I know I don’t come off looking too great in this story but I’m going to share it anyway. (In my defense, I will state that my job search is still unresolved and I was leaving Hong Kong thinking that it could be a very long time until I return. I was distracted and feeling semi-depressed.)
Monday night was my night to fly back to Manila from Hong Kong. Over the course of the past six months, my routine has gotten pretty fixed. I always take the last flight out from Cebu Pacific – it gets me back to Manila after midnight, so usually the traffic has died down a bit and I can get home pretty quickly. I leave our apartment in Wanchai relatively early so that I can take my time in the airport.
So last night I took the bus from Wanchai to the airport. I arrived about 15 minutes before I could check in for my flight, so I sat outside and had a smoke or two before I went into the terminal. I checked in and then took a look in a few of the shops. I always check the bookshop but I almost never buy anything. I did buy a “limited edition” Rolling Stones notebook in the Moleskine shop. It comes in four colors, one was sold out and this was the last one they had in this color. (I know, it’s silly. You can buy a plain notebook for a buck or two. Moleskine’s figured out how to charge $20 or more for a notebook with a fancy cover. You have to admire that, at least a little.)
After passing through security and immigration, I head downstairs and first stop is always a look at the whisky for sale in the duty free – though at the moment I have more than enough sitting on the shelf at home. Plenty of open bottles with tiny plastic cups, so a lot of free samples to be had – although last night I didn’t have any. I always end up wishing they had more choices of Japanese whisky (last night, just one). The tequila section is sad. Cuervo. Patron. Yawn.
I take a quick look at the headphones and electronics gear and think to myself how much more expensive it all is than in Wanchai.
Next, I start walking towards gate 40. The first smoking area (now moved downstairs) is always very crowded. The second smoking area is emptier so I stop there and have a smoke.
I continue walking to the end of the concourse. There’s a second food court here and I’ll generally go for a meal from either Burger King or the Singapore food place that’s got Demon Chef Alvin Leung’s name on it, depending on my mood. Tonight it was Burger King.
I get my food and find a seat. I pulled out my iPad. I started watching Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I finished eating. I switched my headphones back to my iPhone. I put on some Berlin-era David Bowie, really loud.
(Earlier, I played Paul Draper’s album twice. I’ve played it about 20 times so far. Each time I play it, I like it even more. Then the new LCD Soundsystem album, and the song “I Used To” really hit me. “I used to dance alone of my own volition. I used to wait all night for the rock transmissions.”)
A quick pit stop, then I take the elevator down to the train. One stop on the train to that newer terminal section where all of the gates are numbers in the 200’s. I walked all the way down to the far end of the terminal and went outside and had another smoke.
I came back into the terminal. I found a place to sit. More Bowie, some Station to Station seemed appropriate. I played a few games of backgammon on my phone. Then I remember that I still have half an episode of John Oliver to finish off. I reach into my bag for my iPad.
Holy fucking shit.
My iPad is not in my bag.
I dig around. I dump the contents onto the floor. Fuck me. Did I leave it on the table at Burger King? Am I so distracted that I could have done that? An almost-brand-new iPad Pro 10.5 inch screen 256 gig loaded with about a hundred gig of TV shows for me to catch up on?
I go back to the middle of the terminal. There’s a phone there. I call, they connect me to Lost and Found. I describe it – the model, the color, the cover, the image I used for the lock screen (Banksy).
No one has turned in an iPad. They tell me that maybe the cleaning staff has found it but it will take some time to get them to answer. They give me a phone number and a case number. I give them my name, phone number and email address.
I’m sitting on the floor in the middle of the terminal. I went through my bag one more time. I cannot believe I could have done this. I can’t buy another iPad. It’s too much money for me right now. I look at the clock. It’s 9 PM. My flight is supposed to start boarding at 9:25. I figure I have time. I have to try.
I ran to the elevator, I went back downstairs, wait for the train for what seems like forever, got back on the train, went back to gate 40. All the way back upstairs. I ran over to Burger King. Of course the iPad is not on the table where I was sitting. That was 45 minutes ago. I don’t see any of the cleaning staff anywhere. I went to the cleaning station. I looked in the drawers and cabinets there. Nothing.
I went to the food stand directly in front of where I had been sitting. I asked where the cleaning ladies are. No idea. They told me to look for the manager, behind Burger King. I walked past the “Staff Only” sign and found the manager’s office. No one is in there but the door is open. I looked around. No iPad.
I went into the back of Burger King, the kitchen area. I asked where the manager is. The woman standing there didn’t speak English. A second woman came over. I asked where the manager is, I told her that I lost my iPad. She says “iPad? Wait!”
She ran off. I didn’t wait. I ran after her. We went to the other end of the food court and, at one of the counters, there’s an iPad sitting next to the cash register. They handed it to me. I put my thumb on it, it unlocks, it’s mine! I try to give the guy a hundred bucks but he refuses to take it.
Now it’s 20 after 9. I ran back to the elevator. I’m breathless. A woman, airport staff, got in the elevator with me, sees I’m all out of breath, asked me if I’m late for my flight. I say “I hope not!” She asks for my flight number and to see my boarding pass. I give her my flight number. She punches the numbers into an app on her phone. She tells me the gate number has changed and that the flight hasn’t started boarding yet, I can still make it.
Back on the train, then back up the escalator, run all the way to the far end of the terminal, I’m one of the last people to board the flight. With my iPad. (And yes, if you were wondering, I remembered to bring it with me when I got off the plane too.)
It’s not an “only in Hong Kong” thing but let’s face it – if I left my iPad on a table in the Manila airport, I never would have seen it again. And the fact that so many people were so helpful to me, despite my blatant stupidity, is a reminder of one of the many things I always loved about Hong Kong.
If I was superstitious, I would choose to focus in on the fact that I managed to get it back despite the odds and think to myself that maybe it’s the start of a good luck streak.
My good luck definitely continued last night in that I was one of the first people off the plane, first in line at immigration and then my suitcase was already on the belt – usually I have to wait 30 minutes or more to get my luggage. Zero traffic on the road, my Uber driver did the 16 kilometer drive in almost exactly half an hour.
Later, at home, I got an email about a job in the U.S. that I could actually get excited about (let’s see if I even get an interview) and a phone call around 4 AM (I have a U.S. number set up) about another position that might have some potential.
So, let’s see what happens next ….