My love affair with America began with TV in the 1970s.
Winnie told me to do it. ‘On the day, go to the Lovers Rock up on Bowen Road and touch it. It will bring you good luck, lots of children.’ She had cackled and dug me in the ribs. Taoist mumbo-jumbo hocus pocus I had thought at the time.
But for this day, my day of days when I long for my mother’s voice and the touch of her hand, touching something resembling an Earth Goddess might have to do.
Looking down to my right I see the snaking traffic on Queens Road East and the neon signs fading out. Makes no difference that it is a Sunday – every day is a working day in Hong Kong. Even the day I get married.
I reach Bowen Road as it runs along to Magazine Gap Road. Incense sticks seep smoke at the small shrines that line the roadway, and old men amble along, passing the time of day as they criss-cross each others’ paths. Some men kick their legs out as they walk- dressed in the uniform of old Hong Kong men; baggy grey shorts, white singlet, and Kung Fu slippers.
Under the banyan trees in the sitting out area a group of ladies practice tai chi. One of them has brought a portable cassette player and the crash and wail of Chinese opera drown out my thoughts. Mum used to do tai chi – until she got sick.
I hit my stride, breathing deeply and get all caught up with a group of Hash House Harriers, gweilos, training for next years Trailwalker. I use them as a front-runner clipping at their heels. I envy their rise and fall, their unity and their business.
I reached Lovers Rock. I usually run the other way so have never seen it before. But I recognise it. A giant penis-shaped piece of granite covered in daubs of red paint and prayer papers. In a crevice under the rock are Chinese god ornaments arranged in a small shrine. I bend to read the sign. I am at the Home of the God of Love apparently. Nearby two women pull oranges out of a striped bag and place the oranges next to the ornaments. An old man is setting up a card table and pulls out a sign in English and Chinese reading “Fortunes told.” I am not sure what to do. Winnie hadn’t gone into detail about that. I go up the steps and pat the side of the rock. Stuck on the side of the mossy surface are fragments of incense sticks and ash. There are yellowing photos of happy couples wedged in a crevice. I wonder why they left them there.
So that’s it I think as I turn to run back. Job done. Good luck won.
Back at the apartment, my fiancee wanders around in a bath towel. Our flatmate offers to make me tea. I ask for a gin and tonic – a double. She understands. She is Scottish and it is my day, and if I want to drink gin at 10am -that’s fine.
Later. Out on the street. Heart pounding as we hail a cab, me clutching the last minute bouquet with the tinfoil from the florists still wrapped around.
We arrive. Remember it’s the day of all my days. The wood panel walls of City Hall smell of polish and age and privilege. Mix in the smells of designer bags and shoes, and the new suit scent of the nervous grooms. Funny, I am noticing all this. I should be looking at him only, him across the room pacing and looking at his watch. One of the nervous grooms. He laughs at something Nick says in his too loud English accent.
My girlfriends push and pull me. Photo here. Touch up there. Smudge the lipstick here. ‘Your hair is messed up,’ says Therese. ‘Let me fix it’. I breathe deep. I look around. I see it. A door. A room just for me. Brides Room. The sign says so in English and Chinese. The glass on the door is frosted. I imagine what’s inside. Minions. Comfortable chaise lounge. Grapes. Pedicure. Glass of champagne for the blushing bride. MTV. It will be my room and my time.
I open the door. Inside there is nothing. Just a giant powder room with royal red carpet and mirrors down one wall for the prink and the fix. No minions and no chaise lounge and no champagne. A faint whiff of old carpet and I hear the whine of the air conditioner and the distant sound outside of Nick haw-hawing.
A knock on the door.
‘Are you OK in there?’ says my beloved. ‘I think we are up next.’ I look in the mirror and my mother’s eyes look back at me. ‘Coming,’ I say.
Twenty-five years later we’re in Hong Kong on holidays. Some friends still live there, others have flown in from Auckland and London. We’re reunited for a fiftieth birthday. And on our first morning, we walk past City Hall and there are the brides and the nervous grooms just like us a quarter of a century ago. We eat dim sum at Maxims with Nick(our best man) and Tania, our Scottish flatmate, and Dominque, the birthday girl- who were our witnesses. As the dim sum carts trundle past we toast our long friendship, our looming wedding anniversary and plan the next reunion for another fiftieth birthday in two years time.