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
Singing and laughing
I was sharing a flat in the city with a friend, Ah Kong, when another friend, Ah So, found himself without a roof over his head because his flatmate's family had arrived unexpectedly from Guangdong. So he moved in with us for a couple of weeks.
___There wasn't much room, especially since the place was often full of a rotating bunch of gorgeous and adorable airline cabin crew girls, who'd come to dinner when they were in town.
___I could see why -- apart from the obvious fact that we were all three such great guys, Ah Kong is an ace Cantonese seafood cook and also a doctor, and quite a lot of his patients are fishermen, who often bring him something special to cook. Lovely young women would drop in from the clouds for the feast. It happened about three times a week. Life can be so tough.
___Ah So, on the other hand, is that rare thing, a rock 'n' roll fung shui man. He is a professional Taoist geomancer, with a built-in talent and a master who trained him, but he's also a serious heavy metal freak with long curly hair and rock star clothes. If he wasn't freaking out on megawatts of Blind Melon or something he was conducting strange rites in the flat, with incense and cups and blessings and things, getting the fung shui rigged right. Ah Kong had had to put in two fish tanks at Ah So's behest, one with goldfish, one with Japanese koi.
___After dinner, Ah So could be prevailed upon to read the girls' palms. He'd trace lines, measure positions, mutter calculations, and tell them about true love, boyfriends, babies and broken hearts, seriously thrilling stuff. And sometimes he'd give them sound and wise advice on how best to run your life.
___This was just fun -- I knew I wasn't really seeing him in action. He is a respected fortune-teller and Ah Kong said he'd checked it out "scientifically" and there was something to it that couldn't be explained away.
___One afternoon, with just the three of us in the flat, Ah So offered to read my palm. He examined my right hand, running his fingers over the lines and muttering in Cantonese. Ah Kong, interested, looked on.
___Ah So asked me some questions and told me a few things, some vague, some wrong, some not at all wrong, and a couple that were quite startling.
___"You've been having very bad fortune," he said.
___This was certainly true -- I'd had a run of really bad luck, and it wouldn't go away. I was used to Murphy's Law, that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but I was working on one that says everything will go wrong anyway.
___"It's something religious," said Ah So.
___"I'm not religious," I said.
___"Did somebody give you something religious, or did you buy something religious? About a year ago maybe? About this big?" The size of a hand.
___I couldn't think of anything... Except an old brass Tibetan singing bowl I'd bought in Nepal (it sang ringing harmonics if you rubbed round the edge with a bit of wood). I fetched it.
___"That's it!" said Ah So. "That's what's causing you trouble, you shouldn't have it, it belongs in a temple."
___Then he got a killer headache and had to lie down, not at all his usual style.
___This was unfortunate. I liked the singing bowl, but there was no way I could continue in that household with it.
___The following day I took it to the Buddhist Association in Lockhart Road and told them it was Tibetan and had come from a temple, would they please put it back in one, which they promised to do if I would sign a formal donation paper, which I did.
___My bad luck evaporated.
___Well, why knock it? Only, no more singing bowl.
___A friend had given me a fine bronze bodhisatva which I'd also really liked, but it was stolen, and I'd been looking for another one in Nepal but found the singing bowl instead. Now where was I going to find a bronze fellow-traveller that might stick around for a while?
___Came July, which the Royal Observatory said was the wettest July in 110 years, while a southern provinces weather bureau said it was the wettest since before the Chinese invented weather, or something like that, with floods and ruin on a massive scale as downpour followed torrential downpour.
___And I'd lost my umbrella. Yet I went out several times, resigned to flailing soddenly through a high-speed jacuzzi, but I didn't get wet at all, downright puzzling. Whenever I thought of buying an umbrella there weren't any around.
___When I finally managed to get to a place in the old ladder streets near Hollywood Road where I could buy an umbrella, the sky opened on it and I got drenched anyway. O ye of little faith.
___I wandered off into the downpour, my umbrella about as useful as a tennis racket, and saw this fat little man laughing at me from behind a shop window. He was a laughing buddha, a bronze one eight inches tall, with a good face, and he'd caught my eye. I'd looked at a few laughing buddhas, thinking silent laughter might be as good as brass singing, and this looked like a good one.
___I went in, though it wasn't going to be cheap (but it was going to be dry). The bronze was signed and dated, mid-Qing, price $1,800. But I beat the dealer down. Business was bad, he said, and ended up at only $900. I didn't want to spend more than $400, but it was worth $900.
___"It will smile at you every day, bringing happiness and good fortune to your home," the dealer said, and I could see it would.
___So I paid up and bore the laughing buddha off into the rain. And indeed it smiles at me every day, this chubby little man carrying a big bag of money over his shoulder and a belly laugh. I smile back.
___A few weeks later I was in a more chic part of town than the ladder streets, and passed an antique shop I hadn't seen before. In the window was the identical laughing buddha.
___This store sold bronze sculptures, good netsuke, good Chinese snuff bottles and obviously had a good rent too, and it was definitely not going to be cheap. The proprietress took the bronze out of the window to show me. It was exactly the same as mine, from the same mould. Mid-Qing, she said, signed, dated, fully authentic, price -- $10,800! Twelve times as much!
___"Is that price negotiable?" I asked, straightfaced.
___"No," she said primly.
___I'd think about it, I said, and left, and then it was me who was laughing over a bag of money. I can see the joke: I'm not going to sell him -- the bag might be full, but it's empty.
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