This is Hong Kong from Peak Tower, the island’s highest point. It’s spectacular in a concrete and commercial kind of way, and represents every reason I don’t live in a city.
We're 14 (8 clients, 6 support staff) from a disability support organization in Lismore, and it's our last night of the holiday so we've splashed out on the night habour cruise. Sitting on the back deck of the Shining Star, in a plastic chair, drinking complimentary Nescafe, and wishing it was red wine, I’m taking in dramatic fields of laser beams, neon lights, flashing billboards. You'll just have to imagine it. As if in empathic overwhelm, my camera died! Giant video screens perched atop monolithic high-rise advertise, well, you name it, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Hong Kong Bank and the rest of the qian (money) whose hands are low in the pockets of Hong Kong Tourism. I feel six parts assaulted, four parts numb.
Every few minutes I look back at Eve (not her real name). She’s sitting on a cushioned bench seat away from the rest of us because she’s afraid of heights, the boat, the water. In her cosy corner, as is her wont, she’s jabbering away to herself, and gazing out at the world with absent interest. She’s 55 and has Down’s Syndrome, which means she’s already outlived most of her contemporaries. I’m here to provide for her needs, pop her meds out of the webster pack, help her in and out of the bath, wipe her bottom, cajole and bribe her into cleaning her teeth, document her trip with her camera at the same time documenting my own trip with my own camera, guide her choice of meals, gifts and activities, and change her money into local currency. I’ve pushed her wheelchair, rubbed cream into her necrotizing lower legs and feet, eased on her pressure stockings, soothed her anxieties and countless times, at her behest, felt the pacemaker under her skin. She’s worth it. When she looks at me and smiles it feels authentic in a way I’m unused to, unaffected by layers of cynical judgment. She calls me sister, and has a wicked sense of humor that rings all my perverse bells. Given my father’s constant infidelities, she could be onto something!
From a distance I watch as a Chinese woman of about the same age arrives on the couch near her and attempts to make conversation. I’m humoured, uneasy. Should I go over and explain, intervene? Eve’s oblivious. For ten days now I’ve wondered what she’s saying. This soft but audible chatter wakes me at night, loud enough to disturb my sleep but not loud enough to make out what she’s saying, save for a word of two. Tonight though, I think I have it. I think she’s got a visual (photographic) memory, and is repeating the text she reads everyday in ‘A Thousand Scientific Facts’, a book she bought on the trip. Occasionally I read over her shoulder, so taken am I by her interests. Why don’t snakes have legs; How do bees produce honey; Why do some trees live for hundreds of years; Why is ear wax yellow.
I want to be in her head! Nature, such comforting innocence!