In Hong Kong there is a dragon. It is always chasing a flaming big pearl. It chases this fiery pearl across embroidered silk robes, quilts and pillow covers. It races over cedar-wood chests, glass topped coffee tables and dressers. It glosses over restaurant windows. It even embosses the cover of the guest book we bought for the Moira. One colorful drawing in an in-flight magazine shows the dragon with the pearl in one big clawed hand and big, satisfied grin on its face.
I have a theory about the pearl and the dragon. It goes like this. The flaming, smoking pearl is Hong Kong. The dragon chasing it is mainland China. It's a behavioral symbol. The pearl is the commercially valuable result of an irritation (the English) coated with layers and layers of smooth and glossy Chinese nacre. Getting bigger, more radiant and more valuable each year.
Henry Thoreau once quipped a pearl was, "the hardened tear of a diseased clam, murdered in its old age." Which goes to show how much he didn't know about pearls. Valuable pearls are made by oysters, and not diseased ones, either. A pearl is not at all like a tear. It's a smooth, protective encasement of an irritating problem.
The pearl the dragon is after is the mythic representative of purity, the moon-goddess (wife of the father-sun represented by the diamond). We can wear that definition. Cynics and mystics alike can have a field day with Hong Kong symbolic art. And the Chinese are a wonderful mixture of mystical cynicism.
Like Johnny Ma, whose yacht, the White Rabbit, is moored next to us at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Freddy and I wave to him as we start ashore to go shopping. He grins and waves back, a handsome young Chinese man, educated at the University of Arizona. He is the son of Nancy Chih Ma from Harbin, Northern China - eldest son of The Creative Harmonious Ma Family.
The club's sampan slides alongside Moira and we step on. Very nice. Five Hong Kong dollars per day. Right downtown. The luxurious clubhouse has tennis courts, sauna, restaurant, bar, and an international membership of Hong Kong VIPs.
Susie, an industrious little lady who lives on one of the junks in the basin, is washing Moira's dock lines as we leave. She keeps Moira spotless in the filthy Hong Kong harbor. When we arrived, the yacht club manager pointed out, diplomatically, what a good idea it was to hire a boat lady. Otherwise things tended to vanish from the boats..."The yellow Mafia?" I asked and he looked down at his desk. I think he was smiling.
As we walk downtown, I rehearse my lines. I've waited for this all week. We've cased the joint and have settled on the Wing On Department Store. We love the city. Hong Kong is the world's largest department store. A massive, noisy, colorful, tangled web of goodies to buy. The Chinese are wonderful business men, constantly tending and mending their sticky web of merchandise. They make you feel great as they take your money, usually giving you a fair deal along with polite esteem.
Anyone who lives on the ocean is, of course, a technocrat, relying on technology to keep afloat. One lesson I've learned in 25 years of working at sea is the wise sailor always buys first class equipment. When your life depends on your gear, you'd better have the best. Hong Kong can supply the best - and also the worst.
So Freddy and I arrive at the Wing On Department Store. It is a 16 floor building full of all the towels, sheets, pots and pans, can openers and this and that we need to outfit the Moira. We stride through the main door and, with aristocratic airs, I ask the nearest sales girl for the manager. A well dressed, smiling gentleman appears in seconds.
I give him a disgusting view up my nostrils and proclaim, "We intend to buy a large number of items throughout your store for our yacht at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. We shall walk through the store, pick out what we want and then would like it all put on one bill and delivered to our yacht." I've always wanted to say something snooty like that.
The manager acts as if he's always wanted to hear something snooty like that. He smiles, nods his head up and down and sing-songs to one of the girls. She commandeers two assistants and they pad after us as Freddy and I stroll here and there, navigating a maze of aisles lined with luxury goods. We finger and examine and select.
"This is the very best cookware in the world," Freddy says, "Italian Sambonet. Look at this pressure cooker." Shower curtains, no problem. Excellent quality. A stereo? Just over here. Potato peeler, why naturally, next floor up. Hand held shower? What color? Matching towels, how about these?
On the top floor we are ushered into the Manager's office and served tea and cookies. The bill is presented on a little silver tray. The total is not bad, considering all the stuff we got. Plus they give us an extra discount, maybe for style.
We spend the rest of the day wandering around Hong Kong, looking in windows filled with gold and furs and ivory and jade. We make an excursion on a tramway to the top of the island. From there, we can see the whole of Hong Kong below us, like some fantastic cement encrustation on the northern slopes of the mountain.
"Listen to that!" I say. The sound of three million Chinese, talking, singing, shouting, blowing horns and ringing bells swirls around us on the natural amphitheater of the mountain peak. "It sounds like... like a cumulative Chinese... all those voices combined into one big voice."
"Buy, buy, buy," Freddy murmurs in tune to the wash of sound.
"Uh, sure. But, it's what I'd imagine brain waves would sound like if you somehow amplified them over giant loudspeakers. Brain waves made up of billions of little brain cells all yelling at once, yet somehow forming one mind."
"That is what we're listening to," she quips, "Only the brain waves are amplified by three million Chinese making as much noise as they can."
We stand there a long time, listening to the brain waves of Hong Kong. Sometimes I pick out individual neurons yelling extra loud. Sometimes the whole city swells in chorus and then subsides into relative quiet as the collective Chinese mind ohhs and ahhs over events of special interest or lapses into reverie. How are such waves organized? Does everyone randomly decide to be louder or quieter at the same time?
If we stood here 24 hours we'd hear non-random cycles of sound as people collectively pass through periods of sleep, waking up, eating, working, playing and sleeping again. Timed to the rotation of the planet, the weather, and social covenants.
There is a special message in all this, about the Moirae. A pattern I find it hard to focus on. And this excites me because ideas that are hard to focus on are often the most important. It is about the relationship between the individual and the collective being. As if the collective sound really IS a great mind, a kind of populational mind, that directs the behavior of the individual members creating the sound. Daily destiny by resonance.
As I resonate with the city, Hong Kong seems more like a single living being. I envision it growing, like a coral thicket, on the edge of the sea, expanding over the years. Each road is an artery, directing and controlling the flow of minds. Each building, like the skeletal cups built by coral polyps, is made out of the collective behavior of thousands of special builder cells. The buildings they construct direct the movements and behavior of the individual people who live and work in them. There are organs, too; collections of buildings, wires and ducts with special significance to the physiology of the city - ordering how and when people do specific tasks.
Freddy says, "come on, I've got to pee," and sets off at a brisk walk, heading for the nearest civic urinary duct.
At 0800 the following morning the Wing On Department Store delivers the goods. Not just to the Yacht Club, they hire a sampan and arrive alongside the Moira. To my astonishment, four men proceed to unpack everything and put it below. Where would you like us to put this, Sir? Excellent. Yes indeed, I do like this kind of service.
Johnny Ma is standing on White Rabbit, surveying all this activity with evident approval. "Hey," he calls out, "We're going sailing around the island today. You guys want to come along? It's a club race." He's all decked out in white sports clothes.
"Sure" I call back. "What time?"
White Rabbit leaps out of her burrow and speeds across the Harbour well ahead of the lumbering flock. Johnny is relaxed and friendly, handling White Rabbit as an afterthought. She's a good little sloop, light and frisky but not tender.
Somehow the conversation gets around to Frank. He's an Englishman, an investment councilor for some firm in Hong Kong. I forget which one. We met at the Yacht Club's little foray into the New Territories last weekend. One of those clubby scenes where all the boats sail around during the day and then raft up together for the night in an isolated bay in the New Territories. Frank and his wife were rafted up to us on the port side. Johnny Ma, on the White Rabbit, was on the starboard side.
"I understand he took you to dinner last Tuesday," Johnny probes. "How did you two get on?"
"OK, Frank invited us to dinner at his apartment in Aberdeen. He picked us up at the Yacht Club and drove us round to his apartment." The apartment house was a modest concrete monstrosity overlooking the floating village of boat people. His wife fixed a spaghetti dinner which tasted very British. "We talked about the marine Aquarium the Jockey Club has on the drawing boards."
When we turn onto the final leg after circumnavigating the island, Johnny offers, "Why don't you and Freddy come out to my place this evening? My Mother is having a party."
"Why, that would be great, we'd love to come." White Rabbit arrives at the entrance to the Yacht Club all alone, having dusted the competition. A police launch is tied up to Johnny's mooring forcing us to hover upwind. I take the tiller while Johnny goes forward to talk to the cops. After a moment he returns, the police boat lets go of his mooring and moves off.
"What's the problem?" I yield the tiller to him.
"They found a dead man floating there." He frowns.
"Yutch," Freddy comments.
Freddy and I shower together and put on our best party duds. She slides into a skin-tight black knit sheath and decorates the comely result with gold and pearls. At 20:00 hours we go ashore to meet Johnny. He shows up in a bright red Jaguar sport car. Freddy sits in my lap and we jet out of town, soaring round the island along the same road Frank drove - to Aberdeen. On the cusp of the island Johnny wheels uphill and we growl along the mountain hair-pin turns, glimpsing vistas of neon lights from each overlook. Near the crest of the Hong Kong mountain we pull into a gravel drive lined with perfectly arranged trees. He stops before an enormous mansion, flanked with carefully trimmed gardens, illuminated by colored searchlights. A million dollars worth of cars slouch in the driveway.
We slide out of the Jag and Johnny takes us into his home and introduces us to the creative, harmonious Ma family. His mother and sisters are beautiful ladies, impeccably dressed. I recognize his mom from a photo on the jacket of the cook book they wrote called Don't Lick the Chopsticks. The tables in the dining hall are festooned with an artfully arranged culinary fantasy. I try, with little success, not to make a pig out of myself.
As the midnight hour creeps up Freddy and I waddle out onto the balcony to get some oxygen to burn all the food in our stomachs. I lean on the balcony rail and survey the panorama of oriental light, from the glittering stars above, to the warm, colored lanterns in the floating village of Aberdeen below.
Not far away, down there, we see a multicolored array of dim windows in massive concrete apartment blocks.
"That's where Frank lives," Freddy observes, "Some difference, huh?"
In tiers surrounding the banal European complex, the Chinese have built layer after layer of beautiful homes, reaching upwards into the cool mountain air. The creative, harmonious Chinese Families live in green floral splendor overlooking the Europeans who are imprisoned down there in those concrete tombs. Hardened stone cysts.
That's when it comes together and I see Hong Kong as the pearl in the jaws of the dragon. From the mountain palace, I sense the massive, dragon body of China stretched out forever behind me. China's rock-like dragon teeth poke up here and there around the harbor as little islands. I look up and see the radiance of Hong Kong glowing on the clouds in the night sky - the pearl radiating its flames of energy and wealth. Filled with the poetry of the moment I describe all this to Freddy in grand eloquence. When I turn towards her, I see Johnny Ma standing there, just inside the door. He is watching us and smiling.