I staggered off a plane in Hong Kong when I was twenty five years old, clutching the empty litre bottle of opium tincture (90% alcohol/10% opium) that I had needed to get me through the 20 hour journey.
Admittedly I’d missed my connecting flight in Sydney as I was engaged in a debauch with new found friends at the airport bar, but I eventually reached my destination and my poor, shell-shocked parents.
The first step in my new life was to try and sort out my opiate habit. I made an appointment with the family G.P. The waiting room of his practice in central Hong Kong contained the glossy and wealthy, my sweating and shaking self, someone with a textured tumour covering half his face and several Transexual bar girls from Wanchai, Hong Kong’s red light area.
A lovely man in an immaculate tailored suit, ushered me into his office, waving away the cigarette smoke as he did so. He came from a monied English family and his wealthy Hong Kong clientele obviously bored him so he would take on the occasional more interesting, non paying patient. Hence the transsexuals and the tumour man and also myself and my family, whom he would often forget to send the bill to.
As I settled into Hong Kong life and the alcoholism that too often runs alongside trying to recover from drug addiction, I would ocasionally see him at four or so in the morning, in the most down market Wanchai bars with the most worn looking of bar girls hanging off his arm. Always the gentleman he would never neglect to buy me a drink.
Once a maintenance and withdrawal programme for my addiction was established (as well as very heavy anti depressants which quickly bloated my emaciated junkie frame) and I acquired new teeth, I realised it was time to complete my life reconstruction and start earning a living.
So I embarked upon beauty therapy training which seemed to be thing to do if one was dealing with drug problems or other life reconfigurations.
I soon made friends on the course that I could both drink with and also share details of the best chemists to buy diet pills.
There was Ruth a young woman from Columbia whose sister had married a Hong Kong man after a mail order courtship.
Ruth had a morality that combined the influences of a superstitious and Catholic family with later life on the streets of Bogota. Sexuality was a commodity, she was the best thief I’ve ever come across, she always slept with her feet at the head of the bed for some spirit fearing reason but assidiously attended church. Unlike her sister who was blonde, Ruth was dark and stocky. She would consume huge amounts of diet pills to attempt to slim down so she could snare a husband, but it never seemed to make any difference. Her family had originally been farmers but gangs of drug lords and gangs of police regularly rampaging through their land and beating them, eventually forced a move to the Colombian capital where she hung out with street kids and saw some of her young peers incinerated by corrupt police.
The stories of her life were horrendous and she had scars on her back from various whippings, so I could understand that she was desperate not to go back, but despite her terrible background Ruth was great company and very, very funny.
I also become friends with a Swedish girl on the course who became a stalwart drinking companions.
Louise had learned English through watching American series such as Dallas and had an amazing accent. She was beautiful but developed acne die to the Asian climate which understandably, upset her terribly and made drowning her sorrows in alcohol an imperative.
She was particularly focused on training in cosmetic tattooing as it apparently had the potential to make great money on cruise ships. Louise used me as a model for her first tattoo work, on the eyebrows. I was willing to take the risk as I reasoned that I had a lot of eyebrow so there wasn’t much scope for failure but a particularly heavy drinking session the night before meant Louise was a tad shaky.
With a little help, the inking was a success, and 26 years on they are still visible albeit blue as old tattoos are wont to be.
Somehow I managed to graduate from the course and specialised in the more alternative side of the field.
On occasion I’d have a terrible hangover and would slam eye pads on the client, ramp up the whale music, and go to the bathroom and throw up.
However working hard and playing hard is the Hong Kong way and no one castigated me for my full on lifestyle as it was pretty much the norm for that time and era. Gradually the drugs started amplifying their personal siren song to me, and when the call became irresistible, I moved to London for a final five years of opiate addiction.