With this fourth installment, Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo continues “Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist,” a travel series focusing mostly on art, literary exhibitions, and “artist areas” around Asia (and perhaps beyond).
Hong Kong’s Occupy Sundays
At a café in Admiralty, I get lost in thought, checking out the barista. Muscular, with dark skin, a smile as broad as his shoulders. He tamps down on the espresso with a grunt, twisting his whole body, then snaps the metal filter into the machine.
“Dessert of St. Honore gateau,” David says, placing a gold-plated cake onto the glass table, edging my laptop so far off that I have to balance it with my knee. David is a bearded British publisher who has invited me to tea to give me the rundown on Hong Kong, a city that David thinks is devoted only to finance capital and has little culture to speak of.
Nearby, a financier rants to a woman about the umbrella movement protests happening just a block away. “They cannot win. They should give up. Democracy is one thing to fight over, but everyone is losing money.”
I feed some birds. Four, hopping about the deck, catching beads of bread. One sits atop David’s Apple-Cranberry Kuchettes cake, flitting about, like the crème were a tree branch.
Droplets of coffee fling from David’s glass as he spins to answer a text message. “The wifi sucks,” he spits, “it’s the domestic workers outside. They take up all the bandwidth.” He jokes, “Sundays are their day off. Puts us in a conundrum: can’t leave the house, because they take up all the space; can’t stay home, because there’s no one to clean the house.”
“I’m Filipino,” I say.
I think he’s going to whistle, but he doesn’t. Just looks, his face all like no you’re not.
It’s with so many arguments not worth having that I keep quiet and watch the dark barista. His eyes finally settle on mine. After a moment he pulls out a cigarette and heads into the street.
I give chase, leaving David to his phone call, and follow the barista’s glide through the city streets. A man dragging an empty metal cart cuts me off, and I lose the barista at a strange demarcation.
A dozen metal bike racks are woven together by bicycle chains and zip ties. My legs cannot go beyond the barricades. I climb over, looking for the barista’s black collared shirt. Tourists push past me, hoping to take selfies with yellow umbrellas and Cantonese Post-it notes.
My body remains in-between them, taking up space.
I find him, my barista, with smoke slithering from his mouth, slipping through a group of domestic workers waving their arms in synchronized dance. I pass them, then waver through a group of women playing Miss Universe. As I squeeze through another barricaded street, I realize I am leaving a political action, and entering a rendezvous point. From protest to festival, from one occupation to another.
In Statue Square young women perch on every available surface: cement barriers, stairways and broken-down escalators, sitting on cardboard boxes with the edges up in a curved wall. With their shoes lined to make a barrier between them and the street, they crowd onto the cardboard pieces like island settlements eclipsed by an ocean of pedestrian commerce. Some play cards, chewing pork rinds and giving each other pedicures. I have to push past them as they pose for pictures near artificial waterfalls and Christmas ornaments. “Merry Christmas!” they shout, throwing their hands up in that puro arte of the islands, not caring that Christmas is still two months away.
In the center of the square a legion of tourists stand, their cameras aimed at a robust colonial statue, their fingers set on their smart phones as they wait for a group of Filipinas to pass.
My eye catches him: the barista, now behind me. Is he following me now? I get nervous and try to hide inside a cathedral. But the Filipinas are packed in, blocking me along with the other tourists.
Prose Editor Kawika Guillermo spends his days traversing around Asia, with Hong Kong as his beloved base. His fiction has appeared in Feminist Studies, Drunken Boat, Tayo, and The Hawai’i Pacific Review. His debut anti-travel novel, Stamped, will be published in Spring 2017 by CCLaP Press.