by Keith Addison
Hong Kong Life magazine Oct. 1994-Jan. 1996
The Valley of the Lost Decade
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
Pass the Doggie Bag
If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Cars
Stealer of Souls
On the Slow Train with a Skinful of Wine
The Neighbourhood Dragon
From 1994 to 1932 in Only Three Minutes
Singing and Laughing
Have Nose, Will Follow
Harrods to Sell Elixir-of-Life
Galahad's Secret Mission
Escape to Shangri-La
Put it in Your Pocket
What Johnny Should Have Said
The Cockroaches Went in Two by Two
A Complaint to the Inspector of Thunderstorms
The Neighbourhood Dragon
The stony top of the garden wall was regarding me with a black and beady eye. Still looking me in the eye, part of the cement detached itself and reared a spiky head and a very long and elegant tail towards the morning sun.
___"Good morning little dragon," I said staring back -- the sunshine favoured compliments, but, though a dragon can be "the size of a silkworm or it can fill the sky", this one was actually a lizard. A Calotes versicolor, to be technical about it, or "Changeable Lizard", having just changed from a bit of grey cement. It wasn't even grey anymore, it was ivory and pearl mottled with patterns of dark jade and deep amber, very handsome.
___"Nice camouflage," I added.
___We went on eyeballing each other, and I went closer, but unthreateningly, and then much closer, close enough to count the scales, but the dragonette didn't move, or blink. Finally it twitched the end of its tail slightly and moved a couple of toes, and I stopped. Still that intelligent look.
___In a distant future charted by Alan Dean Foster (who wrote Alien), an adventurous space-brat named Flinx is adopted by a stray "mini-drag", a little dragon hailing from an exotic jungle planet, which never leaves his shoulder except to kill baddies. It's about the size of this lizard, but it has real dragon wings and flies like a bullet, and it's also got fangs filled with deadly poison with no antidote. And it's telepathic.
___I always envied Flinx his mini-drag. Maybe by next year or the year after that I'll be able to build one with a kiddies' bio-engineering kit from Toys 'R' Us. You'd start off with your basic Changeable Lizard gene, add a pair of batwings, a dash of Einstein RNA, a set of modified pit viper fangs and Amazonian tree frog toxin, along with some yolk of Chinese dinosaur egg, and also the traditional eye of a newt and a bit of toil and trouble, and some glue, as well as a nano-engineered infra-red neural brain-link. But everyone'll have one by then, a fashion dog under your arm and a deadly mini-drag on your shoulder, the shopping malls will be full of them.
___Meanwhile, who was I to say this wasn't really a dragon pretending to be charging up its morning batteries on my garden wall? The Lantau mountains are rife with dragons, according to the locals, who should know, and a dragon can be anything it likes -- a mere Changeable Lizard isn't much of a trick for a dragon. I stared at its claws, long and thin like a Qing Emperor's fingernails, with five claws on each foot, the traditional sign of the Son of Heaven (four-clawed dragons were for princes, and three claws for officials).
___Still it looked me in the eye. I wondered what the other eye was seeing in the opposite direction -- was it giving the lime tree over there just such a being-to-being stare as I was getting?
___But the trouble with trying to imagine what a lizard is seeing, let alone a thinly disguised dragon, is that lizards have got three eyes: the human pineal gland, set between the eyes and behind the forehead, is a residual eye, and in lizards it isn't residual but still active, sensing light and more. Anyway the lizard was certainly seeing me just as clearly as I was seeing it.
___It was the right time of year for dragons, when they emerge from the earth in the spring, heralding rain and storms -- heavy clouds were gathering in the distance. And there ought to be a dragon up here somewhere. This old farm is at the top of the valley, shaped like a horseshoe, with the top looking down on the shoulders on either side, and a fresh mountain stream flowing down between them, perfect feng shui for dragons. There's even an old nature shrine hidden in the woods.
___Best to hedge my bets, I decided, since by all accounts it's a Very Good Idea to be on cordial terms with your local neighbourhood dragon.
___"Okay," I said, "so you really are a dragon, and according to Western traditions, I'm supposed to guess your name."
___That was dumb, I thought -- what if I get it wrong? Could I claim three guesses? But just then a name I'd never heard before floated to mind, so I said it.
___The dragon opened its mouth wide, and then, with a flick of its long body, it was gone.
___I reckon I got it right -- I've got this dragon's number, a genuine hotline to heaven. (I'll keep the name to myself, but let me say that it was neither Ramzelgarf nor Grunobulax.) But what do I do now? I could probably command the dragon to make it rain large uncut diamonds and Cheung Kong shares all over my valley, but you don't want to mess with a dragon unless you know exactly what you're at.
___One village on the island bears testimony to that even today, though it all happened nearly 150 years ago. The old men there still tell the story of what befell their great-grandfathers.
___Their valley was one of the most prosperous parts of Lantau then, with "more than 999 men", as they put it, belonging to several ancient clans which had lived there for many generations, some as long as 700 years. Women weren't counted because they didn't count. Wives were cheap then -- "cheaper than a piece of land", one old man said. In fact you could get a wife for two pigs.
___In accordance with custom, the women and children did all the work growing the rice and vegetables and tending the livestock, while the 999-plus men mostly went fishing.
___The valley rose from a wide beach to a high mountain peak, with a fast-flowing mountain stream tumbling down the slopes, joined by other streams to water the paddy fields, becoming a river by the time it reached the beach, where it flowed into a lagoon behind the sands, and then out to the sea via a deep and narrow cutting.
___The anchorage for the men's fishing boats was in the lagoon, but navigating the cutting was a constant problem -- at one point the channel curved sharply beneath a large granite boulder perched on the bank, setting up treacherous side-currents which could easily upset a boat, and often did. And the men couldn't swim.
___They'd learnt that safety lay in keeping absolutely silent while they passed the boulder, but even that didn't always work. One evening when the boats were coming home with their catch, yet another boat fell foul of the current and turned over, and several of the men in it drowned.
___Finally, after hundreds of years of such sporadic drownings, the villagers got angry -- the boulder was clearly an evil influence, let's be rid of it at last, they decided, and the next day they set to work to dislodge it.
___All their attempts to dig it up failed, so they took up hammers and chisels to split it in two, and eventually succeeded -- to loud cheers, the rock split down the centre.
___At the same instant the sun vanished, the sky went black, lightning shattered the darkness, thunder crashed in the mountains, the ground began to shake, and heaven and earth turned upside down as the terrified villagers fled for their lives.
___Eventually it grew silent, and the earth stopped shaking, but the sun remained hidden for several more days. When it finally dawned again the villagers crawled out of their hiding places to view a changed valley -- the treacherous cutting was gone, and so was the land next to the sea, and a small hamlet with it, along with its inhabitants.
___Severely daunted, they sent for a feng shui man, a traditional geomancer, who quickly saw what they'd done.
___"The dragon in the mountain has gone," he said. "That boulder was the dragon's egg, and you broke it. It won't come back. The feng shui is finished. There is nothing to be done."
___This caused dismay and a lot of loud weeping, but so it was: disaster followed upon disaster in a relentless series of floods, famine and disease. By 1900 the population had halved, a third of the houses were abandoned ruins and a third of the fields lay disused, and the valley was in the grip of the plague. There was more plague in the 1920s, and again in 1936 -- such a serious attack that the feng shui man advised that the main village be moved to a more favourable site.
___The depleted and dispirited community smashed down the old houses and built new ones on the new site, but life didn't improve. There was severe famine during the Japanese occupation, with villagers terrorised by both the Japanese soldiers and the Lantau guerrilla bands resisting them. Accused of collaborating with the guerrillas, the village headman was dragged off to the Japanese military post in Tai O and not seen again. Some villagers sold their children, because they could no longer feed them.
___After the coast road was built in the 1960s, many of the remaining villagers drifted away to other, less blighted, villages, to the city, and abroad. Now there are only about 15 old people left. They say the dragon never came back, and it never will.
___I wonder what it's name was?
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