The Ballad of Three Fingered Wu and Daisy Chu

Feeling the buzz of Hong Kong

Hong Kong. Dawn breaks. A mosquito flits through the skies. It comprehends nothing through its muslin-veiled compound eyes but the need for white jade-smooth skin from which to draw blood. It sees light beaming from buildings, shining from billboards though never from stars. The haze is there most days. Its benefits are the reds, the oranges, and the rising sun surprise.

***


Thus the buzz of day begins. Today is a blood-drama and the sunlight reveals Fei Fei yawning, scratching his belly, his noodle-rich face round and raw, his tattooed arms full of knotted strength. He sees a plastic tub of fish ready to be swuing onto the back of a truck with a blue awning loose and ragged, its Chinese inscription, half-faded, half-peeled, announcing Prosperity, Long Life, and Good Luck.

***


He grunts and picks up the heavy fish as they sloppily plan their escape, to be rushed to markets still yet to open. Fei Fei will be on time as always, with fish fresh as sea breeze, fished out of from the Lau Fau Shan waters in of the Pearl River estuary.

***


A big fish in a small pond
, sings Fei Fei to a Jurassic garoupa that stares accusations out from its prison tank. The fish silently mouths a dirge as it descends into the truck’s darkness. Help! They’re going to chop me and eat me with ginger and shallots!

***


And so the engine chugs, the wheels rumble, and the horn sounds a fanfare. The battle is underway, and the army of the day charges.

***


Nobody sleeps in Hong Kong; at least not in their beds. You see them on the trains and trams and buses: corpses missing their stops. They drive the taxis, their eyes hundred-year-old eggs, nodding until a passenger spots a mini-bus hurtling towards them, shrieking:
Death! Fuck! We’ll all be destroyed! Isn’t this something we should avoid?

***


Taxi Driver Wong, bald as a walnut, has no face, only the back of a head. He picks up Daisy Chu as she leaves Kowloon’s Hotel Romantic and hums to himself,
Everyone loves Daisy Chu. She may be expensive but there is nothing she will not do! An independent woman, proud and pretty, who lives and laughs at Hong Kong’s mad stir-fried hypocrisy.

***


Another day another dollar
, Taxi Driver Wong sings.

A mad night!
sings Daisy Chu, looking forward to her day’s sleep, One drunk, one punk, a gweilo or two, or maybe four, and a man in construction who yelled, ‘How’s this for a wrecking ball?!’ His wife was having a baby, and for good feng shui he just had to lay me.

Who would that be?


You know I can’t say! But if I’m ever found dead, my diaries will make the newspapers’
day!

***


Taxi Driver Wong can hear discreet Daisy in the back of his cab snoring the sleep of the innocent. He sniffs the freshness of the day mingled with the staleness of the night, a hint of smoke, a waft of gifted scent. He loves all women who serve the weak and the strong, for they can do no wrong.

***


At the Prince of Wales Hospital, the first-born of the day, or the last-born of the night, screams in the ward, delighting Nancy Chang, but frightening her daughter who has a rival now, a brother.

***


On his mobile phone somewhere is the grateful husband. He has the best of the best —
a wife, a son at last, and a bargain birth too. He won on the horses: Big Brother the last of his accumulators, a thousand to one. It paid for the hospital. And his wife smiles because a husband who is lucky is what every woman wants.

***


Husband Chang is hungry now, after a night of Daisy Chu. With a day of babies ahead, he sits in Temple Street plotting his next move with Three Fingers Wu, while watching Stupid the cook firing up the charcoal for the pots of breakfast stew.

***


Everyone knows his estranged father, Big Fish, the big-wheel-big-cheese-big-daddy of Husband Chang and a Single Daughter. He runs a multi-national conglomerate with offices in five capitals, shovelling cash around the globe building bridges, building roads, mining diamonds and digging gold —
the tycoon of tycoons, the richest man in the world. He eats his breakfast with gweilos in nice expensive suits, poised with laptops and PowerPoints, models of builders’ dreams, and hot cups of coffee full of cream and steam. One nod, one grunt, one suggestion that Big Fish knows something will filter down through all these clowns to their maids and girlfriends and out to the mugs who will buy the shares. Pump ’em and dump ’em then buy them back again, that is the money making strategy that gets wanted or unwanted buildings built now and then.

***


That is Husband Chang’s father, a man of substance, a man of dreams, a man full of self-esteem, a man who thinks his son a wastrel, a pointless weak-willed boy while clever conniving lesbian Single Daughter makes him wish she were the boy. But Husband Chang has a plan, and now a son. The timing couldn’t be better. And he smiles and slurps his noodles, served by Stupid, the bad-haired, greasy-shirted, pocked-faced, gap-toothed cook who seems to know no better.

***


Stupid, whose nickname stuck from year one, is a king of underestimation, dealing with the hard men who rule the streets of his birth. With stupid grins and jokes and pretending not to understand all the threats, all the flashing choppers, he gets on with his work. He runs the daai paai dong his mother owns. No one else takes a cut. He needs no protection, for he sees and says nothing, merely serves and listens, and never interrupts.

***


Especially not Three Fingers Wu, all rings and twitchy finger stumps, whispering to Husband Chang. ‘Don’t worry about me,’
says Stupid, ‘I’m Stupid.’ And Three Fingers Wu and Husband Chang laugh because Stupid looks the part, all weepy-eyed and bad comb-over. He serves up the fried oysters swilling in evil dark diesel saying, ‘I’m Stupid. Got lots to do.’ And walks back to his hellfire cauldron kitchen; he has a big fat garoupa to butcher and stew. And he now knows that Three Fingers Wu has his butchering too.

***


Mrs Cheung, mother of Stupid, thinks what a clever mother she is. She owns a daai paai dong and has a stupid clever son who hears everything, giving her tips on sales, discounts and currency deals, so she can swap in and out of the markets like the big guys do. Come to think of it, maybe now she is so powerful she’s a rival to Three Fingers Wu? She eyes him, he smiles, he always did have a thing for her, especially if she could be his alibi for what he was about to do.

***


The roads fill, the streets churn, the oceans of women, the mountains of men, stream like ants, crazy and the soldier kind, throughout the walkways, malls and lifts to the glossy offices and matte factories —
concrete termite nests of industry. There is work to be done, there are crowds to be suckered, and it’s amazing that there is anyone around to buy anything, for everyone is working. Everyone but the beggar lying on the Central crossroads, plastic bags and old rags covering her head-to-feet. Though she works in a mannertoo, for Three Fingers Wu too, works after a manner.

***


She knows everyone but nobody asks who she is. Perhaps one day you could end up there, if luck does not go your way. But years and years ago, before becoming a stain on the floor, she was skipping to school, full of dread, full and fed, full of hope that her friends would be kind, her teachers would never mind, and she would know all the Chinese characters that she should know, as she wrote and wrote a thousand times the one character that was good, a pictogram of a woman with a child: ho! A woman with a child: love and hope before the battle begins.

***


Stepping over the beggar on the way to school are all the little boys and all the little girls, satchels on their backs, weighed down with lessons —
the little Fatties, the little Stupids, and all the way up to the Bigger Fishes, all there, already waiting to slip from school into bigger shoes, or just plain flip-flops, T-shirts and a toothpick to chew.

***


The air dulls with the stirring dust, but behind the glass of the offices, of the apartments, of the shops, the air is electric ice. But there is time to laugh and plan all the meetings, text all the friends, do all the greetings and then fall asleep when the lesson begins.


***


Fei Fei, now with an empty truck, can recite many a lesson if he chooses to, but it leaves him in a sweat remembering how he learned them. Out of that school as fast he could, into the freedom of no qualifications, but bright as a turtle shell (by his own estimation), bright enough to know no better and keep himself to himself and not ask too many questions.

***


He has finished his daily chores and he has to look busy or the boss will give him more. Back in the oily high-rise hive of New Territories’
workshops and truck parks, he counts in the drivers and they compare notes of the previous night’s races: the accumulators they almost won, the million that got away. If only they had known that Grey Fox had that bellyache. Doubles and trebles, quincunx and places, percentages and return rates, and assessments of form mixed into the equations bought from pro gamblers.! Now that takes some thinking, some eating, and plenty of beer!

***


So, Fei Fei and friends settle down to play cards on the top of a ruptured tyre because at least one of them will win. The odds are simple, unless you take into account the cheating.

***


Fei Fei you lazy, idle slob,
his invisible boss croons over the tTannoy, I’ve got a job for a man with your talents and debts! Don’t disappoint me. This job is big and all you have to do is transport a pig.

***


Nancy Chang observes her brand new son. He’s pink and frankly not much at all. He looks like them both when they were at that age. He could have been any of the babies that Husband Chang saw when hurrying to catch a glimpse in the maternity ward.

***


Show me the boy,
intones Husband Chang. Has he got all the bits? I hope he has no funny birthmarks or smells of dirty armpits.

Don’t say that!
sings Nancy, Tthe name will stick. How would you like a son called Stinky Chang? Your father would hate you all the more and leave all his money to your sister, the lesbian whore.

I wouldn’t worry about any of that. All manner of things can happen in Hong Kong, as long as me and you stay strong.


***


Nancy and her husband sniff at the child, who peacefully sleeps, oblivious of how his future is already settled. No uncertainties for him. His father is proving he has the mettle. His sister though can sense the winds of change. From now on, she will grow increasingly deranged and become a world of pain for some future man, who will try but fail to understand.

***


Taxi Driver Wong picks up Big Fish. It’s nice to see him again. He expects a good tip
- which blue chip to buy and whether it is the end of the world.

***


Sell everything, sings Big Fish, tThere’s a fire in the holed. Trouble is coming and certain politicians are getting old. Take all your profits and run for the hills. Wait till the smoke clears and then be really bold and put all of your money in gold!

***


Big Fish is never wrong and that is why Taxi Driver Wong has a daughter who can live by art, sculpting abstract installations for galleries worldwide. She is a puzzle, never happy. She will never be a bride, but they say she is famous, though for what he cannot see. It’s all just so much rubbish but he is told her art is ‘very contemporary’. Perhaps he shouldn’t have paid for that school, for the price of grandchildren might well have been a daughter who is a fool.

***


Now Taxi Driver Wong finds himself stuck in a one-way. There is a demonstration ahead: banners, angry faces and chants about issues of votes, rents and wages.

***


Their protesting,
sings Big Fish, destroys the very thing they say the government officials deny. That’s the trouble with all these radicals, they’d have every Chinaman back to riding bicycles!

***


Taxi Driver Wong cares not one way or another, because all he thinks of is how he cannot take his ride to the end, so his fare will be less and in this mess he will not be able to pick up any more.

***


Big Fish, the world’s richest man, steps from his cab, pushes through the crowds, invisible on his way. His wristwatch is worth as much as Taxi Driver Wong’s apartment. His shirt is as much as the cab and its licence. But he thinks nothing of walking and gathering up the buzz, as it feeds his brain and justifies what he does. Which is to set things up, get things moving, and right now he fears they are about to stop. So he needs to make himself feel young and feel like he’s still in the game. So tonight Big Fish will book Daisy Chu again.

***


Three Fingers Wu has heard on the grapevine that things are afoot. There is going to be a rent hike, and Mrs Cheung is in the crosshairs. What a perfect time to profess his love. He sings:
Big Fish Chang wants you all out, and hopes to get away with taking his fortune and running abroad!

***


Mrs Cheung eviscerates a chicken and hangs it by its feet. Bird flu or not, fresh is fresh and regulations cannot compete.

***


So what’s that to me? I own my lease. Have twenty-five years before I have to worry.

Not so
, sings Three Fingers Wu. For you’ll find that as all around depart, Big Fish will put up the bamboo scaffolding. He’s pricing everyone out, to sell it to a company from Shenzhen….. And you know what happens when ownership passes to the likes of them! They’ll chop you, spoon out your eyes, and tattoo their names on the inside of your thighs. They’ll burn you with acid and reduce you to soap. And your little boy Stupid will be hung with a rope.

***


Such courtship would turn the head of many a woman, but Mrs Cheung is very stubborn. She rips another chicken apart, wipes her hands down her bloody trousers, rips a claw from a crab, and pointedly gestures to the street, singing
I’ll be here when they pull everything down, feeding the workers until I’m run out of town.

But there is a chance
, sings Three Fingers Wu, if you come along to the salsa class and accompany my learning the dance.

***


With a three-fingered snap, a pre-arranged Filipino band, guitars and accordions in hand, plus the formation team of Double Luck Salsa, a hundred dollars a session, appear from behind the restaurant awning, slipping and sliding, tripping and gliding, dipping and dancing to the gyrating pulse of Latin America. Unforgettable and captured on CCTV cameras, a stroke of genius, that must impress.

***


The Mexican Dollar dance delights Mrs Cheung; it captures her heart. This is something she must learn. And if only, if only Mr Melvis Cheung were alive, but then of course with him it would have had to have beenbe the jive! He was a part-time impersonator of Elvis Presley who roamed the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, strumming his guitar, singing his Hound Dog song.

***


Stupid, his father’s spitting image, spits as his mother salsas, creeping out Three Fingers Wu as he always does. But Three Fingers Wu will be happy for a month of promises if Stupid backs up whatever he says to police, judge or jury. So Stupid licks his lips as he dips all the guts into the sauce, his bubbling BBQ spitting and spewing black smoke. He knows something Three Fingerish is happening today, a future headline that all the papers will say was like a plot from a movie. And so lunch begins with a dance and a proposal, an offer to mull over, a deal to dispose of.

***


The gossipy city gobbles dim sum, gabbles and queues for their food. They discuss the plot, check their phones, and wait for the action to begin. All these characters, all this intrigue, all this set-up in Hong Kong films never connects with the finish, because all that matters is that the star kicks ass, falls in love and dies at the end. Worth the price of a ticket if only to say that you were there and you saw it and you knew what was on the way.

***


Shadeless raw concrete. The harbour front of Hong Kong battles the tourist mainlanders by broiling them in the sun. They have come to see the stars of Hong Kong’s long-gone film industry stamped on the boardwalk, viewed in the petrol haze. Bruce Lee’s statue attracts them like flies, and giggling girls in short shorts, and muscular Guangdong men draped in cameras, pose and kick in front of it like lightning bolts. They glance upwards where from on high, from the upper floors of his office, Big Fish surveys.

***


They are all children
, he sings, to be entertained and kept out of mischief, kept innocent and charming, in the concrete playground that we build.

***


The room is full of gweilos, engineers and number crunchers with their calculators, a soulless assembly of technical men. Big Fish brings them in to do his bidding. He finds them efficient and less inclined to saying yes and doing nothing like his fellow countrymen. Of course his son should be there, bi-cultural, fed on foreign education, but still Chinese at heart, spending his days gambling and fucking some tart. His fortune won’t be any use in the hands of that dolt. Maybe Single Daughter should be given a second thought?

***


Opportunity,
goes his chant, is what my people crave — the chance to get lucky, and to earn a nicely positioned grave.

***


Feng shui is most important. To ensure that Hong Kong has plenty, Big Fish wants a new bridge, a new road, and a new shopping mall
an aspirational prod that will have all those losing faith in the great Chinese dream lusting for items that will civilise their brains.

***


We are building a new Chinese civilisation that will be the envy of the world. And pretty soon you will all learn Mandarin, the most civilised and beautiful language ever heard. Some say I am anti-Western, but this is not true, I merely believe we have souls more developed than you!

***


Amidst the grins of well-paid gweilos, Big Fish struts and parades and looks once again out of his Cinerama window at the mountains he knows channel qi into his superior soul, ignorant of pointed lightning fingers taking aim at their goal.

***


Down below Taxi Driver Wong picks up the much-ignored daughter. Big Fish once placed a newspaper advert to get her a husband, offering a ten million reward to save her from the lesbian horde.

***


Single Daughter, cute as Hello Kitty, lipstick lesbian, snappy dresser, adorns the back seat and purrs, ‘Jung Wan,’
waking Taxi Driver Wong to absorb his mirror view. There she is, a celebrity, second of the day. Always a pleasure to find one and that maybe there’s an autograph on its way. But remember this woman bites like a New Territories’ dog and that the press had a bad time when they made fun of her blog. Sued for millions in court for besmirching her name and taking compromising photographs of her in an attempt to shame.

***


Single Daughter has a tai tai lunch with ladies rich, fair and full of flair. They support each other’s projects: charities and shops, bars, clubs and yachts, and a stable of horses that defy racetrack logic.

***


Taxi Driver Wong knows all about her stance, read it in the
Apple Daily, edges of the newspaper singed, smelling of smoke, so hot the news was that day. Though all he read was the gossip and what was said about Single Daughter of Big Fish, because he wanted her to marry a man. And somewhere in the broken-springed cab back-seat of his mind Taxi Driver Wong rapes her and makes her see sense, because she is so beautiful, so sexy, and she smells of sandalwood essence.

***


Faster you oaf, and look at the road. Can’t you see the lights are red, you moronic little toad?!


***


In the mind of Single Daughter, she plans for mass slaughter of all Hong Kong men, sexists each one, more feminine than girls, lascivious little rats. Send them to hell with no money, no paper Mercedes, no paper cell-phones. Saw through their skulls with blunt serrated edges, set dogs on their bollocks and stick Tiger Balm up their pink little arses. A series of sculptures she will commission, traditional Chinese hell-bent visions, based upon the garden of the great Aw Boon Haw, destroyed by Big Fish and his wrecking ball buffoons.

***


She will try to find a connection with that feminist sculptor, a certain Ms Wong, who must be connected to someone she knows, for she is a genius, a holder of keys, a woman who advances the customs and culture of all the Chinese. Single Daughter, the outcast, unloved by Big Fish, feels discarded, but also feels better than any man! And as she alights from the taxi with her latest project in mind, she forgets to check for kidnappers, paparazzi or any human kind.

***


A stain on the floor, never noticed any more, bangs a begging cup letting accomplices know that Single Daughter’s time is up and it is all action. Go! So out comes Old Madam Ng, thin and bent as a pin, trundling an iron trolley stacked with cardboard and old used Coke cans. For each stack of brown board she is paid a dollar, but today she gets a little more, as with a quick push of her trolley she knocks Single Daughter to the floor.

***


Old Madam Ng was once an actress starring in Shaw Brothers films, but her breasts are now gone and so are her Hollywood dreams. Her life though is not so bad; people in the markets are kind. They still ask for her autograph and make sure she gets fed. And today she plays another role from the gangster movie of her mind, in which she runs down a rich bitch whose acting talent she cannot find. Her screams from beneath her trolley wheels do not sound real at all. Why she was given this part is a mystery only Buddha knows!

***


Then, bouncing from awning to awning, somersaulting black-suited men, two-handedly fire pistols, sending all scattering for cover; choppers and knives flashing in the air, spark in the sultry atmosphere. And from up high, ropes drop down, black-clad, evil, dwarf turnip-head Ninja’s with Kalashnikovs and Mausers spewing more bullets than they could possibly hold. Black-suited gangsters to the right, T-shirted gangsters to the left, policemen diving for cover, cars exploding, as Old Madam Ng reveals to Single Daughter she is Big Fish’s long lost mother. She lost him at birth when wicked child traffickers removed him from the cot wrapped up in her skirt.

***


I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,
warbles Single Daughter. You’re all mad! I want my Dad! If he ever catches you, things will be bad! You will be battered and burnt and your ashes scattered! Your children hunted and boiled into jelly. Nothing will be left of your family. So leave me alone! Just disappear!

***


Old Madam Ng stands back and watches as the stunt team from Guangdong wrangle the writhing woman, rolling her in a carpet sprayed with magic movie sleep. How kind they are, how well trained, just like back in the day when real films were made!

***


With the click of mahjong tiles, as the noodle steam clears, Old Madam Ng returns to earth to report from her dreams. Three Fingers Wu grins at her as he trills,
Jih Mo! Now you tell me, what’s the score?

***


We’re all held to ransom
, Old Madam Ng sings, the night fading and the glow of the charcoal pots drawing her closer like a moth to the light, her sense of smell gone, but the memory of the taste lingering on.

***


What’s that?
chirps Stupid, ladling out a bowl of noodles. And pretends to listen, never hearing a word, for everything Old Madam Ng says must be absurd.

***


In the world of Old Madam Ng, a life exists that might have been. She was beautiful, she was wooed, she had lovers with muscles who spent a fortune on diamonds, none of which she still has. And she hears the rattle of mahjong and looks over to Three Fingers Wu swimming through the tiles on the plastic-topped table, a toothpick in his mouth. He smiles and tosses her a red envelope.

***


Here you are Old Madam Ng, a present from a friend. Don’t let it be said I’m not generous. Tonight we all eat. Tonight fortune has no end.


***


Fei Fei drives his rattling truck, a belted trunk bouncing in the back, some cargo to ship from Sai Kung shore: drugs, ivory, or some drugged Russian whore. Fei Fei won’t open it, it is no concern of his, and with twenty thousand dollars to keep his mouth shut, he dreams of the night’s horses and blowing the lot.

***


Pragmatic and asthmatic Fei Fei does his job, buckled down to dreams of Daisy Chu love, the God of Wealth nodding on his dashboard, a world of Hong Kong’s wealth reflected like rainbows in his windscreen.

***


It doesn’t matter what they do,
hums Fei Fei as he trundles through the town, The politicians and bankers in their offices are always up there and I’m always down here. But I have my beer and Mark Six ticket, and with luck I’ll get through this day and one day get away with it!

***


Daisy Chu, repainted and oiled, rides to her eight o’clock appointment at the Mandarin Hotel. She hopes Big Fish will be grateful and quick, for she can then hit the bar and take another pick. And within the month she will have enough to retire, though she will never stop because this is the only way she will never expire.

***


Will you ever marry?
longingly intones Taxi Driver Wong, hoping that Daisy will say yes and he is the one.

What use do I have of men?
she sings, checking to see how many condoms she has left.

***


In the bright light, the noisy night, of music and horses hooves, beer in plastic mug in hand, formbook on his plastic stool, Fei Fei marks up his racing card. Tonight Happy Valley racecourse will live up to its name. It was founded in a malarial swamp by the ghosts of gweilos past, forgotten men of no consequence, unlike those with soul, those with true Chinese hearts, lovers of shopping malls.

***


Darkness has fallen in Tolo Harbour. The squid boats light the sea like landing space craft, oblivious to one of their number dropping a bag of fish food overboard, restoring patriarchal harmony.

***


Luck has run out for some, and in the dark wet chill of the deep, plastic-bag-and-sailor’s-lunchbox-encrusted sea, a last dream fills her mind as lungs fill with water. A passing aria of Single Daughter, considering whether it was
the tweets taunting the mundane in Hong Kong and bragging of my creative virtue, or the public Facebook unfriending of the unfashionable, or was it the assault on the reporters from Ming Pao exposing my lesbian lifestyle, or was it the petitions raised for home-imprisoned mainland artists that brought about my fate? Or was it my father ridding himself of his embarrassment?

***


Sinking into the depths of more accusations and blame, she remembers her now starving pet poodle, Pinky, left alone in the apartment, awaiting her never to return.
Goodbye Pinky! Goodbye Hong Kong! she warbles with the last bubble of her air.

***


The day is done, though it always goes on, day to night, a perpetual dusk and dawn, nothing stops, nothing starts, one thing follows, and another departs. And in the steamy night that stays in its grey half-lit haze, Nancy Chang looks from her hospital window in a daze. She wonders where her husband is, her baby screaming in the cot, and hears the buzz of a mosquito seeking out new blood.

***


One day
, she lullabies soothingly as she closes curtains on the day’s drama, aAll this will be yours! Good job I didn’t have another daughter.

***


The great orchestra of jack hammers, buses and boats, swells to a soaring jarring stop-and-start Cantonese Opera finale, where all sing in disharmony, the last words:
Mother and child are all that is good, all that is love, all that is hope.

And the midnight gong crashes: p’doing!