For Starters (Part 8)

Read: For Starters (Part 7)

And malls, according to a local YouTube beauty guru, are the best places to spend Christmas in Hong Kong. “The Landmark, IFC, Hysan Place, and the Pacific Place are my top picks”, she said in her “8 Ways to Spend Christmas in Hong Kong” video. As if Hong Kong wasn’t busy enough as a world of its own, Christmastime malls are home to elaborate polymer-covered worlds complete with transport infrastructure, housing, shops, recreational facilities, and figurines. One Christmas, the Landmark wooed shoppers with a complex structure of wire tracks and racing multicoloured balls extending from the ground floor. I was stood by the balustrade, watching, like everyone else. Took me right back to Physics 101. Not very Christmasy, but I was mesmerised by how the balls stopped rolling, only to be carried to the next track to start racing again. It went on and on until the Landmark powered off the display, much to everyone’s disappointment. Another year, the Landmark built a snow-covered town in the same spot. Everyone kept their eyes on the electric toy train that circled the town, some tracing its tracks with camera phones. White cottages and street lamps were alive with yellow lights while plastic residents ventured out for Christmas shopping. Miniature pine trees overlooked streets that were virtually empty, against the background of a festive soundtrack playing on loop. The Landmark has outdone itself in capturing Christmas. “Half the best places to spend Christmas in Hong Kong are in malls”, I lamented in the response I posted to the video. “Maybe you should leave Hong Kong if you’re too good for mall Christmases”, a fellow viewer replied. Tempting.

Maybe that’s why Jules and I found ourselves in Taipei, wandering from one massive multi-storey stone monument to another. We saw the same bakeries, bookstores, clothing labels, the same crowds, over and over again. A heavy shower broke our pattern, and it dawned on us that a typhoon could be just around the next mall. When one day Jules did have class, I ventured out into the city myself, but retreated back into my suite after a middle-aged, pot-bellied man in a neon orange polo shirt began following me on his motorcycle near the train station. “Miss! Miss!” He tried to get my attention. “Can I have your number?” I ran into the station as he struggled to keep his bike at a reasonable pace. After the ordeal, I never left the room without Jules. By the end of the week, we decided would not hurt to stay in since the suite, though minimalistic, was roomy. While Jules was away, I either jumped rope or did five cartwheels in a row from the window to the door to keep myself sane.

Although most of the time, we enjoyed playing house, Jules couldn’t last ten minutes without snoring, and left me lying in the cold when he swaddled himself with the blanket. Other times, he felt like a six-foot long radiator that wouldn’t switch off. So much for a romantic getaway. “When we get a place of our own, promise me we’ll get two blankets”, I said, after another cold, sleepless night. Other times, we did the laundry together with the small bottle of laundry detergent I’d brought in my backpack, and took care of our own meals. By that, I mean we ordered lots of takeouts and ate in front of a black TV screen. Given the occasion, sex was mandatory, and we did it until our genitals hurt. While my mom probably knew what Jules and I were up to in Taiwan, he couldn’t let his parents find out. “What if my mom finds out we’re doing it”, he said.

“So? Doesn’t your sister do it all the time during her weekly slumber party?”

“You know how my mom treats me different ‘cause I’m still at school.”

During our first few months together, his mom constantly reminded him, “Any time now, that girlfriend of yours is going to dump you because she’s going to find a man who meets her standards. And when the time comes, don’t be upset. You’ll always be my special boy.” Jules claimed he’d never taken her seriously, but I imagined him slamming the door in his mother’s face. “That boyfriend of yours is going to realise how throwing tantrums won’t get him anywhere once he gets out of school,” Mom says every time I come home upset by his tantrums. “You just wait.”

Sometimes, I wait longer than I should. Jules and I are out, caught in a disagreement, and he walks out of sight. I call his cell over and over again and he doesn’t pick up, and when he finally does, he refuses to tell me where he is. Surely Hong Kong isn’t too big for me to find you. In those moments, Hong Kong feels the size of Jupiter. Yet, I was afraid of getting caught running around searching high and low like a lunatic. After all, it is a small world. One of the first conversations I had with my new colleague at work was about PDApublic displays of anger. “I’ve seen it many times in Hong Kong. I saw a girl fight with her boyfriend once at the North Point MTR.” Too detailed, too familiar. I played it cool and said, “Maybe they just don’t have space.”

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