Sunday, April 23, 2006

"You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans. I eat more chicken than any man's ever seen..." Backdoor Man/Willie Dixon.
Sunday evening had me thinking I'd either been here too long or feeling like I'd just arrived. It began when I slipped on a large, unmarked area of slick just-swabbed tile in a Shenzhen grocery store and went crashing as slowly and gracefully as I could beneath a fly-blown dripping table full of thawing ice and chicken feet.
C and I were shopping for dinner and in a breakthrough moment she had offered to cook. This was unprecedented. C does not cook, so we either order-in, dine out (Chinese) or I throw together something approximating chili, spaghetti sauce, seafood or fish fit for sauteeing or boiling, or the fried flesh of a farm-raised quadruped together with potatoes and fake salad. As such C's offer of chicken wings with ginger, green onions and corn sounded groundbreaking from someone who is normally ecstatic to announce that she's just successfully boiled an egg or poured hot water into a foam cup of instant noodles.
Unwrapping myself from beneath the trickle of defrosting ice on my head and from the floor which planted a large wet spot resembling a distorted map of China on the butt of my khaki shorts, I assured her I was fine and quelled the immediate urge to go into one of my Ugly American rants about how if China had something resembling OSHA and this was a Safeway we could retire comfortably to the south of France on the proceeds of a personal injury/negligence lawsuit.
Then I perked up. As she scrutinized the chicken wings, I noted a unusual assortment of chicken parts next to them. Not the feet, of course. Those are ubiquitous. Nor randomly hacked and flayed bits of broken ribcages flecked with meat, also not uncommon. Those are primo, the good stuff as any right-thinking Chinese chicken eater knows.
No, I saw drumsticks. Complete whole drumsticks. In almost 3 years in Shenzhen I had not caught as much as a glimpse of a complete single drumstick. The KFCs all sell wings and something resembling breasts, but no drumsticks. Ditto for the KFCs in Hong Kong. After the nutritious, savory and oh-so-filling precious feet are removed, I'm not clear on what is done with the utterly worthless legs they were attached to. At the banquets, where the bird is served whole it's a con job. It has been chopped up crossways from the neck to the rear and then reassembled.
So I suddenly found myself craving the feel of hefting a complete drumstick, gnawing, ripping and sucking on the meat until the bone was bare. My inner-medieval castle banquet knave or maybe the inner-Austropithicus before him was slobbering to be released.
"Those!" I blurted pointing a shaking index finger. "Drumsticks! Get those. Now, please."
C looked puzzled at my fervor. "Chicken legs? Okay," she said slowly, in a tone that suggested she was dealing rationally with an completely irrational individual in a hostage situation. "How many?"
"Four!" I hissed. "Those four there." They were the largest, fattest ones available.
Satisfied and salivating in anticipation of the feast to come, I generously offered to hobble with my aching, wet back and butt to the produce section for corn, ginger and green onions while she dealt with waking up the butcher who seemed oblivious to a growing line of consumers clutching plastic bags of stuff that mostly resembled offal. (At the grocers here foods such as meat and produce are usually weighed and priced at the source, not at the checkout line.)
I returned to see carnage. Horror. Culinary blasphemy. The butcher was applying the final few cleaver strokes to what had been four intact drumsticks before he wrapped, weighed and priced them.
"Why?" I pleaded to C. "Why didn't you stop him?"
"Stop him from what?" she said. "We always chop up the legs."
My mood turned ugly and sullen, but I kept mostly silent as we trudged from the store to another block where she said we had to visit our pirate DVD supplier who had promised to replace a faulty Sex and the City disc. At least that's what I thought she said. I would swear to it even now but ....
I stood with two Chinese families swarming over and picking through the illegal DVDs and watched without comment as the children, all about 6 to 8 years-old, got the beaming parental seal of approval for selecting wholesome family favorites such as Freddy vs Jason, Santa's Slay and Witchhouse 2: Blood Coven.
C was meanwhile locked in one of those incomprehensibly long conversations with the DVD pirate boy that looked and sounded as if they were discussing North Korea's nuclear threat and what to do about it.
I sighed and sat down and finally C returned with an Audrey Hepburn 8-movie box set and asked me if I thought 120 yuan (US$15) was too much.
"No, I guess not. But what happened to Sex and the City?"
"What? We have that already!"
"But you said one disc was broken and ...."
"No! I said I wanted the Audrey Hepburn movies."
"Uh, no, you. I mean, not really, right? Maybe, I ... or you....But never mind. "
Ain't it grand when couples communicate openly and honestly?
Back at apartment 20-D, C cooked up her debut dish and it wasn't too bad. Delicious actually, though I was still stewing about the vandalized drumsticks. I decided to cut my losses though, took a shower, retired to the bedroom and lit some candles. Romance. That' s what we needed tonight.
C finished showering, opened the bedroom door and sounded irritated.
"Why do you have candles?"
"Why do we ever have candles in here?"
"Turn on the lights, please. I want you to put lotion on my back."
That's normally another signal, like the candles, but at the moment it was clear she had nothing but lotion and only lotion on her mind.
I blew the candles out as hard and loudly as I could, snapped the lights on and slathered the lotion on her as if I was doing it for my 118th client in 2 hours at a Florida retirement home. Wham, slap, rub. Next!
Then I turned off the lights. rolled over briefly, got up and went to the balcony to smoke a cigarette alone while she lay silently in bed.
I watched the lights of Shenzhen and mulled about couples, botched cross-cultural communications, bad DVDs and drumsticks.
C came out after about 5-minutes.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Smoking a cigarette and thinking about world affairs, why I'm here, stuff like that.."
"Come back and light the candles."
I did.
"My favorite position!" she sighed a few lovely minutes later.
"Better than drumsticks," I whispered.

Friday, April 21, 2006

One Reporter's Opinion
Occasionally I have to cover a press conference here, a task I dread due to several prevailing conditions.
1. The press release exhorting the event often does not contain adequate information, such as a recent one which said it would be held at 4 Harbour Road, Room 307, 3/F. Note that a specific building is not specified. Harbour Road is a very busy, main thoroughfare and it's not uncommon for multiple businesses and organizations to contain the same address. Nor was there a phone number/name for contact information in case one wanted to call and ask what building at 4 Harbour Road contains Room 307 on the third floor.
2. The press conferences are overwhelmingly conducted in Cantonese. An English speaker of uncertain ability is usually available for niggling details like: A. What did he/she/they say? {"They say everything is fine/not sure. Maybe good, maybe not so good.") and B. Who are they? But elemental Journalism 101 followup questions and details like "Her name is 'Miss Hui?' Okay, so, what's her first name? And what's her title?" are often met with blank stares.
3. I get lost easily and possess the map reading skills of a tape worm.
Giving myself at least an extra 45 minutes to get lost and reoriented, I arrived at 4 Harbour Road about 5 minutes before the hype was scheduled to begin. The location appeared to be a hotel. But there was no room 307. Indeed there was no third floor - though there were second and fifth floors. A desk clerk studied my inadequate press release and figured out that Room 307, 3/F was probably in the YMCA job training center next to the hotel.
Indeed it was, though the press conference had nothing to do with the YMCA or job training.
Here are some verbatim notes: "Four speakers, left to right: 1. "Mr Lai, no tie, dark hair, (need first name, affliation/group) 2.Mr Mak, gray hair, dark tie (see need info Mr Lai) 3. chairperson of HKJA Cheung Ping-ling 4. Mr Hui (striped tie, see Nos. 1 & 2 info needed).
"Miss Cheung speaks first in Cantonese. Mr Lai speaks second in length, great length. Mr Mak speaks third in Cantonese and at length. Miss Cheung again - reads Cantonese press release, mercifully short. Mr Hui again...Cantonese, not suprisingly mondo length - 6-minutes and counting....Miss Cheung asks for questions in Cantonese..."
They also took them in limited English, but I could tell from their longer, more excited sounding Cantonese responses and the back and forth, give and take with the Chinese reporters that the Standard's readers -- all four of them -- probably weren't getting the good stuff.
Suffice to say I managed to rely on the sympathy of friends and eke out a meager account, largely thanks to two former Chinese Standard colleagues who had jumped ship for Chinese language news organizations but who took pity on me and gifted me with me names, titles and pithy quotes like "We don't know. We do not have the data." I filled in the rest courtesy of an AP report by another former coworker who filed before I was able to find my way back to the office and write the first two paragraphs.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Legalize It Pt II
Guest dispatch from across the border in Shenzhen courtesy of my compadre James The Laughing Buddha/Temple Guy.

''I just read your blog about the T-shirts in HK. I am unfortunately unable to comment through the usual channels; China has me locked out.
''But I wanted to tell you there has a been a recent surge in T-shirts with large graphics of marijuana leaves amongst my students. Nothing from SoDakNORML, though.
''I have photographed two. One reads: 'Marijuana Pickers / Local No 13 United Grass Workers'
''The other says: 'God Made Grass / Man Made S-Live / Who do you trust?' A Google of S-Live turns up a student radio station in the Netherlands.
'' When questioned, both students knew what marijuana was (once I had pantomimed the rolling and smoking of a joint, and the woozy, eye-rolling stereotyped reaction).
"Both were likewise totally unaware that said substance was the subject of their shirts until I told them but neither seemed particularly elated or disturbed by the news; both rather shrugged it off. "Oh. Yeah. OK." That kind of response.
''Of course, college kids aren't HK fashionistas; your sightings are much more jangly. But I still found this interesting.''

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tommy Can You See Me?
So I'm in a hurry trying to catch a subway and late for a Friday night drink and dinner with an Aussie journalist-turned-academic who has promised to show me the wonders of Hong Kong's vaunted Foreign Correspondents Club -- or "the FCC" as journos in the know smugly refer to it here. Despite its rep and legendary cheap eats and drinks, I'd previously never darkened its doorways because I'm not a member and memberships are outta reach, unless you're extremely well-heeled (or took advantage of the cut-rate membership special for hacks under 40 - and I'm about 12 years over that line - which expired last year) or know a member who will dain to treat you, you're nada, verbotten, a nonperson.
But I'm getting ahead of the story. Though it has an economic/social/political infrastructure that largely resembles The Rest of The Civilized World circa 1890-1959, Hong Kong has a few late 20th/early 21st century innovations, not the least of which is the Octopus Card. It's a wide-use debit card used primarily for subway travel but also handy for shops such as 7-Eleven in and around the (not coincidentally, subway company-owned -- Metro Transit System/MTR) property. One recharges in two amounts at machines for either HK$50 or HK$100 bills.
I'm standing in line at one behind a Chinese fellow who is somewhat overweight, carrying a thin cane, slinging a bulging backpack and having trouble pushing a HK$50 into the machine. He pushes very slowly. The machine does not respond. It's like someone trying to do subtle slow-motion foreplay with a robot. Tick. Tock. I look at my watch. It's 7:25 and it takes about 45 minutes to get to the rendezvous where my new FCC journo pal has said he'll exit at 8pm if I don't show on time. He's also seemingly the only soul in Hong Kong without a cell phone which makes sudden messages like "Hang on, I'd be there in 10 minutes but someone has thrown themselves on the tracks in a suicidal fit" unrealistic.
"You fat fuck, get it together," I mutter regarding Mr Fumbling Dude Who Can't Work the Octopus Recharge Machine after another 3-minutes of feeble push and shove as a line builds behind us. I am, of course, convienently ignoring the fact that I could also be described in exactly those same rude terms after a steady diet of cigarettes, alcohol, fried noodles, sloth and chronic ineptitude manipulating simple mechanical devices that aren't pop despensers and even those give me fits on occasion.
I watch him put the HK$50 back slowly and a little awkwardly back into his wallet and even more slowly extract another. Then I study his face which is three-quarters turned from mine and note that his eyes aren't tracking his hands. They are clear and look seemingly normal but he's staring vacantly ahead at the recharge machine. No focus. I look again at the thin cane and - trained, professional observer that I am - now note that it is white.
I am suddenly one fat foreign fuck who is fucking ashamed of himself. Here's a guy who is navigating the complex HK MTR system blind. I can barely do it with my trifocals. In Shenzhen, with the exception of hideously disfigured beggars, the sight of a blind or disabled or retarded person is rare to nonexistent -- my theory is that the mother-mainland govt just shoots them or shunts them into hidden, hideous 'tard-storage warehouses. But it's not uncommon in HK to see someone with Down Syndrome, in a wheel chair, with a walker, 02 tank, blind, deaf and using sign language etc, out and about just like in the good ol' USA.
So as he begins painfully pushing the alternate HK$50 into the slot, I reach over and gently keep pushing it until the Octopus machine's electronic tenacle finally seizes it. He hears the click and I withdraw my hand. He fumbles for the button to extract his card and I carefully touch his right index finger and push it.
He's startled briefly and then smiles as if embarrassed. I just say, "It's okay, you're done" and hope he understands and hope I haven't dented his pride because I was pissed that I might be late for a beer and burger at the FCC.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Legalize It
In the past two weeks on two separate, unrelated occasions I've seen two rather frumpy Hong Kong housewives on the subway sporting new, black T-shirts with white lettering framed by four tastefully rendered small marijuana leaves. The print says: "South Dakota NORML" followed by a brief statement in perfect English extolling the cash crop virtues of hemp for South Dakota farmers.
(For the uninitiated, non-American readers out there, NORML stands for "National Organization for the Reform (repeal) of Marijuana Laws. " It's America's oldest pot legalization group. South Dakota is - much like its sister state North Dakota - a largely bleak, enormous (75,885 sq mi./196,542 sq km), underpopulated (about 771,000 people) state whose main industry is farming and a man-made tourist attraction for which a perfectly good mountain, Mt Rushmore, was defaced and dynamited into the likenesses of four US presidents. Currently in the interests of fair play and honoring the original residents, another mountain is also being vandalized for a likeness of Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. The other principal tourist attraction is "The Corn Palace" -- an entire complex built out of, yes, corn. Besides Crazy Horse, S Dakota's most famous natives were a polka accordionist named Myron Floren, a senator and vice-president named Hubert Horatio Humphrey, B-movie/Charlie's Angel TV star Cheryl Ladd and NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw. To be fair, though, South Dakota doesn't lack for raw excitment. Sturgis, SD is the site of an enormous annual biker rally that will see its 66th year of mayhem and rolling thunder this summer.)
I think it's safe to say that neither HK housefrau had any concept of NORML, South Dakota or hemp as a cash crop. It's also a safe bet that they probably don't care a whole lot about saving South Dakota farmers and are only familiar with marijuana in an abstract "Reefer Madness" kind of way.
It was also notable that the NORML blurb was perfectly grammatical. Not a hint of the Chinglish that one sees daily on so many other "foreign"-looking T-shirts.
Where did they get them? Did someone from South Dakota NORML over-order a batch for a fund raiser that fell flat and then decide to cut his losses by dumping them on Hong Kong fashion fatalities?
I'll probably never know. After seeing the second one, I tried to ask her but she didn't speak English and more or less shrank back in horror while clutching her toddler to her lap. "It's okay," I tried to assure her. "I'm normal. Normal! Get it?"
I wound up Googling South Dakota NORML, found no T-shirts resembling the ones I'd seen but did find an e-mail address to which I dispatched a query titled "Weird Question from Hong Kong."
A couple days later I received this reply from the SD NORML honcho, which both deepens and explains part of the mystery.

Hi Justin,
Thanks for the news. Another traveler told me of similar sightings in Bangkok.
It is, indeed, strange. The graphic you describe was that on the back of t-shirts we made in 1999, the first SoDakNORML shirts. We printed 100 of them. That's all we ever made of that graphic.
Apparently it appealed to some pirate who marketed the graphic in Asia. I'd really appreciate a photo of the shirt with visual references that tell us where it was shot.
Thanks, Bob Hermosa SD USA

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Of Toilet Seats and Disgraced Barmy Judges
Through no fault of my own I seem to have become The Standard's temporary defacto No 2 court reporter following my Annie Pang inquest coverage. Which is all by way of saying that I've found myself recently at another courthouse reporting on another "only in Hong Kong" kind of case.
It involves a former Hong Kong judge, an 82-year-old Brit named Miles Henry Jackson-Lipkin (whom I'll refer to as MHJ-L) and his 81-year-old Chinese wife, a former lawyer named Lucille Fung. Both are charged with three counts of fraud in connection with welfare housing and medical aid applications. Basically, despite telling social services that they had only about US$323 to their name it appears they owned property in Canada, had a slew of investments, hidden savings and somehow were able to fly to Beijing three times and the UK twice in the same year that they were applying for public housing.
MHJ-L is a character straight out of a Paul Theroux Hong Kong novel. "Eccentric" is a polite term. He was at his height in the '70s and '80s here, a time when he needed the assistance of two chauffered automobiles to simply get to the office. The government provided one which he used to ferry his briefcase. The other was his personal Rolls Royce in which he rode.
He and his wife now use public transporation and rely on the kindness of old friends for their wheels. Though MHJ-L still sports a nicely trimmed white beard, wears tailored three piece black pin-striped suits and an honest-to-gawd bowler, he is no longer bedecked with the British military medals which ultimately led to his decision to retire from the judiciary "for health reasons" in the late '80s.
Sharp eyed UK vets here noted that he would have had to have been about 14 years-old to have been awarded several of them and it was later confirmed that he, in fact, never served.
Last year in preliminary hearings for the current trial he made more news by flashing a handwritten sign at the omnipresent HK press papparazzi pack -- a living, swarming predatory organism whose native habitat is courthouse steps and entry ways -- that said "Barbarians" in Chinese. A nice touch, actually, and somewhat apt.
He's mellowed some since and as I've been covering his trial he's glommed on to me as the only white, male, native English speaking "barbarian" in the press gallery. He also sits about 10-inches in front of me 5 days a week, giving me more time than I really need to contemplate a continuing series of small nicks and wounds on his bald, freckled pate and his right ear. He dabs white cream on the head injuries and keeps the ear bandaged in white gauze. (Speculation, fueled by me, is that it's the result of rough geriatric sex with his wobbly wife, a woman whose face appears to be melting. The gals in the HK court press corps found the concept hilarious and shocking and continue to giggle and whisper madly when he appears with fresh ear gauze and a new dab of ointment gleaming on his head.)
MHJ-L's grasp of the world outside of Hong Kong is antiquated and somewhat tenuous at best. A typical exchange with me begins outside the court room when he approaches, cane in hand, bowler jauntily cocked and asks in very posh, upper crust tones: "Say, who is this political fellow in your country (it's clear he can barely restrain himself from referring to the US as "the colonies") who seems to be in trouble?"
Me: "Which one?"
MHJ-L: "A French name. De-something, I believe."
Me: "Oh! Yeah, Tom Delay. One of many corrupt Republican scumballs."
MHJ-L: "Corrupt is he? Is he French?"
Me: " No. Actually, he's from Texas. "
MHJ-L: "A French name, though."
Me: "I guess. Maybe French ancestry. We're a nation of immigrants, you know."
MHJ-L: "Yes, a pity that. A pity also that so many governments have elected leadership. It only leads to trouble."
Me: "You'd prefer a monarchy?"
MHJ-L: "Yes, of course."
But toilet seats. Yes. The Kowloon City courthouse in which the MHJ-L legal saga is proceeding at glacial speed is also one of the newest in "Asia's world city." It was also dedicated on my birthday: October 26, 2001. As such, one might reasonably surmise that a modern 10-floor courthouse dedicated on Justin Mitchell's 2001 birthday would have seats on the public toilets.
One would be mistaken, however.
Two or three days into the assignment I began to note that no toilet in any men's room on any floor (and I checked them all, intrepid investigative journalist that I am) had seats. Only the bare, cold and often filthy porcelain rims. All seats had been removed.
Occasionally I had to sit to do my business and it wasn't pretty or comfortable. I eventually and gingerly then asked the queen of HK court reporting, a woman I'll call CH, who has been doing it for about 8 years, what the deal was for women who, of course, have to sit more frequently.
"Ai yah! (Cantonese for "Oy vey!" or "Ay, yi, yi!")" she replied. "No seats. Very bad. It's not comfortable, not clean." She added that it had been that way as long as she could recall and that some other courthouse restrooms were even worse -- no seats and so filthy that the reporters and employees would go to other buildings or else hold it and suffer.
"So who do we complain about this to?"
She gave me the name and number for an office called "Judiciary." I called a Chinese guy named Mackenzie who expressed surprise at the topic but asked me to email a list of questions.
Here are the questions.
Dear Mackenzie,
I'm Justin Mitchell, a reporter at The Standard who contacted you on Thursday morning at about 11am regarding a story I'm planning soon about why a "world class city" such as Hong Kong (with a proud judicial tradition) has no toilet seats in any of the men's or women's washrooms in the Kowloon City court house.
They have all been removed. The situation is similar, but not quite as dire in the Eastern Magistrate. A few stalls in mens and womens rooms have seats, but not all.
I spoke with long-time Hong Kong court reporters, both male and female and they told me that the only court house in Hong Kong where none of the toilet seats have been removed is High Court. Why is that so? Some of the reporters - even though they are from different newspapers - are currently providing me with a list of other courthouses and a total of removed toilet seats.
You may think this is a frivolous topic. You may wish to ignore the fact that there are toilets in mainland bus stations that are in better shape than in many modern Hong Kong courthouses. Nonetheless, here are some preliminary questions.
1. Why were the toilet seats removed, particularly in the relatively new Kowloon City court house built in October 2001?
2. What purpose does it serve to remove toilet seats?
3. It is obviously uncomfortable and unhygenic for anyone - male and female - to try to sit on a bare toilet rim in order to do their business. Why has no one in the judiciary taken this into consideration, particulary concerning sanitation in a city that still wrestles with the memory of SARS and is currently under threat for bird flu.
4. Whose decision was it to remove the toilet seats? I'd like a quote from whomever it was justifying their decision. Does this person or persons themselves routinely sit on a bare, cold filthy toilet rim when nature calls? If not, why not?
5. Toilet paper. Yes, that too. Why are the toilet paper rolls communal and outside the toilet stalls in all the courthouses? Is the logic behind this that it will save paper? Guess what! It doesn't because people routinely take more than they need rather than risk the embarrassment and discomfort of having to emerge for more if needed. I have quotes and personal experience to back me up on this one, also.
6. Do the judges use toilets with no seats? Do they have communal toilet rolls outside their stalls? If not, why not? Because they are judges and the rest of us aren't?

Mackenize called me late on Friday begging for time. No problem. He begged for more time on Monday. I told him I couldn't wait too much longer but, yeah, sure.
Tuesday was a public holiday.
Wednesday I went to court, checked the men's room on the 10th floor and - though I still hadn't heard back from Mackenzie - there were, VOILA, seats! Gleaming new toilet seats!
Same situation on the 4th floor and two others I checked randomly.
I asked CH to scout out some women's rooms. She returned grinning, gave me an awkward high five and then began speed dialing her delighted colleagues on her cell phone with the news.
"You are the toilet king!" she said. "Thank you. But what about toilet paper?"
One thing at a time, CH. Today the seats, tomorrow individual Charmin despensers.
It's just nice to know that the press can still make a difference.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Love and Happiness
D and J are a couple I've known for about 20 years, though I knew D before he met and married J. D was a stellar editor -- probably the first truly great one I ever worked for, a guy who could make chicken salad out of chicken shit for a weekend section based on nothing more than an vague idea like ''We should write something about martinis. Yeah, maybe martinis and Al Green."
They showed up in Hong Kong this weekend. D, who now works for a major news organization on their website side, was wrapping up a two week 17 or 18,000 mile business trip that began in Mexico City and bounced to Tokyo, Beijing, back to Tokyo and then to Hong Kong. J, the online editor for a US old time leftist publication whose politics she mostly favors but whose political correctness makes her wince and laugh, joined him here for the trip back to New York where they both live in the Village.
I hadn't seen them since the end of 1999 when they were working for MSNBC in Redmond, Washington and they kindly put me and my son up for an evening as he and I waited out a seemingly eternal layover for a flight to Homer, Alaska where we were going to ring in 2000 with an old high school friend who also happened to be Jewel's aunt. Somewhere in a box in someone's garage in Boulder rests a unplayed copy of Apocalypse Now that I ''borrowed'' from D that night and had vowed to mail back promptly.
It was the first visit from truly close, old friends I'd had since jumping here and after two days of extraordinary dining, drinking, nostalgia and thinking about roads not taken and the many missteps that eventually led me here, I found myself crying alone a little when I got back to my apartment Monday night.
''Do you realize it's been 19 years since you flew to Bellingham (Wash.) for our wedding?'' they asked after several martinis - a constant in our relationship - and listening to Sunny Afternoon on a jukebox in the Globe bar.
Damn. Hit the Way-Back Machine, Sherman. I was still married then, soon to be divorced from my first wife. My son was 2. I'd begun courting my second wife and I used a little to much force, I'm afraid, though it had good run for awhile until I grievously, unforgiveably screwed it up. My second wife and I had used the vows from D and J's wedding as a template for ours, but the juju just didn't take.
Theirs did though. World travelers, grandchildren, fairly prestigious jobs and a solid marriage that's weathered a few strains as all the best ones do.
I envy them, though they said they admired the blind leap I'd made and said they couldn't believe that 19 years later we three would be looking out a 56 floor window of the Conrad hotel as the sun set on a freakishly mostly clear and lovely Hong Kong Monday evening.
I've built a pretty good life here -- tenuous and shaky as it is at times -- but for that moment and for sometime later later my only wish was that it had been we four.

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