Another Hong Kong

tunnel visionWhen people think of Hong Kong they think modernity and money. They see skyline; they see lights. And yes, there’s plenty of that around. The sound of construction is ubiquitous here. It’s always more and faster, newer and better – go go go! Development is a galloping beast.

But we’ve seen the big buildings, we’ve absorbed the clean lines. They only offer what the world already knows. Below I have documented a different Hong Kong. One that lies in ruin. One that was left behind. The photos are from 2 locations: an abandoned TV studio and a deserted farming village.

We speak here of places and objects that once were, but still cling to the now in ways that are no longer whole, but still show a soul. There is beauty in this ruin, in this dirt and loss, often more so than in the neat arrangements and bright lights of the rushing, thriving city. We might find some greater, more giving truth in this callous advance, this slow decay.

Perhaps we relate cause we are also broken down, or breaking down in some way. And then, eventually we will all lose the battle with time, no matter how stubbornly we persist. In the meantime, we meet what is still here – capture it again with camera, with memories, with love and fear. What was useful becomes useful now in different ways. And we find beauty anew.

a long shot

all seeing eye

beach day

blue

cave paintingsgoing nowhere

Framed

leveled

LC

no smokin

rabbit

Slim

splitting dark

to a system

turquoise scene

x_bound to be

x_power lunch

x_indrawer shot

All pics by EM Vireo

 

Drop 127: Carnage

bruiseA fly lands on my cheek as I push the door open. The stench hits me as I step inside. Denial is reflexive but it soon makes way for raw disgust. Sickened through, I take it in: carnage on a devastating scale.

They are everywhere and not one can be saved; in fact, most already show extensive decay. They lie there, bruised and broken near a dirty knife, covering much of the marble slab. Some are carelessly stacked on top of one another, two, three, four deep. Others have been skinned and cut into bits. A few have ended on the floor

What terrible loss; what tragic waste.

The weather’s been warm. Left to stew, flesh has festered turning nasty shades of purple and black. Skin has bloated and erupted. Through these wounds and other lacerations fluids have seeped, pooling into sticky brown puddles. Flies swarm and maggots writhe. Decay has made a callous mockery of life here.

We have just arrived for the weekend, finding the country house deserted, as expected; but obviously someone has been here. So where did he go, and when will he return? And now I hear footsteps crunching closer along the gravel path: a heedless approach. I step away from the entrance and stand ready.

The door cracks open; it’s Sarah. She’s smiling but her face quickly plummets.

‘Oh my God,’ she says. ‘Oh my fucking God!’

‘I know,’ I answer.

She looks left and right, taking in the totality of the carnage. ‘Who would do such a thing? What kind of monster?’

‘Must have been Phil and his gang. They must have stopped by before going to Reno and left in a rush.’

‘Still,’–Sarah steps in now, swatting away the flies. Her nose crinkles at the thicker smell of rot–‘that’s no excuse for leaving such a mess. It’s disgusting.’

‘True.’ I look over the scene afresh, over the shrunken figs gone fuzzy, the piles of putrid apricots and peaches, the oozing plums and papayas crawling with worms.

‘Nothing worse than good fruit left to waste,’ Sarah says, shaking her head.

‘Yup,’ I say. ‘Nothing sadder in the world.’

By EM Vireo

Drop 126: Little Room

wallWhen I wake up, I’m still strapped down. I struggle against it for a second before I remember where I am.

I’m groggy. My foot is asleep, my neck stiff. How long was I out this time?

Lights go on and off, sometimes synching to the sporadic beeps. The low drone persists, adding to the claustrophobia. Row upon row of us, trapped in here together, staring ahead. We are neatly arranged and controlled. We must do as they say.

Another shudder and we all feel the fear. I’m a bit nauseous too. Whatever they gave me earlier hasn’t sat well.

We are crammed in, on top of each other, but it’s all very organized. They are professional. They wear uniforms and speak their rehearsed lines. The big one bustles by again, all business. She’s carrying a metal box to the back. God knows what’s inside.

She is the one allocated to our section. Robotically, she goes about her tasks: pushing buttons, stacking and storing, draining liquid from receptacles, preparing different vile concoctions. She cleans up the mess too. Sometimes she disappears into the little room; sometimes she just opens the door an inch and looks inside.

She collects orders through a wall-mounted phone. She’s always watching us, making sure we don’t break the rules. For your own safety, she says with that fake smile.

Another one has the section nearby. A man. I counted eight of them when they ushered us in. There are others who work behind the scenes, not showing their faces: the higher-ups. They only make themselves heard, announcing how it’s all to go down through the jarring PA system that cuts through everything.

The little room is ahead of me to the left. We enter, one at a time, through the hinged door, and come out minutes later. This has been going on for hours. I’ve been in three times and hope I won’t have to go back. But it might be inevitable.

For the rest, we sit, wait, do as we’re told. Everyone is exhausted, broken. Some are obviously heavily medicated, some are plugged into little screens that feed a stream of propaganda. I was too, earlier, but that effort is over for me now.

She’s back: our matronly overseer. She has the trolley again: its ominous contents, now all aligned, ready for distribution.

This is round two. The first, some hours ago, was most unpalatable and I want nothing to do with this second course, whatever it is, but you don’t have much choice here.

She starts at the front. No one refuses what she offers. We are all brainwashed by now. We succumb to the rhythm of this massive, efficient machine. We’ll take what they give us and be glad.

And soon she is beside me.

‘Chicken or fish?’

‘Chicken,’ I say, unfolding my little side table, ‘and apple juice.’

She gives me my tray. I peel back the foil to peek inside. Looks disgusting but I’ll eat it.

Good evening, everyone, the captain’s voice comes loudly through the PA. I trust you managed some rest and are enjoying your dinner. Still cruising at 32,000 feet, but just to let you know, we will be commencing our decent into JFK in about 35 minutes.

I drink down my juice. I’ll have to visit the nasty little room once more before we land.

By EM Vireo

Drop 125: Crossing the Road

crossing the road–Oh good, you’re back.

–Yup, had quite a walk.

–Oh yeah?

–Yeah, saw loads of people we know.

–Like who?

–Like Sarah.

–Nice. I’ve been meaning to catch up with her.

– She was with some tall guy. Looked British. Guess she’s banging him. Then, just after, I saw Julie. Round as a melon.

–Oh yeah. She sent an email saying she was pregnant, but I guess that was months ago by now.

–Also saw Ben and Bill on the corner of the street with like nine bags of groceries from Dean and DeLuca. Probably having another of their crazy dinner parties.

–Man, I love those two. Haven’t hung with them in ages either. Wow, you saw all those people!

–Yeah.

–Awesome. What a great chance to catch up with them all! No wonder it took you a while. Post office isn’t that far.

–Well, I stopped for a slice too, and get this: when I got there, Norm Jericho was just leaving the pizza place.

–No shit! Norm ‘The Noodle’ Jericho.

–The one and only.

–That’s incredible. I’ve been trying to find that guy for years. God, how the hell is he? In fact, how are they all?

–Huh?

–What’s going on with them? Sarah, Bill and Ben, Julie. They must have told you so much news.

–What do you mean?

–What did you talk about? Tell me everything.

–Oh, no. God. I didn’t talk to any of them.

–You didn’t talk to any of them?

–Of course not. I just saw them, and as soon as I did I crossed the road so they wouldn’t see me.

–Wow.

–Yeah. Anyway, your stamps are on the table.

By EM Vireo

Drop 124: Leopard

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. It boasts one of the highest leopard densities on earth.

Jeeps scurrying around the place looking to produce what the tourists crave. One of them is driven by Sunny, who’s been chasing leopards in Yala for eight years and is pretty good at it. In the back of his jeep today: two French tourists, Serge and Sylvie, who have never seen a cat beyond the domestic variety, clawing at strings and bugging out to catnip. Another jeep is driven by Stanley, who has run tours for over a decade. In the back of his rugged vehicle sit two Americans: Ken and Jack.

copy

Stanley has been rushing around all afternoon chasing tips that come in on his cell, but few have materialized. Jack and Ken have seen no leopard, though the elephants and buffalo, the kingfishers and painted storks have been lovely. Still, Stanley follows every new lead: a male cat crossing a dirt road here, a female returning to her tree with prey there. But the timing is off, and they just never manage to actually see one.

buffalo pond

It’s getting late, but Stanley chases one last tip, speeding to reach a dam where a male leopard has been spotted. They arrive to a spectacle of nine jeeps, all joshing for position. But he is nowhere to be seen. They pull up next to Sunny’s jeep, wondering what’s up, and Serge quickly let’s them know, flashing, on his small point and shoot camera, with a gloating look mind you, a picture he just took: an almost full frame shot of a leopard, walking across the road.

But it’s gone now, into the brush. They missed it again.whitethroated kingfisher

Nighttime at the lodge. Lapwings screeching, bats circling. An incredible Sri Lankan buffet of string hoppers, fish curry, roti and sambol.

Turns out the French couple, and Ken and Jack are staying at the same place, and sitting at the same table.

‘No leopard, hey?’ Serge makes conversation with Ken, while Jack and Sylvie go for seconds.

‘No,’ Ken says softly. ‘Unfortunately, not today. Great elephants though.’

‘We had three. Check this one out.’ Serge pulls out the camera.

‘Yes, you showed me earlier, I believe.’

‘I got a bunch,’ Serge says, clicking through more photos. ‘He was really posing, but this one’s the best.’

‘Yes,’ Ken says, studying the photo. ‘Pity it isn’t quite full frame, but decent light and composition. You might have stopped down for better depth of field,’ he adds, ‘but it’s a pretty nice shot. I guess you were shooting on automatic.’

‘Yeah, whatever, I think I got it,’ Serge says, while his face says: fuck you jealous American. ‘Pity you didn’t see it. It was awesome.’

‘Nature’s all timing and patience. I guess, I wasn’t there this time, and you were. Thanks for sharing,’ Ken adds getting up. ‘I simply must have some more of that sambol. Addicted to spice.’

trunk

Jack is just getting back. ‘You were showing pictures to Ken? Of your leopard today?’

‘Yes. The one your jeep didn’t see.’

‘Did Ken give you any advice?’

‘Advice? He didn’t even have a camera.’

‘His gear is coming tomorrow. It was delayed in Delhi. This was just a fun relaxing safari I suggested before we start work tomorrow.’

‘What work?’

‘Ken is going to shoot leopards and sloth bears in Yala for the next three weeks. Camp inside, shoot from hides, etc. It’s his third time here. He’s one of the world’s best best.’

‘Nature photographers? You’re joking.’

‘Specializes in big cats. He was the first person to ever photograph mating snow leopards in Afghanistan, and he had that famous shot of jaguars hunting tapirs in Brazil. He practically lived with a pack of lion in the Ngorongoro crater for six weeks in 2004 documenting cannibalism and hyena predation during the drought. He’s a bit of a legend, really.’

Sylvie comes back with a plate of food. ‘Did you show the man the great picture you took?’ she asks Serge, after smiling at Jack. ‘Of the leopard?’

‘Yes,’ Serge answers, looking towards the buffet. ‘I did.’

 By EM Vireo

Drop 123: Tea and Scarves

–Where’s Emily?landscape

–Looking at that temple down the road.

–She take the camera?

–I guess.

–We should put the pics on the laptop.

–Did that yesterday.

–Cool, so we can clear the disk.

–Done. 4 free gigs, baby.

–Awesome.

 

It’s the third last night of an eighteen day trip through SE Asia. They’ve splurged on three rooms with air con.

 

–I’m so thrilled with the gifts we got today. The scarves. The bamboo flute. The tea.

–Yeah. My mom’s going to love her little hand carved jewellery box.

–Mine too. Hey, let’s have another look at the stuff.

–Don’t you have the bag?

–Thought you had it.

 

They look around, then Sarah goes to check her room. She’s back after a few minutes.

 

–No. Nothing. Maybe Emily has it.

–Probably. As long as it isn’t lost.

–Yeah. That would suck.

 

They sit on the bed and play cards till Emily shows.

 

–Amazing temple. Dude was doing this insane ritual with a coconut, smashing it at the end.

–Do you have the bag with the gifts?

–It’s in the computer bag.

–Ah. Cool. Do you mind getting it? We want to have another look.

–What do you mean? I don’t have it.

–You said it was in the computer bag.

–Yeah. I don’t have the computer bag. I thought you did.

 

By EM Vireo

Drop 122: Budapest

IMG_3460He was chubby, greasy, disheveled, mostly bald, wearing sweatpants and a checkered shirt too large. She was cute enough in a perfectly unattractive way, with a perm that would take no bosh from any living thing, and a floral top that could only have survived on a regular crop dusting of DDT. My eyes almost got cancer looking at it!

I don’t usually eavesdrop, filing a decent cappuccino in my overflowing cabinet of experiences, without fail or reserve, as a sanctified pleasure to enjoy alone, like masturbation, deceit or revenge, but they were sitting right beside me, and talking about Budapest with such volume, with such a staunch and vulgar distaste for privacy, I couldn’t help but say my piece.

Thing is: I love Budapest. I know Budapest. I can’t leave Budapest alone, even if the it involves folk that could never get the best out of Budapest — never know my Budapest, but hell, giving them access to even a fraction of the poorest scrap of my Budapest would serve these types a right treat!

So I spoke up (I am a gentleman, after all) in my simplest voice: ‘Base your trip on Pálinka. Whatever you do, do it on a steady stream of the stuff. No buzz is sweeter. I’ll give you three options – high-end, choice middle, and best of budget. Any will serve, though of course, sitting on the top shelf offers the loveliest view.’

‘Excuse me?’ the man said, giving me a positively Down syndromish look.

Pálinka. It’s Hungarian schnapps. The grappa of the east. Civilized moonshine.’

‘Oh. That sounds good. My Pappy’s Pappy was a bootlegger.’

‘I’ve dabbled in the alchemy of distillation myself, you might know. Couldn’t help hearing you discuss my beloved Budapest. Thought I’d offer a few dollops of advice.’

‘Budapest. Oh yes. You’ve been there?’

‘Have I been there?’ I chuckled. ‘Thrice in the eighties, half a dozen in the nineties, and too many to count since the turn of the millennium. Was there just last month, in fact.’

‘Well, I’ll be!’

‘How long will you two stay?’

‘Looks like a week, in July.’

‘Summer. Perfect.’

‘Haven’t quite booked the flights yet, but that’s just, as we say, a formality.’

‘Who exactly says that?’

‘We do.’

‘Of course.’

‘Oh, I’m Nate.’ He extended a hand all knuckle and fat, and my innate grace forced me to take it.

‘So, as for your visit, you might very well skip all the obvious stuff. The churches, the museums and castles – that’s nowhere close to where the place’s charm lies.’

‘Skip the churches?’ It was her turn now: a blind newt crawling clumsily from hibernation. ‘Skip the museums? The castles?’

‘Yes, Your Royal Redundancy. That is what I said.’

‘But I like castles. They’re the homes of treasures and knights.’

I let twelve perfect insults slide in speaking next: ‘What you want to do post-haste, as soon you’ve checked in, is find your way to District VII and one of the ruin pubs. Szimpla kert would be a good place to start, though it’s certainly not the best one. You’ll have to look for the area, and some of the pubs are rather hidden, but it’s the best neighborhood in town. Bizarre and Bohemian with a deliciously dirty, dilapidated overtone. Sit in the garden, listen to some great music, get some food — oh, and you can definitely get your pálinka fix here—it’s obligatory, actually. Chase it down with one of the many cheap, good local beers.’

‘Ruined bars. Got it.’

‘Ruin pubs. You could get lost in this neighborhood for the duration of your trip — I’ve missed planes to stay there, and it was absolutely worth it — but I guess you should see the rest, first time and all. My main bit of advice is just to walk, walk, and walk some more. It’s a great city to do by foot. Stop at the cafes, get to the markets, zigzag the small streets, take in the beauty.’

‘Walk everywhere, hey? Connie here has a couple of nasty bunions that will have something to say about that. One’s damn near the size of a turkey egg.’

‘I see.’ I swiveled and sipped.

‘Wanna see?’ Connie asked, grabbing at a flat pink shoe.

‘No thanks–please! I meant that I acknowledge your gross impairment. Let’s talk food. You don’t eat with your feet, right?’

‘Of course not,’ she said, making an annoyed face. ‘Not unless it’s Pickle Fest fortnight.’

‘Szalonna.’

‘God bless you,’ said Nate with a tiny dip of his rather large head. Who knew he could be so dainty?

‘Szalonna. It’s Hungarian bacon. Bacon on steroids. It will shoot fire into your veins. It has started wars, won wars, fixed marriages. Hell, swipe a chunk of szalonna under a passed out fellow’s nose and he’ll wake up in a flash. I’ll jot down a few hole in the wall joints that make a great sandwich with it, and a few traditional spots where they do it skewered and roasted over an open pit.’

‘Very good. I like bacon,’ Nate said.

‘We both like bacon,’ Connie said, ‘don’t we?’

‘Szalonna. I’ll jot down some spots for nicer meals too. What area you staying in anyway?’

‘Wherever Connie’s cousin’s apartment is. Let me check my phone.’

‘Oh.’ I said, finishing my cappuccino. I was going to suggest one of six supremely charming little hotels, but if you have family in town.’

‘Course I never met Dwayne,’ Nate said. ‘He’s a second cousin. Fancy type I heard.’ He scrolled a finger down the screen, squinting. ‘Here we go. Strada Alexandru Constantinescu.’

‘I’m not familiar with the street.’

‘Domenii, Bucharest,’ he read on.

‘Did you just say Bucharest?’ I turned my chair back round and raised an arm. ‘Check please.’

By EM Vireo

 

Drop 121: List

She writes them down:

Beer, pasta, mayo, white bread, rice, cookies, soda, full cream milk, cake, eggs, chocolate, butter, muffins.

Everything she will avoid from now on. She wants to lose a few pounds, and besides, they’re just not healthy.

She goes to her Pilates class.

When she gets back, the kitchen counter is full of groceries:

muffins, butter, chocolate, eggs, pound cake, milk, coke, cookies, rice, bread, a big mayo, pasta and a six-pack of beer.

Gunther comes in from the TV room. ‘I found your shopping list,’ he says with that imbecilic do-good smile. ‘I’ll just add your half to next month’s rent.’

By EM ‘the giant slayer’ Vireo

Drop 120: My Week

poop cabinMonday was quiet. I made a sneezer salad for lunch – you know, I always aim to sneeze. I went for a drink and had an argument with a friend. I said it was possible for the best driver in the world to have an accident. He said it wasn’t. Neither could win; it was like playing solitaire with an incomplete deck. I walked home. On the way, I slipped down a hill: just one of the unpleasant slide effects of shoes with poor souls.

On Tuesday, I saw an ex girlfriend in the supermarket fondling cabbage. That sentence could be read two ways, so to be clear: she was the one fondling the cabbage. I don’t do that sort of thing, sticking with nobler produce to fiddle with and finger. We went to a super special place with donuts and hung out for a while. We were into each other but we couldn’t have sex since she had a least infection. I didn’t get why it was a big deal. I figured it was a minor thing at most.

On Wednesday I got a radical new haircut and no one noticed – weird that people aren’t closely following my hairstyles. That evening, angry about my anonymity, I bought an intravenous flytrap, stuck it in my arm and sat back on my footstool to ride out the buzz. Sobering up, I spent a while online. Lots of spam. The most impressive subject line: Robotic Surgery Lawsuit. Have you or anyone you know ever had it? Cause we can help you sue, if you have. Interesting, though I find the simple, direct emails like Slutfinder, and Localshag have a certain succinct charm that can’t be beat.

not lupusThursday was a bad day. I hid under the covers all morning, worrying about the blood in my phlegm till I remembered I’d had beetroot juice for breakfast. I went out to clear my bed. ‘You can get it cheaper in Australia,’ I heard, passing two people on the sidewalk. I wondered what it might be. I ate dinner alone in a new restaurant. Sign read: Proudly serving whole brain breads! I passed, opting for the pasta, then listened to the conversations scurrying about around me: ‘I’ve had mantis shrimp maybe a dozen times, but I’ve never had the opportunity to eat a pregnant female.’

Friday, I got a high paying job as the CEO of a large chain of command. Coming back from the interview I went to the station to take the train but it seemed to never come. I read through the paper while I waited. A captivating headline on page C5: One in four Flemish Belgians thinks their partner stinks. I waited an hour until a nice lady with big biceps came over and said: ‘You do know this is a tranny station, don’t you?’ I took a cab.

Saturday, I stopped by a friend to check my email cause my service has been disgruntled for over a day. ‘Go right ahead,’ he said. ‘Laptop’s in the kitchen.’ I didn’t want to stay in there long. He has bread bugs, and he’s got them bad. He’d left a Google page up with an open search for ‘vagina in Latvian.’ I didn’t ask, opening a new window. She’d sent me an email. She was staying at a nearby hotel. ‘I just got back, she wrote. ‘Call me in my womb.’ So I did and went over. Warm in there. Her problem had cleared up so we got sexy. Later she admitted that she’d thought about work the entire time. Well, for a short while she’d also thought about them cloning a woolly mammoth soon. That was when she’d shouted ‘YES! YES! YES! That’s so fucking awesome!’

Sunday I just wanted to chill and watch movies. Mongolian Death Worm, Fragrant Night Vampire, and Robot Geisha were my choices on cable, so I immediately ordered toilet pay per view – a messy channel – but it’s always done the job. In the afternoon, I baked a cake. Unfortunately I misread the recipe and used Yeats, instead of yeast to make it rise. It was a wonderfully poetic, articulate cake, an epic cake, but in the end, it was hard to digest.

By EM Vireo

Drop 119: Cup of Tea

I go to make a cup of tea. When I’m about to switch on the kettle, I see the power strip it feeds off is busted. Piece of the plastic’s broken off the plug, exposing wire. Unsafe. Needs replacement. I can fix it myself so I pop out to the hardware store, get a new plug head, buy a new 4 socket strip too, since the house needs it. I get the toolbox out. It’s a mess. Repacking it I realize the thin screwdriver’s missing. Could use a different one but I look around. Find it in the cutlery drawer. Drab brown rusty thing. I get to work. Free the wires, brown, green and blue from the old head and replace them in the new. Screw the pieces back together, good to go. But I figure I should use the new 4 plug board instead. Would be nice to have the toaster, juicer, microwave and kettle plugged in at once. Have to move the heavy fridge to make the switch. Socket’s behind it. Plenty of dirt under it too, which I pick, sweep, and mop up. Give the old icebox a good rub down too while I’m at it. Interior too, going through the jars and tubes to toss the expired ones. I rearrange the rest. Fridge back in place, the new strip’s an eyesore. Nowhere to rest easy. Too long to fit on the counter like the old one. It won’t do. Back to the hardware store for supplies. I get a new thin screwdriver too. Nice red and black one. Spend some time mounting the extension block on the wall, running its cable neatly behind the fridge, along the bottom of the cupboard with ties so it looks neat. Good. Job done. Of course, now I have the old 3-way adapter to play with. I know just where I could use it, but I have to move the couch and lamp, and hang the three large photos elsewhere. The wall is concrete and I need to drill new holes. Perfect, but it makes the TV console seem too tall. I try it against two other walls before I move it to another room. I quickly pop out to by a longer, lower one, which i build in a jiffy. The TV looks great on it but makes the speakers look odd. I replace them with the smaller ones from the bedroom, which takes some rewiring. I need to drill two small tunnels clear through the wall near the door frame to feed them in. Just a small spackle and paint job and voila, done.

I go to the kitchen and switch on the kettle. And that’s how you make a cup of tea.

By E.M. Vireo

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