Original: 31 December 2001 http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sktsang.com%2FRF%2FRT311(revised now with a twist).
K headed north, up the hill. It was a tourist city of famous terrain, with the old town sprawling from the peak downwards. “Seven forty-five in the morning!” K murmured to himself and yawned, shivering somewhat. The temperature must be only 10 or 12 degrees Celsius. Street-side stores were however already thriving, with all sorts of food and souvenir on the offer. He could feel it in the air. After making a few turns, the slope became relatively steep. “Oi-yee should try this,” K thought.
K looked at the detailed street map from the hotel, a year-1999 version. Things shouldn’t have changed too much in 2001, anyway. He yawned again. “But where is the Lotus Temple?” Which was supposed to be on the left turn of a sidewalk beyond the half-hill mark. There was the Fotu Street, which, according to the map, lied way north of the half-hill mark. “Well, forget it. Why bother.” K was in a better mood now. He glanced at his watch: 8:07am.
He turned around, and saw the harbour view down there. He did study the guide books before they started their winter vacation. The morning haze was still floating amidst the clusters of old and modern structures and buildings. He tried to identify some of them. One he wouldn’t miss was the Oriental Palace Hotel. The fabulous beach on the outer rim was also visible. What a pretty sight! “Where is Oi-yee jogging now?” K began to enjoy his first trip to this place that Oi-yee said he must come.
Something suddenly seemed to cross him with thundering speed. He watched around. Things looked quite normal, except the dog that had followed him went away with no good reasons. It was probably a few naughty boys rushing by. There were so many kids. Well, every tourist has his following dogs and kids, until they are convinced that the pursuit has been fruitless. Ha, Ha! What’s the fuss?
K shifted his attention uphill again. The slope was even steeper, and hence more challenging. “I didn’t have enough sleep, having flown these long hours. Why did Oi-yee insist on the late flight?” To gain more day-time pleasure for tourism, of course. “It’s supposed to be a time to relax.” K was slightly unhappy.
As K wrangled with these thoughts, the landscape around him became more familiar. Wasn’t there the school? And the small park next to it? The brownish complex and the greenish pasture were parts of his permanent memories.
“They can’t be,” K said to himself. The school he had in mind was the one he attended way back in his secondary education, in a place quite far away, although also in Southeast Asia. Further south, that is. It was a very hot and humid city, with a similar terrain.
“Silly me! Nostalgia so soon? Oi-yee and I don’t come here if it is not cooler, in the winter at least,” K affirmed whilst making further efforts up the hill.
There was the Pavilion! A sense of satisfaction swamped K. It was the best viewing point of the old town, as far as he remembered what the guide books said. He quickly walked to it, his feet almost feeling nothing. Surprisingly, he was not mobbed by the well-advertised sellers of postcards and souvenirs. “I’m having a break. Maybe it’s too early.” His watch told him it was half past eight.
He began to feel pressed, though, because he promised to return to the Oriental Palace Hotel at a quarter to nine and Oi-yee had planned a full-day programme ahead, after her shower post jogging. He took a look at the harbour and then rushed downhill. Before turning around, he saw something that he couldn’t comprehend, the harbour view of his home city. “Damn, I’ve not really wakened up.”
With hindsight, K should have planned his downhill journey better, exactly because he hadn’t had enough time. But K chose to rely on his instinct. He didn’t consult the street map. He couldn’t find it anyway. “Where is the map?” K had no idea when and where he lost it.
K was in his mid-forties. Although he taught in a university, he was not noted for his intellectual ability, particularly in a time of stress. Oi-yee, in contrast, was sharp and energetic. She was 18 years younger than K.
“Where’s the Oriental Palace Hotel?” After making several turns that he thought would lead him to the simple destination, K had to ask for help. But the environment around him changed as rapidly as his own heart beat. The street side food stalls had all disappeared. Instead, he found a cluster of temporary shelters in which people were living in abject conditions. Many were cooking outside their homes using wood of all sorts in crude ovens. Youngsters ran around on muddy paths without shoes. Moreover, they all had rather darkish bodily features. “This is a sub-tropical area, not an equatorial one. What has happened to this famous tourist city?” K wondered. Nobody cared to respond to him, as if he were transparent. He felt increasingly uneasy.
Finally he emerged from the chaos. “Ah, that’s it!”
Across the shambles, there was a very impressive shopping mall of grotesque shape. The name of the open street, Oriental Avenue, was where the Oriental Palace Hotel was located. K looked at the clock outside the mall. “Good Lord! It’s 9:30am. Oi-yee must be cursing me.”
But at least he was in recognisable territory. “I’m really ageing. Why should I have gone into that horrible area? Why can’t I even make a simple round trip?”
Without the street map, K decided to make a left turn in a dash to the hotel. People around were of the normal features he was expecting, whiter in skin, but they were all strangely dressed. “Who would wear those colours in winter? Dear me!” Those colours were reddish or greenish but all shiny. Anyway, K didn’t have time to analyse, until he was almost knocked down at a crossroads by a car. Baaa…….! So he was horned at by an unfamiliar sound, which was like that of a robot, half human, half machine. He could not understand why because he hadn’t seen any traffic lights.
Eventually K arrived at a place that, to the best of his intellectual ability and geographical sense, must be where the Oriental Palace Hotel was. The harbour was just a few blocks away, as he remembered.
Instead, there stood an office building that almost shot up to the clouds. In front of it was a kiosk selling newspaper and trivialities. He panicked. He couldn’t recall seeing the kiosk last night when Oi-yee and he checked into the hotel. Nor this morning. He put his right hand into the pocket of his jacket, only to find that he was not wearing any jacket at all. “Where is the hotel key? And my mobile?”
K looked around, totally nonplused. “Where am I?” He approached the kiosk, and saw a man there. He was in his 30’s, but dressed in a metallic clothing of sort, bright green. That in winter, again?
“Hi, can you please tell me where the Oriental Palace Hotel is?” K said to the man. “What?” “The Oriental Palace Hotel.” The man looked puzzled. He turned to another guy, who was actually lying low inside the kiosk. He rose, and appeared like the father. “The Oriental Palace Hotel?” “Yes,” K responded, checking his watch. “What sort of watch is this? Anyway, oh no! It’s almost ten!”
“The hotel was here, but was pulled down twenty years ago,” said the father. “Maybe thirty years. Why?”
“Thirty years ago! You must be kidding.” K became annoyed. “What year is it now?”
They laughed, as if an accidental tourist could have asked such a silly question. “It is ’66,” said the son in the bright green outfit.
“1966? Oh, come on!” K retorted, losing patience. A moment of silence followed. And then the rude answer, “2066! Of course! Where’re you from?” Both the father and the son stared dismissively at him.
K wandered around the main streets aimlessly. It was a world that he could no longer recognise. The knowledge he had gained from the guide books was of little use. The Mokka Square was there, but so unlike the pictures he had seen. Nor was the Cathedral, which should be by the side of a park. People were not responsive at all. He didn’t even dare to ask questions. “It must be a bad dream,” he told himself many times. In any case, he couldn’t find his hotel key in the clothes he now felt very uncomfortable about. “Where had I changed for all these?” To his agony, “these” were also shiny.
In desperation, he walked again to the place he thought where the Oriental Palace Hotel was. The two at the kiosk didn’t even bother to look at him, as he had become such a frequent occurrence, or to be more exact, nuisance.
K pondered: this must be the place where he and Oi-yee said bye to each other in the early morning, in anticipation of meeting again an hour later. It was such a normal routine in their five-year marriage whenever they travelled overseas. “Where the hell is the hotel?”
As K was losing all hopes, a familiar colour entered his sight. No, it was not exactly familiar. It was pink, but shiny pink. A young woman was jogging by. She was the first jogger he met after seeing off his wife hours earlier. “Hey,” K yelled. He ran behind her for about twenty seconds. Focusing his eyes, he shouted, “Oi-yee!”
The young woman turned around without actually stopping. Oh, yes. Oi-yee looked great. Petite and pretty, as usual. K paused and glanced at his “watch”. It was 12:10. OK, I’ve made a mess of it. You have reasons to be angry, very angry indeed. Well! But you should also know what I have suffered in the past few hours. It’s the first time I’m here in this queer tourist resort. You chose it though, not me. Yes, I also thought it was a good idea. Anyway, let this be the end of the morning nightmare. Can you just forgive me? Let’s go back to the hotel, and start the programme you’ve planned, although belatedly. We have enough time, after all.
“Excuse me,” the young woman eventually stopped and jogged back to K. She looked exactly Oi-yee, except the immediate expression and shine on the pink suit. And her hair-style was slightly different. Also she seemed a bit younger, maybe just fresher with another make-up. In any case, she’s Oi-yee!
“What has she done in the past few hours? Gone to the beauty parlour? Why is she still jogging in noon-time?” K thought without saying anything, just waiting.
“Do I know you?” The young woman asked very politely. That was the most soothing sound K had heard all morning. And it was the voice he had heard for the past ten years. But the content of her answer was most disconcerting. He was almost impelled to say “of course!”
K stared at her again, and then widened his perspective to the environment around them. K was an associate professor of psychology. Although he was mediocre, he knew in general the major intentions and meanings behind ordinary responses, especially off-guarded ones. This young woman a metre from him was obviously surprised. K became despondent.
“You mean you don’t know me,” K replied with an embarrassed expression, after what seemed like an eternity. “I don’t think so, Mister.” Came with the familiar smile, albeit mixed with a certain sense of bewilderment.
As the young woman continued her jogging, the shine of her sport suit faded from sight with a rhythm. A diminishing rhythm that was both inviting and rejecting. K wanted to follow but then stopped. At last, the pink colour disappeared.
K walked back to the kiosk. It had already been closed for lunch. K realised for the first time that there was a digital poster outside it. It was some kind of a flashing gadget. On it was the front-page headline of the City Daily News: “Deep Recession Predicted for 2067”.
"Cut! The last scene is NG!" Do it again.
What? K fell back to agony........
What next? Find it somewhere in my poor website around spring: