Friday, October 6, 2017
In Case You Missed It-Blog Tour #1 Exclusive Excerpt
THERE WAS A Starbucks on the ground floor of my building, and I stopped on my way out to get a large black coffee with an extra shot of espresso. The aspirins had helped control the headache, as had the shower, but I was a little sluggish and had to be on point for my meeting. Trying to convince the PRC that their antiquated opinions on gay rights didn’t measure up to the changing landscape would be a challenge. The queer community had as much, if not more, disposable income at their fingertips, but they balked at visiting countries renowned for their hard line against their tribe. Even when they did venture into parts of mainland China, they were paranoid and reluctant to walk about outside of the arranged tour.
After paying for my drink, I murmured xié xie—thank you—in perfectly accented Mandarin. The barista’s eyes rounded in surprise upon hearing the polite words coming from a blue-eyed ginger in a bespoke three-piece suit. In the days of British Rule, it was common to find Westerners who spoke the language, but since 1997, when China took back Hong Kong, many of the expats had returned home. The majority of Caucasians who now resided in the area were transient businessmen and didn’t have the time or inclination to learn the difficult language. It was second nature to me, so much a part of my persona I never realized when I shifted language as needed. Winking playfully, I left her a nice tip.
I had time to walk to the escalator that would take me to the central part of town, so I could catch a cab to my office at the AIA Kowloon Tower in Kwun Tong. If I decided to stay beyond this assignment, I’d have to look into purchasing a car and possibly selling my place on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to invest in something local. Having been away for so long, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live here permanently. I’d made that clear to the higher-ups when I accepted this campaign. Peter had a lot to do with my decision. Given his connections, it would be impossible to have any sort of personal life in this town if our relationship didn’t pan out. I knew he wasn’t the only attractive man in my immediate vicinity, but he was the one I wanted. If I couldn’t have him, then I’d rather be on the other side of the world.
Having just arrived a week ago, it would take my olfactory senses a few more days to acclimate to the combination of fetid and flowery aromas that were so much a part of this city. Bins overflowed with rubbish until the garbage collectors made their rounds. As I got closer to the harbor, smells changed. The briny tang of the ocean mingled with diesel fuel, masking everything else. The Star Ferry shuffled people back and forth from Hong Kong to Kowloon all day, and car and bus exhaust hung heavily in the air.
People prattled into their cell phones as they rushed about, shoes skidded across walkways leading to the ferry, double-decker buses rumbled, bicycle and tricycle riders didn’t hesitate to squeeze their annoying, trilling bells to warn pedestrians to get out of the way while car and bus drivers utilized horns haphazardly. I was keenly aware that people around here didn’t talk in low murmurs. Voices caterwauled from all directions. As one got deeper into the areas of commerce and open food markets, shop owners hawked goods from doorways, haggled over prices in strident tones, cackled in amusement when they made the deal, brayed in anger if they were blocked, shouted at potential pickpockets, and waved off nefarious lookie-loos.
I’d lived in big cities all over the world, but nothing could compare to Hong Kong’s energy. This was a city of commerce, centuries old, and the smell of money was as redolent as the stink of fish. It felt great to be back in my element, but on the other hand, not much had changed in my personal life. I was still the freckle-faced áng-mo—red-haired foreigner, a step up from the more derogatory gweilo—looking for a meaningful relationship with an unattainable man.
James, Peter’s younger brother, had invited me for dinner tonight. We were both twenty-nine, had bonded at twelve after ending up on the same basketball team, and stayed friends despite our distance. I was certain he’d pump me for information regarding my visit with Peter. To this day, he felt personally responsible for our disastrous pairing. Every time Peter hurt my feelings, James would know. Apparently, my cool mask slipped when it came to love.
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