Leaving an American nightmare

WHETHER anyone likes to admit it, living in Hongkong changes a person. Some may disagree, but the day you frantically push the ''close door'' button in the lift when you know someone is running for it is the day you become a true local.

It all became clear a week ago when I gathered with my friends in San Francisco at the Big Bertha's All-You-Can-Eat-Hungry-Heffer-Chow-Down-Wagon. I watched everyone return to the table with slabs of meat the thickness of jumbo jet tyres. One portion could have been a 10-course Chinese banquet.

''Have these people turned into ants who carry 200 times their weight in food?'' I asked myself.

At the end of the meal, I watched in horror as everyone began shovelling at their teeth with toothpicks. ''In Hongkong we may spit in public, but we always cover our mouths when we pick our teeth.'' I said to Fred.

''Hey man, take it down a thousand,'' he said.

''Oh cut the California psycho babble,'' I snapped.

''Talk about psycho,'' Fred said. ''What's up with you sticking Garfield dolls all over the car windows? Driving around in a car with the complete set of seven dwarfs in the back window is so totally bogus.'' I met Fred when I was 12 and he had only one chin. Like a lot of Americans, Fred has not only let prosperity get to his head, but also to his stomach. It is not hard to do considering that when you order a small cola and popcorn at the movies you end up with a 20-litre tub of sugared water and your popcorn in a feed bag.

Almost everyone you talk to in the US is on a diet. I thought of introducing a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme called The Hongkong Quick Weight Loss Programme. All you need to do is travel to Hongkong, drink some water out of the harbour and wear running shoes.

All this talk about diets was making me lazy. What else could I do but spend the rest of the week resting and shopping at home in front of the television set? To get those gifts for my friends in Hongkong out of the way, I ordered tacky junk from The Home Shopping Channel.

THE first time I stood up in a week was to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at the start of a football game. I thought they could have chosen a song that was easier to sing, but then I found out the music was an old English drinking song.

It makes sense considering you have to be drunk to hit the high notes without bursting an internal organ.

What surprised me the most about the game was the size of the players. Take William ''The Refrigerator'' Perry for instance. What other country would name a player after a major household appliance? Paul ''The Microwave''' Gascoigne? Or is ''Gazza'' already a household appliance? Considering the size of the players, it is no wonder the word ''win'' sounds wimpy to the sports commentators. They use words like crush, pulverise, stomp, trounce or conquest instead. I thought this was California. Weren't we supposed to meditate on ourchakras and persuade our opponent it was in their best interest to lose? By the end of the week I was helplessly addicted to game shows. My personality suddenly changed. The beep of the microwave sent me into a screaming frenzy. ''Yes, Monty, I think it's behind door number three!'' I kept flipping over the dinner plates thinking I was turning letters like Vanna White.

''Would you like to go for a walk?'' my mother asked between game shows. ''No, I'd like to spin the wheel Pat,'' I shouted.

''Thank God she's going back to Educational TV and Government Service Messages next week,'' my sister whispered to my parents.

Like the rest of the American viewing public, I eventually became tired of Vanna and moved on to Rescue 911, a weekly series which shows a day in the life of American emergency service workers.

The first story involved a fire rescue team that found a dog in a burning house. The chief gave the poodle mouth to mouth resuscitation. While the dog shook and gasped for breath, the house burned down in the background. The voice of the grateful owner ended the story: ''Even though we lost our house and all our possessions, we still have Spot.'' During the commercial break I lit a match under the smoke detector to make sure it was working.

The next story was about a cat burglar who was still on the loose.

Afterwards, I darted around the house making sure that all the doors and windows were locked.

The last report, and the worst of all, was about a young teenager who became the victim of a random drive-by shooting.

As I lay on the floor dodging imaginary sniper fire, I decided it was safer to leave my stomach in San Francisco and head home. At least in Hongkong, the criminals haven't figured out the policemen are made out of cardboard.