Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Moving in Hong Kong

What's wrong with this picture?
When I moved to Hong Kong, my company paid Santa Fe to relocate my stuff; one day after I'd taken up residence, two men turned up at my flat with a pallet covered with my possessions, and then vanished again after they'd unpacked everything. However, Santa Fe charge expat prices (the converse of gweilo power) and I fancied doing things on the cheap, so with the recommendation from a friend of a friend of a local moving company, I made a phone call and booked myself some movers for yesterday afternoon.  I left the office at noon and rushed home, worried that my movers might roll up to the building, find me not there, and go home.

How wrong was I.  I got home at a quarter to one, shaking and sweating, and sat down.

And waited.

And waited.

And an hour and a half after the time the movers were meant to appear, I phoned up their office and they told me they were slightly delayed.  And they'd be there about 4.

Four?  Three hours late?  I was too befuddled to get angry; I returned to lying on the sofa and waiting.  And waiting.  At four o'clock a call came, to say they'd be there in another fifteen minutes.

At four-thirty, there was a knock on the door. I opened it, to find four men staring in at me.  One rushed past and dived into the toilet.  I suppose when you have to go, you have to go.  The others ran into the room and began to make up for their tardiness.  I kept myself in one corner of the room and tried not to get in the way of the ensuing whirlwind.

If you haven't ever been moved by a team of Hong Kong removal men, you won't appreciate how quite how rapid they are.  It does appear that there's a bunch of demented Chinese men running round and round your circle without rhyme or reason, but the simple fact is that you take four men, two t-shirts and thirty minutes, mix in roll after roll of sticky tape and transparent plastic wrap, and just like that the entire contents of your flat vanish down to the street.

The ringleader seemed to be an insanely cheerful man dressed only in sneakers and a pair of stone-washed, skin-tight denim hotpants, wearing several rolls of packing tape as bangles on one arm, and grinning all the time.  He never stopped.  Occasionally I'd meet his eye and he'd grin even bigger as he carried on wrapping things in plastic.  I began to worry that perhaps I was in the wrong place: they were rehearsing for a homoerotic film. 
"That's a big box."
"Let me give you a hand shifting it."
But despite my worries about the grinning man and his accomplices, they didn't seem to be too intent on doing anything untoward.  Apart from using my toilet.  (I haven't opened the door since.)  I went down to the street, to see a procession of Hong Kong people walking past my mattress, tables, boxes and rest-of-my-life, blithely unconcerned by a man trying to wheel a chest of drawers past them to the waiting van.  Again, I was relegating to standing around trying to not look superfluous, while the mighty men of the relocation company moved everything into a beat-up blue van.  (It's a mystery why all Hong Kong vans are pale blue and knackered, but it's a universal and eternal truth nonetheless. I reckon Kant would have had something to say about that.) Apart from wearing next-to-nothing and grinning all the time, and drinking lots of sweetened soy milk, and probably listening to insane Belgian techno when I wasn't around, they were a very manly bunch. This was also the first time in years that I'd been able to sit in a van.1

With everything loaded, we bundled into the van and set off for Tin Hau.  All done in forty five minutes.

Waiting would be the leitmotif of the day, as we then sat in traffic for half an hour, before being spat out near the new flat.  I'd been to look at it a few days ago, and there was nowhere to park, but our fine crew were undaunted.  Another man appeared on the pavement brandishing a mobile phone and guided them to park next to a large NO STOPPING sign, and they then began to unpack all my stuff again while I headed up to the flat.

I'm glad it wasn't a hot day in Hong Kong, or all this would have been quite unpleasant.  Or if it had been really humid.  Or if there wasn't a flight of stairs everything had to be carried up to before you could even get it into the lift.

Oh.  Oops.  Sorry guys.  On the positive side, there was a clear view from my flat of the men at the bottom of the alley, humping boxes of books, sofas and sundry items of furniture onto their backs and then charging the stairs.

Things went well until the lift broke down.  There's no fan in there, but all we could hear was Happy Hotpants outside the lift laughing at the two guys stuck inside it, and then them going down one floor and the lift getting stuck again.  Maybe it didn't like having skin-tight denim anywhere near it; maybe it was scared that if it opened, Laughing Boy would get in and start wrapping it in see-through plastic.

The lift began to work again; I regard it as a force of nature, that may or may not function according to the whim of a malicious and cruel god, and two live removal men emerged.  The rest of the boxes were removed, my girlfriend marvelled at how these men didn't have an ounce of fat on them, and then they departed.  To possibly their sixth move of the day.

That's right.  They'd already moved four other apartments before they got to me.  No wonder they were all so thin.  Although I'm amazed that they would all be so cheerful.  I tried moving one cardboard box earlier, and afterwards I had to sit down and sulk for half an hour.  I suppose that's one career choice eliminated.

1I like vans. I like the way they convey the image that I too am engaged in honest work, and also at a height above that of most other road users. Vans spell POWER with a capital "Ah!"


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