hk diary seven: why the heart is a lonely hunter

"the way i need you 
       is a loneliness i cannot bear."
                    --  carson mccullers, the heart is a lonely hunter

since i didn't know that there will be a four-day weekend in hong kong this week, i wasn't able to plan my perfect gate away. so unlike most of my friends who are out in rome, budapest, myanmar,  greece, macau and what have you, i am staying in hong kong.

tired of watching dvds and blu rays at my new flat in wanchai (where the city's famous red light district is located), i decided to go out and visit my old neighborhood at the mid-levels. 

first stop: my favourite coffee shop, just right across a gallery and a five second walk to where jose rizal, yes the filipino national hero, used to live when he was in hong kong a hundred years ago. there is a marker right outside the apartment where he used to live saying that - philippine national hero jose rizal used to live in this building. you get the picture.


i sat outside of the cafe, owned by a friend, frenchie julianne, just reading a book and from time to time watching the passersby. i was seated next to a very famous hong kong actress whose name eluded me at the moment. she is so pretty in person sans make up. and unlike most philippine stars, even the starlets, she doesn't have the pretentiousness of a celebrity. 

no huge hat or dark glasses so that she would be unrecognized by the fans and the paparazzi. to their credit, the fans didn't bother her. they just stared and then walked away. no picture taking, no autograph signing. no body guards. she sat there like the rest of us and enjoyed her time talking with her friends.

it's been a long time since i dropped by this coffee shop, a charming little bistro away from the maddening crowds of soho. it's safely hidden among apartment buildings, a gallery and an art studio. i like the feel of the place, small, homely, warm, reminds me of our kitchen at home while i watched my mother make coffee and sandwiches for her grandkids. 

but i have stopped coming here. it has become a repository of broken hearts and unfulfilled promises. another haunted museum that reminded me of a love affair gone bad. of those days of sweet talks, holding hands under the table, bickering, long, meaningless silences and glances.


but this afternoon, i suddenly missed the place. so there i was with jack holmes.

in between sips of my favourite cappuccino and bites of the to die for lavender cake, i read edmund white's latest book - jack holmes and his friend. i love the book, about jack who is secretly in love with his straight best friend, will, married with children. they met in college.

some passages speak right through me, as  if mr. white is talking about my chaotic life. 

"jack found something wrong with almost every man. the guy either lisped or had rules about not touching his hair or a crusty bottom or an undescended testicles..."

"if he (jack) could have magically turned himself into a girl whom will would marry, he'd have done it without hesitation, he'd have converted to catholicism, become a woman, borne will's many children..."

"now he felt more alone than ever. now he knew that his feelings baffled and sickened will... no future; failed dreams in the past; and the present empty."


i didn't know how much i missed my old neighborhood until this afternoon. while reading the book, a french girl talking to her boyfriend on her mobile passed by. wearing the latest marc jacobs dress and shoes and an lv bag. it's an ordinary sight here by the way (read: she is not showing off or trying to catch attention. designer outfits are so common in hong kong, even waitresses own them. as for talking loudly on the cellphone, well..) as if she was just going to the supermarket, not to a cocktail party. no need to be amazed, amused and what ever.

then two german guys, still sweaty and oh so desirable in their football uniforms, sat at the next table still discussing about the game.

while an old chinese couple passed by, holding hands, walking oh so slowly and elegantly as if they were marching to the altar on their wedding day.

then there were the occasional yoga enthusiasts in their gym outfits, holding yoga mats. or those that were walking or running around, with their dogs and slash or kids, or alone like myself.


i never thought i would love this city.

it's so welcoming, so international.

this afternoon alone, i felt as though i was in a united nations convention. i heard people talking in french, german, british and american english, italian, spanish, indian,  filipino, and what have you.

i wonder when my beloved manille will be like this. attracting a wide array of people from all over the world, not just the tourists (and has been foreign singers trying to capture their lost glory by holding a concert in the philippines) but the workers, writers, businessmen, artists, artisans, bohemians.


the ever kind and gracious manager greeted me warmly. "where have you been?" she asked in her cantonese slash english accent as i entered the coffeee shop.

i told her i went away for a whole year to forget about a lover who hurt me so much and to take care of my sickly mother back home.

then later on, while serving my cappuccino,  she asked about f. we used to hang out here, f & i. talking about our dreams, our childhood, our jobs. sometimes we would quarrel over small things, like a phone call i missed when he called to ask where i was at eight in the evening. petty jealousies (mostly on his part. i hardly get jealous.)  i told her that he is gone and i have no idea where he is at the moment.

maybe he is in singapore or new york or milan, trying his luck on some modeling gigs. she smiled and obliged to have her picture taken.


then bliss for two hours or more. i lost myself in the pages of jack holmes dramas.

for a couple of hours, i sat there, undisturbed, unmindful of the crowd and of the noise (dogs barking, babies crying, children playing, maids shouting on their mobile phones), reading mr. white's fabulous prose as he chronicles the adventures of jack holmes: gay, naive, in his early twentys, horny all the time, gorgeous, super rich, hopelessly in love with his straight best friend. the story of my life, mind you. minus the gorgeousness, wealth and early twentys.


then at around nine, just as the coffee shop was closing up,  a friend (an expat, italian, working in the former british colony as a fund manager slash strategist for a huge european bank) called, asking me to join him at a bar in soho called fab. just a few escalators down the coffee shop.

since i have nothing better to do, i obliged and met him and my favourite filipino bartenders and staff who were all working in fab. they were so warm and welcoming, even better than my family back home. chos! fund manager friend ordered a bottle of wine, some cheese, french bread and off we get drunk and forget our little troubles at work.

occasionally, i would talk with the staff. with the boys, all young filipinos, in their twenty's, having their adventures in this city of steel and glass buildings, where the moneyed mixes well with the carpetbaggers. edmund white would love them (even jack), especially the cute bartenders - anthony and jom, who were born and raised in the former british colony to filipino parents. they spent some time in manille to finish their studies.


and then before i knew it, it was nearly midnight. my friend had to go home to his girlfriend, who was home after attending a friend's wedding, and i on my empty flat.

so there. another day, spent mostly in solitude, ending. the heart will never learn its lessons. will never stop hunting and then escaping for that one person it craves most: itself.


enjoy your weekends fairies, bitches, princesses, wannabees and queenbees. i love you all!


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