Liberation – or deliverance?

Saturday 28 August 2010, 4.42am HKT


Thursday, 26th August, was supposed to be Hong Kong’s erstwhile Liberation Day. Since the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, Liberation Day is no longer a legal public holiday.

I had meant to put out a post about Liberation Day and the disgraceful conduct on the part of our government, being specifically leaving the flagpoles and Crown caps bare at The Cenotaph monument for 13 years running.

The Cenotaph in Central district in Hong Kong was erected 87 years ago in honour of fallen servicemen as well as civilians who perished in the defence of the (ahem, British) realm and specifically in defence of Hong Kong during 1941-45.

* * *

But that isn’t the story I wanted to tell now.

The much more interesting story now is about my encounter with the more oily members of our retail community in World-Wide House on Liberation Day.

For those who are stranded living in this part of the world Hong Kong, “The Wicked Wad” (as the building is sometimes known) is where all manners of assorted cattle gather to eke out a morsel of a living smack bang in the middle of one of the greatest financial centres of the world. Bankers and wankers rub shoulders cheek by jowl with oddball émigrés from the seven seas and four corners of the world. Three storeys of boutique-ish shops are mainly run by and for the Filipino community here. It’s like a mediaeval bazaar housed in an office building (which it is, by the way) traipsed non-stop by office people.

Let me explain myself here. This is not going to be an anti-Filipino or anti-Philippine post, so let’s get that clear and out of the way first. Never mind the bloodshed in Manila, which has been highly tragic and unfortunate. The Philippine element in this post is only incidental.

What I’m actually peeved off about is the guy who was accosting me in the shopping mall there. I was just passing through and happened to stop by a shop. Bong! Bong! Bong! A middle-aged man slithered right up against me and had his arms wrapped around me, as if we were best friends or something.

‘The Man’ (who was NOT a Filipino, I should add) was prattling non-stop about some shiz about RTHK Radio 3 or he being a journalist or something. Frankly, I couldn’t be sure. Nasal noises was streaming out of him and flooding me left, right and centre – the kind our grandparents must have experienced when seeing for the first time the fast-talking, double-timing, come-everlastingly-at-you American news footage about the Pacific war.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got manoeuvred by The Man. He deftly waltzed me double quick to his shop. I pressed him for a business card. His prattling continued unabated. Shop number on card don’t match the one on the card. Incoming RPG! Warp Factor 9 to Federation Safety Zone 23! Shields up! Man torpedo tubes 3 and 7! Set low-orbit ion cannons to maximum stun!

By now, he was now angling me for something, exactly what I haven’t a clue. He was now trying to get me to sit down and “have a drink” with him at a nearby cafe. Another man and woman joined us, but they didn’t seem to be in cahoots with The Man. Basically I was stuck in this fracas. His arms were still wrapped around me, for pete’s sake.

I’ve seen this gamesmanship before when I was based in Beirut. Most people are naturally averse to physical contact, especially with strangers or even acquaintances whom we aren’t on reasonably familiar terms with. While ‘they’ are touchy feely all over you, you become distracted, fazed, have trouble focusing on activities swirling around you. If you’re unlucky, horrible things could happen to you.

I’m completely different. I’m not averse to people touching me, anywhere and everywhere. I’m just not. Back in my schooldays, I had occasion to kiss a boy on the lips in order to disgust him so much that he had to stop bullying me. The thought had crossed my mind that I might well have to do it again this time round with The Man. It didn’t come to that, though, for it would make a fantastic scene.

(I’m not suggesting this man was planning horrible things for me, but the thought had crossed my mind, even if fleetingly.)

Action stations. Firm but super polite treatment definitely needed here. Man had to be cut down to size forthwith. Two choices (for I like to give choices even to the unsavoury): should I give a chilling twist à l’anglaise or chinoise façon? English way, naturally — it would be received so much more appreciatively because the English way chills to the bone.

“No, I can’t stay for a drink. I have to get back to the office. I’m a printer; work happens at night for people like me,” I told him.

“Please, sit down, have a drink with me, come on” The Man insisted. And he looked pretty insistent too.

“I’d like a drink with you — later. It has to be later, because that’s the way I like things done. You and I are in business, so you understand. Where would we be if things aren’t done the way we like them to be done, right? I like it done this way, and it has to be done this way, you understand.”

“Okay,” he muttered.

“Riiight. Now, I will have a drink with you later, in a few days’ time. I have your card already. I’ll ring you. Then we’ll have drinks. Don’t let me down when we get together. Okay?”

My arms were around him this time. Tight. Like best buddies.

“Okay, I understand, I understand,” he murmured.

“Hmm, all right. Wait for my call. We have unfinished business here. I’ll catch you later.”

* * *

Frankly speaking, World-Wide House has gone to the dogs. It’s been like this for several years already, but the atmosphere there has really gone down in a major way over the last 12 months or so.

Before, the many different and exotic peoples who used to hang around there were really nice and refreshing to have a quick argle-bargle with.

Now, it’s a different kettle of fish. I don’t see the nice bunch there anymore. Maybe they have left because of the economy or something. Those who remained are growing old and, not to put too fine a point on things, a bit cantankerous as well. Some are positively barmy without being cheerful or funny. I can see why Filipinas are now staying away from the place. It’s just too much aggro to handle.

Thirty-seven months lumbered with a crutch and then I walk right into this one.

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