NORTH POINT, Hong Kong — Vignettes from the Island Line.
A fish jumps out of a woman’s plastic bag in the candy shop as I’m making my way over, eyeing the sour straws. I jump back and scream. The workers gather round and close the plastic bag over the fish after many attempts. The bag still flops.

I roll over a woman’s foot with my 50-pound suitcase. She gives me a look of venomous wrath. I mentally prepare for a brawl. This happens about eight times with an eclectic collection of furious passersby.

Man punches pregnant woman at Macau customs. Chaos ensues.

Bird’s nest lining is on the menu—maybe I’m not the adventurous vegetarian I thought I was.

A lot of residents chow down on McDonald’s instead of dim sum.

People don’t appreciate when you speak Mandarin. Or often understand, for that matter.

It’s not easy to pick up Cantonese. Unless you really want to say “Please hold the handrail.”

Walking is optional. Escalators are mandatory. So is air-conditioning.

If you don’t know the details of the Nina Wang case, you’re on another planet, or illiterate.

No one EVER crosses the road unless the beeping light is green. If you jaywalk, you’re a foreigner, or drunk. Or possibly both.

Malicious people throw acid off of buildings in Mong Kok.

The Chief Executive is known for wearing a bow-tie. And mocked.

A waitress implores me to eat fish. “You’ll have no energy.” I slump over some flavorless noodles—“my energy is FINE. Look how energetic I am now!”

A woman from the mainland convulses in sobs over Michael Jackson’s death.

My cooking is bad. Okay, not a surprise. Note to self: Wasabi does not solve all culinary adventures.

Why America should not be exported: An intern from the mainland self-dubbed “Torrance” (after trying on the names Ditty, Cherry, and Juicy) models her life on the movie Bring it On.

Toilets are not the squat-kind. You don’t have to carry around mini-Charmin’ rolls in your bag.

“Pocari Sweat” is a popular drink. I discover I have an unconsciously self-imposed policy against consuming things that reference sweat.

I argue with a restaurant owner about a supposed mandatory tea charge. After 20 minutes, she gives up. I’m happy I remain stoic—then I realize I saved about $2, and that all the waiters are sneering at our table.

An eclipse obscures 75 percent of the sun. Since it happens in the early morning, I’m ordered to write an article as if it already happened, so that the newspaper I work for can print the story in past tense. I worry this will turn into my “Dewey Defeats Truman.” My co-worker convinces me that my article isn’t really that important. I feel only slightly better.

It takes longer to travel the five escalators down to the subway platform than to ride the train itself.

On the street, I recognize people who I’ve seen before, but who don’t actually know me.

I’m mistaken for a Falun Gong protester in a march against the government and People’s Republic of China

I give up on my own name. “Yes, that’s correct,” I sigh, fighting the urge to once again spell out V-I-D-Y-A when I call and introduce myself as a reporter. “Okay, Bibyc, I’ll call back in an hour,” responds the voice in laborious broken English.

There are a lot of deaths-by-chopping. No, not shopping (though that probably happens too, given the number of malls). Chopping.

The “fragrant harbour” is pretty smelly in some parts. Like, when you pass meat entrails in a bucket. Or eels. This happens often as I walk along the street towards my apartment.

I don’t have swine flu—knock on wood. Many signs inform me that the buttons of most elevators are disinfected every hour. Or they instruct me on proper “coughing etiquette.”

I can’t decide if I fit in too well or stick out too much.

Originally published: Thursday, July 23, 2009 by The Harvard Crimson (link)