When I made the decision to up and leave everything in Taiwan I must have been approaching a moderate to high level of hypomania. I was impulsive, but with still some ability to put on the brakes. But, once hypomania is triggered, it can grow to a full blown mania in people with bipolar disorder. The following part of my Asian adventure shows one such a transition.
My first stop outside of Taiwan was Hong Kong. I chose it because I had a little hankering for a bit of a Western flavor after six months in a very different cultural environment. Hong Kong being still under British rule at the time had that modern cosmopolitan atmosphere I missed in Taiwanese cities. I could see how spectacular the city was straight from my plane window on the approach. Hong Kong International Airport (the now closed Kai Tak Airport) was perfectly situated with a view of Hong Kong’s splendid skyscrapers, mountains to the north, and Victoria Harbour at the end of the runway. The approach to the airport afforded all of these amazing views. The landing was also a dramatic experience, and was known to be technically demanding for pilots.
Once I disembarked from the plane, I headed to a cheap youth hostel that was listed in a guidebook I purchased in Taiwan. There, I booked a $6 per night bed in a room that had at least eight bunks. It was mixed men and women, something I didn’t mind at all from past experience. I chained my suitcase to the bunk, secured with a lock and headed out with my backpack. From that point on, I have only select memories of my time in this wonderful city. Memory problems are pretty common side-effects of manic episodes, but here are some of the things I do remember.
I think the first thing I did was board a ferry to the modern part of the city. The air blowing through my hair was intoxicating and the harbor had a fragrant smell about it (Hong Kong means “fragrant harbor” in Chinese, after all). Unlike Taiwanese cities, parts of Hong Kong have scores of beautiful modern skyscrapers. Architectural treasures. Many Taiwanese buildings look more like communist block housing, though they’re not.
When I arrived in the modern city I wove through the skyscrapers stretching my neck backwards at each block. Some were even more remarkable than those in San Francisco. Then suddenly I stumbled upon a hidden treasure; a beautiful green park full of paths surrounded by tall green trees and flowering bushes of types I had never seen before. I climbed the steepening paths to the top and recall a glorious view of the city. I was high up and high mentally, feeling like I was floating above the world, and strangely I was all alone and in what seemed like silence.
During the next days I visited Hong Kong’s popular Kowloon district, a much more typically “Chinese” looking section of the city. I zipped around town exploring what seemed like every hustling street. Then I stumbled upon what seemed to be an electronics row, with one shop after another selling cameras, TVs, watches, and everything else that moved. The area itself was fast moving, bustling with people, just as my mind and body was moving, and moving fast. What normally could have been sensory overload was a sensory symphony. A mix of Chinese opera and Beethoven somehow combined into a perfect harmony.
I remember being impressed by more numerous and more modern CD stores than I had ever even seen in the U.S. This one shop I entered had headphones where you could listen to any of the CDs for sale. I know, it later became common when CD stores still existed, but that was a new thing in the mid-1990s. Exciting! I remember hearing Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album for the first time, freshly released, and discovering a band called Oasis. New sounds. If they were popular in the U.S., I hadn’t heard of them.
During my exploration I hooked up with a number of people. When you’re a lone traveler, that’s what you do. The first people I met were three Australians. One of them, a guy maybe 25 years my senior seemed to consider himself a winner finding me, and even asked me to join him for a movie nearby after a lunch. In the movie theater, he started to get a little fresh with me, so I excused myself to go to the bathroom. He said I could leave my backpack with him when I went. Yeah, right! I told him I needed something from it, and high-tailed it out of there.
Later in the trip I met an Israeli guy in my youth hostel. He was in Hong Kong with a young Korean girlfriend he met in China P.R.C., while studying Chinese. They told me that the girl’s parents didn’t know about the relationship and that they would have forbidden it, if they did. I ended up hanging out with the guy three times total. The first time just for a walk around town with his girlfriend. The second time was just with him in the hostel. He invited me to see his private room. It was 10 times more comfortable than my barracks-like situation, and included just one queen-sized bed with a private bathroom. He propositioned me for sex, but despite my elevated mood I refused, reminding him of his girlfriend. But, that didn’t keep me from hanging out some more with the two of them. He was a blast to talk to, and seemed riveted to every word I said, laughing at every joke. Such people are extra stimulating to a manic person.
The Israeli guy invited me to join him and his girlfriend for dinner that night. We walked around a bit and he listened to my profuse rambling like a puppy dog. His young girlfriend was obviously not very happy about it, but I wasn’t concerned. He asked where I (not she) wanted to eat and I picked a fancy looking Szechuan restaurant in a nice part of Kowloon. Mmm, I hadn’t had anything but street food in ages. My mouth was watering and I felt I deserved some luxury.
I had heard that Hong Kong cuisine was extraordinarily delicious and he was immediately excited about my restaurant suggestion. We went in, sat down and ordered several yummy sounding dishes from the menu. The Israeli guy and I were talking together, but then suddenly his girlfriend started to cry and yell at him and me hysterically. I recall her shouting “We can’t afford this! Why are we here?! Only because of her! Tell her to go away! Tell her to go away!”
People in the restaurant were staring at us, but I was shocked. I guess I was living only in my own world at the time, but it nevertheless occurred to me that I’d better scat. A major fight was brewing. I put down a good chunk of money quickly and left mid-meal. I laughed the whole way down the street, hysterically. After that, I don’t remember what happened. I eventually went back to my hostel, checked my luggage (thank god, nothing stolen), and decided maybe it was best for me to move on to Bangkok in a few days. I don’t remember booking the ticket or even flying to Thailand, but somehow I ended up there.