I took a walk

It was the first New Years Eve I spent at home in three years. I was making my way home from the other side of the city—it was about late afternoon. I decided to take the ferry– one of the few stable details in this shape-shifting city. During the ride, the sunset was saluted by a cacophony of fake shutter sounds as people raised their phones in cult-like unison.

Getting off the ferry, I was injected into a flow of humanity. It was as if some underground civilisation suddenly decided to join us at the surface. As it turns out, everyone had the bright idea of arriving a few hours earlier to get good spots for the fireworks display; the operative word there being everyone, meaning that they’d have gotten the same spot if everyone decided to come later. As it were, these people would have to spend the next five hours just… standing. At least it wasn’t summer.

One would be hard pressed to find a more fitting metaphor for Hong Kong. Everyone, everywhere (or at least, the parents of everyone) is possessed by a Nietzchean urge towards raising the next ubermenschen. In other words, everyone is finding ways of getting ahead since the natal care unit. One stellar example is a tongue operation some parents are putting their kids through so they will have a better accent in English. By removing a tendon connecting the tongue to the base of the jaw, said tongue would be ‘free’ to fulfil its full phonetic potential, resulting in a more convincing ‘th’ sound in English. I wonder if they’ve th-ought th-ings th-rough th-oroughly.

Tutorial classes, piano/violin lessons that shorten the lifespans of all involved, cram schools (which are different from the first item) etc. In the heat of the race we forget that the world is relative, and more often than not find ourselves lost in one throbbing mass of humanity, pushing forwards in search of a raison d’etre.

 

I gave up on land transport, and decided to walk home. On Nathan Road (one of the main roads in Hong Kong– most of the older and more important roads have names reminiscent of pomp, governors and Ceylon tea. Much like the self-styled elite in many former colonies.) On the way, I walked past a rabble of people surrounding a stage, on which teenagers (about my age) were doing half-hearted dance steps in time to an equally half-hearted chant of ‘yuud! yi! saam! sei!’ They were obviously rehearsing for tonight’s show. Unfortunately, Hong Kong doesn’t allow the luxury of preparation, and their performance was subjected to the harsh limelight of the world like a pre-mature birth. A fellow performer tried to salvage some dignity by beat-boxing, but his efforts died against the jagged edge of a dispersing crowd.

Walking along, one is reminded of the earlier protests that took place on these very streets. Faded posters with sketches of umbrellas and slogans– arresting details in a dream you can’t quite remember– were now plastered over with posters of concerts and ‘massage parlours’ (wink wink). Momentarily, it seemed that the schisms of a few weeks ago were plastered over. Such were the healing powers of a festival.

Then again, maybe not. In an act of unintentional symbolism, an old man in a wheelchair stood up and pissed on a wall plastered with protest posters. In the adjacent street, a group of yellow-clad protestor were amassing, which prompted a similar congregation of policemen. The standoff formed two islands, which people flowed through like water. What the two groups didn’t realise was that the real division lay between those who cared, and those who did not. In that sense, they were on the same side.

But there is hope. I was supposed to meet my friends later that night, but was running late. By the time I got onto the metro, it seemed likely that I’d enter 2015 in a dark underground tunnel. Everyone in the carriage was checking their phone, and there was a collective sigh when 23:59 ticked by and we were still in a tunnel under the harbour.

But then someone said. ‘Oh fuck it, next year then!’ and started a countdown. People joined in, smiling and murmuring, united in this unlikely collection as we hurtled into the receding darkness.

I hope this is truth

 

 

I hope this is truth

Today very good day. Today I finish map.

Map hang on my wall in my bedroom. Above bed I sleep. Dei to make me look sophisticated. Sophisticated is word that is sophisticated. I found sophisticated in book about vocabulary. Dei to also remind me of past.

I am dik si driver. Read dik si. It is how we name taxi.

I like dei to. Dei to how we name map, I have mine for 10 years. I am dik si driver for 16, from 1997.

Today I take 3 people in my dik si, they help me finish map.

I wait at Admiralty for people every day, usually lot of people at Admiralty. In afternoon 3 people come into my dik si.

Out of 3 people 2 have golden hair. We call golden hair people gwai lo. The third person look local.

I ask them “where do you want to go?” I always ask passenger before they tell me where they want to go. People think I polite, but I do it because if I ask them first, taking them to destination is me do them favour, but if they tell me with me no ask then they order me, which I don’t like.

In past I no take order from anyone. In past I am stock trader have lots of money but eat hang seng zi so, DOW and other stock for breakfast. But everything lost in 1997. Wife, building, money, go away. My parents found me new wife, but I don’t think my lo po really like me. Everything else never come back. Aiya suen la no talk about it. Talk about it make me sad.

In past I travel everywhere. New York, London, Milan, Cape Town, Berlin, Paris, Morocco. But no proof. Never buy anything because working when travel.

This is why I drive dik si, and why I have dei to above bed. I meet many gwai lo when driving dik si and they help me finish map.

Today the local tell me they go to Ocean Park. Maybe he help take gwai lo around.

I ask them “where you two leng nui from?” leng nui mean ‘beautiful girl’, but we use it for stranger too.

“Italy!”

“Montana, USA!”

I was so happy I nearly jump.

“I been to Italy! Florence, Rome, Venezia, Bella bella! Food so good! Pisa tower! O SOLE MIO! Long time ago!”

The gwai lo smiled. They believe easily. But I think what I said is truth.

The local smile as well but in different way. “Hai geh, hai geh”. It mean ‘ok, ok’ but in way that make me think he don’t believe.

But I think what I said is truth. I want them to believe, so I say “I been to Montana too! Many mountains! But no sea like Hong Kong!”

The gwai lo smile again. The meter beep and I sad. It remind me of what this is really about.

“Here is some Post-it note and a pen! Please write something and sign where you are from!”

I hand them Post-it note and pen, and they look surprised, but they write on it. The local looks out of window.

We nearly arrive at Ocean Park. I ask them “Do you like Hong Kong? Like travel?”

“Yes! I really like travelling! I think Hong Kong is a beautiful place!” The gwai lo nod too much. I drive faster.

The meter beep again. We are there. I tell them “Have a nice day” and they smile. I think I said truth.

They leave, they smile too much. I want to tell them I think I said truth, I want to thank them, but they leave and leave me with silent meter.

I drive back home. I could find more passenger and make money but dei to more important.

I come back to my small flat. No need for big flat because only me and my lo po live here. My lo po ask me “Why so early ah lo gong?” I tell her “Today great day I finish map!” She look at me like I am too happy. She follow me to my room as I put Post-its onto dei to. There is already Post-it on Italy but no Post-it on Montana.

Now there is Post-it on everywhere I was in before. Now I have proof and I can believe myself.

My lo po look and say “Aiya sor lo it no matter lah” and hug me. I hope hug is as true as Post-its on dei to.

This is the first time I’ve tried writing like this– hope you like it. Hopefully the chinglish doesn’t get in the way. 

It

For my city 

It was as if everybody was orphaned on the same day. It was as if we lost our parents and them theirs. Words cannot describe how the city felt like on that day, the day It left.

 

Like all other terribly great days, everybody has a different memory of how the day was like and what they were doing. This is my memory.

 

It was a misty day, if I remember correctly. Or it might have been sunny. I think my memory prefers it to be misty. More atmospheric. Does it matter? After all, memory is like an artist, painting the past in whatever brushstrokes it sees fit, filling the gaps to make sense of it all.

 

Before It came, our city was a tattered piece of cloth about to tear itself apart. Only a few threads were left holding it together. Of course, nobody realised that all the threads were connected. So we kept stretching.

 

Then It came. I say ‘It’, because no human could have the sort of power it had over us. Many have tried in the past and failed.

 

I’m sure It was the only pure and innocent thing in the city. We loved it. It gave us amnesia, which, if you’ve seen what our city has been through, is a blessing. Now that I look back, I don’t think we forgot anything— everybody wanted to forget everything and It gave us the perfect excuse to pretend to do so. Now that It’s gone, everything will come back.

 

I think I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude when I heard that something had happened to It. I could have been taking a nap or watching TV, but does it matter? Would you rather be hearing this story from a person who reads Marquez, or a person who lets the sands of time sift through his fingers without a second glance?

 

My reaction, like everybody else’s, was to go see for myself. There was only one main road leading to where It was, and there was a steady stream of people already, with more people trickling in from all sides.

Everybody was walking in a trance and talking about what happened. Loss is a funny thing. Nobody wants it when they can’t have it, but once they can have it, everybody tries to claim a bit for themselves as if it was newly discovered land. Then they package it as their own and flaunt it.

There were people asking for donations on the street, but the moment we realised it was for other causes, we kept on walking. For us, the world had to stop, at least for the moment. Couldn’t they understand?

 

We reached the harbour— where It was. The pale sunlight diffused amongst the mist, cold to the skin, setting the world into a polaroid picture.

 

There, we were silent. There we were, staring at Its deflated remains, singing a silent hymn, united in our show of loss. I don’t think any tears were shed; mourning is an art, and there is a fine line between the stoic and the pretentious.

 

You might wonder what It was— I can’t remember exactly. It might have been a giant rubber duck, but that would trivialise my memory. Would you rather it be a rubber duck or ‘It’ with a capital ‘I’? Does it matter?

 

Does it even matter that I am a blind old man, patching words together like bits of second hand clothes? After all, who are you to deny me my inheritance of loss? 

Image

Welcome Home

Written when I finally came back to Hong Kong after being abroad for a looooooong time. The shell-shock of coming home. 

A Welcome

 

Breaking the shell of the plane

Like a chick on chopstick legs

I join

The local queue

With xenophobic joy.

 

No landing card needed;

The sweetest decline

I ever gave seated.

 

The pulse of the city was different,

The metronome of traffic lights

Ticked their tango rhythm—

No more.

 

Virgin buildings

Lie

Infertile, unoccupied

Lightless like the dream

Of owning a basic home.

 

Whores haunt the streets

Like oyster shells discarded by

M&S cladded mannequins

Eating

in the nearby hotel.

 

Outside the hospital

Self styled queens on six inch heels stage

A tapping attack

On their iPads—

The sly foreshadow of Parkinson’s’

Disease.

Inside, a fetus nooses itself

on a cord, its own,

And lets flow

A rolling red carpet:      

Welcome Home. 

 

The Blobbing Fish