by Caroline Roy
After publishing f**k, I was convinced that having written things down would have sealed my perspective on the conscious use of language. Little did I know. Last Monday I moved house again, and I discovered that in the right circumstances I could easily revert to what’s called ‘bad choices’ in PC-land.
I thought this would be the easiest move ever. Our block is slated for renovation, so we accepted the landlord’s offer to relocate from our small apartment to a slightly bigger place in the next block… how hard could that be? Both apartments below the third floor. A promising crew. We would even get the keys a few days in advance to bring ‘just our clothes and kitchen stuff’. The movers would take care of the furniture. As I had emptied our household of clutter a mere nine months earlier after a challenging relocation from the Peak to Wan Chai, this move next door should have been a piece of cake.
Speaking of nine months: I may not be the first one to compare moving house to giving birth. But it is such a perfect analogy – think: labor, followed by the lengthy process of pushing and negotiating small spaces, followed by mess and depression – that I decided: next time I move, I want an epidural.
With my conveniently absent husband and my virtuous helper plus her friend we began carrying suits, shoes, kitchen and bathroom items in 33 degree C weather on Saturday across Bamboo Grove’s legendary podium whilst other families flip-flopped past us to go for a swim. Despite sweat running down my forehead and the metal of overloaded hangers cutting into my hands I was still aware of the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God glances that our neighbors cast our way.
Between remembering entrance codes of doors that would open and shut randomly, the three of us struggled and labored to maneuver our burdens from one block to the next. Meanwhile, our family dog, who desperately needs to feel part of everything we do, but who of course cannot carry a goddamned thing, was beside himself with joy during the entire process. Not to be unfair: He would have helped with enthusiasm if he could have.
Not so my two entitled children (all our friends are travelling or busy for the autumn festival, mom! It’s a HOLIDAY!) I pack, carry, keep doors open with my food and wait forever for lifts, wind up taking stairs after all and lose ______________ (please insert whatever item comes to mind; chances that it happened are 97.2 %) on the stairs. The kids finally have a mercy-attack and bring their own clothing, books and instruments, art supplies and shoes… and their new rooms immediately look like any normal kid’s room looks after an explosion. All they really did was relocate the mess. How, I wondered, would furniture fit in here?
Two movers helped moving white goods for us two days before the official move. Can they also move some other stuff ahead of schedule? I asked the company. No, I was told, they have an appointment after you. Maximum ten boxes. Agreed, after lengthy fruitless negotiations. I dutifully prepared eleven boxes, lined them up feeling super-guilty that it was one more than the agreed amount.
The movers arrived clueless of this hard-fought concession. They didn’t know what was agreed. I explained that they are only here to move white goods and ten boxes. After this limited job is done, they tell me that they actually do have all day and will start packing in the apartment, whilst I was already in the new place, putting clothing away. Ok, an unexpected change of plan. I needed to stop and think but didn’t, as my decision making capacity for the day was already weak. So I simply nodded.
40 minutes later, back in the old flat, I find that they had boxed the entire contents of my ‘drop zone’: critical items I will need immediately, including moving documents, key sets, cheque books, dog leash, wearable shoes, bills, chargers. It’s now hidden in a pile of boxes helpfully labeled in Cantonese, mixed with the contents of our dining room, cutlery and ipods in a way that may be obvious to a Chinese mover, but not so obvious to the movee (note: this word exists as of today. As in coach & coachee, tea & coffeeee, mover – movee. Duh.)
Meanwhile the dog needed a walk (but we had no leash for him or shoes for us), the kids kept asking where the remotes and electronics had gone (but we neeeeed it!) and I suddenly resented the movers for not having boxed up the dog and kids instead. After ripping open a number of boxes, we managed to recover the drop zone documents, mixed up with unsigned school forms and music from my son’s acapella group. We moved tons of boxes over to the new place and I organized storage space so we could begin to unpack.
Moving day itself is freakishly long. I discovered that I’d forgotten to transfer our gas account. Cold showers are fine – really. I may stick with it. I was dismantling, packing, unplugging, re-plugging, trying locations for this and that, interrupted at intervals of three minutes by a mover (“Miss, where you want the glass poodle collection?”) and kids again (“Mom! Where’s the iphone charger? I need it now!!”) and the dog (barking because he’s managed to get trapped between two heavy security doors), and Furby (“jupppieee, I am hungree”) and waterfilter-fixer (“Madam, do you have screw like that?”) and building manger (“Missis Roy, we have the handymen here for the plumbing, can you sign here please?”) and guinea pig (“ueeeep, ueeep”) and Furby again (who, despite a commitment by a boy in Kowloon to pick him up before our move, was not collected. They probably read Living with Furby) and reconsidered. Offspring is relentlessly useless (as in: can we repaint my room, mom?) and organic vegetable deliverer (I at apartment, mam, but nobody – yes, I forgot to give note of address, sorry, come next door) and handyman (“Miss, how about the curtain? Hang?”) – I don’t know, who are you, which apartment are we in… whatever. Hang, I guess… and other child (“Can I have my friends over for dinner tonight?”) and other child (“Mom, there’s a baby lizard in the living room, can we protect him so Fluffy doesn’t eat him?”) Yeah sure, I heard myself responding to all this… and who are you? I thought I only had two or three kids, but there seem to be at least seven needy individuals under age twelve in the new apartment who demand food, drink and entertainment.
At some point, I had reached a stage where I didn’t know which day it was. When the workers disappeared for lunch I organized my husband’s socks and underwear whilst he was exploring the autumnal affluent neighborhoods of Chicago on the last leg of his four-month sabbatical. He really married well…. Suddenly I heard my daughter next door: “NO!! NO, FLUFFY!!! MOM!! COME HERE!!! ” I saw that our dog had seized the opportunity created by all this chaos and disarray to visit the guinea pig. It looked like he was going to eat her alive, but I don’t know, maybe it was just affection. With our dog it’s hard to tell the difference.
NOW TV arrived to fix, well, NOW TV, but there was no wifi or gas yet. The handyman installed the kitchen shelves 2 inches too high, which in the grand scheme of things of course is trivial, but not today. Today it sucks and I became convinced it would bring down our quality of life by 98%.
Finally we were ready to unpack plates and glasses and wow, all of it was there in one piece. My helper’s friend was fantastic and sorted through our boxes like a pro. I could exhale for the first time that day and get back to my clothes. Keep, keep, donate, maybe, too small, too small, too small…. I returned to the dining room just in time to find my helper’s friend pulling out a flattened cardboard box from behind a pile of heavy boxes. She tears and bends, and I suddenly realized that what looked to her like a folded box was actually holding a valuable oil painting. “STOOOP, stop, stop”, I screamed, “What are you doing?” “It’s empty, Mam, the box. Throw out.” “NO, it holds a painting.” “Haha, sorry Mam, will not throw then, ok!” she says cheerfully. Hadn’t I asked the movers to pack those oil paintings in crates? I wondered how much of our modest art collection was already in the dumpster.
PCCW saved my life by installing NOW TV just in time for the kids to get back from swimming. Shower, movie, bed – some semblance of normalcy. All good. No dinner though. No gas. No food. Call for pizza? No cash in wallet after tipping everyone. No wifi for ordering online and paying with visa. No energy to go down and get cash. We did something, and I cannot even remember what. Too tired. I spared a thought for people who are in really difficult situations, refugees and migrants, and I began to regain my perspective. I looked around the domestic chaos and thought: luxury. The exhaustion was real. But tomorrow, I will get recycled. I will just write it all down.