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The humidity was so thick I could swim through the air if I jumped high enough. Thirty degrees Celsius. I did quick math in my head, inaccurate probably due to my exhaustion and general lack of knowledge of the metric system. It shouldn’t feel this hot. It was the humidity. It crushed and the sun burned. I admired how the locals didn’t break a sweat, sauntering around like veterans of war.

I threw myself into the first restaurant I saw with menus in English. My arms rippled with goose bumps from the blast of the air-conditioner in this bright little place off Waterloo Road. I sat down in the back near the kitchen and counted only three items on my table: a small white place mat, white chopsticks, and a short white teacup. A young woman approached my table and began to pour hot water into my cup.

Perplexed, I turned to the woman and asked slowly, “Excuse me, do you have any cold water?”

She did not meet my eyes, but instead continued pouring.   

“Lengshui?” I tried again, remembering the word that an airhostess on my 20-hour flight to Hong Kong repeated to Chinese passengers during lunch and dinner.

The woman put a menu on my plate and walked away.   

As soon as she left, a tall, suited man took her place by my table. “Excuse me, do you need something?” he asked in English.

“Yes, do you have cold water?” I asked, shivering. The city of fire and ice, my local friend Lawrence later told me when I recounted this story to him. During the summer the air-conditioner is wonderfully abused.

The man answered pityingly, “Sorry, no cold water here. Chinese people drink hot water when they eat.”

He picked something for me to eat from the menu and walked away to fill the order. I stared, dazed, at the family of locals eating at the large round table in front of me. Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. I waited a few minutes for the water to cool and sipped it cautiously. It was warm on my tongue and not very refreshing.

This was my second day in Hong Kong—the day I couldn’t find cold water on a hot day. I predicted a long semester.

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