It's happened again. Yet another friend and keen China travel companion is clearing off, leaving Hong Kong for good. Apparently it's something about work, better industry conditions where he comes from. Anyway, off he goes in four months' time.
Years and years of hearing the ominous words, "I don't know how to tell you this but …" have, of course, taught me not to cry out petulantly, "But what about me?"
But, actually, what about me? Soon I'll be the only one I know in this damned transition-riddled town. It doesn't help that some of my contemporaries - people younger than me, actually - are starting to go to the great Chinese banquet in the sky. In just three months this year I lost four friends to the ultimate train journey.
So I'm starting to realise that this is what it's going to be like from now on: death, death, loss, loss, abandonment; very little joy; destiny kicking me in the face at every turn; hair and teeth falling out; dependence on a Zimmer frame that rusts in the humidity; the inedible congee that is the staple food of Hong Kong care institutions; being forced to listen to Canto-pop For Oldies until I go, mercifully, deaf.
On days when I feel like there's nothing to do but to find solace in the small things. No, not the miracle of waking up every day; that's a huge thing. I'm talking about Sichuan cooking-related small things. Which have now turned out, as it happens, to also be quite huge.
A few months ago I wrote a column about how I lost my dear food shop in the Lo Wu Shopping Centre to "development" (another loss) but found happiness - that is to say, dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns - again in a Shenzhen Walmart, of all places. I marvelled at that famous shopping establishment's cleanliness and abundance of fresh food sold in bulk.
Nevertheless, Walmart is a big, very crowded supermarket, and the branch in Shenzhen is underground, which makes it feel like a bomb shelter. Also the checkout girls don't speak Cantonese and the peppercorns and dried chillies come in tiny packages. It's never felt like a solution, only temporary respite.
So imagine my joy the other day, soon after being given the death-blow news of my friend leaving, when I rushed to Shenzhen for comfort only to find a big, street-level market across the street from the Shangri-La Hotel, much closer to the attractions of Lo Wu than Walmart and decidedly cheaper, with the spice-monger speaking perfect Cantonese and the chillies sold in enormous bulk!
Death, where is thy sting now, eh?