Notes from Hong Kong: The Final Night
Bear with me a minute. I’m misting up.
I’ve escaped my handlers and am sitting in a one-man side booth at the Taiwan Beef Noodle Restaurant in Lantau Airport. The kid who sat me keeps calling me “boss” and the Tsingtao comes in a pull-top can poured into plastic cups. Every booth includes a built-in TV showing a modern Hong Kong soap opera, subtitled in what I’m guessing is Traditional rather than Simplified Chinese.
When I say I’ve escaped my handlers, I’m not exaggerating. The rest of my party is god knows where in Lantau, presumably wondering where the hell I’ve got off to. A bathroom trip wound up separating us about half an hour ago and since then I’ve been making my way to within five feet of Gate 67, right where I belong.
I’d worry more about their reactions if they hadn’t given me explicit directions that for the next week I’m to play the role I love the most. Some of you know Berek, and some of you know Jagger. I’m to waltz between the two for the benefit of our trainees, switching from the usual affable idiot mask to one of breezy confidence. You can’t expect me to put that mask on without giving a little breathing room.
I had to roll down the window on the taxi from the hotel, to feel the air in Tsim Sha Sui one more time. The thickness and warmth isn’t what the drivers are looking for but I’m the man footing the bill, so they can manage as long as I need them to. The mountains rising out of the harbor are black ice steaming in the night air, blocking the lights of the developed world. Once in a lifetime there’s a building jutting out, luxury lofts or dancehalls, I’m never sure just which, but mostly these steep declines are home to nothing more than trees and tiny beasts.
We ate at the 18th floor above the Symphony of Lights, the world’s only 365-day light and music show. Eight to eight-eighteen every day, the harbor’s building explode in neon, mirrored by the boats which cruise the lanes, all ringing to the music being pumped through every skyline establishment. Dined on samosa and spring roll, Serrano ham and sliced figs, deep fried soft-shell crabs with the pincers on and perhaps a few more beers.
Before that we were in the arts store. I’ve picked up my first piece by Zengli, photos to follow once I’m on European soil. The artists are brothers, sons of a famed pottery artist and makers of pieces that break my heart. There are thunder gods with primitive bellies like stormclouds sweeping forth, compassionate Kwan Yins with clay skin and clay dresses, laughing Buddhas and lords of land. I’m in love with their work and I’m on to my third artist’s collection after Janet Koukol and Jurgita Mekyte. This one’s for the house, for my beloved, and for me; all in one.
She’s got another piece coming, of course; and I’ve grabbed cufflinks and a proper feng shui compass for my own wear and office along with the streetsign magnets I expect to draw me to my own true north, this place, this motion, this burning prayer wheel to which I feel bound.
Classes went well. I bid farewell and had my photo taken with the students: Kazumi, JungEun, Adonis and Laura Chan, Inez, Yani and Esther, Diviya, Kath Au, Natalie, Miu, Millicent and Tara, wonderful ladies all. I’ve eaten more dishes than I can count: Peking duck to dim sum, sukiyaki to udon, all in excess of where I should. I’ve paid my respects to Murphy’s with Guinness, Bushmill’s and Jameson’s in a business scrum with my fellow-travelers.
My waiter’s steered me away from the duck breast soup and calls the vegetables so-so. On his recommendation I’ve got a noodle and dumpling soup coming with the final can of Tsingtao, ready to sleep on the flight to the land of schloss und streusels.
I’ve slept less than four hours a night and I feel fantastic. I’m wound on time and tide and the endless spice of life in a world that doesn’t want to let me go. Hong Kong clings to me in a way no human has, brushing itself against me, pleading, teasing, begging me not to go.
If I didn’t have a home, I swear I wouldn’t leave. There’d be one less artist in Illinois and one more busboy in Sha Tin, one more pacific expatriate to fill the void the royals left. I might not last a month, but by the mountaintops I’d try.
The plane starts boarding in about an hour and I don’t know when I’ll see this world again. I’ve run the numbers: Three grand should last me a week in the style to which I’ve become accustomed, another three for tickets – call it seventy-five and make it a mint. It can’t take that long to save up that money if a bright boy puts his mind to it.
I’m a New Year’s Baby where the Chinese are concerned. Who’s up for a birthday on the nightside of the world?
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