Dear Mel, This hurts. It’s also beautiful.

Dear homes,

I write to you from the bed in my 9th floor hotel room in Hong Kong. The place I’m staying is called Butterfly Hotel, and decor is on point: there’s a print with small butterflies stretching across the seat of the (tiny) chair at the (tiny) desk, and the pillows each came with a little butterfly pin affixed to them that declared “firm” or “soft.” Side note: I don’t know if you’re a firm or soft woman, yourself–but if you’re in my camp (I always prefer firm, for both pillows and mattresses) you’d have been in bed bliss over the past month. Every single night (in our Airbnbs, safari cabins, and hotels) I’ve spent on a mattress that had no discernible sag and bounce from box springs–which would have been familiar and nostalgic, admittedly (I slept on many beds like that throughout childhood!), but never my preference. There’s one thing that makes me happy about being stuck in bed today.

Ahem. Stuck in bed? Seriously?! Yes, homes–both you and I know how it feels to be stuck in bed, and today is no exception. Last night, I woke with a raging bellyache, and by the time morning rolled around things were coming out both ends. The best way I can describe my stomach’s current state is what I told my mom earlier: “It feels like there’s milk curdling in my insides.” So on the last day I’ve got in Hong Kong–hopefully only for the next several years, though I’m not sure when I’ll next visit this astonishing and alluring city–I’m quarantined to the bedroom. Save a sweet afternoon trip to a local nunnery and Chinese garden, where I walked at snail’s pace (something both you and I are also, unfortunately, familiar with….) around the yards and breathed deeply to fend off the nausea.

The situation is upsetting for several reasons. After so many years of disordered eating, and more serious health issues, I feel like digestive distress flashes me back to all those times that my body was suffering because of my mistreatment of it. Feeling weak, low on sustenance, and empty of fuel is especially challenging. You know these feelings too, homes. The thing that’s doubly intense is that, for many years, those feelings didn’t connotate “sickness,” but “normalcy” or “success.” Having eaten much less than was necessary to sustain myself became second nature. So trying to remind myself, now, that it’s a negative thing to feel this way–that as soon as possible, I need to refuel via electrolyte drinks, and sugary soft drinks, and as much rice as I can stuff into my body–takes effort. Especially when weakened, with less juice flowing to my brain. (And especially after all that Byron Katie and Buddhism work I’ve done around nonattachment, which makes me want to eschew the notion of negativity completely!) It wouldn’t be hard work for everyone, but for people like us, with the history we have, there’s a really complicated layer that extends beyond simply feeling like sh**.

And yet, there’s another even more pervasive thing that’s out to play: being in pain. Again: you and I, homes, we’ve got history with this. Actually, as I’m reflecting now, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the things that brought us together and made us such close friends. We knew what it felt like to tolerate hell, both physically and emotionally. Our situations have been different, but serious surgeries and days on bedrest live in both of our histories. And I know everyone’s experienced some degree of pain, but there’s something about the way we’ve both lived through it–fought through it–kept fighting, defying odds and surprising even ourselves with our resilience–that makes us kindred spirits. That makes us homies.

But it doesn’t make pain any easier. Today, these curdled-milk insides: they’re no joke. Often when I move, it’s like being punched in the gut. Plus, it’s torturous to be stuck inside when there’s a whole world of vibrancy and stimulation out there, waiting for me to dive into–you know that I’m prone to FOMO, and so I’m sure you can imagine how much that’s running rampant at the moment. (And don’t even talk to me about the fact that my last meals in this foodie’s paradise are stale rice cakes and cashews and yes, that horrifying electrolyte drink.)

Homeslice, I could go on and on about this. Before I switch gears and close on a slightly happier note, though, I want to say: thank you. Thank you for being my partner in crime with ailments of all types. Thank you for knowing how it feels to be in pain. When you say “I get it,” I know it’s genuine, and that you really do. You don’t know the exact jabs between my ribs and my pelvis, but you know the taste, and smell, and sound, and feel of pain. You know how it smacks you in the face, leaves you light-headed and breathless. You know how hard it is to desperately want to be in control, and also to know that there’s literally nothing you can do besides breathe through the excruciating sensations.

Okay. Switching gears now. I’ve got a few things to tell you about this city that I think you’ll appreciate, on the topic of efficiency–which you and I both highly value. 

All across Africa, things took interminable amounts of time to start and complete: getting our rental cars, checking in to hotels, clarifying or changing itineraries, even being served at a restaurant. The latter is a perfect example, especially in the Seychelles: we’d sit down, maybe get menus within the next five-ten minutes, maybe have someone walk over to our table and see if we needed anything, maybe have a server pay any attention to us whatsoever for the remainder of our time sitting and dining. At some point, I finally surrendered to the reality that it would probably take an interminably long time before our food was served. And we’d usually have to essentially holler at the server to bring our check when we were finally through.

But Hong Kong is a different world–in so many ways, but in particular in terms of where value is placed (speed, organization, order). When we walked in to our hotel the first time, we were literally given zero greeting–no “hello” or “welcome” or any such nonsense–and hadn’t even gotten to the desk or put down our bags before the front desk attendant said “Your passports, please.” Ever since then, our hotel staff have proven to be so unbelievably fast and efficient that it’s almost absurd. When we asked them for a recommendation for a good foot massage, I swear the map had been printed and outlined before we even finished detailing what it is we wanted. Same with advice about restaurants and other sight-seeing: there were usually two or three people at the desk who would be typing simultaneously, in search of whatever it was we requested, talking rapidly in Cantonese for the 10 or so seconds before they’d reached resolution. After exchanges like this, I’m left blinking blankly–totally befuddled as to where that level of heightened productivity stemmed from; how this culture bred it in to these people so flawlessly. (And how can I bottle that and bring it home with me?!)

There’s a similar story to tell about dining out. In the casual joints we’ve been to, orders have been taken almost immediately after we arrive–no room for fuss or asking questions. For breakfast in the local diner, several days ago, they had probably 6 chefs in the teeming kitchen, and all of our dishes (rice noodles in broth, croissant with eggs, etc) were out before I got back from the bathroom to wash my hands. (Side note: that spot, and a handful of others we’ve been to, had holes in the ground in lieu of normal toilets–many also without a real flusher. It’s been an interesting reminder that, though Hong Kong is so built up and flashy in so many ways, many people still live very modestly.) In the slightly more upscale restaurants, servers always had an iPad in which to input our order (after all, who has time to enter everything into a POS?), and many had earpieces with mini-microphones attached, where they could communicate with other waiters or kitchen staff–instantly and on-demand. There seems to be a tradition of bringing each dish as soon as it’s ready, so often, one of us would get our plate within 5 or 7 minutes, with the others lagging only slightly behind. No delayed gratification here–rather, it’s a dining culture that facilitates immediately getting what you want.

And to bring this letter full-circle: that’s a part of what’s so hard about being in pain right now. Because there’s no escape. No way to instantly gratify or soothe or quell the unease and upset. The contrast between this, and so much of the “quick-solution” culture around me in Hong Kong, is striking. I suppose that’s how life works: mighty highs and miserable lows. Homes, despite those lows, I’m so glad we’ve both chosen this life. I’m so glad to be journeying with you.

I love you!

PS Today’s photo was taken when walking past a street vendor yesterday. #allthesparkles! #allthehellokitty!! 😉

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