Creating a diversion
With Alison Dakota Gee
AH, YES. Another happy, happy weekend in Hong Kong, land of the soul-withering work ethic. Instead of doing laps at the American Club pool, or hiking on Lamma, or even sunbathing in Central, I'm at the office 'working': that is, I'm sitting at my computer terminal, feeling desperately sorry for myself, watching our resident, rather gargantuan cockroaches race from telephone to stack of old newspapers to Roget's Thesaurus and back. But, hey, as long as somebody's getting some exercise, I'm happy. It is as times like these that I begin to look for diversions . . .
'He turned and bade me across the threshold and we descended the stairs. I was enveloped in darkness, tormented by the heat of the rising night and the soft fragrance in the air. Suddenly a frosted glass of blood-red wine was before me. 'To your health,' he said. Perhaps, just then, I trembled.' Dear reader, although it may be painful, please continue.
'At this hour in the deepest pit of night, our eyes were the only spark of light. It was time to end the charade and become my true nature [sic]. My mind raced ahead; there was so much to do in these last exquisite hours before the dreaded sun returned . . .' Entries from the leather-bound journal I keep under my pillow? Excerpts from the unpublished novella I've hidden in my top drawer? Fortunately for you and me neither is the case. Nor are these examples from the Readers' Digest Guide To Writing Deplorable Fiction.
Instead, this is the latest in cryptic advertising from the folks at Elite Concepts. The group that brought you Indochine, Va Bene and American Pie, is now working on Le Bar Bat, described as a 'social club opened from sunset to sunrise with a dungeon-like appearance . . . a natural lair for a night person'.
I ventured over to the corner of D'Aguilar Street and Lan Kwai Fong where the decidedly un-cryptic bar Scottie's used to sit, hoping to dispel the mystery of Le Bar Bat. Hoping, perhaps, that somebody there would turn, bid me across a threshold and thrust a glass of blood-red wine before me.
Instead, what I came across was a street full of workmen officiously hammering away and bidding large pieces of velvet and suede furniture across the bar's threshold. I also came across Paul Hsu, the director of Elite Concepts. He said: 'Uh, no. I'm sorry, you can't go in yet. Not unless you want sawdust up your nose.' Sawdust? What happened to the 'soft fragrance in the air'? I did manage to lure creature of the night Jeff Chia, the club's disc jockey, out for lunch. When we finally met, Chia, who used to spin discs into the wee hours at Club 97, rubbed his eyes. 'Most days I don't get up until five. Some days I don't even get up,' he said.
'I'll try to make the music at Le Bar Bat as haunting as possible, acid jazz, soul, funk and what I call, 'rare groove' - soul music from the 1970s. I hate getting requests for Abba. Ugh! It's so frustrating. If you want to hear Ace of Base or Madonna, go to The Jump! 'You know, Le Bar Bat is really going to push the Hong Kong club scene forward,' he said. 'For one thing, we won't have a dance floor.' That struck me as a strange thing for a DJ to be pleased about. But Chia was philosophical about the club's design omissions: 'Like, if people want to get up and dance, they can do that wherever they are. Hey, if people feel the urge to rip off their shirts spontaneously, they can do that, too.' With that, he bit into a nachos and thrust a mug of lemon tea before me.
Perhaps, just then, I trembled.
IN SEARCH of yet another diversion, I called up a friend, who invited me to a barbecue at The Peak. The cookout, held at one of those outrageously plush pads in which one lonely expatriate rattles around in a three-bedroom space, passed without incident. It was only after we left the party at around 1 am that the diversions began. Without the foresight to ring for a taxi, we descended into the night.
The Peak was shrouded in the kind of fog and drizzle that Jack the Ripper used to operate by and the air was still, the way you would imagine it to be just before the deluge begins. It was becoming treacherous negotiating The Peak's undulating roads in high heels and we were desperate for signs of vehicular life. 'Is that a taxi?' my friend asked hopefully. 'Oh, damn. It's just a street light. Is that a taxi? No, that's . . . wait . . . do you hear wheels?' We heard wheels all right. But they were the wheels underneath a suitcase being dragged up Plantation Road. Attached to the case's strap was a tiny Filipino woman, who also carried a blanket and a load of books - in essence, all the worldly possessions she could gather. 'Do you need some help?' we asked.
'Oh, no, it's OK,' she answered.
I grabbed hold of her suitcase anyway. Good grief! It weighed around 34 kilos. 'Yes you do. Jeez, even I need help with this thing. Where in the world are you going at his hour?' The woman, whose name was Irene, claimed she was going to a friend's house (although, frankly, it was obvious she was a little over-packed for a slumber party). The three of us climbed the hill for another 30 minutes or so in search of an elusive taxi.
It wasn't until we finally ambushed a cab, I had dropped my girlfriend off in Happy Valley, and Irene and I were alone on the way to her 'friend's place' in Wan Chai that she finally came clean. That she was an amah didn't surprise me. That her employers, a German couple with two children, had just fired her with two hours to get the hell out, did. It floored me. I asked her what she was planning to do.
She shrugged and said: 'It's just one of those things that happens with a job like mine.' It occurred to me that on Monday morning I would happily return to my desk, racing cockroaches and all. It also occurred to me that some people don't need diversions when they're living a real life.