Can you imagine a cave man waking up in contemporary Hong Kong? What would be his first reaction? How can you describe his facial expression after he sees eight million people scattered in 426 square miles? What would be his reaction seeing the towering skyscrapers, fast trains, cars, ferries, bridges, and neon lights? How would he comprehend the images before his eyes? He’d be like a bird born in a cage who got freed suddenly: Scary, berserk, out of his mind, mad; all the objects around him would be frantic hallucinations. George Orwell had probably the same vision when he was writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Two plus two equals five.
Imaginations. Thoughts. Visions.
The Pillow book of Sei Shonagon: “In the garden full of evergreens the crows are all asleep. Then, towards the middle of the night, the crows in one of the trees, suddenly wake up in a great flurry and start flapping about. Their unrest spreads to other trees, and soon all the birds have been startled from their sleep and cawing in alarm. How different from the same crows in the daytime.”
The last time I visited Hong Kong I met there with Yan. She picked me up at the airport. Then drove us to Kowloon, where we had dinner at a tiny restaurant near Walled City Park. Yan was in a good mood and chatty. She recalled our safari trip in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, where she was trying to take a photo of an elephant with a Baobab tree. We laughed about that time when a Velvet monkey jumped on our cutting-edge safari truck and stole my sunglasses. I don’t remember how long we stayed at the restaurant but when we left it was past midnight. Yan stayed with me that night. In the morning when I woke up, she was gone. I found a handwritten note on the table: “Good morning, Ilia. I’m sorry for leaving without saying goodbye. Last night, when you fell asleep, I stayed up. I was looking at you, how calm and peaceful you were… I realized how much I like you… You are so joyful and full of life and it’s unfair that I could spoil your happiness. I’m dead inside. I know about death very well. I lost the man whom I loved seven months ago. Duncan cheated on me: emotionally and physically. Even during his last days, his mind was with someone else. I knew it. I asked Duncan the name of his lover. You might ask me why I needed to know her name. I wanted to let him see her… I didn’t want to deprive him of his last pleasure, one last joy before dying. But he never admitted. Now I’m alone in this city full of lights.”
I was stranded.
Sometimes it’s better not to know the truth, and to live in an illusory reality and ignore everything else. The truth becomes unbearable, volatile, and unacceptable. I might fall into a black hole, where the unwanted dreams are accumulated. The blueprints of forgotten memories have been permanently engraved on the wall of our existence.
“An attractive woman, whose hair tumbles loosely over her forehead, has received a letter in the dark. Evidently she is too impatient to wait for a lamp.”
Is that how Emperor Qin Shi Huang felt before the first battle with the Yue kingdom? Or was it just an urgency of conquering the land of the people who had a fearsome reputation for its martial valor? “Do not attack Yue. Yue is a cruel tiger.” This phrase stuck in the Emperor’s head. He didn’t listen. He sent the army. His troops, who were unfamiliar with the jungle terrain, were slaughtered and defeated. The battle unveiled the stubborn willfulness of the Yue people’s spirit. The war strategy and loyalty to the Emperor were lying dead along with more than ten thousand of the Emperor’s men. Among them was commander Qin. The Emperor was furious. “Cruel tiger. Cruel tiger,” The Emperor was talking in his sleep. He knew he lost a battle, not war, but it was going to affect his whole life. And he decided to send more of his men to Yue land… Over, over and over again – five times – until he finally defeated them. The Emperor could finally say: “Even though it was a cruel tiger, now it is already dead.”
Yan buried Duncan among crowded graves at the Hong Kong cemetery. Tombs were so close to each other that it was difficult to walk among them. The cemetery was considered a tourist sight and it was easy to spot a tourist walking slowly and taking photos. The funeral was attended by Yan, her two close friends, Duncan’s father, sister and her boyfriend. Nobody was weeping. After the funeral they all left together in a black limousine. Inside the car they didn’t talk that much. Duncan’s father drank whisky from a flask, and he offered Yan to drink but Yan politely declined. The sister was holding her boyfriend’s arm, chewing gum while looking out the window. Yan asked the chauffeur to stop near a metro station. She get out of the car and disappeared into the crowd.
“In the winter, when it is very cold and one lies buried under the bed cloths listening to one’s lover’s endearments, it is delightful to hear the booming of a temple gong, which seems to come from the bottom of a deep well. The first cry of the birds, whose beaks are still tucked under their wings, is also strange and muffled.”