Mr Wong Goes West

Mr Wong Goes West by Nury Vittachi

Book: Mr Wong Goes West by Nury Vittachi Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nury Vittachi
trees and bamboo groves, gently swaying in the breeze. There are forests of television aerials and telephone repeater stations, sternly defying the wind. There are Hakka women, wearing tribal outfits as they pick at crops of vegetables. There are men in denim overalls erecting Coca-Cola hoardings. There are tiny brown stalls from which tiny brown people sell tiny cups of brown Chinese tea, the whole caboodle appearing to have evolved naturally from the soil. There are glitzy, glassy shops offering pizza and internet connections, which appear to have been dropped in place by passing aircraft from a different planet.
    At several locations on the road from urbanised Kowloon towards mainland China, there are huge cities that seem to have been built yesterday, or perhaps the day before at the earliest. The areas of green around them are still unspoiled, and look somewhat shellshocked at the fifty towers that have popped up overnight in their midst. Scan the buildings and you note that one-third of the windows have curtains and occupants; the other two-thirds have neither. The roads look new and fresh, and are an even shade of pale grey; they look as if no cars, trucks or buses have yet been allowed to belch their way over them.
    Joyce is on a train, chugging its way into what is anachronistically called
Sun Gai
, or the New Territories. This name is highly politically incorrect. They are the ‘newterritories’ only in the sense that they were an extra bit added to the lands that the British claimed from China after the Opium War. These areas were appended to the pile of British winnings in 1898, more than fifty years after Hong Kong island had become a crown colony in 1842. So in a real sense, ‘new territories’ is short for ‘new British territories added to the old British territories’. The name should have been changed at the time of the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But memories were short in this city. People didn’t even remember the last stock crash, which was no more than a few years before, so it was unlikely that they would take note of anything that happened more than a century in the past.
    So Joyce was travelling through a place still called the New Territories, heading for an address scribbled on a piece of paper in her hand. She was feeling uncomfortable because she was at a disadvantage, not being able to read Chinese characters. Nina had asked one of the staff at the coffee shop to rewrite the address on the napkin in Chinese.
    She left the train at Tai Wai station and stopped from time to time to show the address to people, who nodded and pointed. Something felt wrong about her mission, and after some minutes, Joyce realised what it was. What was a lawyer doing out here, working in the rural areas? The legal professor was a teacher from one of the universities—or had been. He must have retired as you can’t run either a law office or a tutorial series from the middle of a rural new town. And this was definitely a new town, with all the blandness that the phrase implied. A dull cluster of identical white residential towers seemed to stretch almost to the horizon in three directions—the fourth was occupied by a steep, craggy hill.
    Joyce had been in east Asia long enough to know what happens when you ask people for directions. In some countries,in the Philippines and Sri Lanka for example, the person you ask will often actually walk you all the way to the door of the place you are looking for, and sometimes come in with you. In other places—Hong Kong and Singapore—the person you ask will merely tell you the immediate next direction, so that if your journey is first left, second right, third left, first left, he will merely point you to the first left. He will expect you to ask at the next junction to get the next bit of the puzzle and so on, so you will speak to six or seven people before you get to where you are going.
    After fifteen minutes, Joyce had consulted four people

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