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Hong Kong, Part 1 – The Concrete Jungle

There was a very respectable and responsible reason we ended up in the Walled City of Kowloon.  Because that’s where the good cocaine was. 

At least, that’s what Gary, my laconnic and wayward pal, insisted at the time. “I know a guy.”

Upon hearing “I know a guy,” I should have put the brakes on immediately.  Nothing good happens when someone knows a guy. 

But, I wanted the coke.  So we went to the Walled City about which I knew nothing. 

I should have asked first but waited until we were half-way there before hitting up Gary for, what turned out to be, the dreadful reality of place.

The first thing he told me was the place was commonly referred to as “The City of Darkness” and things could get “a little rough by the local standards.”

“So, let me get this straight.  We’re already in a violent town, we don’t speak the language, we’re sticking out like two stupid round eyes and going to a place called the City of Darkness where things could get a little rough.  Have I captured the salient points?”

“Sounds about right,” he said way too casually for my liking. 

“Great. Fantastic.  What could possibly go wrong?  Other than being kidnapped and forced to work 28 hours a day making fake Rolex watches or, just on principle, being shot in the face, this’ll be a fun little nature walk. What the hell are we getting ourselves into? May I ask you a very serious and timely question?”

“Yup.”

“How good’s the coke?”

“You’ll see.”

I immediately felt better. 

Just to give you perspective on Kowloon’s Walled City, it was so horrific that the Chinese government had it demolished a few years after my visit. The whole city.  Gone. And, replaced by a park where you can walk your dog. 

According to Gary, it seems someone built a rectangular concrete wall. I’m guessing he was drunk at the time because I’ve seen two year olds draw better rectangles. The wall was about 13′ high, ran 700′ by 400′ and was built to provide protection from the typhoons. 

If you’re looking for protection from typhoons then you’d think a roof would have come in handy at this point but my guess is the guy who built the wall finally sobered up, looked around at his creation and had a lightning-bolt of an epiphany. Probably something along the lines of, “What the fuck am I doing?”

Then he went home. 

Shortly thereafter, according to Gary, the government  decided it was time to take action. Whether it was the British government or the Chinese government was a mystery.  It doesn’t really matter because one fundamental principle remains true regardless of nationality, race, sex, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, lifestyle or culture and it is simply this: 

If the government gets involved then the whole thing is going to go sideways and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Were it my shot to call, I’d go one of two ways:

  1. Tell the guy who built the wall to come back and make it go away. 
  2. Hire someone to put a roof on it on accounta the typhoons. 

Well, the government officials, who’d also been hitting the sauce hard for a few months, decided let people build a city within the wall. In an area no larger than 280,000 square feet. A whole city. There ain’t no “Suburbs of the Walled City” because there is a wall where the suburbs would have started. 

You see where I’m going with this. 

Your first question is probably, “Okaaaay, who is going to want to actually live within a wall with no roof that was built because of all the typhoons?”

Morons.

Morons would have been my first answer, too, but, having been in the place, I didn’t spot any.  Any morons, that is. I guess Hong Kong didn’t have many morons. 

What Hong Kong did have was drug dealers, rapists, addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, gamblers, pimps, gang members, murderers and convicts on the run.  Oh, they had plenty of those and they all moved to the Walled City of Kowloon.

Remember, within this rectangular wall you’ve only got 280,000 square feet to play with. If you allocate each person a 6′ by 6′ area, then you’ve got room for a little over 7,500 people.  The actual number of people living inside the wall eventually went over 50,000. Think of being in the pit of a Bruce Springsteen concert except you’re there for four decades instead of four hours.

This is where both governments really stepped in decisively by refusing to assume any responsibility for this disaster and sending memos to each other saying, “I’m not taking it.  You take it.” I guess they came to the very sensible agreement of pretending it wasn’t there in the first place. 

The city residents probably should have hired an outside architectural consulting firm to work out ways to build nice high-rise condos. They decided to go DIY all the way. Yet again, massive alcohol intake must have been involved when it came to the vertical expansion because you had this tangled mess of rooms teetering on top of each other up to 150 feet high. The tops of these buildings were being held in place by leaning on the building next to them. In a place that gets hit with typhoons.

Here’s my favourite part of this whole catastrophe.  The wacky Hong Kong city planners decided something that transcends alcohol abuse.  These people must have been living on a strict diet of pure heroin, speedballs, LSD, paint thinner and angel dust.  There could not be any other reason behind making the decision to put an AIRPORT a half mile away from this mess of high-rise buildings.

Airplanes were probably flying thirty feet over these buildings in an attempt to land or take-off without killing anyone. 

That’s the history as I understood it at the time. 

Getting anywhere in Hong Kong was always a nightmare. The island part made Manhattan look like Boise, Idaho.  And, it was getting mighty crowded as we approached the pretty little town called the City of Darkness on the mainland. We were in the middle of a mosh pit.  It was getting difficult to move. 

Now, I don’t mind fear. I kinda like it. I have a fear of heights. Always have.  My way of dealing with it is to go sky-diving, zip-lining, parasailing and hot air ballooning.  But, I was seriously scared and not enjoying the experience. 

“Uh, Gary.  We don’t seem to be moving.  I think we’re stuck here permanently or until someone kidnaps us and forces us to work 49 hours a day making fake Gucci purses….”

“Stop. Just stop.”

I had no sense of relief once we finally entered the Walled City.  Actually, I had no sense at all because the place itself made absolutely no sense. The locals were, at least, a foot shorter than I was and they were all scrambling, shoulder-to-shoulder, in random directions like 1,000 cats on adderall and anabolic steroids. The buildings were separated by a maximum of three feet and water was pouring down the sides of them. There was a maze of small tunnels and alleys all of which smelled like spilled bong water.  It kind of reminded me of my freshman college dorm room.  

We were moving at a pretty good clip which was a challenge because it was dark and the walkways were built for people under 5’4″. I was staggering along hitting my head on drain pipes, concrete ceilings, door frames, light fixtures, cross beams and all sorts of wires hanging from the ceiling.  Plus, I kept tripping over everything so I started lifting my feet higher when walking which resulted in me stepping on things like rodents, dogs and little old ladies. I ended up walking like a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and Igor from Young Frankenstein except I was dancing around trying not to step on someone’s grandmother. 

“You’re sure this is the right place.  I mean, you’re really, really sure we’re not going to get kidnapped and forced OUCH!!!”  I had hit my head on a flower pot that was stuck on the ceiling. “What the hell is a flower pot doing…”

Gary interrupted, “Shut up. Be cool. Try blending in, Scooter.  Everyone keeps looking at you.” 

“Try blending in?!?!  The only reason they’re staring at me  is because they need a center for the basketball team.  They’re probably going to kidnap me and force me to play basketball 361 hours a day just so….”

“Would…you…please…SHUT…THE…FUCK…UP? Now, wait here. I gotta go upstairs and score and there’s no way we’re getting shit if YOU’RE anywhere near me. Don’t wander off too far.  Oh, don’t make eye contact with anyone. They serve great dog meat over there if you’re hungry. Tah-tah.”

I stepped backwards to put my back against a building but not before hitting my head on some bricks where the bottom of the second floor of the building stuck out over the first floor. 

I looked around. 

It wasn’t chaos I was watching.  It wasn’t even lunacy. It went well beyond that.  This was a city that caused your frontal cortex to stop and just go black. It defied intellect. It was a city that made it impossible to think. I was in the fight-or-flight part of my brain but quickly realized I was screwed either way so I just stood and watched. 

Gary ran up a ladder as I continued looking around.  Brothels everywhere. Tons of opium dens. Gambling parlors. There was, of course, Dogmeat R Us. People scattered on the ground in various states of drug withdrawal.  Enough sex trafficking to feed the Russian Army. Masses of pickpockets running around. Pimps getting in scuffles with other pimps.  And, a Pentacostal Church.

That last sentence is not a mistake.

There were a couple round-eyed white women leading a room full of locals in singing some sort of very serious and quiet hymn.  The song started in English and ended up with everyone going into random psycho-babble. And, they kept babbling. Some were jumping up and down. Others were falling, getting back up and flailing around for a while before falling down again.  A few were laughing, dancing and crying all at the same time. Then they all got ecstatic. At the same time. Deliriously, so. 

It was a room full of around 40 people going off the rails. 

My first thought? “This is fucked up.”

Second thought? “This is totally fucked up.”

Now, here’s the strange part. No one, other than me, noticed. It wasn’t like there was a closed door.  There were these forty-odd people piled on top of each other flailing around screaming in ecstatic baby-talk and no one batted an eye. The masses just kept walking past this place with facial expressions that said, “I wonder if I’ll have duck sauce on my dog-meat taco today.”

Just as quickly as it started, it ended and they went back to singing the same hymn that started this riot in the first place.  The round-eyed women were putting their palms on the people singing presumably to take their temperatures. It would have made for a great Lithium commercial. “As a doctor, I recommend Lithium to all my patients otherwise they’ll go bat-shit crazy like these nut-jobs in that church.”

I tried not to stare. I really did but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t intend to but I made eye-contact with one of the round-eyed women so I gave her my standard plastic smile but received no acknowledgement. Instead she summoned the other round-eye over so both could stare at me. One of them, looking very displeased,  started marching directly towards me. I wasn’t sure what was up her silo but I figured she’d tell me soon enough.

“You’re the press.” She wasn’t asking. 

“Uh, me? Press? Uh, no. Definitely not. No. Okay. Actually, my colleague is upstairs at the moment trying to score some blow and I came along just to pick up a couple dog-meats on rye.”

“You expect me to believe that.”  Still not asking and looking quite stern.

“Uh, yeah. My previous statement, as I reflect upon it,  was made on an expectation-free basis and is, in fact, accurate except I’m thinking of giving the dog-meat sandwiches a miss.  But, definitely not the press. My current ambition is to get the hell out of here very soon.”

She looked around briefly and said, “You better come with me.” She grabbed my arm and led me to the room where forty people just had simultaneous orgasms. 

“I’m Jackie.” She still looked annoyed. 

“I’m mystified.”

“Your name.” Still not asking.  She sounded Australian. Or, British. 

“Mine? Uh, yes. Right. Wait, it’ll come to me. Uh, Drew, actually. I mean not ‘Drew Actually.’  Just Drew. I actually need to stop saying actually all the time. May I ask a question?”

No answer.  Just raised eye-brows.

“What just happened in here?”

She paused. “So you’re not just here to be demeaning and cruel?” Finally, a question somewhat in the form of a question but one that surprised me. 

“No. Not at all. No. Just wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I was watching and wondering what in the world was going on.”

She almost smiled. “It WASN’T of this world.”

Well that really narrows it down, thanks a lot, Sweetheart. (I didn’t say that. I just thought it.)

“Oh.”

“We can discuss while you wait for your colleague.”

“Oh, him. Yeah. As I said, he’s completing a, uh, little transaction. His attorneys are probably reviewing the paperwork as we speak.  He should be back once the contracts are notarized.”

Almost a smile again as she motioned towards a couple chairs. 

We sat down. 

She was ready to explain.

And, I was ready to listen. 

—— END OF PART ONE —– 

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