Vertigo in New Territories
Welcome to Hong Kong. Please take a red cab for the city, a blue cab for Lantau, a green cab for New Territories.
From my window I can see the world, Chris Coco says to himself, out loud, probably, though it’s hard for him to tell, really, after such a long journey. Outside room 2607 of the Ocean Pacific on Centre Street, Western, Hong Kong, the corridor carries a strong smell of petrol, giving the man a distinct feeling that all is not well. But it’s only a feeling, and it is very early, or very late, at least, the journey has been very long.
Kiko Towngas lives on the 15th floor of a short stack on Centre Street, above the King Success Trading Company. She works in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Sports Centre as a personal trainer and she suffers from vertigo. In Hong Kong, that most vertiginous of cities, vertigo is not just a problem, it’s just not an option. Any journey that Kiko undertakes is as likely to involve vertical as it is horizontal. She lives her life with a welling up of sickness in the pit of her stomach. This is accompanied by waves of dizziness and an occasional, slight but significant, rocking sensation. Like she has just stepped off a boat back on to land. Like her legs are still compensating for a movement that is no longer there. The only place that Kiko feels at ease is inside the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Sports Centre; inside the dedicated gymnasium area, which though it is on the third floor and therefore raised above sea level, has only skylight, and so no view and, therefore, little indication of it’s location in vertical space. And, more specifically, on one of the state of the art treadmills, with or without a personal training client, running and running, totting up the stats on the digital display. Because, although the running is technically, literally, not going anywhere. It is most definitely not going anywhere in a totally horizontal direction. There is a button on the machine which changes the incline of the moving band but Kiko has no inclination to make use of this facility. She keeps running on zero degrees, perfectly flat, balanced. Her style is fluid with a slight bounce, enhanced by the give of the rubber running band. Unlike the other trainers who stand and watch while their charges work, Kiko likes to run with her clients. Keeping a steady 8.5 kph, encouraging them to step things up and sweat a little, totally at one, totally free on the totally flat machine.
Eagle is free. She soars above the city canyons, dives over Central in search of strange prey. A tasty morsel, perhaps a mouse, or a rat, or a small child out with parents for a sunday stroll. Eagle has no problem with up and down, backwards and forwards, left and right. Eagle is fine in 3D. she doesn’t need a lift for lift. She never worries about the difference between elevators and escalators. She swoops past floor 26 of the Ocean Pacific. A naked figure stands behind the smoked glass. Still half sleeping he sees the mountain hawk eagle glide by and steps back. She seems so powerful, so graceful, so very close, sweeping and diving, lifted on canyon currents, high over the city and out to sea.
Chris Coco stares out of his 26th floor hotel room window. An eagle glides past in the murky morning light, just metres away. Even through the smoked glass she looks so free, so high, so close. Even here, in this most urban of locations, there is no escape from nature or the nature of things. Even though he has flown higher than an eagle, taking to the stratosphere, locked inside a huge groaning metal machine, he is still just big prey wrapped in soft flesh, naked and alone on the cliff top, tired and hungry, staring out to sea. Chris Coco is a DJ. A name that is so out of date it has turned from an acronym into it’s own word. He is a Disc Jockey. Except there is no longer any need for discs, shiny slabs of vinyl have turned at 78, then 45 and 33. Now they have turned virtual. And jockey, well there is no riding involved in his chosen activity, unless you count the so called riding of the grooves, a rolling on waves of bass, bumping and churning like the pilot ships in the harbour outside the window. So now he spins virtual plates in various locations for real humans. Today he is Hong Hong, another transient in the push and rush of the big city.
He takes a morning walk up Western Street, in bright winter sunlight, and finds himself singing this song:
Under the shade of the banyan tree I kissed her and she kissed me We can be who we want to be Under the shade of the banyan tree
Today I feel like I am here, in HK, he mumbles to himself, sweating a little now, climbing the steep incline. As I walk, he continues, thankfully remember now just to breathe and speak, not to talk out loud in public, high on air miles. That familiar rush that travels up from my feet, through my body. An endorphin release that makes my brain flash and consequently triggers my consciousness to say – I wish I could do this for always, wake up every day in a room with a view, a window on the world. Wake up every day and walk out into the sunshine to see what I can see. Walk and shoot, the devil in the details, just walk and shoot and make up stories. Walk and shoot and dream.
Veronica Chi-yueng works for Double Friendship Trading Company. Her dream is to trade in her urban trading for rural training. Veronica, she says to herself on her way to work on the tram from Happy Valley, your trading days are over. Soon you will move out of the city to New Territories where you will work on your own small farm, learning the ways of the land from the helpful locals, training to be a useful cog in the village wheel. You will eat the vegetables you grow, selling the excess to restaurants that appreciate organically grown produce. By living such a life you will escape the rigours of work in Double Friendship and find a simple but deep sense of satisfaction and some kind of ancient and rewarding happiness. Blessed with remarkably green fingers, Veronica has a good chance of becoming a fine farmer, she has energy and genetic inheritance on her side. If she leaves she will, of course, be truly experiencing a new style of living. Not just a repetition of the last new style, as she is urged to do at the International Finance Centre Mall. She sometimes walks here at lunch time, just to remind herself why she longs so for New Territories. Even on a rainy December day, the outside, the nature. the wind on her face, the rain on her cheek, feels so much more pleasant than the artificial air con breeze and the distant float of synthesized Xmas melodies from hundreds of tiny ceiling mounted speakers inside the mall. The new style, it seems to her, looks very much like last December’s new style, except perhaps a shade darker, with a slightly more military cut, the epaulettes, the stiff materials, the oversize gold buttons, remind her a little of the uniforms she saw in a film when she was a child, The Sound Of Music, a western film about singing, children and nazis, about escaping to the hills, running from the coming storm to make a new, simple life in new territory.
High over Lantau, the Big Buddha floats, less than a millimetre above his brass plinth. From below it looks like he’s attached. Only the grey cloth clad monks, clean shaven from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes, to fight against infection and ease massage, know the secrets of Big Buddha. Only the monks can sit inside Buddha’s head. Only the monks can see, literally, through the Buddha’s eyes; only the monks, smoking their incense, dreaming their incense dreams, can turn Big Buddha into Big Brother, spying on tourists through his CCTV see all eyes. If you look into his eyes it feels like he’s looking back at you, they say. The monks smile serenely as they zoom in a little closer. When she is running on her treadmill late at night, Kiko sometimes dreams of the monks, floating over the city’s malls in their Big Buddha machine, over Tung Chung, over the International Finance Centre, searching for new territory, searching for new style. Their clothing hasn’t changed for generations, doesn’t change with the seasons, not really, not greatly, only recently, the grey has become a little greyer, the cut of their cloth has become a little more military, underneath their simple robes the occasional glint of a gold button is sometimes visible, often mistaken for the light of joy or a moment of enlightenment by enthusiastic believers lighting incense or tending the shrines. And the sign on the Buddha’s chest reminds Tsing Tao, on a tourist trip to Hong Kong from Qingdao on the mainland. The symbol reminds him of a film, a western film, that he saw illicitly in his youth, that gave him a kind of pulse, a throb, a glow he had never experienced before, the moment he saw Julie Andrews, dressed as a nun, a holy, religious, chaste woman, with flowing blonde locks, skipping across the mountains singing praises to the sound of music. A film with everything important in it – song, children, passion, intrigue, politics, show stopping numbers and nazis.
Bing Tang Hula, known affectionately to some of her less than close friends as Austerity, because she never buys her own drinks, is walking up Glenealy in her 1:5 heels. 20% gradient on each foot. Luckily, this particular hill is also 1:5, so even in the most drunk of states, when she attempts the climb home, when she wants to peak, the heels and the hill cancel out and create a flat walk to her flat. She’s been on the molecules again. Her walk just another experiment in cocktail chemistry. Tonight it was strawberry syrup, turned into tiny droplets that explode in the mouth like salmon caviar, topped with some sparkling fizz, a sugary hit that does the trick. She wants to try the vodka pasta but it’s still in the lab undergoing tests. The only problem is, tonight, thanks to too many exploding strawberries, her mind has decided that the corner is too tight, she can’t quite get the required left turn right and she keeps tottering back down, 20% heel on 20% hill, a 40% gradient to get to grips with. Chris Coco, sipping a post-set premier cru Chablis, watches from the window of Hush with some interest, sort of wishing for a fall, sort of wishing for a full ascent, kind of distracted by his own impending climb into the skies, strapped into seat B in row 18, HK all the way back to LDN.
Over the hill in Tuen Min, in another vertical reality, Fat Kit and Golden-Hair Cheong are at each others throats again. As Austerity totters up the hill the blows from baseball bats and meat cleavers smash into the soft flesh of 18 year old Kwok Hin-ching. He dies on the street, blood mixing with the light rain into a strawberry syrup that drains away with his precious life.
In Hong Kong metro station, a man removes his wooden leg, places it on a mat, lies on the mat and starts to quiver. His mouth forms words that won’t come out – Julie, Buddha, Kiko, vertigo, cleaver, shark fin, duck neck, Doctor, Victoria, Peak, new, territory, music, future, past. He remains horizontal, shivering till his collection plate, strategically placed next to his quivering head, is filled with notes and coins.
The milky grey dawn dissolves the night over the New Territory.
24 hour horizontal ticker tape speeds along its predetermined track outside the Hang Seng Bank HQ. The index has risen 0.73% today. Guodian Tech needs to raise HK$56m for it’s dreams of New Territory wind power. The lift in the Ocean Pacific drops from 26 to 1 in 9.3 seconds carrying Jeanette Wang and her family to breakfast. My Li lifts a sack of dried sharks fins and pulls a tiny intercostal that will put him off work for two days. The loyal staff at Sky Laundry begin the long and complicated move from Shop A to Shop D, just a few steps further up, hoping against hope that their fickle customers will not desert them after the change. The owner of Fuk Tat stoops down, exhaling deeply, key in hand. He unlocks the padlock on the shutter of his shop. Ahead lies another day laying in wait for potential prey, his heavy lidded eyes partially closed so he seems to be sleeping. But inside every muscle will be a tight, coiled spring, every sinew ready and waiting to jump up and go in for the kill. Doctor Wong Wing Tim drives his tan sedan down the snaking expressway to his workplace in downtown Western, past an apartment with windows open just two metres from the road, where he once spent a most memorable night with a young lad from Korea named Kim, but that was a long time ago, in another life. Now his thoughts do not descend to such base matters, he spends his days in high causes, mostly related to the church. In the windows of the shops, lucky cats wave. In the pot, the pigs’ lungs bubble. In the doorways the incense burns. In the street the crossings bleep and the taxi drivers in their red, green and blue taxis beep their horns.
The Qatar airways flying machine that will take Chris Coco up to the stratosphere touches down at HK International, brakes squealing, burning another straight, flat black rubber strip the size of a human running machine on the runway. The pilot is a little spooked. He could swear, but will never mention, that he saw a buddha flying over Lantau as they descended.
And on her treadmill in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Sports Centre, Kiko Towngas keeps on running, flat, steady, stepping in smooth rhythm, ever closer to her own, totally horizontal, final destination.