Friday, 26 January 2007

Fear and Loathing in a Cable Car

The dreams came, or was it just the jetlag?

I saw a dismembered fish head, at least five kilograms and with no corresponding body in sight, still gaping and twitching on a stall. A chinese doorman told me that he lived in Heald Green. More bizzare was the sight of a man sat on a public toilet, door open and trousers down, gently weeping into a hankerchief. There is a sense of ethereal unease around.

Hong Kong itself is a kind of Corbussieran dream, with 7 million residents packed into high-rise living. On the ground in Hong Kong Island the car is king; shops are few and one is dwarfed by the giants of commerce standing eighty floors high. Above this stretches a maze of concrete passage ways, intersecting and crossing buildings, and it is in this Barbican-like web that the people dash from sunrise until midnight. Brash businessmen stride in their suits, declaring their wealth to the unfortunates who slave for crumbs in this low-tax, no-state, laissez-faire paradise. Yet, strangely, because the people are Asian this seems less offensive to me. Is this a kind of cutsiefied, patronising racism? Almost certainly, but I refuse to confront it fully.

As well as this bustling New Asia we saw remnants of the past at the "Big Buddha" of the Po Lin Monastery. Though even here things were not as they should be. We paid our $15 to enter the Walking with Buddha exhibition, a "multi-media presentation on the life of Siddhartha Gautama". After viewing a re-enactment of his transformation into The Buddha we were treated to a room of Buddhist aphorisms, all emphasising the abandonment of attachments to pysical things, and then we exited into... a souvenir shop! Jesus Christ. Or rather, Buddha.

Further strangeness ensued on the cable car journey back from the temple. The mist was so thick that we were unable to see the Big Buddha at all and our cable car was shrouded in grey. We were unable to see any other cars, and the only sign that we were not simply floating, unattached to the physical realm, was the occasional appearance of pylons, supporting the track, which groaned into view like ghostly beasts of the mountains. If this were not odd enough I slowly realised that the Englishman to my left was none other than Ralph Steadman. I recognised his voice patterns, his wife and his distinctive, shuffling walk (in that order) from a lecture I had attended earlier in the year. What was this guru of Gonzo doing in my cable car with this mountainous, Herzogian landscape behind him? Was it a sign? If so of what?

I have yet to find out, but I am still smiling.



Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I look forward to more! Was meeting Ralph uncomfortable? It was for me...

SPL said...

Meeting him at the signing it was quite uncomfortable, but in the confines of a cable car there was a very congenial atmosphere. Perhaps the lack of HST geeks relaxes him. He even identified a Red Kite with gentle glee.