and the New Territories, Sassy would return.

“Where the hell is this bus going?”

“Where the fuck am I?”

“Oh my God I need a drink”.

“Do we need more tomatoes. I should get more tomatoes”.

“HA! It’s Captain Crunch!”

Now that we’re in London, it’s time for Sassy to go home. She’ll be there in my head of course, but it’s time for her to shut her mouth.

Since November I’ve spent more time in London than I have in Hong Kong. So although I’ve been living in London for two weeks, I’ve actually spent a total of about three or four months here (give or take a couple of weeks). My life a blur of airport lounges, martinis and mummified mornings.

I’m doing all the things you do when you move to a new country. I’m just doing them by killing more trees. My God do they love to push paper here. If I’m not completing one form, I’m opening up another.  It took four tries and one small forrest to open up a joint account with my partner. And I’m learning that securing a new place to live is the mental equivalent of an obstacle course. This would be so much faster in New York or Hong Kong. Cities where real estate agents and landlords play fast and loose with contracts. London is more like Tokyo. Every little “i” must be dotted, every detail fretted over.

So as first impressions are lasting impressions, I’ve already formed some opinions that will now be hard to shake, both good and bad. The good far outweighing the bad. Thank God.

First, they love their pubs here. And I love that they love their pubs here. I’m not much of a beer drinker but I’m on board with any society that believes in a pint or two at lunch and several more after work. As in Japan, the locals bond with colleagues over drinks. Yes, I know most people do this the world over do but believe me, the British and the Japanese have perfected it. When the weather turns warm and the clouds clear, you’ll see people cut out of work early just to enjoy a beer with their mates. Everyone is laughing and drinking and you can’t help but want to join in on all the fun.

Of course the flip side of this is that some people can’t hold their liquor and/or don’t know when to call it a night. Vomiting, shouting, fighting, smashing glass, that fleeting warm afternoon can lead to a night of drunken, mean-ass zombies looking for a fight and a fag. And by “fag” I mean cigarette.

This leads me to observation number two. People love smoking here. Like most big cities in the industrialized West, they can’t smoke in their office buildings so they do it outside. Same for pub crawlers, restaurant goers and club kids. Everyone is outside lighting up. I like their defiance. In New York, smokers are banished to the outdoors in an attempt to help make them stop. In London, you get the feeling that it’s more a way of life than a bad habit. They smoke, so they go outside. Not, Mayor Bloomberg’s frowning Dear Leader shaming everyone into behaving the way he wants them to.

And if I’m going to include, drinking and smoking, I might as well include eating. Hong Kong was a sea of mostly mediocre restaurants. Yes, there were good ones too, but then you’d have to pay up. Tokyo was the land of excellent restaurants that were all mostly expensive. You pay for what you get. New York is and was New York, a mishmash. And that’s what it’s like here. I’m surprised by how many gastropubs there are in London. I’m not talking about places back in the US that claim to be gastropubs but are really just bars that serve bad food. I’m talking real gastropubs. That whole movement to elevate British food with locally sourced ingredients is now a way of life. That and you have a bunch of gastropubs that experiment a bit or take standard dishes from other countries and just do them right. I highly recommend The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Great local place with excellent food. And there are always vegetarian options.

A good friend of mine back in Hong Kong said that most people gain about 15 pounds when they first move to London because of all the cakes, pies and pastries. She’s from Pakistan, married a funny English guy and used to live here. I didn’t really believe her at first but she’s right. If you have a sweet tooth, the UK is the place to be. I find myself staring into bakery windows, wiping the drool off my chin. If I could, I’d place my hands behind my back and plunge my face into a gooey chocolate cake, the icing like heroin, the chunky bits of chocolate like crack, an orgasm for the palate.

But thanks to an iron will and a determination to lose a couple of pounds before my birthday, I’ve actually lost weight. My resolve actually scares me. I basically eat very little if anything during the day and have a sensible meal at dinner. Sensible as in mostly fat-free and usually vegan. Of course, my iron will implodes when a bottle of vodka or red wine is opened. Hell, I’m sipping Cotes du Rhone right now. But I digress.

The thing I most appreciate about London right now is the weather. I’m wearing a sweater and it’s July. Now, I know most people would disagree with me, but I love sweater weather. Even in summer. Does it get old? No. What gets old is not being able to walk a few blocks without turning into a pile of sweaty goo, your shirt clinging to your back, your underwear a moist snack cake, your face dripping of moisturizer and that shit you use to make the bags under your eyes disappear. That’s what gets old. Hong Kong summers were a long nightmare of embarrassment and rage. London summers are like winter days in south Texas. And there is light in the sky until about 10pm. The joy.

Aside from paper pushing, form completing and forrest destroying, my only real gripe so far is the service industry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I’ve had some great experiences at shops. restaurants, bars, museums, supermarkets. But I’ve also had some really bad ones. This one bitch had the never to glare at my partner after he failed to follow protocol at our local Waitrose supermarket. I smiled but I wanted to smack the ugly right off her face. I explained later to my partner what he did wrong. I had to learn it the hard way. Something about how you put the groceries on the shortest conveyor belt in the history of the world. I’ve decided not to lose my temper or tell anyone off until I’ve lived here at least six months. That way, I’ll know more or less what I’m talking about.

They might speak English in London but if you are an American, you must understand that the UK is a different country full of different ways of doing things. It’s a different flow, a different rhythm. And right now, this American is loving it.

A few weeks ago my partner asked me what my favorite non resort hotel was. “Easy,” I said, “The Metropole in Hanoi. That was like staying in a museum.” Incidentally, resort hotel would be The St. Regis in Bali. That place was heaven on earth. When my partner reminded me that it had been exactly a year since Vietnam, we began reminiscing about all the places we’d been to in the past year: New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Sydney, London, Singapore, The Philippines and of course Macau. “Hey!” I said. “We’re jet set.”

We laughed and then I said, “Oh my God, we are.”

I’m very lucky to have found a great guy who has a good job that requires him to live and travel internationally. First it was Tokyo, now Hong Kong and soon it will be London. But having that luck and ability to travel isn’t everything. You’ve got to make it work for you.

First, join an airline loyalty program. We’re on American Airlines which is part of the One World Alliance. This includes Japan Airlines, Cathay and British Airways, very convenient airlines for us. You have to choose the program that is right for you, where you live and where you want to travel. And it doesn’t have to be an airline that uses your airport as a hub. Check out an airline’s website, see if it flies or easily connects to the destinations you’d like to visit.

We chose American simply because they had this deal whereby you could fly to Europe for free provided you flew twice to either California or Florida from New York. This was not long after the terrible tragedy of 9/11. The airline industry was still reeling and making very attractive offers to join in order to boost sales. My partner and I signed up for the American Advantage program and booked a trip to San Diego. He later had to go to Florida to see family so I decided to a fly to San Francisco for the night. I literally arrived in San Francisco, went to a cabaret show, had a very late dinner and then hopped into a cab back to the airport. Done. Free ticket to Europe.

After moving to Tokyo, we continued to stay loyal to American and One World. One day at Kennedy airport loyalty paid off. I was told by the American agent that I had reached Gold status which meant that I could go through the much shorter security line and would be accumulating 500 mile upgrades thereafter.  Soon, I reached Platinum status and was enjoying Admiral’s Club access, partner airline lounge access too. Now I use my upgrades domestically to travel first class and my miles internationally to travel business class. I get to have a glass of bubbly before the flight and sleep horizontally over oceans.

My partner is now Executive Platinum at American–the bastard. This means they actually smile when they kiss his ass. I joke but I am a bit jealous. His tier means a lot of perks for me too as his traveling companion. Four free international upgrades. The bonuses, like gravy.

Second, join a hotel loyalty program. Again, choose a program that is right for you and where you want to travel. I suggest doing some online research. For example, the Hyatt brand does not have many beach resorts or properties in Europe or Asia but it does have some key city hotels and even a few marque properties–the Park Hyatt in Tokyo is simply amazing.

My partner and I decided we would join the Starwood program. Starwood hotels include W, The Westin, Sheraton and the St. Regis. We chose the program because it was easy to use accumulated points towards free stays. There are few restrictions or blackout dates. And given the names of the hotels in their portfolio, you can always count on finding a Starwood property on a beach or in a city. And they have a number of hotels and resorts in Asia too.

Now I know the Sheraton isn’t anyone’s idea of living the high life, but I must say the Westin does a good job. Their “heavenly bed” is well, heavenly. And the perks you get for keeping your gold level status mean you get free room upgrades, late check out and lounge access. W hotels are great if you are in your 20s, early 30s or are desperately trying to be hip in your 40s and 50s. That  ship has sailed for me. I prefer the St. Regis. Classy, elegant and sophisticated, the St. Regis does it right. It’s on par with a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. The more expensive the property, the more points you accumulate. The more points you accumulate, the more nights you have free. We paid quite a bit for our four wonderful nights at the St. Regis Bali but then used the accumulated points towards a free weekend getaway at the Westin Macau–our preferred non casino hotel. Peaceful, with views of the South China Sea and within walking distance to Fernando’s restaurant, the Westin Macau is the perfect weekend retreat from hectic Hong Kong.

While I suggest being as loyal as possible when flying, I recommend being a whore when staying. If you are not staying at a hotel in your program, join that hotel’s rewards group too. You’d be surprised the number of incentives they give you. Of course, only join if it’s a hotel brand that you could see yourself staying at in the future. In addition to the Starwood program, we are members of the Shangri-la and Hyatt programs. Shangri-la because we currently live in Asia and they have many properties here. Hyatt because our preferred hotel when we’re back in New York is the Grand Hyatt or the Andaz. Incidentally, the Andaz is a great, fairly new Hyatt launch. We were upgraded to a swanky suite in September. We had a group of friends over for drinks to share the space. It was a perfect night.

Third, get the right credit card. I know some people like to bray, “Oh, and I have no annual fee!” I say, “Yeah, then you have the wrong card.”

Get an airline or hotel credit card that compliments your airline or hotel program of choice. These are mostly free and your charges translate into points. I have a credit card linked to my American Advantage account. The points ad up quickly and it’s very straight forward. No questionable moves on the part of either the bank or the airline.

American Express is one of my best friends. You pay for it, but it pays you back. I have a platinum card. Do I have to pay $450 a year for the privilege? Yes. Do I get free travel, concierge, insurance, premium access to special events, lounges, etc? Yes. It is amazing the number of perks AMEX gives you.

First, you get a $200 credit in airline incidental charges. And we all know the airlines love to charge for their incidentals. Second, you get access to the airline lounge corresponding to the airline you are flying, even if you are traveling coach. Third, you get access to the AMEX travel website. If you book your hotel through them at one of their “fine hotels and resorts”, you get free upgrades, breakfast, dinner, lounge access, late check out, hotel credits (usually totaling $100) and sometimes a free massage. You even get free nights. For example, a hotel might be running an exclusive AMEX special whereby you stay three nights and get the fourth free. We’ve taken advantage of that perk many times.

The hotels listed in the American Express “fine hotels and resorts” are choice hotels in choice markets–Four Seasons, St. Regis, Mandarin, Peninsula, St. Regis. When the weather is cool, our preferred Macau hotel is the newish Mandarin near the historic center. We stay three nights, pay two. In St. Regis Bali, we stayed four, paid three. In the Four Seasons Mexico City, stayed seven, paid five. In Tokyo…

AMEX pays for itself. And no, I’m not an employee of American Express.

Lastly, check the internet for hotel deals. The Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Ritz Carlton often run their own stay four, pay three schemes on their respective websites. Some hotels like the Four Seasons and The Peninsula are not owned by a larger, more accessible brand (Marriott owns Ritz Carlton, Hilton owns Conrad, Sheraton owns St. Regis). For these hotels in particular, it’s best to check their websites for deals. Why pay full price for five nights at a Marriott when you can pay four and stay five at a Mandarin?

I rarely travel coach, rarely stay at average hotels and have cashed in points for free international biz class tickets and luxe hotel rooms. I’m not special and my last name is not Warbucks. I just know how to work it. It upsets me when friends and family don’t pick an airline or hotel awards program. You are literally throwing money away if you don’t. Hell, I recently flew round trip biz class on Cathay from Hong Kong to New York for free. Free.

And remember, always have the glass of champagne they offer you on the plane before departure. If things go boom in the sky, you don’t want your last thought to be, “I should have had that glass of champagne.”

My dad recently came to visit my partner and I in Hong Kong. Mom stayed at home because she’s claustrophobic and scared of flying. You would be too if you had been in a commercial plane crash landing and an elevator accident. She’s fine on four or five hour hops but anything longer than that and she starts to stare at the exit door longingly.

Dad arrived earlier than anticipated. I felt like a bad son when I realized he had been waiting for me just outside of customs. I’d actually arrived an hour early but was killing time at an airport bar. Typical. I grabbed Dad’s suitcase and we jumped in a taxi. I could tell that he was very happy to see me and very excited to be in Asia for the first time. After over seven years in the Far East, I just couldn’t move to London without insisting he come to visit me. He’d already been to South America and Africa. I wanted him to step foot on the Asian continent too.

But what to do? You can’t exactly go bar hoping with dad. Besides, I don’t go bar hopping anymore. That ship has sailed. I of course was prepared with my own list of what to do.

Top Ten:

1. Star Ferry: This is a no brainer. In a city with countless ferry rides going every which way including the Chinese mainland and Macau, this is the classic journey. In under ten minutes you make the trip from Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon Peninsula. It’s like going from Manhattan to Brooklyn but on a grander scale. When your dad is back home watching a travel program on TV, he’ll smile and say, “I did that”.

2. The Peak: Another no brainer. It’s arguably the best vantage point from which to view Hong Kong. Spectacular! From the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to the skyscrapers of Kowloon, the harbor that separates them and the green hills and mountains that surround them. Just try not to go on a foggy day. You won’t see squat. Unfortunately, it was foggy and rainy during my dad’s entire visit. I took him up to the peak anyway, showed him a picture of what he would be viewing had a cloud not descended from the sky. Incidentally, you don’t have to go to the tourist trap Peak Gallery to view the skyline. There are parks and trails with equally impressive vistas of the city up there.

3. Kowloon Public Pier: Another vantage point from with to take in this amazing city. You’ve seen it from the top of the peak on the Hong Kong side, now see it from ground level on the Kowloon side. If the peak offers a more gestalt overview, the pier offers a more immediate engagement with the city. You feel the pulse, see the ferries, hear the crowds, the noise.

4. Mid-level escalators: Only in Hong Kong would an open air escalator be a tourist draw. It’s funny because when we first arrived, I thought this “ride” was pretty cool. It is the longest outdoor escalator ride (it is divided into many sections) in the world. But as a resident of Hong Kong, the novelty quickly faded. I regard the escalators as nothing more than a way to get from point A to point B. Only when we have visitors and I’m taking them around town do I think, “Wow, this is really cool”.

5. The markets: The outdoor markets are part of life in Hong Kong. Some are touristy (the night market), some are not (in and around Gough Street), and some are stinky (Des Voeux Street West Dried Seafood street). There are many markets where locals pick up fresh produce, flowers, meat, etc. I recommend the one in Wanchai, although the one around Gough Street is more scenic. Cat Street is a great place to shop for novelty items in an outdoor setting. If you want to buy legitimate antiques though, just walk up the stairs from Cat Street to Hollywood Road West. While not technically a market, this patch of Hollywood Road offers a number of upscale shops and art galleries.

The second half of the list is more personal. Yes, Hong Kong is an exciting place to visit, but it’s not exactly teaming with world class museums and world renowned parks. You have to tailor the experience for the guest. In this case, my dad was game for anything I wanted to do, so I took him to the places that I like to frequent.

6. The Peninsula Hotel: Worthy of every accolade, this grand hotel never fails to live up to its praise, especially at Christmas when a gorgeous tree, meticulously adorned, graces the historic lobby. You can have high tea here but I recommend after dinner drinks. While the martinis might not be the coldest or biggest in Hong Kong, the handsome interior of this gorgeous lobby filled with live jazz will whisk you back to another time. Skip the Felix bar and restaurant up top. It’s overhyped and touristy. The main lobby is where you want to be.

7. Morton’s Steakhouse: This is where we go before a nightcap at the Peninsula next door. You might think it’s odd that a vegetarian would be promoting a steakhouse. Think again. This vegetarian enjoys crisp salads, delicious sides and the biggest, coldest martinis in Hong Kong. And on top of that, you get a view of the harbor from the wall of windows in this fourth floor restaurant. Make reservations in advance, request a table by the window and dazzle your guests with the nightly 8:00pm light show over Hong Kong harbor. Is it cheesy? Yes. But all the main buildings in town participate and the show lasts for fifteen minutes. You can be a kid again. A kid with a very cold, dry martini.

8. Shopping malls: Hong Kong used to be known as the place to go for cheap designer knockoffs. Those days are long gone. Today, monied mainland Chinese tourists take shopping holidays in Hong Kong. They spend three to seven days sprinting from high-end shop to high-end shop, dropping loads of cash in the process. I recommend Elements in Kowloon, or my personal favorite, Pacific Place in Hong Kong–the “old” standby newly and tastefully remodelled. After a day of shopping, I suggest a late afternoon cocktail in the main bar of The Upper House hotel for gorgeous views high above the city. Chic and minimalist, this place oozes no-nonsense sophistication.

9. Stanley: On the opposite side of Hong Kong Island sits a former fishing village that is now home to a number of expat families, as well as heaps of tourist and local friendly bars and restaurants. A taxi will get you there faster but I recommend the Number Six bus. Take your guests up to the second level and try to get a seat up front. It’s Hong Kong’s version of a Disney ride. You’ll leave Central Hong Kong and climb up the green mountain, skyscrapers below, before slowly descending into Stanley, gorgeous vistas everywhere you turn, high-end condos perched along the sides of mountains.

10. Macau: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Macau as a Hong Kong asset. More than just the Las Vegas of Asia, this place offers a unique blend of East and West, Portuguese and Chinese. Sure, you can gamble at night if that’s your thing but I highly recommend grabbing a map and visiting the historic sights of this amazing city. Everyone loves Fernando’s restaurant, but I’d also include a dinner at Club Militar. Good food, great setting. And nothing beats The Wynn casino. Big and vibrant yet classy and sophisticated. Oh and the casino’s Cinnebar makes a mean martini.

We’re supposed to leave Hong Kong in the next few months. I’ll miss this place, definitely more than I missed Tokyo. But who knows? We could find ourselves living here again sometime in the future. Life is a adventure. Live it.

After over seven years in Asia, my partner and I are finally moving. I say “finally” because seven years is a long time in my book. Hell, we were in Tokyo for four years and that was two years too long. I damn near lost my mind. Who am I kidding? I did.

If you had told me twenty years ago that I’d be spending my 30s in Asia, I would have told you to pass the bong. Fast forward two decades and I sit alone in my Hong Kong living room, 32 floors above the noise of the city, the busy sidewalks slowly calming as night falls.

This move has been in the works for some time now, but I’ve learned not to take these things too seriously. For me, it’s not a done deal until I’m on the plane headed for my new home, glass of champagne in hand, looking out the window at clouds. And where is this new home exactly? London.

That’s right. We’re moving to the land of merry men, Jack the Ripper and Madonna. Tally-ho! I’ll be a chap, not a chav. Drink tea instead of coffee. And say things like “Bloody Hell!”, “God save the queen.” and “Shall we have a fag?”

But I’ll believe it when the plane takes off. You see, these things have a way of changing. We could be moving back to New York. Yes, back to New York. In which case I’ll return to saying things like “Fuck off!”, “You’re not the boss of me.” and “Gotta cigarette?”

And therein lies the rub. You see, I miss New York. Last night, my partner and I were talking about Alicia Keys after we saw her perform at Whitney Houston’s memorial (still can’t believe she’s gone) and he put on “Empire State of Mind“. Now I’m not into hip hop, but what a catchy tune? Jesus, I sound like some old fuck. “Catchy tune” my ass. That song is the bomb, yo!

But if we go back to New York, the adventure will end. I hate saying that but I kind of feel that way. No more exotic vacations. I’ve been able to travel to places like Bali, Malacca, Hanoi, Nagasaki and even North Korea–I stepped over the border in Panmunjom. I’ve got to say Cape Cod looks like a hell of a let down after you’ve sipped a margarita on a beach in Bali while a volcano appeared in the distance as the clouds dispersed. Don’t get me wrong, Cape Cod is great, fine. It’s just not Bali.

Moving to London would mean the beginning of a third adventure. I envision a train trip from Istanbul to Prague via Budapest and Vienna; a week exploring northern Portugal and the northern Spanish provinces of Galicia and Asturias; a holiday traveling Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. You see, there are exotic vacations to be had in Europe.

I’ve been bitten by the expat bug. I’m not sure I want to settle down just yet.

I used to tell my partner that when we returned to New York, that would be that, we would never move again. I no longer feel that way. His experience in the world’s financial capitals means his career could take us back to Asia, keep us in Europe or even see us in a BRIC country. Brazil? Wouldn’t mind that at all. Me in a helicopter in Sao Paolo. Yes, I see it now.

But all I have to do is hear Billie Holiday sing “Autumn in New York” or watch the beginning of “Manhattan”, or hell, the ending. And then I miss living in the greatest city in the world. New York City.

Yesterday, I had dinner and drinks with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. He’d left Hong Kong to be by his mother’s side in Manilla while she recovered from stress and exhaustion. You don’t have to be Demi Moore to have a diva moment. When he commented that I looked thinner, I said, “Oh yeah, it’s because I’ve gone vegan this past week.”

He did one of those Madonna Vogue motions, sucked in his cheeks and said, “You look thin from your face”.

“What!? Are you saying I was fat before!!!??”

“No, you look thinner from the face.”

This is my cross to bear. Some people gain it in the ass. Some in the gut. Others in the legs. I once saw this woman with a very small upper body and these enormous, tree trunk like legs. Poor woman looked like a dowdy, English tyrannosaurus rex. But me? I gain it in the face, my cheeks to be exact.

I could run my ass off like I’ve been doing lately. I could limit my food intake, closely monitor my portion control, skip booze at brunch. I could do all these things and the last part of my body that would reward me physically, and yes even emotionally, would be my cheeks. Ever since I was a little kid and my Tia Margie would grab my cheeks with both her hands and tell me how cute I was, I’ve been cursed with these round, holding your breath underwater cheeks. And the cheeks don’t lie.

So from time to time, for a few days usually mid week so as to not effect my partner, I go vegan. My partner has had to put up with my vegetarianism from day one. But can you imagine having dinner out on a Friday night in Hong Kong and trying to stay vegan? That’s tough. And don’t give me that mock meat Chinese vegetarian restaurant crap. I love those places at lunch but not on a Friday night. That’s red wine time. You can’t have red wine at a communal ma and pa place with everyone’s face halfway into their soup bowls.

Last weekend, my parter flew to London for work. Seven days apart meant seven days to go vegan. I prepared ahead of time. Vegan mayonnaise (I love this stuff), avocados, brown rice, black beans, hard tofu, corn tortillas, heirloom tomatoes, etc. Basically, going vegan means I can eat what I usually eat minus the Sunday eggs florentine, nightly dark chocolate and occasional pesto pasta or quesadillas. I don’t drink milk anymore. I’ve gone soy milk for several years now. Love it. The idea of drinking real milk is kind of disturbing to me now. We’re the only mammals that drink another mammal’s milk. And that’s just beyond weird.

I’ve learned to prepare a number of vegan dishes at home. In fact, my partner and I have two or three vegan dinners at home a week even when I’m not going vegan. My mouth is watering just thinking about the Indian chickpeas in garlic, ginger and all those yummy authentic Indian spices one of my best friends gave me–she’s Indian. The braised tofu cacciatore that makes me lick my lips as I type. The spicy black bean tacos with fresh guacamole and lime.

You see, going vegan isn’t that hard. It’s only the first day that’s tough. After that, as long as you maintain your exercise schedule, you’ll lose weight without even trying. I swear. It’s how I get lean before a beach vacation. My partner has to go to Sydney for work soon and I’m tagging along. Me with a margarita by the hotel pool. Me holding a bottle of beer by the beech. Me swilling a martini at some jazz club. Me inhaling cheese nachos. Me making love to an ice cream sundae. Me scarfing down a chocolate chip cookie. See? Going vegan pays off in the end.

And now, as my partner is in a taxi somewhere between the Hong Kong airport and our apartment after a week away, I’m hoping he opens the door and says more than his usual, “I missed you so much, Babe”. I want him to say, “I missed you so much, Babe. And your cheeks! What would I do without you?”

Christine sucked the first few layers of skin off my face with a machine that resembled a small, limbless robot with a very long penis. She used the tip of the phallus to scrape the old skin away, leaving the new, suppler, fresher looking skin behind.

“You see? It doesn’t hurt really so much, right? I use gentle diamond head to remove skin. Very gentle.”

I don’t usually get facials. Once in a while, I go to the L’Occitane Spa on Star Street to get a refresher. My face likes L’Occitane products so I trust them there. Recently, when I was killing time one afternoon back in Texas, I allowed this very flamboyant, kind older gentleman to talk me into buying a few Keihl’s products. In the past Keihl’s hasn’t really worked for me. I break out. But I wanted to make a change from L’Occitane, wanted to mix things up a bit. He also told me about this rather expensive product called Cellman.

He said in his gay, Texas twang, “Why if you want somethin’ really good, somethin’ that’s gonna really work for ya, I highly recommend Cellman. But let me tell you now, it ain’t cheap. Guess how much it is. Go on, guess. Guess! Guess!!!”

I guessed high but in the same ballpark. I would have lost the showcase had I been on The Price is Right but he was so nice he gave me all these Cellman samplers.

When I got back to Hong Kong, I slathered the Kiehl’s Creme de Corps all over my face one day and woke up with zits the next. I faired better with the Facial Fuel Anit-Wrinkle Cream, or so I thought.

Two weeks later and you could play connect the dots on my face. Some of the pimples were dry and dead but others were popping up in odd places like my forehead. Now I don’t normally have a problem with zits so this shit was really starting to piss me off. I finally made a call to the spa after my partner made a joke about my face. I’m three years older than he is and I’ll be damned if I’m going to age gracefully. It takes work to look younger than I really am. Exercise, vodka, staying out of the sun, and the occasional facial intervention.

I picked up the phone and called the Four Seasons spa. I needed something more than just the regular L’Occitane facial. I needed the works, the whole enchilada.

“Hi, I’d like to make an appointment for the resurfacing facial for tomorrow afternoon if possible.”

“Yes, but first I’d like to know why selected the resurfacing facial.”

She went on to warn me that this facial wasn’t for everyone, that some had bad reactions, that people with sensitive skin could find the diamond crystal wand too difficult to take. She was starting to scare me. I started to imagine Patsy in that episode of Ab Fab where she gets the chemical peel. Fortunately, she suggested a consultation first, followed by the treatment. If the resurfacing facial was right for me, my consultant would give me the green light.

The day of my treatment, I used the spa facilities, put on the robe and made my way to the waiting area. I usually come here for my mani/pedis so I have my routine down. Incidentally, the facilities are nice. I love the relaxation room, but the wet and dry areas are beginning to show their age. If you want Hong Kong boom, I recommend the Bliss Spa at the W Hotel. Bliss is on the 71st floor and you have these boom views from the jacuzzi and treatment rooms. The furnishings and details aren’t as good as at the Four Seasons, but that view.

Christine was an excellent consultant. None of that whatever I say is good bullshit. If she disagreed with aspects of my “morning moisturizing routine” she told me. She gave me pointers and tips on how not to break out in the future and how to better take care of my skin.

“Your face is very supple, very good skin but your neck is not so supple. Good but not so good like your face. Do you use moisturizing lotion on your neck?”

I said yes and then she told me that using your facial moisturizer on your neck was better than a body lotion because facial moisturizers are stronger and gentler. Who knew?

I had snuck a Xanax into a pocket of my robe in case I’d be given the go ahead for the Resurfacing Facial. I get a little weird when it comes to closing my eyes for too long, being fondled by a uniformed stranger and remaining in a small, enclosed space–even those with nice views of the pool and harbor. Besides, if this procedure did hurt, I was going to endure the pain with positive thinking, meditation and medication.

By this time, I was already cocooned in my blanket wearing my black, paper throwaway cardboard panties (Don’t you hate those?) so I asked her to reach into the pocket of my robe to retrieve the little white pill. She seemed a bit confused but played along. I mean, I wasn’t asking her to pull my finger or anything else for that matter. She’s a professional, not a “professional” after all. Christine gave me my pill and a glass of water. I gulped that sucker down.

“Okay, I’m ready.”

I only wanted to jump up and scream just once but the Xanax kicked in just in time. I nearly nodded off once too. I don’t credit the Xanax for that, I credit Christine’s soothing touch, rhythmic motions and that vitamin C lotion she was using on my face. Must get some of that later this week.

While I lie there half asleep, I imagined the 22 year-old me. What a little do-gooder, hippy, drunken lesbian I was–I’ve always been a lesbian trapped in a gay man’s body. But now? Now I was a fearful, vain gay man cocooned in a blanket at the Four Seasons high on Xanax on a Wednesday afternoon. A cliche.

I’ll tell you what I fear more than being a cliche. I fear looking my age more than I do a small, limbless robot with a long penis. I fear it more than I do a chemical peel, a needle or the knife. One day, I’m going to have to look into fillers and botox, but for now I have Christine and her diamond headed phallus.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to Mayfair.

I finally made it to London earlier this month, tagged along on one of my partner’s business trips. Nine days of walking the streets, getting a feel for the city, soaking up the culture, the sights. I walked from South Kensington to Soho. Islington to Shoreditch. Central to Belgravia. Mayfair to Maide Vale. I walked so much that one evening my knees buckled and I had to stop at the Savoy for a Grey Goose martini. OK, three.

English friends warned me: London is terribly expensive and gloomy.

American friends warned me: It’s a low-rise more expensive New York with ugly people.

All I could think was, “Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper!!!”

By the time I arrived on a BA flight form Hong Kong at four thirty in the morning, I was expecting “City of the Walking Dead” or surly, disheveled Oompa Loompas in Burberry trenches. Our room wasn’t ready when we got to the hotel so we walked down Piccadilly. Let me tell you, it was “City of the Walking Dead“.

The tube station had just opened and people who had stayed out all night were staggering back to the metro. I saw one girl slump down near a guardrail and vomit, a guy smash a bottle on the street, and a man fast asleep on the sidewalk in a sleeping bag. We walked back to the hotel. This is London?

After a hearty breakfast, we stepped out again and walked through Green Park, the fall leaves cracking under our feet. The sunrise had brought out the runners, baby strollers and jet lagged tourists whose rooms were also not ready. We passed Buckingham Palace, walked through St. James’s Park and watched the beginning of the Armistice Day commemoration. This was more like it.

Over the coming days there were reunions with old friends: the girl who saved me from drowning in Palau Tioman, Malaysia and her family; my partner’s former work colleagues who got married and now have a family; a surprise Tokyo reunion of friends who had also lived in (endured) Japan.

I met a new friend too, well new friend of sorts. She had worked for the company that helped my partner and I move from New York to Tokyo seven years ago. And while I’d never actually met her, we had stayed in touch over the years via email and facebook. Strange how you can feel you’ve been friends with someone for over seven years without having met them in person.

And while it was all very very, most of my time was spent alone. I visited the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and Harrods. Read the FT while dining at several Indian and Lebanese restaurants. Walked up and down Marylbone High Street, popped into this great bookstore, Daunt Books, where I picked up Diane Keaton’s recently published memoir. Strolled along South Audley Street, passed the US Embassy and some very stately homes and embassies.

People warned me that Londoners could be rude. I didn’t find that. Well once, this crusty old white guy tending bar at a pub in Notting Hill. People warned me that London was gloomy and wet in the fall. While it’s true that during the colder months the sun just hovers above the horizon and never really rises, the light it shines makes the city mysterious and romantic.

I knew London was multicultural but was amazed at just how multicultural it was. Half the people were not white. Me and my multicultural “what the hell is he?” face fit right in. I knew London had a lot of wealthy Saudi and Russian people, but again, was amazed at just how much money they had. These people aren’t old money tasteful rich, they’re new money showy rich, pretentious posers in Prada and Pucci.

On my final evening just before heading out to the airport for a late night flight back home, I had a martini at the Palm Court Lounge. Nine days had flown by so quickly. Our room at the Park Lane was big enough to feel like I had been staying in a small apartment. I didn’t want to leave. London was beginning to feel like home.

I’d come here to check it out, see if it could be our new home. I’d arrived with few expectations other than to see Miss Piggy climbing a wall and riding a motorcycle. Now I was convinced this should be our next move. Possibly.

On the taxi ride back to our flat in Hong Kong, I was stunned again by the audacity of this city. Skyscrapers rising above hills, mountains rising above skyscrapers, the harbor threatening to wash it all away. The ferries, barges and bridges linking everything together however tenuous. The beautiful chaos. Maybe I’m not ready to leave just yet.