Iowa Writes

MANI RAO
Junket


Remember the lions outside the Bank of China tower? And how we used to use their jaws to staple extra-thick bank documents? One day, when a security guard went to relieve himself, the teeth disappeared and the Hong Kong stock market crashed.

According to rumors, the teeth got on the list of an auction and the seller was an antique shop really in the business of antique-style furniture. But when the police wrenched open crates in the storerooms on Hollywood Road and Cat Street, they found nothing but ivory, tons of ivory. The shop-owners claimed it was old stock from the 90s; there had been no new deliveries since it had been made illegal to trade in ivory. As for missing teeth, they pointed at the China Resource Centre, try the medicine section, they said.

Remember the lions outside the Bank of China tower? And how we used to use their jaws to staple extra-thick bank documents? One day, when a security guard went to relieve himself, the teeth disappeared and the Hong Kong stock market crashed.

According to rumors, the teeth got on the list of an auction and the seller was an antique shop really in the business of antique-style furniture. But when the police wrenched open crates in the storerooms on Hollywood Road and Cat Street, they found nothing but ivory, tons of ivory. The shop-owners claimed it was old stock from the 90s; there had been no new deliveries since it had been made illegal to trade in ivory. As for missing teeth, they pointed at the China Resource Centre, try the medicine section, they said.

When the stock market went under it was not a big deal because the really rich turned to Plan B, the really poor lost nothing, and everyone else had jobs. But newspapers and internet sites were still uncensored, and as a result, things were loose and a lot was said. One newspaper looked at their archive of the annual horoscope for the city, which had clearly indicated change beyond control. A legislator (a newcomer), showed off in a radio interview by pointing out that the sound of the original Chinese word for teeth had a syllable that was reminiscent of another Chinese word which sounded similar to the sound of the word for energy; Hong Kong had lost its energy. A Chinese proverb about the impossibility of pulling teeth from a tiger's mouth did the rounds, and if you considered the lion as a kind of tiger, then the impossible had occurred. One proverb said: If you cannot bite, never show your teeth. Another proverb said: When fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth. Hyped, people soiled themselves. Sewage emptied into the harbor faster than the efficiency rate of the effluent recycling system, the water level rose and the streets were flooded. The water measured five-people deep and would not recede. The death toll was not too bad, numbers somewhere between India and Iceland: Iceland where every single person was rescued from lava by using choppers, India without enough escalators and elevators. Hundreds of security guards died when the water rose and people murmured in private that it was retribution for the negligence over the teeth. Many of the guards were Gurkhas, the same community that fought for the British army.

While the city's lowlife escaped into the hills and fought it out with the illegal immigrants, wealthy construction companies with directors who lived on the Peak flew in cheap labor from Shenzhen and built walkways connecting the high floors of Hong Kong buildings. New airports, car parks and flyovers went up in a matter of weeks. The MTR re-invented itself and turned trains into submarines.

Commercial, shopping and housing infrastructures were already in place. Food was already being imported. Clothes and money were already made of plastic. Having watched what happened in Mumbai monsoons, many buildings had already launched Crisis Management Solutions. This meant that when the bowl of the South China Sea spilled over, there were no expensive assets at the street level anyway, and MIS had already relocated servers to higher floors.

It did not take long for the city to return to business as usual. The stock market recovered. Hong Kong Tourist Association got a new lease on life with an advertising campaign. Two ad agencies competed, one multi-national and one Beijing-based. The gweilo agency recommended "City of Sails" and felt that the controversy about plagiarizing Auckland's tagline would help amplify the impact of the budget. The China agency recommended "Hong Kong Junk City" and proposed retaining the existing campaign with the logo of the Hong Kong junk; they would simply change the text everywhere and save HKTA millions of re-branding dollars. The China agency won. Embankments were built all along the harbor to ensure that the risen waters would stay in the city. Chlorinators and cleaning systems were installed to maintain a beautified waterscape. Hong Kong was hailed as the "Venice of the East" by Dr. Condoleezza Rice. China was proud of the sobriquet. Singapore was now mud.

A memorial was constructed for security guards in Chatter Garden, and HSBC opened a Premier account for each of the surviving families. One artist set up a lounge with tall chairs, a coffee machine and scalloped cookies in case the ghosts of the security guards dropped in. Another artist erected a figure in guard uniform, as if walking on water, and called it resurrection.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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MANI RAO

Mani Rao was born in 1965 in India, and moved to Hong Kong in 1993, where she has mostly lived since. She is the author of six poetry collections. A Fall 2005 participant in the UI's International Writing Program, Rao is back in Iowa as the 2006 UI International Programs Writer-in-Residence. This story is from the book H.K.I.D: Stories from the city's hidden writers (Hong Kong: Haven Books, 2005).

Writer in Residence

This page was first displayed
on March 19, 2006

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