|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
26 September-2 October 2004
|Mon 27 Sep
Start the morning with two emails. The first is from firstname.lastname@example.org...
Code no: s2k66k8et-488f92h04k6d5nd/9lk2j3ddl59/d87e3a
Mon 27 SEP 04 Chapter11 Airlines Flight 202
DEP LHR 1430
ARR IAD 1710
Have a nice trip! Thank you for choosing Mangelwurzel Travel!
|The second is from email@example.com, who has long struggled with modern electronic communication...|
|TOP URGENT STOP BIG BOSS V ANGRY THIS MORNING STOP ASKS QTE WHERE IS HEMLOCK QMK UNQTE STOP SUGGEST RETURN HK SOONEST STOP WEATHER QUITE NICE STOP RGDS MS FANG|
|Thus, some 14 hours later, I land at Dulles. The flight is on time – presumably because, in the absence of Cat Stevens on board, no six-hour diversion to expendable Bangor, Maine is necessary. Cousin John Quincy Hemlock meets me and whisks me off to an Ethiopian restaurant in Crystal City for dinner with some friends, including one Lucas. “Your name rhymes with mucus,” I tell him, to his great and obvious amusement. The conversation touches on the death of Jimmy, a slightly crazy homeless man and much-loved fixture outside the Starbucks on King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Like most insane street people, he was rumoured to be worth millions stashed away in stocks – why else would he dig the Financial Times out of the garbage every day? His impromptu sidewalk shrine apparently features flowers and bagels.
Tue, 28 Sep
I wake early, jet-lagged, and watch the sun rise over Exurbia, Fairfax County, Virgina. For nostalgia’s sake, I dig out an old tape of a Tru Fax and the Insaniacs classic…
I used to work as a waitron in the lounge of the Hiltron / Now I work for my senatron and I live in Arlingtron / I live in Arlingtron – I’m just a Washingtron
“I really need this at 5.30 in the morning,” says a bleary eyed cousin J Quincy, stumbling into the living room and heading for the kitchen. Over delicious frozen buttermilk pancakes with blueberry sauce (with genuine blueberry extract) and enticing reconstituted orange-based beverage, I recall the days when we were over 18 but under 21, forced to stroll across Key Bridge from Arlington into the District to buy beer at a conveniently located store near the bottom of Georgetown’s ‘Exorcist Steps’. He laughs. “Yeah – Dixie Liquor on M Street. Still there, I think.”
Later, we will drive up into the hills, through the red maple and oak in their blazing, early fall colours, into the land of snake-handling Pentacostalists, inbred dulcimer players and breakfasts of grits and molasses. And, most of all – the bit I really look forward to – stupefied looks at the mention of any place more than 20 miles away. The land where a man commands respect and inspires wonder for having visited Pittsburg once 10 years before.
Wed, 29 Sep
Octogenarian matriarch Lucy Hemlock starts the day preparing Appalachian dim sum – biscuits with gravy, corn bread with butter and homemade grape jelly, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, grape juice and coffee. When the younger family members emerge, they may also nourish themselves with cinnamon French toast and revolting Honey Frosted Wheaties. People here shoot wholemeal bagels on sight.
Flicking through the local paper, I find the old place is as buzzing as ever. Lodge 102 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is selling Monongahela Festival parade chairs at $5 each. The Solid Waste Authority will hold its quarterly board meeting at 6 pm next Monday at the Town Hall. The Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1682 will hold a dance on Tuesday, with music by Bob’s Karaoke. So much to do! But so little time in which to do it. In a rare moment of weakness and stupidity, I have emailed S-Meg and told them I will be back in the office on Monday. No – I wasn’t that cretinous. “Early next week,” I said. Still, it means I must leave for DC on Friday and spend some 30 hours crossing 12 time zones. So I will miss the County Fair, which takes place on Friday and Saturday, with its livestock sales, lawnmower races, pet show, horse show and greased pig contest. “Too bad I can’t be here,” I tell Lucy. “We could strip Mrs Jepsen next door, smear bacon fat all over her and enter her into the …” She cuts me short with one of her ‘that’s-not-nice’ remonstrations. What other excitements does the local press promise? I see that the local Ministerial Association is collecting non-perishable foods for victims of the Florida hurricanes. They want foods that don’t need preparation, such as (we are advised) peanut butter, Vienna sausages, crackers and Slim-Jims. Haven’t the poor battered and drenched wretches down there suffered enough?
Thurs, 30 Sep
A conversation with Mr Jepsen next door. “The ‘maiduz have done real fine this year,” he proudly announces. He is referring to Lycopersicon esculentum, the bright red fruit of which is an essential ingredient in local variations of Italian cuisine, such as pizza and spaghetti meatballs. To befuddle her neighbours, Lucy makes a chutney out of them – excellent with curry – and now, it seems, it is the turn of the luckless homeless of storm-wracked Florida, who are to be donated a dozen jars of the stuff. I am delivering them to Mr Jepsen. He tells me that his family and their fellow Pentacostalists are praying for deliverance from killer bees. They’ve already reached Kentucky, the old man tells me grimly. I purse my lips. “You know they’re cross-breeding with termites,” I warn him. “Their mutant offspring crawl over you in bed at night and lay eggs under your skin.” Oh Lord, no, he mumbles. “’Fraid so,” I reply, shaking my head. “The only protection is tomato chutney – spread it on your arms and legs.” I point at the jars of spicy, brownish-yellow jam. “But that’s all we have to spare. Supposed to go to Florida.” I take a deep, sympathetic breath. “Use it as you think best,” I tell him, with a pat on the shoulder and a knowing look. “I’m sure the Almighty will guide you in your decision.”
EVENING. FORTIFIED by chips, pretzels and beer, we all sit and watch the first presidential debate. With only 300 million citizens to choose from, who can fail to be impressed by these two contenders? Although disturbingly Canadian-looking, Senator John Kerry sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, assuming you can’t tell Treblinka from Lubyanka. President George W Bush reels off the facts and sound bites with little syntactical mayhem – but do I detect signs of the anti-smirk drugs wearing off? In terms of substance, it’s six foreign policies from one, half a dozen from the other, plus they admire each other’s daughters. In terms of style, Kerry’s ‘presidential’ act leaves Bush looking defensive. I spy Lucy putting down her knitting and tossing a coin. “There are two more debates to come,” John Quincy quickly tells her, “no need to decide yet.”