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.
You know, even with the phrase "tard storage" in there (which, honest to god, just made me spray my monitor with pbr), this is the sweetest thing I've read in a long time.
Another classic Justin hanidcap moment. After Subbing for Julian's high school English Teacher. Julian waits in the classroom for his Dad to pack up so they can drive home together.
Justin: Hey, Julian do you know Joe?
Julian: Yeah, I know Joe, everyone knows Joe.
Justin: I left a note about his to Sweeney. He was acting up in class laughing really loud and clappinghis hands. Just really acting like an ass.
Julian:Um...Dad, you do know Joe's retarded right?
Justin:What? Are you serious?
Julian: Yeah, I mean that's why everyone knows Joe.
Justin: Oh. Will you tell Sweeney to igonre the not then?
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