Reserved Seats

Where Bread Grows On Trees And Clothing Is Unnecessary

Tue Nov 06, 2007

Word Count Update

4365... woo hoo!


Posted by: expat@large on 06 Nov, 07 | 1:18 am | Profile

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Thu Nov 01, 2007

Chapter 1

Early/Mid 2003

Bruce hadn't planned on getting murdered in Hong Kong, but then he never was much for organising things.

Not so good at the logistics of his peripatetic existence, not the stickler for pre-planning, checking details, booking ahead, confirming the water views from the hotel three weeks and five cities away. Not so much the cat expecting to land on all fours through his own innate balance, more the accidental expat/tourist relying for logistical support on the hard work of others with more algorithmically suited minds. A big picture person; the finer details, in fact all the details, were done by others. Bruce had relaxed control of his life as it was way too complicated and he let the office-manager, Windy (her real name, and actually Ian, the marketing manager's, secretary; it was a small office), control everything to do with his work. She talked to Ian and together they scheduled Bruce's trips according to the demand for his specialist skills around North, South and South-East Asia. She would tell him when and where he was going, sort out visas if necessary, print out the e-Ticket and place it all on his desk the day before he was due to fly out. She'd confirm the hotel, arrange the airport pick-up. All he had to do was turn up. Most of his job involved just turning up. He expected to be picked up when he got there, wherever in Asia there happened to be this time. The local distributor was then in charge of his time. No need for him to be absolutely certain of the hotel - he'd put whatever hotel he could think of on the arrival card - they're handling it. It all had fallen into place for him for over the last four, or was it five, years.

Time flew and he flew a lot as well. From country to country, from bar to bar. This was his life.

He called himself an anarcho-buddhist and railed against things that kept changing, but because he was not really engaged anymore, these changes meant little to him.

Like time, like airplanes, he just let things flow.

Like blood from a severed artery.

He slumped to the slippery wet floor of the hotel lobby. He didn't know which hotel. Was he staying here? Why was he bleeding?

"Take me to my room, I'll be right," he slurred ineffectually, weakened and confused as he was, while the concierge in a paper face-mask was careful not step in the growing pool of blood nor get any on his hands, as with the deft skill of a practiced pick-pocket extracted Bruce's wallet from the back of his suit pants.

"But sir," said the concierge leafing through Bruce's otherwise empty wallet and retrieving a green ID card, "you can't be staying at this hotel, you live right here in Hong Kong."


Mid 1998

Ian's wife had been screwing his best-man on evening of their wedding. Ian was pissed and asleep in their honeymoon suite and had missed it. He caught the movie though.

E-mailed to him from some secretive Hotmail address (madmanbovary@hotmail) by a concerned but anonymous friend or acquaintance - he wasn't sure which yet - from a grainy capture by one of the first digital cameras to have such a feature, it showed the brief, obviously less than totally private tryst in the back-seat of what appeared to be Ian's own sports car in the car-park of the reception "villa" which was also their hotel for the special night.

Ian was at first suspicious that this was not really Janice. At the sudden climax of the film however, Anthony, his best man and always the gentleman, fell to one side in order to vomit away from the lady, only to reveal her splayed thighs and the shreds of her severely torn wedding-dinner dress. He had never seen her wedding-dinner dress again after the wedding night. He had presumed it was still at the dry-cleaners, but now he knew why it was missing. Ian remembered noticing the sun-caked sick stains in his car a week later, after the honeymoon, but he had put them down to his drunken teenage cousins playing up at the wedding reception and scrubbed the evidence away.

Each workday morning since the wedding, having a smoke on the bow of the ferry from Manly, Ian would watch the morning sun come up over the Heads and would turn to see its rays bounce around the glass and steel skyscrapers behind the Opera House, flashing reflections like semaphores between hotels and offices and he counted himself lucky to live in such a beautiful city and to have found such a pretty wife, one so... Well, she was indeed very pretty.

There was none of Sydney's strong midday sunlight in the large high-walled cubicle design of his office, except over there, several spears of bright carpet where a few filtered, reflected rays just made it through the smoked glass doors of a wall of offices ascribed to a variety of managers. The moon-tan glare of then blandly even fluorescent lights could not hide the rising colour of Ian's face. He put down his nearly empty mug of orange juice and leant in to play to video again. He zoomed it full-screen size.

The face of the woman in the film-clip was a poorly-lit, pixilated mask of disappointment - but obviously she was pretty - and that look of desperate sexual unfulfillment, after only several months of marriage, he easily recognized as one of Janice's staples.

With this realization, Ian's body went both cold and hot, both wet and dry. His face blew redder and then suddenly drained to an even paler shade of his usual white, while his neck continued to blazed red, his long legs went rubbery (luckily he was seated), his insides flipped over and his fair head thumped. Ian too turned aside to vomit, into the grey metal-mesh waste-bin under his cubicle's desk. His loud exasperated groan caused a popping up (a ground-hogging as they say) of heads around the office. Liquid parts of his vomit ran out through the mesh of the bin and onto the grey/brown carpet. He heaved again, retching only a reverberation of air, but the spasms were as forceful as a series of skinhead kick thrumming into his ribs. He would have trouble breathing deeply or raising his lanky arms to lift anything for several days.

One of the nearest of the office staff, the head secretary (or office manager as they are called these days), Samantha came up to see if he was alright. Sam was the most honest, efficient and caring person in the office, which wasn't saying much.

"You alright?" she asked.

Ian was not. He retched again. The vomit strainer filtered more orange/yellow fluid onto the floor.

"Fine," he lied with a gastrically bubbling voice. "N-urgle-need paper, towels, some-urrrgghhh-thing, clean, mess..." Deep down in his blurred consciousness he recognized that this was embarrassing, he had never been physically sick at work before. He was exposed and vulnerable and not in a position to do anything about it at the moment. Buzzing noises filled his ears with a swarm of internal bees and his vision seemed delayed from his eye movements, as if it was catching on things. His pushed head back down between his knees, and with a thin-limbed crustacean-like lurch he pushed his office chair away from the desk to get more of the office's refreshingly recycled air into his lungs.

"Oh," Sam said, watching the stain spread on the carpet under the waste-bin. "OK, I'll get some. Paper towels. Was the juice off?"

Several other workers, Kym and Anthony, the gay brethren of the mar-comm division, stopped at his cubicle as Sam moved quickly away. They were silent. Wilson, his boss, was in a meeting, but Timothy of finance whom he feared, Jenny of logistics with the big tits and ball-ripping attitude and Peter, a short guy from IT with whom Ian often went for after-works drinks to discuss Peter's chances of balling Jenny, all wandered slowly up to see what was going on, what was coming up. Jenny's cleavage bunched up as she covered her mouth and nose with her hands.

"Hit the piss a bit last night, did we?" asked Peter with a coffee in his hand, one eye on Jenny's cleavage. Then, when he followed her gaze, both his bushy eyebrows rose and his face froze in a strange expression, like his mother had always warned him about should the wind change.

Aware of all their presences gradually, Ian drifted back out of shock, back to the now, back to the here. He lifted his head and tried to smile at his colleagues. No-one was looking at him. They were staring at the video of his unfaithful wife that was still playing on his computer.

Sam came up behind the quiet and unhelpful team with some paper-towels from the washroom. Only when she squeezed past the even more than usually ugly Peter, who seemed to move in when she wanted him to move out, did she see what was happening on the computer screen. She too stared, dumbfounded, amazed for a minute that Ian would be so openly viewing pornography during work. Then the penny dropped.

"Shit," she cried, "isn't that your Janice?"

Ian wished for the world to swallow him whole.

He put his head down again and emitted another long low groan, one that echoed weakly under his desk and was totally muffled in the soft grey/blue fabric covering his small square cubicle. However, another noise managed to get past the walls: The rapid pizzicato of fingers pecking onto keyboards meant that gossip was already flying around the other cubicles, other offices, even into other countries, with the instantaneous speed of Lotus Notes Sametime...


«...U hear bout Ian and Janice?...» asked

Somewhere, someone with one of those new digital cameras with a video capability received the question.

«... Yes I heard...» he typed.

He sighed and felt guilty. He hadn't meant this to happen. "Poor pathetic bastard."

Madonna's new album Ray Of Light was playing on his personal CD system. "Faster than the speeding light she's flying, trying to remember where it all began..."

He looked out the office window of a tower which climbed from the edge of a mountain high into the smog, could just make the green ferries bouncing across the narrow harbour. His view passed across a row of mildewed filthy apartment blocks. These 30 year old buildings were full of Chinese families who had managed to hang on despite the plummet of real-estate values during the recent, or should he say current, financial crisis. Under each level of windows of these flats, layer after layer up their astounding heights, as if pierced from an attack of clothes-washing spear-throwers, were long sticks bearing slowly drying laundry.


Early 1999

"Every Sunday we go for high-tea at the Peninsula," explained Ian loudly as he set off at a confident brisk pace, leading Bruce into the crowded tunnel under Connaught Rd towards the Star Ferry Terminal.

Bruce had found Ian easily enough eventually a few minutes earlier. While maybe three thousand people had separated them on Statue Square, Ian's thin fair face was easily identified across the sea of black heads all well below his shoulder height. He had waved vigorously to Ian across the crowd, mouthed a "Hi" in defiance of the deafening Tagalog chatter of the Filipina maids. Ian had responded with a bored sort of *there* you are wave in acknowledgement.

Everything seemed different, amazing, inexplicable to Bruce. It was more than the jet-lag, it was Hong Kong.

"What's with all the maids?" asked Bruce. "They always here?"

"Sunday. Day off," he called back as he charged straight at a family of mother, grandmother and two little kids who had wandered into his path. They only just managed to get out of his way while pretending not to see him. Ian never even looked at them either, but catching up, Bruce could see a cynical smile playing across his lips.

"Never look them in the eye," he explained to Bruce. "Face. Must always keep face. To look someone in the eye is to acknowledge they exist, and then it becomes a battle, inscrutable, a social hierarchy thing. If you just ignore them, pretend they don't exist, they'll do the same honour for you. If you make them lose face, they'll hack you to bits, but if you play the game, it's fun. They hate us anyway. Call us gwailo. It means 'devil with white skin' or something."

"Christ!" called Bruce. A man was lying prostrate on the tunnel floor. Bruce had nearly stepped right onto his back as he skipped fast to keep up with Ian. One of the man's legs was missing from above the knee, its neatly scarred stump exposed. He had face to the ground and was apparently thumping it into the concrete every two seconds or so. Both arms were outstretched, crucified prone, right arm held a chipped enamel cup that clattered in synchrony with each nod of his head.

"He's here every day. He's not actually hitting his head. Just trying to get your attention. But he won't look at you. A Face issue, again. Even for beggars."

Brian nearly bumped into someone as he walked on while looking back at the man. "Chee sin-ah!" muttered an old man who looked at Bruce defiantly. What face?

On the ferry, which rocked heavily on the short choppy trip across what Ian said was an ever-narrowing harbour, Bruce kept an eye out for local beauties. He had watched 'The Story Of Suzie Wong' as preparation for his new position out here and was expecting to be dazzled by the talent. However most of the Chinese girls, even the slimmer ones, seemed to have exceedingly round, rather chubby faces with bulging eyes, no bridges to their nose and god-awful teeth. The maids, waist-less and tiny, with broad noses and at least one mole on each face, were more presentable. Some even appeared to have breasts.


To Be Continued... I hope.

Wordcount : 2,347...

Posted by: expat@large on 01 Nov, 07 | 7:19 pm | Profile

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Why I Have Not Written All My Books

Above all, dear reader, do not believe that the books I have not written are pure nothingness. On the contrary (let it be clear once and for all), they are held in suspension in universal literature. Marcel Bénabou, quoted in Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby and Co.


Explaining to Izzy (she of writing a novel on my couch) tonight, what if I write crap?

What if *you* discover that I am a crap writer?

Even more devastating, what if *I* discover that I am a crap writer?

And I already have such a suspicion...


OK, will make a start tomorrow, it is late and I have to work go to the office...

I sat down and I wrote the words "It is midnight. It is raining." It was not midnight. It was not raining. Beckett. Molloy (Malone Dies? The trilogy is in the next room, two different editions natch, couldn't be fucked checking)


It actually IS midnight, but it is not raining. Yet. This is Singapore, give it a minute.


Posted by: expat@large on 01 Nov, 07 | 1:44 am | Profile

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