Wild River Review art by Christopher McCauley


Hong Kong Diary: Fever Dreams

It’s three a.m. in Hong Kong – the witching hour for global profiteers and fellow world travelers. Go figure what time it is wherever you are. We flew in the night before last on the 5:10 p.m. arrival from Chicago via Philly, except we arrived at 7 — what’s another two hours to a fifteen-hour flight? A pesky solar storm had thrown us off our normal polar route and gave us a dozen MRI’s worth of gamma-ray exposure — for free! Then there was the typhoon bearing down on Taiwan on its way to Shanghai — where I’m bound in three days – that required evasive action as we crossed its path. All par for the course with glamorous world travel. Right now, though, there’s evasive action in my hotel bathroom as I bear down on the toilet bowl with a classic case of "Ming’s Revenge." ‘Twas a mushroom burger killed the global privateer – that’s me – and this is my blog.

I have made this trip – as I do several times a year – to meet with contacts who ply me with furniture, garden statuary, giftware and other gewgaws that I then sell to retailers and mail-order catalogs back home by the container-load. Face Time is not just a cliché. It’s an absolute necessity for success in any social, political or business endeavor in Asia. And I need lots of face right now with several errant suppliers who owe my customers lots of merchandise, and who owe me lots of cash in the form of sales commissions, which is how a global profiteer earns his keep. If I succeed, I’ll live to fight another selling season. And if I fail? It’s a long walk back to Philly.

So it pays to be at the top of one’s game on the eve of such tough meetings, and a sleepless night of fever dreams with a now-empty stomach is not a formula for success. How could I have known that I’d wind up spending face time with my hotel toilet? Not good, especially since later this morning I will certainly get on the KCR train to Guangzhou to meet two suppliers, no matter how topsy my tummy. And the next day I’ll certainly make the border crossing at Lo Wu in Shenzhen and get in a battered Jinbei van for a dusty two-hour ride to Zhang Mu Tou and another meeting. After that, a flight to Shanghai, as I traipse down our global economy’s new and improved version of the Silk Road. But first I’ll have to survive the night.

I spent an uneventful first night at the Royal Garden Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East and had meetings in the morning of my first day, followed by a working lunch at the Regal Kowloon Hotel’s L.A. Brasserie, a room on the mezzanine level purporting to serve authentic American food. Then, another meeting, and a quick workout at the gym followed by drinks at Martini’s and then … and then … teppanyaki dinner with colleagues. Except that during the onslaught of shrimp, lobster, sashimi and Kobe beef tips, I began to revisit lunch. Or rather, it revisited me.

I stepped away from the tableside grill-top to clear my head and up comes a morsel from down below. No matter, there was global trade to pursue, so back to teppanyaki for me -- until I just couldn’t sit there any longer. I couldn’t even finish the yummy New Zealand Pinot Noir selected by yours truly specially for the meal.

And so to bed, in denial of my dire condition. Down and out in a dead sleep by 10:30 – a personal Hong Kong record. But there would be no gloating on this the night of the Great Evacuation.

The brain is an amazing instrument, capable of both denial and a swift and unequivocal survival impulse. So it was, that having assured me that everything would be fine after a good night’s sleep, my brain snapped me awake at midnight and instructed me to go NOW to the bathroom.

I bolted from my bed straight to the toilet where I unleashed … well, let’s call it excellent blogging material. And there, right straight from out of my mouth was the offending item: a mushroom, completely intact since lunch. However, the black clock had to strike another three times before my brain and belly would finally agree on their evacuation policy and permit me to return to bed.

Alas, like luckless Scrooge on that cold Christmas Eve so long ago, this global profiteer was not yet finished with visitations. Asleep anew for only an hour, I was again summoned to the jakes, this time for its originally intended purpose. Oh the pain, the degradation, the Chinese toilet paper, the harbor-sourced seawater for flush action. Oh, the … you get the picture.

Back again to bed, and again they began: fever dreams borne of nausea, dehydration, jet lag, and the giddy exhilaration of the certainty that I was going to die in some soulless speck on the map 8,000 miles from home, and with poopy pants at that, if I wasn't very, very careful.

Sunsets raced across my field of vision, and long-dead friends and family beckoned for a reunion, An old lover at my bedside with a compress for my burning flanks. Me at my old Smith-Corona in college days, words leaping from my fingertips onto a parchment computer screen. Hanging on the corner back in the old Philly neighborhood on a sultry August day with a Frank’s Ginger Ale and a Tastykake. Rosters and lineups from Philly’s glory-day teams. Weird segues, oddball connections, lists upon lists, psychedelic epiphanies flying around me (Aha! That’s why Ozark didn’t pull Luzinski in the ninth!). Sexual liaisons and romances botched, fantasies unfulfilled, opportunities lost.

And under it all, the taste of mushrooms and ground beef, and the desperate knowledge that I have to be on a train bound for Guangzhou at 8 a.m. for more profiteering. And what if I can’t? What if the maid finds me in the morning, a la Mama Cass Elliot? What if I am Cass Elliot? What if I fail? That wakes me up again. I beg the gods of commerce: No more dreams. I’ll barf all you want, but please: No more dreams.

So it’s three a.m., the witching hour for global profiteers, fellow world travelers and now… wide-awake bloggers. Almost time to put my face on. Cheers!

The Professor

The Professor

bio: The Professor, as he is known to legions of business contacts throughout Asia, has been traveling to Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region since late in the last millennium. He is a native of Philadelphia, PA and maintains his permanent residence there. His poetry, fiction, interviews and articles have been published by Philadelphia-area newspapers, magazines and anthologies, and he is currently planning another trip abroad. He is shown here at left, about to join the Maclehose Trail in Sai Kung.