Herman’s dad was a larger but somehow ganglier version of his son. He was extremely expansive in my exotic presence, or perhaps it was just that the flat was so small. Little did Herman, his dad or myself know, though, that soon – after a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong in its taxis, its ferries, its herky-jerk buses – I would send through this tiny, Asiatically tidy apartment the convulsions of my being very sick. For the moment, though, I was unimpeachable.
And then Herman took my hand and whisked me around Hong Kong – its neon splendour, its range of hot pot hovels. It was in one of these hovels I’m sure, in retrospect, I met my gastrointestinal fate. I vaguely remember the faces of Herman’s friends ranged around the bubbling cauldron, and it was as much the reassurance that these faces radiated as the booze, the lethargy and my culminating culture shock that accounted for my hoeing unthinkingly down to the meats which, though seconds ago crystallized with frost, emerged appealingly browned from the water. “Bring on the meat platters,” I may as well have shrieked as a tongue-in-cheek salute to Western immoderation – may have, had my mouth not been unceasingly crammed with its uncooked cornucopia of beef, of pork, of shrimp. What I was doing, dear reader, was lathering my gut-bound cinder-block of beer with a mortar of meats. I was lost, disoriented, and comfort-eating myself into extreme discomfit.
The towers of the city stood before me now as I sat in a sweat on a ferry. We were headed, Herman and I, to some other island – Hong Kong is all islands, inlets and estuaries when it’s not high-rises, strip malls and escalators – but only one of us was headed for disaster as I straddled, like the cowboy at the end of ‘Dr. Strangelove’, a nuclear bomb, a biohazard in my bowels. Herman had continued to gesticulate and find in me, instead of the sought-after bright conviviality, in-drawn dismay: I was going to keep this a secret all night, and, once at the flat and tucked neatly underneath my eiderdown, I would slumber away all the pain in my stomach and awake to a fresh new day. A day, I hoped (as I was swarmed from all quarters by masses of people, the Hong Kongese), when, for example, the concrete embankment which obliterated the view from the flat’s few windows would, rather than fill me with a sense of dread, fill me instead with true wonder and whimsy; a day when, rather than balk at the smell of a street-vendor’s wares, their olfactory offense, I would pause on the street and, after a whiff, buy the chicken’s feet or the dolphin’s uvula; a day when the charm of being crushed en masse on a ferry would become, all at once, quite apparent.
The next day I found myself under the eiderdown and no less indisposed. The feeling in my gut was much worse, in fact; but I’d committed to my secret, and so when Herman’s dad suggested that the four of us – he, Herman, Herman’s grandma and a now conspicuously clammy me – gather together for a Yum Cha tea, I found myself unable to decline his generous offer. And besides (I said to myself, or rather my stomach), Yum Cha was safe; I’d had it numerous times back at home, hadn’t I? In the war being waged between my mind and my innards, Yum Cha seemed like neutral territory.
And then we got to the restaurant, and what arrived at our table were not spring rolls or the steadfast dim sum, those dependable packages, but indefinable, pustular atrocities the texture of gastro itself. I excused myself and adjourned to the bathroom to upturn the contents of my stomach in a stall. On returning I said I was tired or full, and called it an early night.
The next day I sat valiantly watching ‘Mission Impossible 3’ with Herman in an Cinemaplex in the CBD. So what if I hadn’t actually improved? It was nothing that mind-over-matter couldn’t overcome. Still, though, the cinema screens in Hong Kong are vertiginous in scale and vividness, and after a title sequence that followed, at hectic speed, a diminishing fuse (at whose conclusion I was convinced there would be, if I didn’t act quickly, a detonation either out my mouth or in my pants), I excused myself again and exited the cinema in desperate, urgent need of a latrine. I raced toward a toilet down the hall, but it was being cleaned. I scampered to the floor above, but it was toiletless. Inwardly dying, I left the building entirely, staggered through an onrush of people over a zebra crossing, finally entered another shopping mall and searched in vain for an empty toilet. And then, while ascending an unending escalator, I subjected those folk on the downward climb to the spontaneous occasion of a true projectile vomit, one which continued till I fell, depleted, in a slump in an empty corridor somewhere. BUT HOW DID I SURVIVE SUCH A SERIES OF EVENTS???
Just you wait till Part Three!!!