A Mixture of Revulsion and Pity
1999, Hong Kong
It was a great visit so saying goodbye at the
airport was difficult. Thomas was sad to leave. It was there at the Winnipeg
airport that Josh gave him a journal, making me promise him he would write down
his dreams. When you made a promise to your identical twin brother it was
airtight, so he gave Josh his word he would write down all his dreams in that
little book. Josh also gave him a winged sun disk to put around his neck "as
protection from the negative." It had an orange sun and there was a phoenix
behind it. Thomas thought it was cool so he put it on right there in the airport
foyer, but only after he smudged it with sage, ignoring the security who didn't
act because they must have known what smudging was.
Back in Hong Kong, he
returned to business as usual and made an effort to re-engage in his quotidian
life, but he found it all different. He tried to fit into his old Hong Kong
mold, but the shape of him had changed, like a wooden tennis racquet left out
in the rain, irrevocably warped that affected his groundstrokes no matter how
much he improved his footwork. He was simply hitting the ball differently. He
tried his best to ignore it, and to forget about the Pahana and the Hopi
Prophecies and what I had been exposed to because there was no room for the Red
Man's heart in Hong Kong, a place that never slept with an energy that could
take a man to extremes. He wanted to love it but it didn't work. Then things
began to really change after an unpleasant dental experience.
When Thomas went to his
yearly appointment there was a new dental assistant, who was nervous and
tentative. This young Philippina woman took her dental hygiene very seriously.
After looking into my mouth and poking around, she said: "You should always
remember to brush your tongue." With the dentist in the other room, she took
the teeth-cleaning rotating device and rolled it on the surface of his tongue,
the sharp head mowing down his taste buds like long grass on a putting green.
He curled his tongue in defense but she held her ground, cutting down his sense
the worst moment happened when the dental assistant fitted an upper and lower
mold for his teeth. The gooey glue-like ooze molded to the contours of his
teeth snuggly but she left it on too long so that when she tried to remove it,
it wouldn't budge from his teeth. She adjusted her grip to pull at a better
angle but this only served to pass more time, causing the sticky goo to stick
to his teeth even more. He sat helpless, hearing the dentist speaking to
another patient as his assistant pretended to act cool, beginnign to feel short
of breath from a sudden burst of claustrophobia. When she used both hands with
as much force as she could muster, Thomas was convinced a tooth was going to be
pulled out with the mold, fully aware of the two teeth that had had root canals
in the past that were fragile at best. He was about to grunt to get the
attention of the dentist when she employed a slanted yanking technique. By
pulling at an angle, she dug the metal molding plate into the top of his gums
just above the teeth causing his gums to bleed. Then she gave a serious yank
that strained the very root of all his teeth. The apparatus did come off but
not without loosening the foundation of his teeth both on the top and the
bottom. Thomas was pretty stoical about it at the time, but the longer he
tongued the rows of his teeth the more he knew she had loosened almost all his
teeth. And the more he thought about it, the more he questioned being overseas
and subject to this type of unprofessional treatment. It made him restless, so
he pined for a break from work.
gave him cause to think life overseas wasn't as rosy as he may have thought.
Every time he ran his tongue over his teeth and gums, it was a reminder of the
Philippina shaving off his taste buds. When he realized he couldn't taste food
as sharply as he had before, all of it angered him. And it was this anger that
grew stronger over time. The changes were small at first: a cancellation of a
haircut, the wearing of denims to work and then not wearing a tie. He started
to spend his time reading about Red Indians instead of researching and writing
the textbook he was working on. In this way he discovered there was something
inside him curious about the story of the Pahana. He became restless to
find out more, and was bugged by the lack of information he could find in this
old colonial outpost. The passing of time soon bothered him because he feared
he was letting an opportunity pass - an opportunity leading to his destiny. He
began to worry that he was overlooking a sign from God that would in time prove
fatal to the flourishment of his spirit. Something inside his head was
screaming; he could sense its muted shrill. And it was this caused him to see
things a bit differently.
few weeks after the nightmare at the dentist's office, he bumped into John
Chaffey on the way home after work. From Mother England, Our Man Chaffey
as Thomas called him had to be one of the most abnormal normal people he had
ever met. He tried so hard to be normal in such an unorthodox manner that he
came across as eccentric. The irony was the fact he was profoundly normal. He
clung to the norms of convention with such desperation that he was manic.
He met him on the ferry
going to Lamma Island, where he lived. The ferries to Lamma Island were old
remnants of the British colonial era so they were noisy affairs. Most
expatriates bought a beer or two for the 40-minute ride to the island, so they
were out on the deck where they spoke with the sound of the engine grinding on
their eardrums. Since Lamma Island was due southeast of Hong Kong Island, they
enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the mountains of Lantau Island to the west.
"Our Man Chaffey,
how're ya doin' these days?"
"How's work?" That was the
question he wanted to hear because he went on about his work for twenty
minutes. It was his false enthusiasm that caused Thomas to be mute. The
grown-up boy in front of him epitomized a generation that champions benign
passivity and ennui. Soft, flabby and weak in mind but strong in following
rules, close-mindedness and neophobia, he was a perfected cynic and know-it-all
that hated being alone, embraced stereotypes and lived in constant fear of
anything unplanned. Having no discernable opinions of his own except the
regurgitated thoughts of others, he feared truths that fell outside his own web
of belief, thinking there was only one interpretation for any given thing.
Often his profound lack of courage was mistaken for shyness, but this man-boy
who tolerated his elders out of duty rather than with sincere interest, had
sharpened the control apparatus in his mind to repress all urges stemming from
curiosity. But most of all he thrived on speaking badly about others who didn't
fit into his linear belief system, which made thinkers like Thomas hesitant to
speak to him.
As his mind raced with this
mixture of revulsion and pity, he wondered if it all came from his recent
prairie experience or if it was because of his anger at his loss of taste buds
and loosening of teeth.
they arrived at the Lamma pier Chaffey invited him to the all-night full-moon
party at the beach. Every month there was one but instead he went to the Spicy
Indian Restaurant where there was a small bar at the back, a place where old
chaps hung out away from the mayhem of jukeboxes and birthday parties.
"Mr. Robertson sir, Hoegaarten will it be
then?" asked Manoj. Made him feel he was home. One can meet people from all
corners of the globe as long as you know where to find the bars that have been
serving adventurous servicemen since the Second Opium War. The "Spicy" was one
of these bars. And case in point was Mr. James Viceroy, a crusty old bugger
looking for respect. Viceroy was the breath of fresh air he needed for his