Monday night I got a call from an older woman who spoke my full name in Chinese. She sounded like the mother of a friend I'd lost years ago, so I responded with a casual 'What's going on?'. She turned out to be the lady I met last July outside the now demolished Sun Chung Flower Shop, when I was there to support Mr Wong on his last evening with his shop. The lady had walked past and wondered about the youngsters on that back street in Sham Shui Po, an old neighborhood that was being torn apart by the government and property developers for fat profits, often through illegal procedure or grey areas in the law. 'Because Hong Kong people care about justice,' we said, when the lady asked why we would spend our Sunday night supporting a stranger.
She got my number and promised to call. She must have called and asked for Ms Wong in her thick Shanghainese accent; I must have half-shouted, 'You got the wrong number!' into the receiver before I hung up mercilessly, feeling intruded and vaguely confused. On a random evening when someone said my name in the way that she did at 11.30pm--when I was about to sit down to read a book of poetry--I had to respond.
Tuesday night Amy and I went to Sham Shui Po to meet the Shanghainese lady. Her home was small: a bedroom with a fair bit of junk piling up the walls, two plastic chairs, a dressing table next to a single bed with colorful bedsheets. The dimly lit room smelled of grease. She sat on her bed and looked at us, speaking at an accelerating speed as if her words were pouring out of a broken safe, rushing towards us while we struggled to hold our breath, nod and let out some half-hearted laugh. She lives between HK and Shanghai where her two sons are successful managers of large department stores, and they call her every so often to ask about her well-being. ('Do you brush your teeth properly at night? Do you have enough for rent?') 'I moved to Hong Kong to take care of my mother before she passed away,' the lady said. 'You girls should get married and have children, so you'll find happiness in life.'
We had wonton noodles at a cheap restaurant and the lady saw Amy and me to the train station. Now and then she would take our arms. 'I have few friends in Hong Kong and you left quite an impression on me. We should stay in touch and hang out,' she waved goodbye. Short and chubby, she looked like a phantom who had come to life in a novella about the sordid lives of ordinary folks in Hong Kong in the early 1980's: her happy face was shadowed by an imminent gloom, even her glasses looked dull against the yellow backdrop of the train station. Amy and I wandered on the platform to catch our breath.
Back home I sat back in my reading chair and closed my eyes.