The owner of a shoe factory Lauren worked with and visited often invited me to China to accompany her on a trip, offering to pay my airfare as a belated wedding gift. Though I ticked the “Tourist” box on the Visa application, I decided, on the way to the airport, that I was now a business traveller. For I had a business now, and my business had an ostensible connection to China, and I was going to China, but firstly Hong Kong.
I considered an upgrade to business class, asked at the check-in, “how much to upgrade?” and was relayed a sum that exceeded our earnings over the previous week. I declined, then stood in a security line for 25 minutes, watching with envy as business class passengers bypassed the line through a separate entrance.
At breakfast near my gate, I unfolded a napkin and found plastic cutlery. I saw a waiter folding more napkins around plastic cutlery. The waitress asked me if I was finished, and I queried her about the cutlery. I understood from her immediate reaction that she had been asked about it before.
“The reason we do plastic cutlery is because if we had metal cutlery we’d have to inventory it several times throughout the day.”
“Inventory it?” I said.
“We would have to keep tight control of the cutlery because we are past the security checkpoint. Any missing cutlery could be taken onto an airplane which would be a security threat.”
The waitress continued, “we’ve had people endanger other people at the gates with plastic forks.” She said, “Imagine what could happen with a metal fork?”
In a line barely moving towards the back of the airplane, I noticed the business class passengers had already been given drinks, as if a conscious display, on the part of the airline, communicating clearly—you are in the wrong business. Somewhere over California they were served a meal. I got up from my seat, walked through the cloth divider and towards the business class bathroom. A stewardess walked to intercept me.
“I just wanted to see something,” I said.
Yes, the business class passengers were eating with metal cutlery.
I met Lauren, my wife, who travelled for business about ten times per year, in the Hong Kong airport, and bleary-eyed, we made our way to a hotel in Lan Kwai Fong. After I showered, I told Lauren I wanted to go to a bar on the top of a fancy hotel. Via google search we found just such a place. We took the ferry from Hong Kong island to Kowloon to get there. I recognized the vibe—purple floor lights, mellow house music (“a Virgin Airlines kind of vibe,” I said)—as the preferred vibe of the international business class, “a class I could be said to have joined only recently,” I said.
Out the room spanning window the Hong Kong skyline lit up wildly through the fog. The other people in the bar mostly wore suits, and looking out at the skyline, the massive neon logos atop buildings, most for electronics corporations, I considered: how many of my fellow business travelers had their own business vs. how many worked for large corporations? And I assumed they mostly worked for large corporations.
“But me, on the other hand, I have a business.”
“It’s not funny anymore.”
“I stand alone whereas they take orders.”
“You’re talking to yourself.”
“I create things and they preserve things.”
“I’m not listening.”
“I take risks while they… buy insurance.”
(Dare I say I began to conceive of myself as the most desirable form of the international business traveller? The so-called self made man?)