Once Upon a Time in China

Story-wise, it was a barn burner.  What do I mean?  I mean with all the chatting I was doing, either on certain Facebook walls or in PMs from people I know, I still managed to write one thousand, three hundred, and fifty-five words to finish up the current scene.  That means there are only two scenes left in Chapter Fifteen, and one will be very short, so the hell that is gonna be The Witch House A Level Beginning Sorcery class is coming sooner than you think.

Sorcery:  it's always closer than you think.

Sorcery: it’s always closer than you think.

Believe it or not, Act Two has reached a word count of thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred and three, if my memory servers me correctly.  When you add the up almost one hundred and fifty thousand words in Act One–well, you see where this is going.  Sometime tonight I’ll pass forty thousand words on this current act, and that will probably put me over one hundred and ninety thousand words for the novel by this evening or tomorrow.  And if I keep on keepin’, somewhere in the middle of July I’ll bump past two hundred thousand words for only the second time in my writing history.

Yep, it’s a big one.

But I’m not talking about writing today.  Why not?  Because one of the conversation I had last night concerned something about my past as related to a few hookers I know.  Get your mind out of the gutter:  not those kind of hookers.  These are women I know who crochet, and while I don’t hook myself–I have no talent there, believe it now–I am fortunate enough to know the owner of a Facebook group who sorta, kinda, pretty much lets me hang out and act as comic relief.  (One of the reasons I have a big white HodgePodge Crochet button on my page, because I always return favors for my closest friends.)

What happened was someone was saying they ordered something off Amazon that was listed as “hand made”, but when they got the shipping conformation–surprise!  It was shipping from Shenzhen.  I mentioned that I knew Shenzhen rather well, since there was a time when I used to work right down the road from there, and one thing led to another–usually with comments like, “You should write a column for us!”–and it got me thinking about my time in China . . .

Or as I like to call it, "The Land Where I Was the Minority."

Or as I like to call it, “The Land Where I Was the Minority.”

There were many times, from 1998 to 2005, that I used to fly into Hong Kong (the area to the bottom of the map above) spend the night, then while all jet lagged to hell and gone (traveling from my home to Chicago to Hong Kong used to take almost twenty-six hours on the nose, from the time I walked out of my house, to the time I walked into the Sheraton on Nathan Road in Kowloon), I’d hop a ferry and head up the river to the area on the above map labeled “Shekou Residential District.”

And I’d stay here, at the Nanhai Hotel, my home away from home, and where I’d usually have a morning conversation with the dragon in the fountain, because why not?

Hotel to the right, Ferry Port to the left, and the prostitutes used to be found at the top.

Hotel to the center top, Ferry Port to the bottom left, and the prostitutes used to be found at the top area out of frame.

My company used to send me over to sling code for our factor just over the mountain in Chiwan.  The reason I was there was because the site had their own computer, but no one to program.  Since I didn’t have a problem traveling to the other side of the world, there I went, rocketing around the world–which, actually, I once did when I missed my flight to Tokyo, and I had to fly Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Hong Kong to Tokyo and back to Minneapolis before returning to Chicago.

At the plant I spent most of the time locked in the computer room, which was actually an old storage room not much bigger than my current location.  Most everyone in the office spoke English, so there was never a problem with communications.  Getting out of the office, however . . . there were parts of Shekou where people had no idea what you were saying.  I also ran into that in parts of Hong Kong as well, but I never let that bother me, because when you’re out and about exploring, you just go.  Or as some wrote to me yesterday, take the road less traveled and see where it leads.

I saw a lot of these roads.  Once on a walking trip I visited Tiger Balm Gardens–which is an insane terracotta garden meant to visualize the various Chinese hells–and Happy Valley, the large horse racing track, all the while walking westward across Victoria Island.  I’ve been up the Tram to Victoria Peak in good weather and bad, and sat meditating on one of the highest points with a great view of the city.  I visited the location of Kowloon Walled City, and once ventured on a rickety bus to the Po Lam Monastery, home of the gigantic bronze Buddha that you may have seen.

There he is in the bottom center of the picture.  Hey, remember me?

There he is in the bottom center of the picture. Hey, remember me?

There was a noodle house in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong that I used to visit all the time, where for $90 HKD you could get a huge bowl of noodles with a little pork and eggs, and green tea.  The exchange rate then was $7.50 HKD for one US Dollar, so for one of the most expensive cities in the world, it was cheap eating.  (The other end of that spectrum was dining at a steak house one night with a friend and running up a bill of $250 USD on two steaks with normal trimmings and a couple of beers.  They were, however, damn good steaks.)

In Shekou there was a mountain overlooking the area that had, what looked like to me when I wandered out of the hotel, a white building on it.  One day I went looking for that building and found stairs leading up the mountain.  I eventually found the building–it was a covered rest stop–and discovered there was a path going up one side of the mountain, across the top, and coming down on the other side.  I was the first one from my company to find this, and every time I was working in China I made a point to walk this path at least two or three times.

And on one trip I counted the stairs used to get up and, at the northwest end of the mountain, get down to ground level.  How many were there, you ask?  2,846.  And at the end of that particular walk I came across a street vendor selling grilled sweet potatoes.  He didn’t speak English, but it didn’t matter:  I pointed to a potato, handed him 10 RMB (exchange rate of 8 RMB to 1 Dollar), and he gave me 3 RMB change.  I slowly walked back to the hotel nibbling on that potato, letting the sugars and carbs replenish my energy.  It was one of the best moments of my life.

One thing to point out to some of my friends who were asking about this last night:  Hong Kong is not a big city.  It’s crowded and compacted, and most of the city on Victoria Island isn’t even on the island.  Allow me to explain:

Here is an area I know very well, because I’d walk this way from the Star Ferry building to the Peak Tram station.  The Bank on China building is on the right, and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) building is on the left.  The HSBC building is famous because it’s not only a lot of glass from one wall to the other, but most of the floors are glass, and standing under it you can actually look up into the offices.  Reason for this is not only because having a clear view of the harbor is good feng shui, but a feng shui master informed the company that the dragon living in the hill behind the building needed to see the harbor, too.

And are you gonna argue with a dragon?

And are you gonna argue with a dragon?

In the picture above do you see the thick line of trees just below the HSBC building?  That’s the actual edge of the island.  Where those bank buildings stand, that was ocean maybe a hundred years ago.  So when we expand our view . . .

We're still keeping that dragon happy . . .

We’re still keeping that dragon happy . . .

Nearly all those building above that dark green tree line are built on land fill.  And that’s not a wide stretch of land:  maybe a half mile (800 meters) from the harbor to the edge of Victoria Peak.  On the north side of the harbor Kowloon found land by knocking down the eight mountains there–and yet, there are still parts of that area that are all land fill.  Until you visit Hong Kong, you can’t imagine how close together everything is.

I’ve talked enough about this.  I haven’t been back to China in almost ten years, and while I still have those memories, like Roy Batty’s tears in the rain, they’ll fade away one day.  It was a great time in my life, and I can say I pretty much enjoyed myself–when I wasn’t suffering from loneliness and depression, but that’s another story.

And one day I’ll have to tell you about the Wan Chai reader who told me about my past life in the city . . .