Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Apartment living

The other day I was going to hang out the clothes when I found that I'd been sent a present from the gods. Caught on the clothes line was an iron bracket just the right size to hang a candle lantern from the grill on the window.

I haven't passed on the blessing in like form; the underwear below came from our house. It's remarkable how long it takes for a clothes pin to clatter 18 storeys down.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lack of Thanksgiving

I’m sitting at the ferry pier, looking over at the big cruise ships, drinking a pint of Stella and thinking about not having Thanksgiving. I don’t mean deciding not to have Thanksgiving, but what has already happened – I didn’t get Thanksgiving this year. I didn’t have Thanksgiving because at Canadian Thanksgiving no one like Elizabeth said, let’s have all the Canadians over to your house, it’s the biggest. And no one invited us over. And there are too many people to do all-acad invitations. And it was too hot to think of baking. So there was no Thanksgiving. Now American Thanksgiving has come and gone as well.

All weekend I thought of those I know in North America. I thought of the first Thanksgiving dinner I ever made. My dad, Doug, Tymi and Gary were there. I religiously consulted the “How to Make a Thanksgiving” scribbler my mom had filled for me with shopping lists, recipes and time lines. Before that was the first Thanksgiving abroad in France; one I ate with Bradley and Shelby and all hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Gutekunst so we wouldn’t feel homesick. It was perfect down to the accordion-folded tissue paper turkey from Hallmark. There was the Thanksgiving I made in Korea. Shelby was at that one, too and I made him eat pumpkin pie. We made everything one thing at a time in a toaster oven we got at our wedding. And then of course were the Thanksgiving dinners in Turkey. They were the best dinners ever for friendship, abundance of food drink and laughter, both the Canadian ones at our house and the American at Michelle’s.

Over the years I’ve learned the rhythm of the dinner, the chilling of the cranberry sauce, when to make the pie and peel the potatoes how to cope when there are no mixes and how to cope when there are. Seventeen years of practice, usually twice or three times a year, two Thanksgivings and a Christmas, to get the turkey dinner figured out. It is the only domestic task I feel that I’ve perfected. I don’t mean it’s always perfect (because there are always lumps in the gravy,) but I do prefer my candied yams, stuffing and pumpkin pies to anyone else’s. Ingrid’s brussel sprouts are the best, though.

It’s a school night; we don’t have enough plates; I was sure they have other plans, I hadn’t gotten paid yet. Truth is, I didn’t know how missing it would be like. There we were on Thursday evening having smoked turkey and cheese sandwiches for supper. Sure, we could have gone out for a turkey dinner at a bunch of places in town, but what it comes down to is that we didn’t. I wish I could describe for you the dislocation in time and place that comes from missing Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just a symptom of not knowing where I am, but over the weekend I thought repeatedly of all of you sitting down to dinner either just now or last month. It makes me wonder how much I’ve given up and what I think I’ll gain from the sacrifice. What essential and lonely questions come from an absence of cranberry sauce.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dark Things

Their life story and the history of the world,
Dark things seem to stir feebly in there,
Each were written by the same hand,
In the awful green a bird hangs limp in a snare.

Paths follow along the water’s way,
A clump of trees makes a waiting spot
Danger catches the eye in a red altar,
And incense stands where they rested and fought.

It was something that could only happen to others,
Quietly to their own gods, they swear.
She is tired of the story of herself,
Words hang hotly in the air.

A line of sticks is split and drying,
Echoes of conversations walking by with beer,
The air is heavy and holds onto her,
There is so much unspoken that she must fear.

The air is heavy and moves with her,
Words hang hotly in the air,
A clump of trees makes a shady spot,
Dark things start to stir feebly somewhere.

September 21, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rosemead, California

I miss an Islamic skyline. I miss the call to prayer. I miss the silhouette of minarets against a sunset. Sometimes I can hear the bells from the Trappist monastery over the hill, but only when the ferry isn’t coming in or the buses aren’t starting their route. The things that are ubiquitous here are less beautiful and less sensual. In the same way you couldn’t give directions, “It’s next to the mosque” in Turkey, you can’t give directions by Seven-Elevens. Every corner has one for buying noodles for breakfast, fish balls for snack, to charge up your Octopus cash card, to pay your phone or electric bill, to buy the beers you can drink at any park or playground.

Here’s a picture from Discovery Bay, the suburbs where I live. If you look closely you can see helpers from the Philippines herding kids around and Brits with tables full of empties in front of Seven-Eleven. In the evening the lights that are embedded in the plaza floor sparkle with changing color lights. There are orchids hung in pots from the trees and crested myna birds that sound so loud and sudden in the trees, you’d think that they were taped bird song.

I don't think it looks like Hong Kong here. It’s landscaped, groomed and new like Disneyland. It’s easy to feel like you’re in Rosemead, CA just a road or two from Chinatown in a new subdivision. I think there is exotic under the skin. I think I may see it soon. I know there is wild just around the edges.

Mutiny on the Bounty

The city was nonchalant this morning. Each building looked with blank face towards the harbour while a red sun rose over the peaks and between the buildings: the HSBC, the Bank of China building and the IFC high above them all. I wasn’t feeling so jaded because soon after the passage where the full container ships steam off towards the open sea, we passed the Bounty. It wasn’t the 1787 original Bounty which was sent with breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies of course. But it was the full-scale replica! For you who know movies, it was built in ’79 for the movie The Bounty featuring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. I had my peanut butter and jam breakfast in one hand and missed the picture, but its flags were flying along the rigging and it was beautiful in the red light. She’s going to be in the Central pier during December and then will eventually be berthed right here in my suburb. I think it'll be just off the pier so we can look at her while we eat mediocre Mexican food to the sound of a mariachi band.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The first thing is the commute

Every time I get a new notebook, after writing my name on the front and flipping through the pages, feeling their tooth, I want to put something cool on that first page. Maybe I'll copy down a quote or maybe I'll glue in a picture that will set the tone for that notebook. But invariably my printing looks immature, the picture is not centred or most often, I write something pretentious and dumb to begin. Every notebook I spoil in the same way. So this blog is really intimidating to start.

Here I am living in Hong Kong, or sort of living in Hong Kong. There are so many things I want to tell about adjusting to being here and not needing to adjust because it's so much like California. But this first post has me stymied. So, I guess I'd better start with the commute.
I've never liked boats really, but taking the ferry across the Hong Kong harbor each morning and afternoon is my favourite part of the day. In the morning the mist is sleepy on all the mini-cargo ships that wait to unload the big ones. Even the dogs on the decks are lying still and waiting for the day to begin. The water is still silver. Besides the anchored ships and the ferries I watch every morning for the little island that has egrets perched in the tree tops and I watch the black kites circling and diving for fish.
I always sit with the kids in the same place, as do all the regular commuters. We recognize all of them and no one who usually rides that ferry sits in our seats. We'd started doing it posh (port outbound, starboard home) but there were some annoying teenagers from the Swiss German school, so we moved to the starboard side for our trip to school. That means that every day I ride along the waterfront and see the sun coming through between the skyline of Central.
This picture, though, is of the way home. The ferry I usually take is open on the top deck and that makes it glorious. The water changes as water does telling the story of the sky's day. I'd expected that. But the whole city does the same.