I don’t like the idea of leaving on my eyepiece overnight. I know that’s how you’re supposed to use it, and supposedly that helps with the calibration, but it freaks me out enough during the middle of the day. I don’t need interactive graphs haunting my dreams.
Instead, I normally turn it on after I’ve brushed my teeth. Then I sit down with a cup of coffee and I scroll through the relevant polls for today. Today, support for gay adoption is up to 95% in Hong Kong, support for increased social welfare payments are down to 35%, agreement with the statement “foreigners are ruining this city” is up to 99%. Oh, that last one doesn’t look good at all. I focus in on it.
Looks like the support is strongest among the lower classes, as always, but it’s made sudden gains among the middle class. Something must have happened overnight. Luckily these new eyepieces attach the news items directly to the polls, so I don’t have to switch over to my laptop.
“British Banker Rapes, Kills Hong Kong Schoolgirl. Protests Outside Embassy.”
Oh, that would do it. As if my job wasn’t hard enough without yet another gweilo killing a local girl. Something has really gone terribly wrong with these British boys. That’s the third killing in two weeks, and if they keep it up the Chinese will ban all of us foreigners. People here don’t see the difference between white people, unfortunately. We’re all pretty much identical, and right now we’re pretty much all identically shitty in their eyes.
I finish my coffee, put on my suit, and head out of my apartment. Taking the elevator down to the ground floor, I marvel at the view outside the glass case. Ever since manufacturing moved to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong has really reinvented itself as a tourist destination. Not that it wasn’t before, but these floating graphics are amazing. Neon dragons dive in and out of the harbor, glittering peacocks float from building to building on massive wings. The glittering spectacle stirs the soul, as my grandma would say.
At ground floor, I nod to the bellboy, who gives me a quick nod back. I examine his face closely for any latent signs of hostility, but it’s blank. Either he hasn’t seen the news or he’s good at hiding his emotions. I suspect the latter. Employees here are well-trained. Well, time to face the outside world. The automatic doors open with a hiss, and I can already feel the hot air creeping in through the comfortable air-conditioning of the condominium. I step outside.
The MTR in Hong Kong is the single nicest piece of public transportation I’ve ever been on. It is immaculate, it is spacious, and it is exquisitely air-conditioned. Today it’s even uncrowded, rare for this hour. There may be a religious holiday today, I think. I’d look it up but I’m trying to train myself out of relying too on my eyepiece. I’ve read worrying pieces about what it does to long-term memory. It’s like a muscle, you know, if you don’t use it you lose it.
A few stops before mine the doors open and a crowd gets on. That’s where they were hiding, apparently. The long orderly queues of the veteran Hong Kongnese help relieve the stress of getting on and off somewhat, but they break down under too much density. Even the beneficent legacies of British organization can’t get past the laws of physics, apparently. Then I look around, suddenly absurdly worried that someone could hear me thinking positively about the British. I see nothing but the crowns of heads. Phew. Telepathy has not yet become one of the miracles of science, not even here in Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, I’m still pressed up against the door, wedged between a few bodies. The person in front of me is, fortunately, an attractive girl, college-aged, with the shaved undercuts popular these days among the particularly hip in Hong Kong. The person to my side is, unfortunately, a businessman who appears to have worked through the night. His clothes are expensive, but stained, and he stinks of smoke and alcohol. On second thought, perhaps work is a strong word for what he did last night.
I uncomfortably wait for the next stop. I’m pretty sure the doors open on the opposite side, which means I just have to stay here and wait for the pressure on my body to cease. I begin to sweat, and I can feel my socks getting damp. Damn, they’re going to be wet the whole day. After an interminable wait, the doors open, and a group pours out. Only a few stragglers come back in, so net-net the car is emptier. This is good, I think.
My unwilling compatriots, the hip college girl and the smelly businessman, remove themselves from my immediate vicinity as well. I breathe a sigh of relief, then regret it as I inhale much more of the businessman’s aroma than I would ever want to. I literally choke on the stench, and the hip girl turns around. She looks at me with some amusement, then I see something else pass over her face. She stares me in the eye and adopts a look of shock, her mouth and eyes wide open.
“Did you just grab my ass?” she asks loudly.
I don’t say anything. A few people turn to look at her. I can feel my face getting red.
“Hey, gweilo, did you just grab my ass? Did you really just grab my ass?” Then she says something loudly in Cantonese. Now everyone is looking at the two of us, and I am exquisitely aware that everyone, excluding me, is not white. That would presumably make the gweilo me, meaning I am the one being accused of sexual assault.
“No!” I say, stumbling over my words. “Bu shi!” I try. Wait, shit, that’s Mandarin, and not even correct. I frantically look up the Cantonese for no in my eyepiece, but it’s hard for me to read with my heart pumping.
“Why would that be okay? Do you think that because you’re white you can just come in here and grab the local girls? Why would you do that?” she asks. Then she says something in Cantonese, and I dimly realize she’s translating for the benefit of the crowd. They appear to be on her side, too, judging by the way a semi-circle is widening around us. Some part of me admires her stage presence, as well as her impeccable diction.
“Say sorry!” a young man says, his finger pointing in my direction. “You!” he jabs the finger in my direction. “Say sorry to her!” he points in her direction.
Someone in the crowd shouts something, and someone else shouts something. I don’t understand Cantonese, so I don’t know what they shouted, but it’s pretty clear when around 30 people are thinking about beating the shit out of you.
“Wait!” I say, putting my hands up.
“Wait for what?” the girl says. I’ve brought up polls in my eyepiece. “Attitudes towards sexual assault in Hong Kong”: surprise, they disapprove. Um. “Vigilante justice in Hong Kong”: mostly disapprove. Um. “Contrition in Hong Kong”. Approve. That’s a stupid poll.
“What are we waiting for?” the girl shouts at me, the numbers seen through my eyepiece outlined on her body. The young man repeats her in his broken English, “What we waiting for?” The crowd closes in, I shrink into the corner of the door. I don’t know what they are going to do, and I don’t think they do either.
Poll categories scroll rapidly past my vision, blurring the approaching group: “Justice in Hong Kong”, “National tensions in Hong Kong”, “International tensions in Hong Kong”, “Attitudes towards foreigners in Hong Kong”.
“Sorry!” I blurt out. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to hit you! It must have been an accident! I didn’t even feel it!” My knees are jelly and my hands wavering. My back is caved. “Sorry! Sorry! I’m sorry!”
There are hot tears in my eyes, and my eyepiece goes blank in response. I see an outline of a figure in front of me, and I raise my arm to guard against the incoming blow.
“Apology accepted,” the girl’s voice says. I rub my eyes and see her standing front of me, behind her the semi-circle of the crowd.
The door dings behind me, and I stumble out into the sunshine. I only take a few steps before collapsing on a bench. The train speeds away, and I’m left sitting alone, staring into the blue sky as a Chinese dragon soars overhead.